Ronda Rousey is mad at Bethe Correia.
You might not have noticed right away, since Rousey seems to be mad at everyone all the time, but the women’s bantamweight champion has said UFC 190 is personal for her. She insists she’ll teach Correia a lesson when the two fighters meet Saturday in Rio de Janeiro in the main event of an otherwise lackluster pay-per-view card.
“I'm not going to be nice to this chick,” Rousey said in early July, per MailOnline's Justin Feck. “She is going to have a very long painful lesson that night. I've never looked forward to beating up someone more in my entire life. This is the only time I will say I will purposely drag a fight out to punish someone.”
So, yeah, that’s disquieting.
Rousey has dominated the UFC women’s 135-pound division with such extreme prejudice since her arrival in 2013 that it’s difficult to imagine her suddenly finding an extra gear. Among other things, she’s breezed to 5-0 in the Octagon (11-0 overall), become arguably the UFC’s biggest star, published her autobiography at age 28 and dispatched her last three opponents in 14, 16 and 66 seconds, respectively.
If she’s secretly been taking it easy on everybody this whole time, well, that’s crazy.
So what to make of this claim that the champion has some cruel, unusual punishment planned for Correia? Is it all just a marketing gimmick? Maybe.
Rousey knows she’s the heavy favorite in this fight and that her recent bouts have come under fire for being so brief they were barely worth the price of admission. Perhaps she knows that promising an extended beatdown is the best possible sales pitch for UFC 190.
Monday’s media conference call supported this notion, when she appeared to give herself an out for another quick, easy finish:
Then again, Rousey is exactly the kind of fighter who might plot something especially gruesome for an opponent she believed overstepped her bounds, and Correia may have gone a bit too far with some of her trash talk.
In May, a brief public-relations firestorm flickered when the 32-year-old Brazilian quipped to Portuguese-language website Combate (h/t MMA Fighting) that she hoped Rousey wouldn’t "commit suicide" after losing her title. The media bristled, calling the comment out of bounds because Rousey’s father took his own life when she was a child.
Correia apologized for the gaffe and said she was unaware of Rousey’s family tragedy. Still, the champion is known to declare personal vendettas over much less inflammatory statements.
If Rousey is suddenly even more motivated than ever to make an example out of someone, we shudder to think what she might come up with. After all, she started with preternatural grappling skills that put her a generation ahead of the rest of her competition. But every time we see her inside the cage she gets better.
She used a knee to the midsection to crumple Sara McMann back at UFC 170. We saw her toss Alexis Davis at UFC 175 and then pound her into oblivion with a series of vicious ground strikes. We saw her tap a flailing Cat Zingano at UFC 184 with an armbar Rousey appeared to be making up as she went along.
We know she and head coach Edmond Tarverdyan have spent the bulk of her MMA career working to supplement her judo base with an equally dangerous striking attack. If Rousey has some new physical skills she wants to test drive, it’s possible she might use Correia as a glorified sparring partner.
Or worse, a punching bag.
It’s easy to imagine Rousey taking a couple of rounds to beat Correia at her own game, bloodying and bruising her on the feet before sending her home with a broken arm or shredded knee. If she’s feeling particularly spiteful, she might even spend the full five rounds like a cat toying with a ball of string.
Perhaps it will be a lengthy grappling exhibition. Perhaps she has her eye on the kind of all-around showing that will demonstrate to Correia, her fans and the rest of the bantamweight division that not only is she already the best fighter on the planet, but she’s still evolving.
Two things we know about Rousey: She’s capable of dreaming up some fairly tortuous penalties, and she’s easily good enough to carry them out, if she feels Correia really deserves it.
Even before the suicide remarks, their feud was a bitter one, though Correia’s only crime to that point was beating Rousey’s cohorts, Shayna Baszler and Jessamyn Duke, in 2014. To date, she has also been one of the few athletes at 135 pounds who has made a point of getting in Rousey's face.
"Ronda, you're not the superheroine you think you are,” Correia said on a recent episode of Ariel Helwani's The MMA Hour. “You are a farce, and I'll prove it on August 1.”
It has been a good strategy for Correia, and it helped catapult her from complete unknown to No. 1 contender after just three fights and a year-and-a-half in the UFC. She’s on the verge of headlining a PPV opposite one of the sport’s biggest draws and will receive the $30,000 Reebok sponsorship bonus now standard for title challengers.
But at what cost? It would actually be tempting to say Correia had already won here—if it didn’t seem like she was about to receive a terrible beating.
People expect Rousey vs. Correia to be a mismatch of historic proportions. The UFC has even gone as far as already booking the champ’s next fight, a third meeting with archnemesis Miesha Tate sometime later this year.
"(Tate) has worked her way back to Ronda Rousey," UFC President Dana White declared last weekend during a press conference (via Bleacher Report’s Steven Rondina) after Tate defeated Jessica Eye in a title eliminator at UFC on Fox 16. No mention of Correia. No mention of the fact the women's bantamweight title will be on the line this weekend.
Still, it's hard to blame UFC executives for looking ahead.
For all the positive things Correia has accomplished during her UFC run, she shapes up as a deeply flawed opponent for Rousey. As of this writing, she’s going off as an 11-1 underdog, according to Odds Shark, and even those numbers might turn out to be charitable.
Correia is primarily a striker but hasn’t displayed the sort of dynamic power it would take to surprise Rousey with a one-punch KO or an early stoppage. She prefers wars of attrition, and seven of her nine career victories have come by decision. Even when she defeated Baszler via second-round TKO at UFC 177, the end came from a steady accumulation of blows and after Correia likely lost the first round.
She doesn’t appear particularly mobile.
She doesn’t appear to be the sort of athlete who can steer clear of Rousey’s Olympic-level judo skills.
She doesn’t appear to have the size (5'5", 135 lbs) or strength to stay on her feet if the champ does get ahold of her.
In other words, though Rousey is a nightmare matchup for everybody in her weight class, Correia’s skill set feels particularly ill-equipped to deal with her.
And now Rousey is vowing to make it extra ugly.
She’s sworn to "embarrass" Correia and “discipline” her, per FoxSports.com's Damon Martin, to change the trajectory of her entire career.
Maybe those are just empty promises.
Maybe it’s all just puffery, designed to make fans believe this is one Ronda Rousey fight that will give them their money’s worth.
But maybe not.
If Rousey actually wants to go out there and hand out a demoralizing 25-minute beating, there might not be anyone besides the referee who can stop her.
Least of all Correia.