Ronda Rousey's Tiger Woods-like domination not good for UFC women's division

Ronda Rousey's Tiger Woods-like domination not good for UFC women's division

The UFC's women's bantamweight division is pretty much in the same state the PGA Tour was in around 2000, when Tiger Woods won just about everything he set his mind to winning.

Woods dominated the Tour in his early years like no one before, or since. He was a longer hitter, had a defter touch and was much more physically fit than his rivals.

He made scores of great players look like contenders in the third flight of the local club championship.

In the women's bantamweight division, champion Ronda Rousey is so far ahead of the rest of the field that it seems ludicrous to suggest she might lose at this stage.

It was a noteworthy achievement when Miesha Tate pushed Rousey into the third round of their title match at UFC 168 in December. Rousey's arm bar remains her most dynamic move, but she is such an elite athlete that she is rapidly improving in all areas of the game. She's by far the best female athlete in the UFC and is clearly one of its top in terms of athletic ability regardless of gender.

That ability, coupled with her incredible work ethic, has put her at least as far ahead of the women's bantamweight field as Woods was ahead of the PGA Tour fields from 1997 through the mid-2000s.

Her dominance is great in one sense, because fans gravitate toward winners. But it's cast a pall over non-title women's matches.

On a loaded UFC card that will be televised nationally Saturday by Fox from Orlando, Fla., Tate will meet Liz Carmouche in a bout that, in other circumstances, might have stirred up a lot of passion and interest. But Rousey has manhandled both, and that has taken a bit of the significance out of Saturday's match. It pits Tate, No. 3 in the current UFC rankings, against No. 7 Carmouche.

It isn't getting the hype that it might have gotten otherwise because of the Rousey effect. But the good news is that Rousey's dominance will force other female fighters to boost their games, much like Woods did on the PGA Tour.

For years, Woods intimidated other Tour players just with his presence. The others, though, began to commit themselves to physical fitness as he had and they worked aggressively on other areas of their games, and suddenly, Woods wasn't so far ahead of the field.

Tate, for one, believes the women will adjust and eventually close the gap on Rousey.

"I really do," Tate said. "Anytime someone introduces something new to the sport of MMA, people are going to wonder what it is and what separates her and what makes her better. That's part of being in a competitive industry.

"Everybody is going to try to figure out what it is that is making her successful and will look to add themselves. It's a constant process of evolution. You just can't stay the same and expect to remain successful. The champion has set the bar and everyone has to shoot at that bar."

Tate said she's evolved as a fighter and that she believes she's more well-rounded than she's ever been. She remains among the elite in her division, even with losses in her past two fights and in three of her last four. But she knows she faces a long, hard climb back to the top.

She'd clearly like another shot at Rousey, and believes she can defeat her despite two losses to her, but she knows it's not going to come any time soon.

"There is a part of me that wonders where this fight will lead me to, but that's not what I'm focused on at the moment," Tate said. "I'm pretty sure beating Liz isn't going to give me a title shot. I have to think I'm at least three wins away. But this is definitely a step in the right direction.

"Liz is one of the toughest girls in the division and I couldn't be happier that the UFC gave me a fight with someone as notable as she is. She's widely respected as one of the best fighters on the planet and it could boost my career in the right direction if I can beat her."

Before he saw Rousey fight, president Dana White had famously said he'd never allow women into the UFC. In large part, that was because he didn't feel there was enough depth of quality fighters.

It's turned out that White was dead wrong. There is a lot of quality depth, and there are some compelling women's fights that could be made. The problem is that the champion is so far ahead of the rest of the field that it makes those non-title bouts seem small and insignificant.

Everything in the UFC's women's bantamweight division these days is measured against Rousey. Much as it was around 2000 on the PGA Tour, it's now incumbent on the women to boost their games and close the gap on Rousey.

The best thing for the UFC right now is to have at least one woman the fans believe could defeat Rousey or give her a great fight.

That really doesn't exist with any of them now. There is no match for Rousey with women who are currently in the UFC that would seriously captivate the fan base.

Fans would be interested in Rousey matches against Cris "Cyborg" Justino and Gina Carano, but both are primarily featherweights and neither is in the UFC at this point.

It's up to the women who are under UFC contracts now to close the gap on Rousey. It happened on the PGA Tour when several men at least got into the ballpark with Woods.

If one of the women – be it Tate, Carmouche, Sara McMann, Cat Zingano or Alexis Davis – can prove to be a legitimate threat to Rousey, it will help to grow interest in the division.

But if not, the women's division will amount to Rousey appearances and not much else.