Ken Shamrock, Tank Abbott, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell. That, right there, is the list of MMA fighters whose success in the cage turned them into mainstream stars. The UFC has showcased a number of extremely talented fighters over its two decades and even made minor celebrities out of a few more of its champions, but these five are pretty much the only fighters to gain any significant mainstream recognition. Such an attractive crossover commodity is rare in the world of combat sports, and in the last two years or so another swell of fame has been building behind one of the UFC’s champions. On Saturday, we’ll get to see her compete once again, and this time it’s in hostile territory.
UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey is by far the most famous MMA fighter on the planet right now. Not only has she helped pioneer an entire new career path for female athletes, but she’s transitioned her immense talent inside the cage into a pretty decent career outside of it. She’s appeared in three major Hollywood movies and even made a surprise in-ring appearance at this year’s WrestleMania. She has arguably surpassed every one of the five men mentioned earlier in terms of mainstream recognizability and her fame only continues to grow.
Rousey has been so dominant inside the Octagon that the results of her fights seem a foregone conclusion. Oddsmakers currently have Rousey as between a 15:1 and 18:1 favorite against Bethe Correia, and a loss for Rousey on Saturday would constitute one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Stranger things have happened (see: Dillashaw, T.J.), but few are giving the No. 7-ranked Correia much of a chance.
The UFC has packed the rest of the seven(!)-fight main card with match-ups sure to please everyone in the Rio audience. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua returns to action against countryman Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, while Nogueira’s brother Rodrigo returns to the Octagon to face Stefan Struve. Round this out with the finals from The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4 and a couple of other exciting and meaningful scraps and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice pay-per-view.
UFC 190 takes place Saturday, Aug. 1, from the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. The action begins at 7 p.m. ET with two contests on UFC Fight Pass, followed by the remaining preliminary bouts airing on Fox Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET and the main card at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view. Combat Press staff writers Bryan Henderson and Eric Reinert break down the fights in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey hasn’t needed more than 66 seconds to finish a fight in her last three outings. Now she’s fighting rival Bethe Correia, who finally gets her chance at the leader of the Four Horsewomen after defeating two of Rousey’s stablemates. Can Correia establish herself as a true rival and push Rousey beyond the first round? Or will the Brazilian exit the cage in defeat just as quickly as Rousey’s other recent opponents?
Henderson: Rousey has fought 11 times as a pro and defeated 10 different opponents. She kicked things off by stopping Ediane Gomes, who was widely considered one of the best 145-pounders on the planet, in 25 seconds. She didn’t see the one-minute mark until her fifth fight, which came against Miesha Tate, despite facing the likes of Charmaine Tweet, Sarah D’Alelio and Julia Budd. She topped Tate and then took out Sarah Kaufman in 54 seconds. After submitting Liz Carmouche and topping Tate once more, she took just 66 seconds to defeat Olympic silver medalist wrestler Sara McMann and stopped elite fighters Alexis Davis and Cat Zingano in 16 and 14 seconds, respectively. That’s pretty much a who’s who of the women’s bantamweight division, and it’s been a complete slaughter. Why would we expect anything different when Rousey fights Correia?
We’re not talking about an imposing force like Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino here. Cyborg is a finisher whose strength and striking prowess could pose a serious threat to Rousey if the Brazilian can keep the fight upright for long enough to rock the champ. Correia, meanwhile, is a grinder who relies on clinch work and ground-and-pound to get the job done — and by getting the job done, I mean racking up enough points on the scorecards to emerge with the win. Cyborg’s style gives her a chance for victory against Rousey, whereas Correia’s style seemingly plays right into Rousey’s strengths of judo and submission grappling.
Again, we’re not talking about Cyborg. We’re talking about a fighter whose title berth comes as much from words as it does from what she’s done inside the Octagon. Not to take anything away from Julie Kedzie, Jessamyn Duke or Shayna Baszler, but none of these three Correia opponents was within sniffing distance of a title shot when the Brazilian fought them, nor did they rebound and rise to contender status in the aftermath of their losses to Correia. And Correia didn’t even dominate Kedzie — the win came via split decision. Correia’s ability to beat Rousey’s friends and then taunt Rousey with a simple hand gesture or two is part of what put her in this position. The dearth of other viable challengers and Correia’s admittedly solid undefeated mark account for the rest of the explanation for this pairing.
Yet, none of those reasons equate to Correia as anything more than cannon fodder while everyone waits for Rousey and Cyborg to finally clash. Correia’s normal grinding game is a big invitation for a quick judo-throw takedown and armbar finish. And if the Brazilian tries to play it safe and stand with Rousey, the champ is going to close the distance and find a way to get the throw and submission. Either way, it’s doubtful that anything good can come of this for the challenger. Given Correia’s history of non-finishes, she’s going to need a full 25 minutes to pull off the win. That’s not going to happen. Correia might last longer than Zingano and Davis, but she’ll be lucky to see the second round, let alone anything more.
Reinert: It speaks volumes to Rousey’s dominance that, as the question here suggests, just getting out of the first round might establish Correia as a “true rival” to the champion. At this point, we’re not even talking about someone actually challenging Rousey’s reign, but merely her potential to last even 60 seconds in the cage.
Correia’s resume is no doubt worthy of a spot among the bantamweight contenders, particularly because Rousey has already handedly defeated all but one of the women ranked ahead of the Brazilian “Pitbull,” and her attempts at gamesmanship with regard to her performance against Rousey’s de facto MMA stablemates make her the most marketable opponent (currently under UFC contract) for Rousey. None of this, however, means that Correia will fare better than any of the previous challengers to the women’s bantamweight belt.
My colleague hits it on the head when he mentions Correia’s penchant to use the clinch to control her opponent, and that’s pretty much the worst strategy one can employ against Rousey. While expecting Rousey to finish her fifth straight fight inside of 66 seconds is a bit unrealistic, I foresee another dominating performance for the champion on Saturday. Rousey will continue to put the stamp on anyone foolish enough to challenge her, and that includes any featherweights not currently signed to a UFC contract.
The Nogueira brothers are fighting on this card. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, the light heavyweight, gets the co-headlining spot against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Rogerio’s heavier brother, Rodrigo, draws Stefan Struve in a main-card bout. Which Nogueira brother has the better odds of emerging with a win? Does either brother have the potential to contend for a title again?
Reinert: Man, this honestly just makes me sad. Brazilian venue or not, there’s pretty much no reason either of these two should ever fight again. How many times have we seen Big Nog get his brain scrambled dozens of times in just a single fight? The guy has lost two straight and has fought a grand total of three times since the beginning of 2012. He’s nowhere even close to contending for the heavyweight belt and is pretty much the MMA poster child for head trauma. I don’t want to see him get his head kicked off by a seven-foot-tall Dutchman, nor do I want to watch him try to will his 39-year-old body through a grappling contest with a guy who has 16 professional wins by submission. I hope he’s at least getting paid a sufficient amount, because this is pretty gross.
While Rogerio hasn’t taken the same sort of cumulative punishment as his brother, he’s also largely failed to make a name for himself among the UFC’s light heavyweights. He might be ranked No. 11, but his last two fights resulted in a KTFO loss to Anthony “Rumble” Johnson (in July 2014) and an absolute snoozer of a decision victory over Rashad Evans (February 2013). His last significant win was against Tito Ortiz all the way back in December 2011.
Which has a better chance of winning on Saturday? The true answer is “neither,” but in the interest of being sporting I’ll go with Rogerio for the simple reason that he could land a solid punch on the increasingly suspect chin of Rua en route to a knockout win. That’s going to be just about his only chance.
Henderson: I, too, don’t see much hope for this pair of 39-year-old twin brothers. However, these fights offer them a better chance than one might think at first glance. Rogerio is fight an opponent who, at just 33 years old, should still be in his prime years, but who has actually aged quite poorly. Rodrigo, meanwhile, draws a foe who is too willing to get into firefights and doesn’t always emerge with his hand raised. Am I saying the Nogueiras will win? No. But they can’t be counted out completely.
Rua, Rogerio’s opponent, has gone 6-8 overall in the UFC and managed just one win over his last five outings. This 33-year-old Brazilian was once seen as a top light heavyweight, but Rua has looked anything but the part outside of a brief resurgence in two title fights (which he earned by beating over-the-hill fighters Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell) against Lyoto Machida. Shogun has been quite beatable in his UFC tenure, and that gives Rogerio a decent chance for a win. Lil Nog might have been decimated by Rumble and only squeaked his way past Evans, but those two men rank far higher up the ladder than Shogun.
Admittedly, Rodrigo does have the tougher task in his heavyweight match-up with Struve. The ridiculously tall Dutchman has heavy hands and a strong grappling game, but he often abandons the grappling altogether for a slugfest with his opponent. Big Nog is going to have a hard time connecting with Struve’s chin before getting his own brain rattled, but this is the same man who separated Brendan Schaub from consciousness in just over three minutes. Granted, that was four years ago, but there’s the chance that the Brazilian has enough power left, coupled with his boxing skills, to test Struve’s sometimes iffy chin. Rodrigo’s ground game can’t be discounted either. Many of Struve’s submission victories came outside the UFC, and several of his submissions inside the Octagon came against one-dimensional strikers. If this fight goes to the mat, Nogueira could actually hold the advantage.
I’m giving both men a decent chance of victory, but I don’t see either fighter actually pulling it off. If I’m forced to pick one, however, I, too, would go with Rogerio. As for a run toward a title? Fedor Emelianenko’s Octagon debut is a more likely possibility.
Judging by the remaining (and relatively inconsequential) fights on the main card, it appears the UFC is once again betting on the popularity of Ronda Rousey to sell a pay-per-view. Acknowledging that the live Brazilian crowd will be in mid-2000s MMA legend heaven, how well will UFC 190 perform with paying customers in the United States?
Henderson: Maybe I’m just overly optimistic, but I think this card has a lot of overall appeal beyond Rousey.
The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 4 finals do seem like a better fit for the prelims, but the UFC is going with quantity to make up for that. Essentially, the seven-fight main card is a five-fight pay-per-view offering plus the TUF finals. That leaves a main card that introduces the UFC fan base to arguably the world’s top strawweight, Jessica Aguilar, in a fight against established UFC strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha, throws in the Lil Nog-Shogun and Big Nog-Struve fights and adds a fun clash of heavyweight bruisers Soa Palelei and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Aguilar and Gadelha might not appeal on a wide scale to casual MMA fans, but I’d wager that names like Shogun, Nogueira and Bigfoot still resonate well with the contingent of MMA viewers who don’t keep a close eye on the UFC rankings or the polls of various MMA media outlets. Outside of Conor McGregor and a handful of other fighters, the UFC hasn’t done a fantastic job of building up the next generation of superstars. That’s why you’ll still hear casual fans talk about Shogun, Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz more than they’ll talk about a Rafael dos Anjos or Chris Weidman — it’s also why Bellator has managed to draw solid ratings for irrelevant clashes like Ortiz’s fight with Stephan Bonnar. Dos Anjos and Weidman may be significant in today’s MMA landscape, but they pale in comparison to the Liddells and Ortizes (and Shoguns and Nogueiras) of the sport in name recognition.
This card is definitely built to sell based on Rousey, but there will be plenty of fans out there who share in the Brazilians’ enthusiasm for the mid-2000s legend heaven. So, UFC 190 will fare well. We probably aren’t talking Conor McGregor numbers, but it’ll definitely bring in a healthy number of U.S. viewers.
Reinert: I guess I never considered the Strikeforce-esque nature of UFC 190. It’s got the significant headliner backed by an undercard rife with big names from MMA’s last generation. The problem is that Strikeforce’s events only required a subscription to Showtime (and Bellator’s more recent MMA sideshows only require a cable subscription that includes Spike TV), where UFC 190 will be asking fans to pay $60 for just the one event.
Rousey is without question one of the UFC’s biggest stars, and her participation in Saturday’s main event is sure to draw a lot of new eyes to the sport (particularly in the wake of her appearances in Furious 7 and the Entourage movie), so we’re probably not talking about basement-level buyrates. Still, one has to think the safer play from a buyrate standpoint would be to have Rousey’s headlining fight backed up by at least one fight with title considerations in a UFC division that’s been around for longer than a year. Then again, as my fellow writer points out, that move really only makes a difference to the sport’s most devoted fans, who will probably buy the thing anyway.
For the first half of 2015, the UFC seems to have done a pretty good job of setting up its pay-per-view cards such that the loss of a main-card contest doesn’t suddenly derail the entire event (as we saw a few times last year). While the fights outside the headliner (and the women’s strawweight fight at the bottom of the main card) don’t hold a lot of significance, the UFC has put together a fun summer card featuring perhaps its biggest mainstream attraction ever. The company’s big-number pay-per-view heyday has come and gone, but this one should provide a decent return on the UFC’s investment.
The MMA world finally gets to see Jessica Aguilar fight ranked opponents inside the UFC’s Octagon. First on the docket is Claudia Gadelha, a perennial top contender in Invicta and the UFC. Will Aguilar win this fight and immediately establish herself as one of the elite, or is she bound to run into the same trouble as other UFC newcomers, such as Eddie Alvarez and Hector Lombard, who climbed into top-10 lists while competing outside of the UFC and stumbled in their Octagon debuts?
Reinert: I don’t think these two things are necessarily mutually exclusive. The UFC’s strawweight division is still brand new, and all it will take for any fighter is two or three straight wins to be considered a title contender. Aguilar has defeated her last 10 opponents in a row, so she absolutely has the potential to challenge for the belt sometime in the next year or two.
Unfortunately, her road to Joanna Jędrzejczyk is about to hit a major speed bump in the form of Gadelha. The No. 2-ranked Brazilian went 12-0 (a run that included eight wins by stoppage) before losing via split decision to the current strawweight champion in December. At 26, Gadelha is more than six years younger than Aguilar, and her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Andre Pederneiras is no joke.
We’ve got a great “Fight of the Night” contender right here, with two of the four best strawweight fighters in the world matching up in a title eliminator. I’ve got Gadelha by submission, but Aguilar is going to hang around the top five for quite some time.
Henderson: Aguilar’s competition outside of the UFC was far from a consistent stream of top talent. She didn’t have the edge of fighting against her fellow elite in Invicta or on The Ultimate Fighter. That puts her in a similar scenario to Lombard. Aguilar will have to transition from fighting someone like Alida Gray, an inexperienced 4-0 prospect when she challenged Aguilar for the belt, and good-but-not-great veterans like Emi Fujino and Kalindra Faria during her World Series of Fighting run to butting heads with a legitimate, established contender like Gadelha. That’s a Lombard-like leap. Heck, it’s probably even a step beyond going from a Trevor Prangley to a Tim Boetsch.
Aguilar’s talented, though, and she’s not likely to get crushed by the Brazilian. However, I don’t share my colleague’s opinion of a “Fight of the Night” contender emerging from this match-up. There’s simply too much working against such a possibility.
First, there’s Aguilar’s wrestling-heavy, grinding style. She submitted the inexperienced Gray in the first round, but she needed the full five rounds against Fujino and Faria. Gadelha isn’t averse to fighting a grueling battle to the final bell either, so it’s easy to envision this turning into a war of attrition between two fighters who like to bully their opponents around.
Second, this is Aguilar’s UFC debut. Take her typical grinding style and add in Octagon jitters. The result could be a rather tentative performance where Aguilar either gets off to a slow start or fades down the stretch. Task her with beating someone as talented as Gadelha and the odds of this type of performance, win or lose, only increases.
That’s not to say that the American Top Team fighter will lose. She’s been at the top of the strawweight mountain for a long while now despite fighting outside the UFC. There’s a reason for this. She’s quite capable of taking Gadelha to the mat and controlling the Brazilian for 15 minutes en route to a decision. It just won’t be an exciting one.
If we consider a slow first performance to be a stumble, then Aguilar will indeed stumble. She’ll still pick up the win, however, and her next outing will be a more accurate display of what’s made Aguilar one of the best in the world.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: UFC 190 has a lot of possible sleeper fights in the lineup. It really depends on what you consider to be the most important element in choosing a sleeper.
Do you want a fight that might not mean quite as much in the rankings, but which could potentially end in a jaw-rattling knockout? In that case, Soa Palelei’s heavyweight clash with Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva sure sounds appealing.
Do you prefer a fight that could produce a TUF Brazil winner that could go on to be a legitimate contender in the UFC? Then Dileno Lopes, who sits at 18-1 over an eight-year career, might be the answer. The Nova Uniao fighter vies with Reginaldo Vieira for the TUF Brazil 4 bantamweight crown, but he has a history of success as a flyweight and could eventually land in the 125-pound division.
What about a contest that could establish a welterweight contender? Well, if that’s the case, then there’s Neil Magny and Demian Maia, who square off in the featured bout of the preliminary card.
It’s a tough choice on a surprisingly deep card. My pick? Well, the potential for a big knockout is too much to pass up. Sure, Bigfoot and Palelei could end up in a grinding clinch battle or the Brazilian could opt to rely on what is seemingly his biggest edge and take Palelei to the ground, but fights start on the feet. Fans will hope this one stays there, too.
Bigfoot has 13 victories and six defeats via strikes in his extensive career. The Brazilian’s chin has been especially suspect in his most recent outings, where he lasted just 81 seconds with Cain Velasquez, three minutes with Andrei Arlovski and 100 seconds with Frank Mir. Shockingly, he did go the five-round distance with the hard-hitting Mark Hunt in between the losses to Velasquez and Arlovski, but Silva’s ability to take a punch has greatly diminished.
That’s bad news for the Brazilian, considering the resume of his Australian counterpart. Palelei has delivered 18 finishes via strikes and has only been stopped twice by punches — once via TKO to Eddie Sanchez in Palelei’s brief first UFC stint and then by way of submission to punches when he met Daniel Cormier on the regional circuit before Cormier joined the UFC and ascended to the light heavyweight throne. “The Hulk” has gone 4-1 in his current UFC run, and all four of his wins have come via some form of knockout.
If Palelei can surge forward early and land a big fist on the button, Bigfoot could be done in a hurry. If Silva survives, however, there’s a chance that this could turn into an extended game of knockout bingo.
Reinert: Way to leave me with a ton of unmentioned options here, Bryan…
The real sleeper on this card is Gadelha vs. Aguilar, simply because of the caliber of fighter involved and the stakes at hand, but of course it’s stuck as the pay-per-view opener and is vastly overshadowed by the UFC Masters Division fights taking place after it. We gave that match-up its due earlier, though, so I’ll pick another.
Magny is the sleeper fighter to anyone who doesn’t pay daily attention to MMA. He has never appeared on a UFC pay-per-view broadcast (a streak that continues on Saturday) and probably wouldn’t be mentioned as one of the sport’s very best welterweights. Yet here Magny sits atop a seven-fight winning streak dating back only to February 2014. If a guy wins three in a row, he’s worth watching. When a guy wins seven straight, he is not to be missed.
On Saturday, Magny faces by far his toughest test in Maia, who was once (and might very well still be) the best submission grappler in the UFC. Magny’s recent record is impressive for sure, but he’s never, ever faced anyone on Maia’s level when it comes to the ground game. Some might be tempted to bet against the New Yorker for this very reason, but I think he continues his run. Either way, this is a great fight, and fans should make sure to tune in just before the pay-per-view to catch it.
Pair this card with…
Reinert: The WWE runs what is basically a minor league called NXT, where it develops new talent and hones the existing skills of independent wrestlers that sign WWE contracts. One of the current members of the NXT roster is a giant by the name of Baron Corbin. When the WWE deemed Corbin ready for a push, the company began booking him in a series of quick, dominant victories. This happened so frequently that NXT fans in attendance soon began yell-counting in unison during each match for the 30 or so seconds before Corbin’s inevitable victory.
You should do that with your friends during Ronda Rousey’s fight.
Henderson: Your best “WOOOO!” My pro-wrestling knowledge doesn’t extend as far as the WWE’s current era, so I’ll go old school. Rousey and friends Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir call themselves the Four Horsewomen, a spin on the Ric Flair-led pro-wrestling stable of ’80s and ’90s. Flair’s signature chant is the perfect exclamation to shout at the end of Rousey’s fight, whether you’re a Rousey fan cheering on her victory or simply an MMA fan marvelling at another one of Rousey’s amazing finishes.
|Fight||Henderson’s Pick||Reinert’s Pick|
|Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s BW Championship: Ronda Rousey vs. Bethe Correia||Rousey||Rousey|
|LHW: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua||Rua||Rua|
|TUF Brazil 4 LW Final: Fernando Bruno vs. Glaico Franca||Franca||Franca|
|TUF Brazil 4 BW Final: Dileno Lopes vs. Reginaldo Vieira||Lopes||Lopes|
|HW: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Stefan Struve||Struve||Struve|
|HW: Soa Palelei vs. Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva||Palelei||Palelei|
|Women’s StrawW: Jessica Aguilar vs. Claudia Gadelha||Aguilar||Gadelha|
|Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 8 p.m. ET)|
|WW: Neil Magny vs. Demian Maia||Maia||Magny|
|LHW: Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante vs. Patrick Cummins||Cavalcante||Cavalcante|
|WW: Warlley Alves vs. Nordine Taleb||Alves||Alves|
|BW: Iuri Alcantara vs. Leandro Issa||Alcantara||Issa|
|Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. ET)|
|MW: Clint Hester vs. Vitor Miranda||Hester||Miranda|
|BW: Guido Cannetti vs. Hugo Viana||Viana||Cannetti|