Saturday night's UFC 184 card marks the return of perhaps the biggest current star in mixed martial arts.
Ronda Rousey, the women's bantamweight champion, has never been tested in competition. She has only been pushed past the first round one time, and all 10 of her professional victories have come by stoppage.
Rousey has been so dominant, in fact, that the UFC is now touting her in promotional materials as the most dominant female athlete ever.
To discuss and debate whether Rousey deserves such a lofty place among the elite, our tag team of Jeremy Botter and Jonathan Snowden return with another edition of The Question.
Jonathan: I was watching some of the promotional material for UFC 184—just another day in the dynamic life of an MMA reporter—when announcer Joe Rogan said something that took me aback. It went a little something like this:
"There has never been a female athlete that is as dominant as Ronda Rousey."
Now, I was all set to pooh pooh what seemed like obvious hyperbole on UFC's part. That's how I do. The most dominant woman in athletics? Ever? Ever, ever?
But for almost four years no one has come close to touching her. She's won all 10 of her fights, and every single one by spectacular finish. Only one woman has managed to escape the first round. More than half of her opponents couldn't even manage to last a full minute in the cage with her.
Jeremy, I don't know if she's the most dominant female athlete of all time. But she's certainly the most dominant fighter the UFC has seen since, well, ever.
Jeremy: I am naturally inclined to push back against promoter-speak. Years of watching red-faced Joe Rogan struggle to keep his inner intensity from exploding outward while explaining to me that this person is the single greatest threat this other person has ever faced—in the entirety of their careers!—has numbed me. I haven't been able to take it seriously for a long time.
Which is why this promo, touting Rousey as the most dominant female athlete in history, makes me laugh. It is silly on the surface, and even sillier if you dig in a little bit. Rousey is a dominant athlete, to be sure. And as you mentioned, she's easily the most dominant fighter to ever step in the Octagon.
But ever? In the history of sports? No.
Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Mia Hamm. Chris Evert. Steffi Graf. Billie Jean King. Martina Navratilova. Cheryl Miller. All were dominant in their respective sports. Most of them did it for years upon years. Rousey has four fights in the Octagon. Let's see her dispatch Cat Zingano and Cris Cyborg with ease before we start putting her on the mantle alongside the names mentioned above.
Jonathan: You're right. Rousey doesn't have the kind of longevity needed to fare well against women who became household names in their respective sports. If Martina is the Hank Aaron of women's athletics, Rousey is the Gale Sayers—absolutely brilliant, but for a short span.
It's easy to forget, as she seems like she's always been in our lives, but Ronda's only been fighting at a high level in MMA for three-and-a-half years. And considering the sport's neophyte state, it's fair to question whether or not Rousey is truly competing with other elite athletes.
You get the sense that Rousey is almost a woman among girls. She's this outstanding Olympic-class athlete with the kind of instincts and pedigree money just can't buy. Does that make her accomplishments more impressive or less compelling, as it's hard to imagine her losing to even the most spirited foe?
Rousey is so far ahead of the game that she can fool around in championship matches and perfect her striking game while subject to live fire. She is on a different level than everyone else. Dana White jokes about her fighting men—but there's some tension in his tone when he does so. Because this situation isn't tenable. She needs a foil to emerge.
Is it Cat Zingano? Or—and here's the elephant in the room—does Ronda Rousey need Cris Cyborg more than she knows?
Jeremy: Including one amateur fight here in Las Vegas, I have covered Rousey fights live 10 times. In fact, I'm packing my car this morning and headed to the Los Angeles area for UFC 184.
Why? Because Rousey is a special athlete, and I feel like I can't miss one of her fights. She's unlike anybody else in the sport, male or female. Even watching her go through the paces of her open workout during fight week is a revelation. She is explosive. Her quick-twitch muscles are on a different level. In a sport where anyone with some experience past high school is "world-class" to UFC commentators, Rousey truly is world-class. And not just in judo or submissions; she is a world-class athlete.
And you're right: She is a different breed than the women she has faced thus far, and this is taking nothing away from any of them. It's just that Rousey is different. Much different. Zingano is a terrifying woman, but she's no match for Rousey in the Octagon.
There is only one woman on the planet who can currently offer a challenge to Rousey, and that is Cyborg. If the UFC can't figure out a way to bring her into the fold before Rousey departs permanently for Hollywood, it will be a shame. Because with the way things are looking, Cyborg is the only opponent who will allow Rousey to prove how great she truly is.