(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
Ask UFC President Dana White who could possibly beat women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and the answer you’ll get is a perplexing mix of anyone and no one.
“This is a chick that could leave this building, walk down the Las Vegas Strip and wreck every guy on the Las Vegas Strip,” White said after Rousey’s 16-second destruction of Canadian challenger Alexis Davis at UFC 175 on Saturday night.
At the same time, White added later, “Anybody on any given day can beat anybody if they’re on the top of their game. … You never know what can happen when two people go in and start throwing punches and putting their hands on each other.”
And yeah, that about sums it up when it comes to the most dominant champion women’s MMA has ever known. Her greatest, and maybe even her only, adversary within the current confines of the UFC is the inherent uncertainty of human events.
She could lose because, hey, anybody could lose. If you’re playing the odds, however – and the oddmakers in this fight pegged Rousey (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) a 20-1 favorite at one point – you’d be a fool to bet against her.
That leaves the UFC with a vexing proposition: Now what? Because while it might be fun on occasion to see Rousey dispatch challengers in less time than it takes to microwave a Hot Pocket, it’s doubtful that fans will keep paying for it indefinitely. What Rousey needs is a challenge worthy of her abilities, and soon.
The best bet on the current roster is Cat Zingano (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), who became the top contender with a TKO victory over former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate in April 2013. But before Zingano could cash in on her title shot, a knee injury sidelined her. According to White, she might need to win another fight once she returns in order to reclaim her spot in line.
That leaves the UFC with two viable options outside the organization. The first is former boxing champion and bantamweight sensation Holly Holm (7-0), with whom the UFC is said to be finally making progress after difficult contract negotiations. Holm has the striking skills to exploit the weakest area of Rousey’s game, though that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be able to keep the Olympic judoka at bay long enough to exploit the advantage.
Then there’s Cristiane Justino (12-1), a hulking Brazilian buzzsaw who carries her own share of baggage. For starters, there are questions as to whether “Cyborg” could drop down to 135 pounds from her usual fighting weight of 145 pounds, or how long she’d be able to sustain such a dramatic physical change. Then there’s her failed drug test for steroids back in 2011, which gives White pause, especially at a time when the UFC has come under the microscope after a string of high-profile doping controversies.
There’s also the fact that, according to White, the UFC already offered Justino a contract once, only to be turned down.
“You either want to try and come in and be the world champion or you don’t,” White said after UFC 175. “I mean, it’s fun to talk about all this stuff, but the reality is a whole other ballgame.”
Then again, the reality is also that the UFC has a breakout star in Rousey, but it’s rapidly running out of contenders who can put up a fight worth seeing. And while she might be the greatest thing to ever happen to the female side of the sport, even Rousey can only get by for so long as a one-woman show.
For complete coverage of UFC 175, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.