For a little while now, we’ve known that Ronda Rousey is going to take a little more time away from the UFC before attempting to get back to her winning ways. Following her stunning loss at the hands of Holly Holm, Rousey was shaken to the point of confessing suicidal thoughts, and some time off was probably the best thing. At this point, however, the delay appears to be more about scheduling conflicts than anything else. Rousey is not expected to fight again until autumn.
As we heard in March, Rousey’s return will be a title fight, with Dana White having essentially promised that the former champion would take on the winner of the Miesha Tate-Holly Holm fight at UFC 196. Naturally most fans, or at least those who don’t have particular rooting interest in Tate, were hoping for a Holm victory to set up not just a title fight, but an epic rematch for Rousey. As it happened, however, Tate choked Holm unconscious in the fifth round of their bout at UFC 196, setting up a third edition of Rousey vs. Tate later this year.
But is that really the fight that will make the most of Rousey’s comeback? Consider these factors and questions…
What If Tate Loses?
A write-up right after Tate beat Holm suggested that the champion might not want to wait for Rousey’s comeback in October or November to fight again, and sure enough we’re already gearing up for another Tate fight. She’s slated to be on the main card at UFC 200 this July against “The Lioness” Amanda Nunes. So what if she loses? Tate is a proven champion and one of the best fighters in the sport, but she’s lost twice to Rousey already – once in particularly lopsided fashion. The intrigue in the proposed autumn bout for fans, if there is any, is not Rousey vs. Tate – it’s Rousey in a title fight. If Tate loses before the fight, Dana White will have badly botched the Rousey return.
Why Not Holm?
Sure, Tate’s defeat of Holm stole some of the lustre that Holm had gained after bringing Rousey’s undefeated run to an end, but fans haven’t lost sight of just what Holm did to the sport’s biggest star. Before the Holm fight, Rousey was at the absolute peak of her powers, looking utterly untouchable in the octagon and becoming a bigger celebrity by the day. Preceding the fight, an MMA betting guide even cited her 100% submission record as grounds for a bit to “significantly increase your odds.” Wager talk never looks like that. Rousey was just that much of a sure thing. That’s what Holm destroyed, and frankly that narrative remains stronger than any title fight. Rousey vs. Holm straight away should always have been the plan.
Why Not The Olympics?
The other interesting option, not so much where Dana White is concerned but for Rousey, would have been delaying an MMA comeback in favour of another run at the Judo gold medal in the Olympics. Twice a competitor and once a bronze medal winner in the event, Rousey has said she feels a little unfulfilled never having won gold. She also says that the absence of a gold medal drives her in her MMA fights, so perhaps it’s good that she doesn’t actually have one. But purely where her brand is concerned, a trip to Rio and a gold medal in Judo might have been the only thing that could not just revive her aura, but catapult her to new heights. The question, of course, is whether she could have won having put her energy into MMA for so long (she said in 2015 that she could).
What If Holm Fades?
Speaking about where she is psychologically in her recovery from the Holm loss, Rousey has said she’s still grieving the person who could have won it all. Well, that may be about how Holm feels now as well. Undefeated in UFC before her loss to Tate, Holm is no longer the invincible usurper she so briefly appeared to be. And that begs the question: what if she loses again? What if she starts to fade, and her win over Rousey begins to look more like a fluke than anything else? In all likelihood, the Holm-Rousey fight, if an when it happens, will still be a huge draw. But by delaying it in favour of a Tate title fight, White is risking the appeal. If Holm fades in the meantime, it’s simply bad for the fans.
None of this is meant to suggest that Rousey’s comeback won’t be a major event. In fact, no matter who she fights or when it happens it’s likely to be the most watched UFC event in history. But due to these factors, it’s hard not to feel like it could be even more.