Strikeforce promised us big things for its main event on Saturday night – things like thrills and action and the kind of unbridled intensity that melts flat-screen TVs right off of walls – and what we got when Ronda Rousey clashed with Miesha Tate was all that and more. Beforehand, we wondered if Rousey could work her seemingly-unstoppable mojo on the champ, her wicked ultra-violence, and we debated if Tate could be the one to derail the barreling freight train. Then there was a mad four-and-a-half minute scramble, an arm so mangled it redefined the word “yikes!” and we had our answers. Not since Gina Carano versus Cris “Cyborg” Santos did we give as much of a crap about female MMA, and now we have both a budding superstar and life breathed into a flagging area of the sport. We have Ronda to thank for that.
If God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs, it was a humerus that went into making Ronda, and the judoka isn’t done paying Him back in the arm-bone currency she feels she owes. Which is just fine. Because if you’re a scrub and not worthy of being in the same cage as her, she’ll rip your arm off in under a minute, just as she did to all before her championship turn, and if you’re good – elite even, perhaps one of the best 135-pound femme fatales the sport has to offer – then it’s more about how long you can last before the inevitable, painful dislocation.
It’s that payoff that matters, and thus far we’ve gotten it every cringe-inducing time. So much so, in fact, that it’s now what makes female MMA so morbidly compelling. Do you think Deadspin would be devoting digital ink to members of the fairer sex fighting in a cage if it weren’t for those endings, those horrific yet amazingly technical things Ronda does to opponents’ limbs? No freakin’ way. But she does so they do, and the sport is better for it.
And what of the future of woman’s MMA? If Rousey is indeed the new standard bearer, who out there is left to legitimately challenge her? When Cyborg beat Carano from the cage, and ultimately from the sport, there was no one else for the Brazilian, no one else to threaten her or unseat her or even force her to break a sweat (which ushered in the “Great Female MMA Dry Spell”, when a women’s bout on a card moved the needle not at all). Will the same thing happen again now that Queen Ronda has ascended the throne?
It’s possible. It’s possible that top contender Sarah Kaufman stands not even a snowball’s chance in Hell against the unstoppable grappling and undeniable armbar that surely awaits. But the beauty of it all is that with Rousey and her Olympic-level combative skills comes something priceless to the sport in general, something so momentous and historic that, years from now, when we look back upon this time, we’ll be calling this the “Ronda Era” – this being the exact point in time when the bar for a female fighter’s necessary skill level was raised to where it was suddenly became conceivable that, yes, that lady could mess other ladies up, and maybe even mess up a lot of guys too (Bryan Caraway, I’m looking at you). Just as an athlete from UFC 3 couldn’t hang with those in the mix today, Rousey’s skill, and appurtenant success, means that at a minimum, a fighter will have to a be at least fantastic at fighting now, whether it’s for challenging the champ or even just entertaining us.
With that said, maybe the next true challenge to Rousey’s reign will take the form of another Olympian, like Sara McMann, who earned a silver medal in freestyle wrestling and has amassed a spotless 5-0 MMA record. Or maybe the Strikeforce champ’s nemesis is still competing at the highest levels in judo, or jiu-jitsu, or whatever, and has yet to cross over to mixed martial arts.
Regardless, because of one of the best main events on a Showtime card in a long time, the bar is now higher than it’s ever been. For that – and the attention and rejuvenation she’s brought – we owe Ronda thanks. And if you want to keep your arm, I suggest you give it to her.