It was about a month ago that I claimed it was the perfect time for former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey to make her return to the Octagon. The time was also perfect for the UFC to book a fight between Rousey and her longtime rival, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.
I still believe that it’s time for Rousey to make her return, and I also believe that a fight with Cyborg would still be a can’t-miss gold mine for the UFC. However, after the events of UFC 200 last weekend, there is an even more pressing reason for Rousey to make her return. The women’s bantamweight division is ripe for the picking.
This is in no way to slight the performance of new champion Amanda Nunes. “The Lioness” battered former champ Miesha Tate senseless, even breaking Tate’s nose, en route to a first-round victory and the title in the UFC 200 main event. The fact that two female fighters headlined the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view to date, and that the UFC crowned its first Brazilian women’s champion and openly gay champion in that main event, represents multiple, significant milestones for the UFC that everyone should stand and applaud.
However, at the same time, Nunes’ victory marked the third consecutive time the women’s bantamweight title changed hands. Ironically enough, the trend started with Rousey, who lost the belt to Holly Holm in November. It looked like Holm’s star was on the rise, until she was choked unconscious by Tate and lost the belt at UFC 196 in March. Tate finally looked primed to assume her perch as the top female in MMA, but Nunes had other ideas at UFC 200.
Can Nunes buck the trend and defend the belt at least one time, for the first time since Rousey’s unprecedented, two-plus-year streak of domination? The next challenger for the belt is unknown — Tate probably won’t get a rematch anytime soon due to the injuries she sustained against Nunes, and Holm is booked against Valentina Shevchenko on the next UFC on Fox card later this month.
Right now, the probable top contender might be Julianna Peña, who is the fourth-ranked women’s bantamweight after defeating Cat Zingano on the UFC 200 preliminary card. As tough as Peña is, a match-up between her and Nunes isn’t likely to move the needle as much as a fight between Nunes and a returning Rousey.
Rousey recently posted a video that may hint she might be closer to making her return to the Octagon:
For those who would cry foul at Rousey being handed a title fight in her return to the Octagon, it’s important to remember that again, Rousey’s dominant streak in the UFC from 2013 to 2015 had never been seen before. Of her six title defenses, five didn’t last past the first round. Only one went the distance and didn’t include a knockout or submission. Rousey soundly defeated some of the top female bantamweights, including Tate and Zingano.
Plus, let’s not kid ourselves, folks. The UFC is still extremely star-driven. Although UFC 200 was likely the organization’s most successful card to date, it did suffer a tad from the lack of bona fide stars on the card. Even though former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar made his return, the event still didn’t feature Rousey, UFC featherweight champion Conor McGregor or Jon Jones, who was removed from the card after failing a drug test.
Anecdotally, UFC 200 web traffic way down from what Rousey and McGregor draw. Stars sell.
At a time when the UFC is entering its next phase after being sold for $4 billion, it’s fitting to borrow one of its recent slogans and say that the time is now for Rousey to return. Her division lacks a true, dominant champion. If Rousey wants to put the bad taste of her first career loss behind her for good, there will never be a better opportunity for her or the UFC to remind fans of her dominance than resuming her perch as the queen of women’s MMA as soon as possible.
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