Ronda Rousey wins so decisively, so impressively, so quickly, that she makes us question what we're seeing.
The UFC women's bantamweight champion has won her last three fights in 16, 14 and 34 seconds – and in the process, she's thrust herself into the mainstream in a manner that no mixed martial arts fighter has ever come close to doing.
Her bout on Saturday in Melbourne, Australia, against undefeated ex-boxing champion Holly Holm in front of what is expected to be a UFC-record crowd of more than 70,000 at Etihad Stadium is being billed as her toughest challenge ever.
Of course, her bout with Cat Zingano at UFC 184 was billed the same way, and Rousey finished it in 14 seconds.
She's won so quickly with such regularity that we wonder whether she's that good or that the opposition she's facing isn't that strong. Joe Rogan, the UFC's color analyst, thinks that has to at least be considered.
"I think you can make the argument for both being the case," Rogan said. "I don't think you can make the case that her competition has been as good as Jon Jones [faced in his run as UFC light heavyweight champion] or as good as "Mighty Mouse" [flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson] or any of the other champions.
"I just don't think [Rousey's past opponents] are as good, but she is. It's a really interesting scenario. You have one athlete who is not just really dominant in her division and in her sport, but who arguably has the best judo in MMA, who arguably has the best arm bar technique in MMA. And she's fighting girls who, other than Miesha Tate, aren't really capable of competing with her."
Rousey defeated Tate twice, submitting her to win the Strikeforce title at 4:27 of the first round, then needing to go to 58 seconds of the third round to beat her at UFC 168.
Rousey has fought 15 minutes, 25 seconds combined in two bouts against Tate. In her 10 other pro fights combined, she's fought 10 minutes, 11 seconds.
She's about an 18-1 favorite to defeat Holm.
Ray Longo, the highly regarded coach of the Serra Longo Fight Team that includes UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, said in his opinion, Rousey's dominance can be explained not by pointing out that her opposition is bad but that she is so good.
"I honestly believe she's as good as the hype," Longo said. "Every time I think a fight is going to go into the second round, it doesn't even last 20 seconds. She wins these fights in such dynamic fashion. And that makes me say this: In my opinion, the only person who can beat Ronda Rousey is Ronda Rousey."
Eric Del Fierro has also trained some of the best fighters in the world at Alliance MMA, including former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and light heavyweights Alexander Gustafsson and Phil Davis.
He, too, thinks her success is more Rousey's greatness and less about weak opposition.
"I think she's that good," Del Fierro said. "When you think of what Jon Jones did and his rise at such a young age, nobody was giving him the competition he needed. But look what they were doing against everyone else. Jon was just that good. And I think you can make the same point about Ronda. She's the real deal. I'm a huge fan of what she's done."
Ana Julaton is a former women's boxing champion who, like Holm, has transitioned to MMA. Julaton fights for One FC and will meet Irina Mazepa on Dec. 11, in Manila.
Julaton raves about what Rousey has done for women's combat sports, but said she's not unbeatable. She noted, however, that Rousey has consistently managed to intimidate her opponents and throw them off their game.
Holm, who began as a kickboxer, likes to use her lateral movement and throw a lot of kicks. That could serve to keep Rousey on the outside and make it difficult for her to use her judo and her sheer physical strength.
But Julaton said that while Holm's technique must be on point, her key will be coming into the bout mentally strong.
Rousey, along with tennis superstar Serena Williams, is arguably the most famous female athlete in the world. She announced her fight with Holm during a live appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America," the promo for her fight debuted on Ellen DeGeneres' daytime talk show, she's hosted SportsCenter and been a guest on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."
PODCAST: Kevin Iole breaks down the Ronda Rousey-Holly Holm fight:
None of that means anything once the bell sounds to begin a fight, but it can get into the mind of an opponent and impact the way she fights.
"Technically, [Holm] has the style to give Ronda trouble and even win the fight," Julaton said. "She's got the length. She has the striking experience. She's in phenomenal shape. I've seen her do back flips [following fights]. But what it comes down to is that, despite this massive stage and what's she's being paid and all the hype around Ronda, Holly Holm needs to go in there with the attitude that she's going to kick Ronda's ass and [doesn't care] if she gets paid for it.
"Basically, she has to have the attitude that, 'I don't care who you are. They can pay me nothing for this fight, but I know I'm better than you.' She has to say, '[Expletive] Good Morning America. [Expletive] Ellen. She has to believe she can win and fight that way. I've seen her have the footwork and stick and move and do the things she needs to. It's not like she doesn't have the pieces she needs to make it advantageous for her. But when people fight Ronda, they know she's alpha. Holly has to go in there and believe she's the alpha."
Del Fierro said he expects Holm coaches Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn to have developed a great game plan and have given her a winning mindset.
But he said Rousey is so talented that it may not matter.
"Ronda is just another level of athlete," he said.
The biggest advantage for Holm could be one that Rousey's mother, AnnMaria DeMars, has given her: The controversy surrounding coach Edmond Tarverdyan.
Last month, DeMars blasted Tarverdyan and called him a terrible coach. Earlier this month, news broke that Tarverdyan has declared bankruptcy.
That concerns Longo when looking at the bout from Rousey's vantage point.
"This could be a big, big factor, this stuff with her coach," Longo said. "It's almost a spiritual bond you develop with your fighter. I love to get close to them and we are together, fighting for each other, every step of the way.
"That's the only thing I think could impact Ronda. You might say they're all little things, but you take all of those little things and put them together and it could be a big thing. It has to be squared away."
Both Rousey and Tarverdyan declined to discuss DeMars' criticism of him. Rousey wouldn't even say if she spoke with her mother about her comments.
"Any reaction and response I have for my mother, she's going to hear it from me and not a media outlet," Rousey said.
She's one of the most singularly focused athletes in the world, but she's also human. Rogan agreed with Longo about the significance of that.
"It's certainly not good," Rogan said. "I think Ronda has a very unique ability to focus and to not pay any attention to anything other than her goals. It's one of the reasons why she's been so successful. But that focus is tested when you have one of the most important people in her life, her mom, questioning one of the other most important people in her life, her coach. It's a real issue.
"And then right afterward, there was the subsequent filing of bankruptcy by Edmond. That doesn't help, especially when you look at the fact that in the bankruptcy filing, he said he makes zero money. It makes Ronda's mom's case look stronger. I like Edmond and think he's done a pretty good job as a striking coach. …
"But I don't know the details like Ronda's mom does. She's a woman of extreme ethics, and she's a dominant woman. … I don't know the particulars of why she's upset, but it's an issue."
If Rousey overcomes all of it to defeat Holm, the legend will grow only larger, and calls for her to face Cris "Cyborg" Justino will only grow in intensity.
She has a lot on her plate, including an opponent who has a style that has been tuned to beat hers. But she's risen above everything before. And the experts figure she'll do it again.
"There haven't been many athletes ever like her in the UFC," Del Fierro said. "She's pretty incredible."
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