LAS VEGAS – Ronda Rousey put on arguably her greatest performance Saturday on the heels of a summer spent filming a television reality series and two movies, a magazine photo cover spread and countless personal appearances.
And now, after submitting Miesha Tate in the third round with an arm bar in the Fight of the Night before 15,650 at the MGM Grand Garden to retain her UFC women's bantamweight title, Rousey has accepted an even greater challenge.
The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo will return to competition in less than two months to headline UFC 170 on Feb. 22 against 2004 Olympic freestyle wrestling silver medalist Sara McMann.
The crowd booed Rousey relentlessly after she refused Tate's handshake, but it was no coincidence. Rousey saw the trend in which she had been portrayed as the heel on "The Ultimate Fighter," and she went with it.
It was a classic pro wrestling move, but also proved that fans have an opinion of her.
"I wasn't surprised at all [because] I was aware of the role I was in," Rousey said of the vociferous chorus of boos. "The favorite analogy I use is that Batman played the bad guy and let Scarface [actually Two-Face] play the good guy. Every fight I approach it with what's needed at the time."
What's needed in the UFC are new young stars, and Rousey is the most prominent of many of them like middleweight champion Chris Weidman, heavyweight Travis Browne and light heavyweight contender Alexander Gustafsson.
She's an amazing athlete, and threw Tate around like a rag doll on Saturday. Tate is one of the elite fighters in the world, but she could do little against Rousey except to try to fend her off.
Rousey completed at least five, and perhaps more, judo throws, violently slamming Tate down. But she also showed much improved jiu-jitsu and was better in every phase of the game than she had been at UFC 157 when she submitted Liz Carmouche.
After she finished filming TUF in Las Vegas, she did "Fast & Furious 7" in Atlanta and then went to Bulgaria to film a role in "The Expendables 3."
She'd beaten Tate in the past, so she said she needed to put more on her plate to challenge herself. It was difficult, she said, because she was alone most of the time she was in Bulgaria.
But former world champion boxer Victor Ortiz also has a role in the film and he and Rousey worked out together.
"Me and Victor were able to keep each other mutually motivated a lot of the time," she said. "We ran up the mountain and he'd yell, 'And still! And still!' We'd go to the boxing gym, because they set up a place where we could go, and we mostly did distance things. He'd try to get away from me and I'd try to clinch with him without getting hit. Even if he was on one side of the gym hitting a bag and I was a few feet away wrestling around with some Bulgarian dudes, it was nice to have company in the gym."
She'll take a few days off, but will have to hop right back into training to face McMann, who figures to give the toughest test of her career.
McMann's wrestling ability should help her against Rousey's judo, and allow her to have some control of where the fight is fought.
But in the short time she has been a professional, Rousey has proven that it is unwise to underestimate her.
Tate was able to prepare for months where and when she wanted, but the globetrotting Rousey was dominant in all areas.
"Doing those movies did make it more difficult, but I did that on purpose," she said. "I don't do this for a living to do things that are easy. I have to keep finding ways to challenge myself and that's what I needed to do to make this fight more challenging."
Lord only knows how Rousey can challenge herself in the short time until Feb. 22, but have no doubt she'll find a way.
She's a world-class athlete with a killer competitive drive.
She's not unbeatable, because no one is, but it's going to take another world-class athlete who is on top of her game to beat her.