While she didn’t go public with it, Ronda Rousey made a vow to her coaches before fighting Sara McMann in the main event of UFC 170 at Mandalay Bay on Saturday night.
Rousey, a 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist who had finished off her first eight professional MMA opponents by armbar, had been working tirelessly in the gym to expand her overall game.
Her coaches have been raving about her improved striking ability and, in particular, her attacks to the midsection.
Rousey promised to bring what she had been doing in the gym into the fight with McMann, who had long been considered her most difficult challenger currently on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster.
“I actually promised my coaches I’d drop her with a body shot. That was just a goal I had in this fight,” Rousey said late Saturday at the post-fight news conference. “I don’t like saying it in the media or to anyone else beforehand because I always like to keep my mind open for whatever opportunity is there. But to my coaches, I promised I was really going to try.”
Rousey dropped McMann, a 2004 Olympic wrestling silver medalist, with a knee to the liver just over a minute into their fight to remain undefeated and defend the belt for the third time.
Now that she’s shown she is more than just an armbar specialist, only two questions remain for Rousey:
Who’s next, and when?
Those very simple questions are actually quite complex.
The timing of Rousey’s next fight could be dependent on her Hollywood schedule. Rousey, 27, is set to begin filming as the female lead in the “Entourage” movie next month. She already filmed her part in “The Expendables 3,” which comes out in August.
She said “late summer” is probably a good target date coming off two title defenses in less than two months.
Which leaves the even more complex question of who she will fight.
Cat Zingano is the top contender. She was supposed to film “The Ultimate Fighter” as Rousey’s opposing coach last year and then fight for the belt in December, only to suffer a serious knee injury. Then her husband and longtime coach committed suicide in January.
“The kitchen sink has been thrown at that poor girl,” said White, who has no timetable for Zingano’s return.
Alexis Davis, who improved to 3-0 in the UFC with a split decision over Jessica Eye on Saturday, is a possibility, though little she has done in the UFC indicates she would be able to pose much of a threat to Rousey’s dominance.
That leaves two names, neither of whom is in the UFC at the moment.
Holly Holm is a world champion boxer who is 6-0 in MMA and working her way toward a UFC deal. She could pose a strong challenge, though her name would likely have to be built a bit first in order to sell the fight.
Then there’s “Cyborg.” Cristiane Justino is a former Strikeforce champion who was stripped of the belt after a positive drug test in late 2011.
She is a wrecking ball in the cage and is perceived to be neck-and-neck with Rousey as the two best female fighters in the world. Several oddsmakers told the Review-Journal on Sunday the hypothetical odds would indicate a tossup fight, with Justino perhaps even opening as the favorite.
Justino comes with baggage, however. In addition to the positive drug test, her manager Tito Ortiz gave a sloppily constructed news conference last year where, among other things, he said a doctor informed Justino she could face severe physical harm, or even death, if she tried to cut down to the UFC women’s division weight limit of 135 pounds.
White said there’s no way he would risk being the first promoter to put her in a fight at 135 pounds with that statement on the record.
“If she stays clean, gets a couple fights at 135, she’s healthy, she’s safe,” White said of the conditions for bringing her to the UFC. “And fights that matter. You don’t just get a couple of fights at 135 and come in and step over every girl in the UFC and then get a chance to face Ronda. You know what I mean? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Justino said in a news release the comment about potentially dying was a translation issue and that the UFC could test her every week if the organization so desired. She said she plans to fight once at 135 pounds for all-female organization Invicta, then challenge Rousey for the belt in December.
“ANYTIME! ANYWHERE! Ask your daddy Dana to make it happen,” Justino said in the release of her willingness to fight Rousey.
Rousey said on Fox Sports 1 on Saturday night that she’s more than willing to fight Justino, but she won’t go seeking her out.
“Of course I’m interested in it,” Rousey said. “I’m not going anywhere. She knows where I’m at.”
Justino is in pursuit.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.