LAS VEGAS – Ronda Rousey's first-round stoppage of Sara McMann on Saturday was noteworthy for far more than it being yet another successful title defense for the UFC bantamweight champion.
McMann was billed as Rousey's most difficult challenger yet, and Rousey tore through her in just 66 seconds in the main event of UFC 170 before 10,217 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Rousey won by technical knockout, delivering a knee to the midsection that dropped McMann and forced referee Herb Dean to stop it.
It showed another facet to Rousey's game, who had won each of her first eight professional fights by arm bar. If Rousey's striking continues to progress, she'll be significantly more difficult to defeat.
Her mother, AnnMaria De Mars, the first American woman to win a gold medal at the judo world championships, was not disappointed that Rousey didn't keep the arm bar streak alive.
"I told her all the time from the time she started judo, if the referee goes like this [mimicking a referee raising an arm], it's all good," De Mars said. "As long as she won and it's over, I'm happy. I'm even happier it was over quickly. I'm old and I get tired earlier."
Rousey called her shot this time, though she didn't mention it publicly during the fight's promotion. But during training camp, Rousey worked extensively with coach Edmond Tarverdyan on her striking, particularly her body work.
"I promised my coach this time that I was going to drop her with a body shot," Rousey said. "I called it. We've been training it a lot and it's just a goal that I had. I don't like calling it or saying it to anyone else, like the media, because I like to keep my mind open to whatever's there. But to my coach, I promised him I was really going to try."
McMann stormed out and put pressure on Rousey early, landing a nice right. But she didn't do enough to get herself off the cage and that wound up being her undoing.
Rousey landed a standing right elbow that backed McMann up, then followed with a knee that crumpled McMann. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist grabbed her midsection as she went to the mat and made no move to get up.
Rousey threw several strikes at her in an attempt to finish, but when McMann didn't react, Dean said he had to stop it.
"If she doesn't make a move to protect herself, how long do I wait until I stop it?" Dean said. "I don't know how big of a knee it was, because I didn't take it, but she was just holding her midsection and after a while, I had to stop it."
McMann said the stoppage "did seem kind of quick," but Dean didn't have a lot of choice when McMann didn't move to defend herself immediately.
She was clearly disappointed, but did not complain, either in the ring when Dean was there or later at the news conference.
"Things were slowed down in my head," McMann said. "I felt it connect and my body just moved to protect itself. I heard [Dean's] voice and I immediately tried to get back up. I'm not going to blame the referee for something I feel I should be able to control.
"I should have gotten up quicker. If you want to win fights, you just have to do it regardless of what is going on."
What is going on is the development of a superb athlete into a superior fighter, one dangerous in all aspects of the game.
One perfectly placed and executed knee isn't a sign that she's the best striker in women's mixed martial arts, as she said before the bout, but it is indicative of the work she has been doing.
"People forget, I won the title for the first time a year after my first pro fight," she said. "I'm learning, still. It took me a long time to feel like I wasn't just doing the judo. I feel I'm becoming a more well-rounded martial artist."
There aren't a lot of women in the UFC who haven't had a title shot yet who look like they're ready to compete with Rousey, even without enhanced striking. But if Rousey is able to make her striking a strength, it will only separate her even more from the rest of the field.
Alexis Davis, who won a split decision over Jessica Eye on the undercard, said she'd love a title shot. UFC president Dana White said Cat Zingano will get the next shot if she's healthy and when she's emotionally recovered from the trauma of her husband's recent suicide.
He may have to look outside of the UFC, to long-time Rousey nemesis Cris "Cyborg" Justino or boxer turned MMA fighter Holly Holm, to find someone who can be a threat to Rousey.
Justino fights at 145 pounds and has said in the past she was told by a doctor she would die if she tried to cut to Rousey's division at 135. But suddenly, with a big-money fight looming with Rousey at 135, Justino is now saying she can make 135. She said she'll try to fight at bantamweight in Invicta, an all-women's promotion where she is its featherweight champion.
If she proves she can make it safely once or twice, White would likely scoop her up for a fight with Rousey that would be unquestionably the biggest women's fight in history.
But it's far from a guarantee that Justino could make 135 and that could leave Rousey without a lot of elite contenders as she's moving into her athletic prime.
"Ronda has always been such a great athlete, but what I don't think that some people realize is that in judo, the middle weights, people don't peak until they're in their mid-20s," De Mars said. "If she had stayed in judo, this would have been her peak. The 2008 Olympics, she was young for that. Usually in judo, the very light weights, speed is a big factor and for the very heaviest weights, strength is a big factor.
"So the light weights tend to peak early 20s and the heavy weights tend to peak late 20s. But the middle weights are peaking in between. If you look when the middle weights win world and Olympic titles, they tend to be in their mid-20s. Really, this should be the peak of her athletic career."
She's beginning to separate herself so far from the pack that the cries for a fight with Justino only figure to intensify. But Rousey is a brilliant athlete with speed, quickness and a growing arsenal of moves.
No longer can one just train to defend the arm bar and expect to be able to beat her.
"She's scary," White said. "And she's getting better every time she fights."
That's the worst news of all for every 135-pound female fighter in the world.
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