Every fighter in every press conference will always say the same-- they're not looking past their opponents, no way, they are fully invested in their present challenge and are not thinking about any of the potential match ups down the line.
But we're not fighters. We can do it.
In Looking Past we will look at the fun, the deserving and the crazy fights down the line for some of the most popular names in MMA today. Today's subject is Ronda Rousey, the current Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion.
If you were caught in the wave of attention preceding the phenomenal Tate vs Rousey fight, you saw how the then-challenger Rousey made the case for herself and what she could bring to women's MMA in terms of more fans, an unique fighting style, her good looks and her being deserving of a title shot before the consensus challenger to Tate's title, Sarah Kaufman.
In the aftermath of the match, to many a fan's chagrin, it seems Rousey was right all along. She deserved the shot and had the skills to stop Tate. The next matches Strikeforce decides to put in the champion's path now mean much more than simply "Whose Arm Will Rousey Collect Next?", they must ride the momentum carried by the champion and perhaps can even attract those wonderful female athletes in bjj, boxing, wrestling, judo and other disciplines to this new, lucrative career in MMA. If the end result by 2012's closing is deeper divisions for Strikeforce women, Dana White will have a lot less arguments against women in the UFC.
Here's a humble list of opponents for our champion Ronda Rousey:
1. The sure one to come: Sarah Kaufman
Sarah Kaufman deserved that title shot. Stick around to the post-fight chat with Mauro Ranallo and Rousey, who many think talked her way into the line and ahead of Kaufman, will attest to it herself.
Not that Kaufman has to do anything else at this point. She had a solid showing in her last match against Alexis Davis, has made sure to have herself heard in the media, and the clash of their styles should give us all a very entertaining fight. Kaufman's fists do most of the work in the cage and if you can single out one weakness in Rousey's style is her good-enough stand up skills.
This fight has to happen and it is going to happen. Sarah has more than one fire under her to perform, with Rousey's shot at the title ahead of her and the less-than-gracious things implied about her physical appearance in comparison to the current champion and Miesha Tate in the build up to Tate vs Rousey. She will come ready to perform and should be the current champion's toughest test to date.
EDIT: Sarah herself is included because her fight has not been officially announced yet.
2. The one that makes lots of sense: Marloes Coenen
Yes, she is out of Strikeforce, but that's like saying the fact that Jean Grey died means she won't be in any more X-Men comics. You know better than that.
An aggressive striker and former champion, Marloes Coenen coming back for another shot at the gold makes a lot of sense. With the momentum the women's division carries in Strikeforce, she might be willing to come back from her current home at Invicta MMA.
Coenen presents Rousey with similar dangers as Kaufman; namely, a dangerous arsenal of strikes. If it hits the ground, Coenen can also find her way out, and perhaps offer more of a challenge than Tate or Kaufman can.
Now that the beef between Zuffa and Golden Glory seems to be squashed, at lest on a case-by-case basis, it is not unreasonable to expect Scott Coker to come knocking the Dutch former champion's door. We would all love it if it happened.
3. The inevitable one: Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos
A year in suspension goes by very quickly, just ask Chael Sonnen.
Once that suspension comes to an end for Cyborg, the fact that Rousey is holding the belt one division under Cyborg's weight class won't really mean much. With not much of depth to the divisions, it is completely plausible that the bantamweight champion, perhaps still Rousey by the time the suspension is up, is going to be the welcome team for Cyborg.
Again, Cyborg is primarily a striker, and with all respect to the skills of Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen (and with the reason of her suspension well in mind, yes), Cyborg may present the greater dangers of all to a grappler-first like Ronda Rousey.
Beating Cyborg, however, would put the largest feather available out there in Rousey's cap. I mean, the size of the Empire State that feather. It would basically mean she has beaten someone consider unbeatable. Ronda carries many accolades in her young career, but beating Cyborg? Brother, that's the jackpot right there.
4. The CNN-Is-Going-To-Cover-It one: Gina Carano
In the talk of taking MMA or WMMA to the masses, you either push the sport to them or have them pulled to you. The second is smoother and I cannot think of a better way to have many eyeballs flock to a Strikeforce event like putting Gina Carano in a cage with Rousey.
Gina is now making movies and enjoying it. More opportunities are coming to her right now and perhaps it's too late to stop the gravy train. Why would she risk getting hurt or leaving with one working arm less when all she must do is say her lines and choreograph beating Hollywood household names?
But like the sailor's girlfriend, we cling on to her promise that she has not closed the door to WMMA and that she could one day come back and, man, if she does, her against Rousey would perhaps mean ratings and sales gold.
Carano is another striker first, grappler second, and she is very well rounded. Just as Marloes Coenen would, Gina would represent a challenge for Rousey's improving striking game, and once in the ground she might just possess enough skills to escape Rousey's trademark finishes.
But that buildup. Think of that buildup leading to the fight. The unsurpassed mainstream attention it would gather. The one thing to remember is that Rousey and Carano are both friends, but hey, that hasn't stopped other championships from happening, you know?
5. The Please-God-Make-It-Happen-Please one: Kyra Gracie
And now, for dessert, the princess of the Gracie Clan.
If you are thinking "hold on Noel, Kyra is dedicated to her BJJ and stuff, you're just throwing stuff out there now", I know where you're coming from, but you'd be wrong.
Kyra has hinted and has taken steps to breaking into MMA. There are hardly higher-level female grapplers out there today and, out of this entire list, she is somebody who could challenge and perhaps upset Rousey in her own game.
As others in the MMA blogosphere have called it, Rousey vs Gracie would be a grapplefest of the very first level; once the stop measuring distance with those tentative jabs neither on of them really plans to use, it's ground time, and all of us will watch in amazement.
Rousey vs Gracie carries not the mainstream appeal that Rousey vs Carano does, but cousin, for this little bubble of ours in the MMA world? This would be the very best, most hyped and sure-to-deliver match since Tate vs Rousey.
The coolest thing about it? It can certainly happen. Hopefully the Gracies make sure to steer young Kyra to Strikeforce as soon as she's ready, because WMMA certainly is for her.
So what do you think? What potential match-up with Rousey excites you most? Is there a girl out there, perhaps in another sport, perhaps another Olympian-level judoka or wrestler we haven't heard of?
Let us know what you think in the comments below, or hit me up on twitter, I will be happy to fantasize along.