Perhaps the worst thing about the controversial ending to UFC 170 is there will be no easy fix.
After back-to-back fight camps and a 56-day turnaround between defenses of her UFC women’s bantamweight title, Ronda Rousey already had a vacation scheduled following Saturday’s bout against Sara McMann.
That means regardless of what you thought of referee Herb Dean’s stoppage of the main event after one minute and six seconds, it’ll be a while before we see Rousey in the Octagon again.
She’s got a couple of movies that need filming, and even though she says she’s targeting late summer for a possible return, this wasn’t quite the triumphant note she hoped to strike with her exit.
Nor was it the conclusive outcome fans hoped to see.
For that matter, it wasn't the square-deal shot at the 135-pound championship that McMann had been training for either.
Yes, the challenger was obviously hurt when Rousey muscled her against the cage early in the first and dropped her with a hard knee to the midsection, but she seemed to be scrambling back to her feet when Dean stepped in to halfheartedly wave things off.
By the time the two fighters were fully separated, McMann was up on her knees, looking at Dean with that expression we’ve seen a thousand times before—the shock and frustration already bottoming out into disappointment.
By now, we know the drill, even if McMann wouldn’t allow herself to criticize the referee’s call in the aftermath.
"I heard (Dean's) voice, and I immediately tried to get back up," she told MMAJunkie's Matt Erickson and Dann Stupp after the fight. “I’m not going to blame a referee for something I feel like I should be able to control. I should get up quicker. If you want to win fights, you just have to do it, regardless of what’s going on.”
The stoppage short-circuited what was shaping up to be an interesting bout, as McMann unloaded some heavy punches on Rousey during their early exchanges. Even after the champion succeeded in bullying her against the chain link, McMann thwarted early attempts at takedowns.
She had not taken a significant blow to the head, nor did she seem in danger of being injured or hurt in any lasting way when Dean jumped in.
It’s easy to dismiss the controversy by saying the referee only saved McMann from further damage—nine times out of 10, that’s true in these situations—but in this instance, it’s impossible to say what was about to happen.
Was Rousey about to deal the prone McMann some brain-rattling punches? Maybe.
Or was the Olympic silver medalist in women’s wrestling about to grab one of the champion’s legs and dump her on her keister? That also seemed possible.
Now we’ll never know.
Her undefeated record spoiled without a definitive outcome, McMann will simply have to return to the pack of bantamweight contenders. She’ll have to work her way back to the top with another fight or two.
Under different circumstances, she might have been able to agitate—justifiably—for an immediate rematch, but with Rousey already packed for a few months on holiday, there’s not much point in McMann making a stink.
People have instantly segued to speculating about a next opponent for the champion—debating the merits of Cat Zingano, Alexis Davis and unsigned threats like Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and Holly Holm.
Memory is not our strong suit in this sport, and by the time Rousey comes back from her break, we’ll likely have moved on from the notion that McMann might’ve been her most dangerous foe.
This, even though Saturday night’s bout didn’t completely prove otherwise. Not really.
Perhaps because Rousey is already scheduled for time away, UFC president Dana White came to the post-fight press conference fully ready to defend Dean and the stoppage. The company line seems to be that there was no problem with the outcome of this fight.
“(McMann) went down to her knees, and she turned her head the other way,” White said during the presser. “Could Herb have let her take some shots to the face? Definitely. But when the fight happened and I saw it, I said, ‘Oh man,’ … (but) when I watched the replay, I thought it was a good stoppage.”
Still, it was hard not to be dissatisfied with this one.
The pay-per-view portion of UFC 170 began with a trio of solid scraps, but after Daniel Cormier’s co-main event fight against Patrick Cummins played out just like the oddsmakers told us it would, it felt like the event needed a pick-me-up.
Instead, all it got was another questionable call from the suddenly shaky Dean, who has long been regarded as one of MMA's most trustworthy referees.
If Rousey was to win, it would’ve been nice to see her do so in dominating—or at least inarguable—fashion. That would’ve sent UFC 170 out with a highlight and stoked the fires for her return against whomever the UFC positions as her next foe.
If McMann was going to lose, the minimum we owed her was a clear-cut verdict. At least then it wouldn’t seem like the 33-year-old owner of one of MMA’s most compelling personal stories had spent all that time training and doing the media rounds for nothing.
One of these women deserved to have her moment on top of the world. By simple virtue of being there, the other had earned the right to know she was beaten by the best.
When the referee jumped the gun, nobody got what they wanted and now it’ll be a good long time before anyone gets a second chance.