Ronda Rousey has dominated the opposition so emphatically that an opponent’s survival to the second round iss heralded as a significant accomplisment. But although one might think that running roughshod over every opponent put in front of her would earn unalloyed praise of her abilities, if not her attitude, that has not been the case. Veteran strikers, Olympic wrestlers, and bjj black belts — all considered legitimate contenders with a new challenge to offer before their fights — suddenly become overrated amateurs after Rousey tosses them aside. In other words, Rousey gets knocked for beating up cans.
But is Rousey’s record larded with subpar opponents? Is there an upper echelon of fighters she has yet to face? Since this criticism often arises during comparisons with Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino, widely seen as Rousey’s most dangerous potential opponent, it’s worth comparing the two women’s records. For Cyborg’s record to give lie to Rousey’s place at the top of WMMA, it must contain some higher quality victims than Rousey’s own. Setting aside Cyborgs early 2005-2006 stint in Storm Samurai events (if only because desultory internet searches didn’t immediately yield information about her opponents’ records), in her last nine fights Cyborg
- TKO’d Shayna Baszler in the second round;
- earned a decision win over thirty-five-year-old Yoko Takahashi;
- TKO’d Hitomi Akano in the third round;
- TKO’d Gina Carano at the end of the first round;
- KO’d Jan Finney in the second round with a knee to the body;
- TKO’d Marloes Coenen in the third round;
- had a No Contest against Hiroko Yamanaka (after TKO’ing her sixteen seconds into the first round)
- TKO’d last-minute replacement Fiona Muxlow in the first round; and
- TKO’d Marloes Coenen in the fourth round.
As for Rousey, in her last nine fights she
- submitted Charmaine Tweet in the first minute of the first round;
- submitted Sarah D’Alelio in the first minute of the first round;
- submitted Julia Budd in the first minute of the first round;
- submitted Miesha Tate at the end of the first round;
- submitted Sarah Kaufman in the first minute of the first round;
- submitted Liz Carmouche at the end of the first round;
- submitted Miesha Tate in the third round;
- TKO’d Sara McMann in the first round; and
- KO’d Alexis Davis in the first sixteen seconds of the first round.
So, should Rousey’s dominance be taken with a grain of salt when compared with Cyborg’s own dominant run? Has Cyborg been facing a higher quality of opponent? Comparing the two records, the answer seems to be "no." Who would argue that Rousey is not really the champ until she beats the likes of Yoko Takahashi and Fiona Muxlow? And none of the remaining names on Cyborg’s record are noticeably superior to those on Rousey’s. Indulging in that least meaningful tool of comparison, MMAth, all of them have lost to one of Rousey’s opponents — with the exception of Gina Carano, whom no one is clamoring for Rousey to fight on the basis that she is the toughest opponent out there:
- Shayna Baszler lost to Sarah Kaufman, Sara McMann, and Alexis Davis;
- Hitomi Akano lost to Alexis Davis, Sara McMann, and Miesha Tate;
- Jann Finney lost to Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche; and
- Marloes Coenen lost to Miesha Tate.
Ultimately, the criticisms directed at Rousey’s record are equally applicable to Cyborgs. Both have dominated overmatched competition. But neither is cherry-picking easy victories; they’re simply much better than the rest of the WMMA talent pool. And although there may be an argument that the relative youth of WMMA as an option for female athletes means that the talent and skill-level has yet to catch up to that of men’s MMA, that is no knock on Rousey; all that’s required to be the best in the world is to beat everyone else. Until Rousey and Cyborg square off, there’s no knowing who’s really the best between them, but there’s little argument to be made that Rousey is a protected hothouse flower, feasting on cans, while Cyborg is testing herself against superior opposition. Both of them can only fight the women in front of them.