It's time to include Ronda Rousey in the 'Greatest of All Time' conversation

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Three fighters have had a stranglehold on the title of the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

Heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko wore the mythical crown first, until he was dethroned in the eyes of many by ex-UFC champion Anderson Silva.

Though there remains a strong case for Silva, many believe that Jon Jones, whom the UFC stripped of its light heavyweight title earlier this year following an automobile accident, has surpassed him.

It just might be time, however, to add another name into that conversation:

Ronda Rousey.

Before you scream, let’s be honest: If there were a male UFC champion who was 12-0 and had won his last three fights in 16, 14 and 34 seconds, that man would almost by acclamation be proclaimed the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world as well as the greatest who ever lived.

Rousey, though, hasn’t heard such talk, even though with each time out, it’s becoming increasingly clear she deserves it.

Ronda Rousey delivers a punch to Bethe Correia during their UFC 190 bout. (Getty)
Ronda Rousey delivers a punch to Bethe Correia during their UFC 190 bout. (Getty)

The way she’s going, though, she’d probably be favored in a match against a hungry grizzly bear.

The only argument against Rousey’s greatness is the lack of other elite talent in her division.

That’s the easy answer, but it probably isn’t the right one. It’s overlooking the fabulous athletic pedigree of this amazing athlete.

She competed in the Olympics at 17 and then won a bronze medal at 21. She was a world-class competitor in judo in her teens.

Since moving to MMA, she’s physically matured and added to her vast repertoire of skills. She’s also visibly larger and more muscular than she’d been three or four years ago, the result of an intense training regimen.

Her boxing skills, which were non-existent when she started, are now among the best in the women’s game. Her trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan, says she more than holds her own when sparring with female boxing champions.

She’s incredibly strong, not just for a woman but for anyone of her size, as many men who have trained with her have noted. The most recent was interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor, who told Sports Illustrated, “I swear on my life, her back muscles were the most solidest (sic) back muscles I’ve ever felt in my life.”

Part of her natural athleticism is her quickness, which was on display both with her feet and her hands on Saturday while she pummeled Bethe Correia into oblivion in the main event of UFC 190 in Rio de Janeiro.

She’s by far the finest female grappler in MMA and her skills in that area rank alongside the acknowledged greats like Demian Maia, Fabricio Werdum and Rousimar Palhares as the best in the sport, period.

The only reason she hasn’t been widely discussed as the greatest active fighter or the best of all time already is because of her gender.

There are, of course, plenty of lunkheads who will say, “Yeah, talk to me when she can beat Chris Weidman or Daniel Cormier,” as if the fact that she’d lose to a male who was 50 or 70 pounds heavier than her means anything.

Ronda Rousey (L) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia at UFC 190. (Reuters)
Ronda Rousey (L) celebrates after defeating Bethe Correia at UFC 190. (Reuters)

It’s clearly ridiculous, and it would be ridiculous even if we were talking about a 135-pound man instead of a 135-pound woman.

Rousey is not only dominant every time out, her body and her skills are improving, too. This is the sign of an athlete who is not content, who thinks of the bigger picture and understands the special nature of her skills.

Jones has this special gift, as well. Even though he’s never been nearly as dedicated to Rousey, he’s been just about as dominant. If Jones had the same attitude and work ethic as Rousey, it’s almost frightening to think of what he might do to those he fights.

But he doesn’t, and that’s what makes Rousey so unique.

She’s a fierce competitor who measures herself against a standard most of us can’t even imagine.

She’ll fight Miesha Tate for a third time in her next match. Tate, who has submitted to the Rousey arm bar in each of their first two matches, is a tremendous fighter herself whose only flaw is being in the same weight class at the same time as Rousey.

Tate, like Rousey, has worked feverishly to transform her body and to get into superior condition. She’s refined her skills and solidified her weak spots.

Still, her fight with Jessica Eye on July 25 in Chicago, which she won by unanimous decision to earn the third fight with Rousey, is demonstrative of how far she has to go to catch her rival.

Imagine, for a second, if it had been Rousey, and not Tate, who caught and hurt Eye with that overhand right late in the first round of the bout at the United Center. Is there anyone who believes there would have been any way possible that Eye would have survived Rousey’s finishing attempt to make it to the final bell?

Unlikely. Very, very unlikely.

When you assess Rousey against the greatest who’ve ever lived in her sport, she is more than competitive by just about any measure.

She’s probably the best grappler and the best athlete. Her striking isn’t as good as her grappling, but Silva’s grappling, for example, wasn’t nearly as good as his striking.

Since she’s in the middle of her dominance, it’s best to assess her against the most dominant eras of Emelianenko, Silva and Jones in their prime. Again, she comes out favorably by comparison.

She first fought for the Strikeforce title in just her fifth pro fight against Tate on March 3, 2012. Rousey pointed out that she was still learning when he submitted Tate to an arm bar at 4:27 of the first round of that bout.

Ronda Rousey (R) delivers the bout-ending blow to Bethe Correia at UFC 190. (Reuters)
Ronda Rousey (R) delivers the bout-ending blow to Bethe Correia at UFC 190. (Reuters)

Including that fight, she’s gone 7-0 since with six first-round finishes and a third-round finish (of Tate) on Dec. 28, 2013.

She’s gotten increasingly better as she’s gotten more experience and more training time. She beat Sara McMann, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, in 66 seconds. She took care of Alexis Davis in 16 seconds and then needed only 14 seconds to beat Zingano. It took only 34 seconds before she face-planted Correia on Saturday.

Emelianenko’s best seven-fight period probably came from April 25, 2004, when he submitted Mark Coleman, through Dec. 31, 2005, when he stopped Zuluzinho. He also had a no-contest in there against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira that we’ll ignore, since it ended in the first round because of an accidental head butt.

Emelianenko was 7-0 with five stoppages. A knockout of Zuluzinho in 26 was the quickest, with an arm bar submission of Kevin Randleman the most impressive.

Silva’s top seven-fight streak was the one from UFC 64 on Oct. 14, 2006, when he stopped Rich Franklin in the first to win the title, through Oct. 25, 2008, when he bested Patrick Cote at UFC 90.

Silva was 7-0 with seven finishes, though the Cote fight ended when Cote suffered a knee injury and couldn’t go on. His most impressive victory was undoubtedly the first of two wins over Franklin in that time, when his knees devastated the ex-champion.

Jones’ best seven-fight stretch is probably the streak he’s on, given the quality of the opposition. It would extend from a win over Lyoto Machida at UFC 140 on Dec. 10, 2011, through UFC 182 on Jan. 3 when he routed Cormier.

In that span, he’s beaten former champions in Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort, as well as Cormier, who would go on to win the title after Jones was stripped.

No one could argue much that the quality of Jones’ opposition is better than Rousey’s has been.

But Rousey has been more dominant and hasn’t had a close call like Jones had against Alexander Gustafsson.

When she finally gets the chance to fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and winds up routing her, she’ll finally silence all of the skeptics. And despite Justino’s tremendous power, there is little doubt, in this corner at least, that Rousey will blow Justino out and finish her in the first half of the bout.

Justino, though, has never made the bantamweight division’s 135-pound limit and it’s debatable if she ever will. Even if that fight never happens, it doesn’t detract from Rousey’s legacy and her extraordinary achievements.

She’s the greatest there’s been, and the scary part is, she’s only getting better.