Buzz still lingers around Rousey's thrilling UFC 157 win
What will they do for an encore?
That's a question that bounces around our rapturous cranium every time we're wowed by some rock band or jazz combo. Or upon seeing some team reach above its expected place in the standings and win the big one. Or after an especially sumptuous restaurant meal, a playroom moment of magical kid cuteness, a social gathering with the perfect combination of guest list, appetizer spread and beer selection.
Or when two tough, talented women -- one an Olympic medalist, the other a veteran of the U.S. Marines -- step into a cage together for a brush with fighting history, and put on a performance that exceeds even the most buoyant expectations.
The answer, as it relates to what the future holds for Ronda Rousey, Liz Carmouche and the UFC women's bantamweight division: Who knows? Another way to respond to the question, at least for the short-term: It almost doesn't matter.
Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Rousey and Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157 Saturday night in Anaheim, Calif., the women's fight game firmly established its place on the sport's most brightly spotlit stage. The women need do no more to prove their worth.
It was the promise of witnessing a momentous first that sold out the Honda Center and, according to early UFC projections, enticed a formidable number of customers to fork over $55 for the pay-per-view telecast. But that wasn't what gave the women's game its staying power. Ronda and Liz had to deliver, and boy did they ever, to the point where they won over even a prominent skeptic.
"There was no bigger naysayer than me," UFC president Dana White told reporters following Saturday night's fight. "I was the one: 'It ain't going to happen.' I was the one making that decision. 'It ain't going to happen here. Got to wait 'til I retire or die. It ain't happening in this company.' And then I started watching fights, educated myself, and now ..."
And now, what? Well, two things. "Ronda's a star, man," White said, almost dreamily. OK, we know that. Her submission victory over Carmouche made her 7-0, with every win coming in the first round, all by armbar. We get that your indomitable new champion has a star power, Dana. What else do you have for us?
"There's a lot of good women in that division," he went on, "and a lot of good fights for her."
Now, that's something. Sure, White is a promoter, and it's his job to sell us on his company's fights and fighters. But in the leadup to Saturday night, he'd put almost all of his carnival barker's energy behind Rousey. In the fight's aftermath, though, he was giddily posing for pictures with both her and Carmouche, giving them bear hugs. Dana didn't stop at touting the fight as a milestone for women's MMA or even women's sports. He called it "one of the biggest moments in all of sports."
We can forgive White for the hyperbole. It's tough to tone it down when you've just witnessed an event that could not have gone better for your company. The UFC and its nascent women's division got precisely the result they needed to quell the doubts and cynicism.
Imagine if Rousey had mauled Carmouche in mere seconds, as she had done to most all of the opponents who had come before. That would have lent credence to the belief, held by more than a few followers of the sport, that the women's game is a one-woman domain with only rudimentary competition, and who wants to watch that? Similarly, if Carmouche had finished off Rousey with the neck crank she locked on early in the fight, then the narrative of negativity would have shifted to Ronda being a hyped-up myth.
Instead, we saw Carmouche get taken down but not eaten up. We saw the substantial underdog reverse her fortunes and put Rousey in deep trouble, whereupon the champion did what champions do, fending off the submission attempt and turning the tide back her way. Then Ronda finished the fight 11 seconds before the horn, continuing her string of first-round stoppages by armbar. We saw newly minted vulnerability and continued dominance, all in one package.
How will that play out, moving forward? Well, Miesha Tate and Cat Zingano will meet in April, with the winner most likely earning the next shot at Rousey. Both were at the Honda Center on Saturday night, they sounded emboldened while speaking with reporters following the main event. The sight of Carmouche seizing a dominant position, even fleetingly, made them feel hopeful as they mentally play out a prospective tussle with the indestructible Rousey.
And Dana White no doubt will be happy to have one of them -- or perhaps Sara McMann, herself an Olympic medalist as well, in wrestling -- share the stage with his champion. His star performer. "Whether people don't want to admit it or not, or people don't like it or not, too [expletive] bad, the girl's a star," he said. "People love her and people want to see her. She's fun to watch fight."
No way, José: White was in the middle of a whole different point in his post-fight chat with the media Saturday night when he dropped a bombshell: "José Aldo came out and said, 'There's no way in hell I'm fighting Pettis.' He's absolutely refusing to fight Pettis. Doesn't think he deserves the shot."
So does that mean Aldo's planned featherweight title defense against Anthony Pettis is off? "No, the fight's on," White said firmly. "He's going to fight Pettis or he's not going to like how this turns out."
Well, fast-forward a couple of days and Aldo is indeed on board with fighting Pettis. And he surely must like how the situation has turned out.
White announced on Monday evening via Twitter that Aldo vs. Pettis is on. And the website of the Brazilian magazine Tatame revealed how the boss coerced his champion into the cage: by promising Aldo a shot at the lightweight championship if he first takes care of business against Pettis.
"I'll just end this farce," is the translation of what Aldo had to say. "They are saying that I am running; they will see who will run from whom. ... Heads will roll."
Fool me twice, shame on me: At the same moment as he was securing a featherweight title fight and perhaps one in the lightweight division as well, White was bemoaning the possible loss of an upcoming bout for the welterweight belt. Georges St-Pierre is scheduled to defend his title against Nick Diaz in two weeks -- just as he was slated to do a year ago, until Diaz neglected to show up for a couple of press conferences and White yanked him.
Well, apparently Nick is back at it. According to White, Diaz skipped three scheduled interviews with the production team filming a preview video. This did not go over well with the UFC poobah, who said the company "spent over $50,000 in production costs, and guys are cruising around Stockton, Calif., not interviewing people."
White was asked whether he was close to pulling the plug on Diaz again. "I'm close, man, I'm really close," he said. "And I don't want to be. I don't want to do this."
He used his experience of working with Rousey and Carmouche on prefight publicity to draw a contrast between the women and Nick Diaz and his brother, Nathan. "These two girls worked their asses off this week, man," said White. "And I know what it feels like. I've been doing it, too, all week. I know. It's not fun. It's part of the job. And all the fans are, like, 'Shut up, Dana. Just let Nick fight.' You shut up, idiots. This is how it works. This is the job, this is what we do, OK? Go to your [expletive] job and tell your boss, 'Yeah, well, I don't want to do this or do that.' That's not how it works. It's part of the job. I've shown the Diaz brothers a ton of respect. They can show some respect back."
White later acknowledged that Diaz had finally fulfilled his promotional obligation, which would suggest the title fight is still on. For now. No doubt Dana will lose some sleep between now and March 16, wondering where Diaz is.
Feel bad for White? Don't. He knew what he was getting himself into. He did this dance with Diaz before, and now he's at it again. And it's not like he had no other viable options. There's this guy named Johny Hendricks who's on a tear -- impressive knockouts in his last two fights -- and who sits atop the company's own welterweight rankings, two spots above Diaz.
Conveniently enough, Hendricks is also slated to fight on next month's Montreal card. You never know when a switch must be made.
Vote of confidence: Speaking of the UFC's official rankings, when they made their debut earlier this month, I was one of only two voters to include Rousey in the pound-for-pound Top 10. In the latest tally, released Monday, Ronda had 14 votes.