Ronda Rousey has held the UFC’s women’s bantamweight belt for less than two years. Only a year before her UFC reign, she became the queen of women’s MMA when she captured the Strikeforce championship at 135 pounds. Somehow, in that short amount of time, “Rowdy” has found a way to not only defeat nearly every woman at the top of her weight class, but to destroy them to the point that the suggestion of any rematch could be met with laughter. Her last two opponents didn’t quite last a combined 90 seconds, and no one has been able to sniff going the distance with the champion. Outside of a brief submission scare in her UFC debut, it’s hard to even find examples of an opponent giving Rousey trouble, let alone coming close to beating her.
More so than any other division in the UFC right now, the women’s bantamweight title picture is in need of some new blood. The only way the promotion is going to get there is by giving someone on the outside a chance to break into the mix. No fighter has earned that right more than Bethe Correia.
The Brazilian targeted Rousey and her bantamweight crown from the first moment she stepped into the Octagon. After defeating two of Rousey’s best friends and “Four Horsewomen” teammates over the course of her last two UFC performances, Correia has started nudging her way into the conversation, but she still requires a significant win against an established contender to legitimize herself as a true challenger to Rousey. That match-up might have just fallen into her lap. That’s because former title challenger and Rousey rival Miesha Tate called out Correia earlier this week. It appears the Brazilian has found someone willing to challenge her at the next level, and it’s a fight the UFC desperately needs to make.
Right now, the only woman on the UFC roster with the resume to earn a shot at Rousey is current No. 1 contender Cat Zingano. Zingano, who is coming off a stoppage victory over Amanda Nunes, is as legitimate a test as Rousey has fought inside the Octagon. Possessing a quality all-around MMA game and an undefeated record to rival Rousey’s, Zingano has been considered the top contender to the belt for a year and a half now. After overcoming injury and personal tragedy, “Alpha” is finally ready for her shot at gold.
Outside of Zingano, the women’s bantamweight title picture is a mess. While “Alpha” is currently sitting in the No. 1 contender’s spot in the division, the four fighters (the aforementioned Tate, plus Sara McMann, Alexis Davis and Sarah Kaufman) directly beneath her have all lost to Rousey in the past three years. Highly touted free-agent acquisition Holly Holm has yet to even compete inside the Octagon, and she’ll need at least two wins before she can mix it up with “Rowdy”. Even the UFC’s ace in the hole, former Strikeforce champion turned movie star Gina Carano, is out of the picture now that recent contract talks broke down between her team and Zuffa. Unless the UFC can conjure a contender that seems like a legitimate threat to Rousey in the next few months, Rousey won’t be left with any viable contenders to step up if she retains the belt with a win over Zingano. In her next defense, then, Rousey is likely to end up fighting someone most fans have never even heard of, let alone care about.
That’s where Correia can come in. “Pitbull” has been rock solid in three UFC wins, especially in her TKO victory over a very respectable veteran in Shayna Baszler this summer, and her constant trash talk and call outs directed at Rousey have more than gotten the hardcore fans’ attention. Now it’s time for the UFC to make the rest of its fanbase care about Correia, and there isn’t a better fighter to throw against her in the cage than Tate if the company wants to make that happen.
No female fighter rivals Rousey in terms of popularity. However, even though Tate is a distant second behind her rival, there’s also a sizeable gap between “Cupcake” and the next woman in line. Due to a pair of highly anticipated bouts with Rousey and a stint as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter last year, Tate is far and away the second most popular woman on the UFC roster. However, she has suffered two losses to Rousey, which is going to make it extremely difficult for Tate to jump back into a title fight any time soon. The best thing the UFC can do is try to capitalize on Tate’s popularity by having her fight other potential stars at 135 pounds. First and foremost, that means pitting her against Correia.
It may seem a little odd that a top-ranked fighter like Tate would throw out a challenge to a fighter that’s a half-dozen spots below her in the bantamweight rankings. But considering Correia’s current winning streak and her sudden jump in credibility following her knockout of Baszler, there’s enough upside for Tate, should she earn a victory, to make this fight worth it the risk for her. Ending Correia’s undefeated run would be a solid addition to Tate’s resume, especially with the momentum the Brazilian has built up over the past year, and it goes without saying that Correia would greatly benefit from a win over Tate. With Rousey and Zingano not set to throw down until early 2015 at the earliest, there’s more than enough time to set up a fight between Correia and Tate.
The obvious risk in this scenario is that if Tate beats Correia, Rousey will be left without a fresh title challenger if she beats Zingano. As unfortunate as it would be for the UFC to lose its hottest rising title challenger in the division, the company really doesn’t have an alternative. It could book Correia against another opponent or two that isn’t quite on a championship level. However, even if that leads to some guaranteed wins, it isn’t going to help Correia gain any popularity. She needs a high-profile victory over a high-profile opponent, and Tate is the one fighter in the division who fits that bill in the eyes of the average fan. Sending Correia into the cage against a talented and experienced fighter like Tate is a risk, but it’s a necessary one, especially if the UFC wants to give Rousey the biggest fights possible. Since Rousey has already destroyed one batch of contenders and is quickly working through the next, it’s probably best to jump on these chances while they’re still out there.