Under The Bleachers: All Hail Ronda Rousey, Queen Of The Octagon

AboveL All hail "The Queen of the Octagon"

Just a couple years ago, UFC President Dana White famously said that women would never compete in the Octagon, but then Ronda Rousey came along and changed everything.

A bronze medalist in judo at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Rousey had burst on the scene fighting for Strikeforce, combining legitimate world-class athleticism with incredible focus, a tremendous drive to succeed and the kind of swagger that can turn a good fighter into a massive superstar. After just four professional fights, she dropped down in weight and challenged Miesha Tate for the women’s bantamweight (135 pounds) title, forcing the Tacoma, Washington native to submit to her signature armbar late in the first round.

A star was born and nine months later, White announced that Rousey would become the first female to compete in the Octagon, bringing the women’s bantamweight division over from Strikeforce in December 2012 and transferring Rousey’s title to the UFC.

In February 2013, Rousey and Liz Carmouche headlined UFC 157, breaking the gender barrier in the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world. Once again, Rousey earned a first-round win via armbar, extending her record to a perfect 7-0.

Two years later, the 28-year-old is now 10-0 and still stands atop the women’s bantamweight ranks. In her last two fights, Rousey has needed just 82 seconds combined to dispatch fellow Olympic medalist Sara McMann and Canadian veteran Alexis Davis, stopping the former with a knee to the midsection in the main event of UFC 170 last February and finishing the latter with a 16-second chain of attacks that has to be seen to be fully appreciated:

You don’t have to be an avid fight fan to know that that is some next level stuff.

Saturday night, Rousey returns to action, defending her title against her toughest opponent to date – unbeaten No. 1 contender Cat Zingano – in the main event of UFC 184 in Los Angeles.

Originally scheduled to be the penultimate fight of the night, injuries have pushed the fight to the final spot on the 11-fight lineup and turned this weekend into a celebration of the female side of the sport, as fellow bantamweights Raquel Pennington and Holly Holm square off in the co-main event before Rousey and Zingano take to the cage and the all-female organization Invicta FC holds its 11th event in Los Angeles later this evening.

But as much as this is a larger overall moment for the ladies, the spotlight remains fixed on Rousey, as she looks to defend her title for the fifth time.

After steamrolling her last two opponents, many believe Zingano is the challenger to push the champion to her limits. The 32-year-old Colorado native earned a shot at the title with her debut win in the UFC in April 2013, but was forced to the sidelines after suffering a torn ACL in training. As she rehabbed, Zingano was rocked by personal tragedy as her husband and coach, Mauricio, took his own life in January 2014.

Nine months later, the unbeaten “Alpha Cat” returned to the cage, picking up a third-round stoppage win over Amanda Nunes to once again position herself opposite Rousey in a performance that showed her tenacity and resilience. Those are traits she’ll need to rely on this weekend, as the first and only UFC women’s bantamweight champion has no interest in relinquishing her title.

Because the division is still relatively new to the UFC and the women’s side of the sport doesn’t have the same depth as the men, Rousey often doesn’t get the credit she deserves for the dominance she’s shown thus far.

She is a tireless worker and pursues greatness the same way notorious perfectionists Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant have done on the basketball court. Through her first 10 professional fights, she hasn’t lost a round, yet alone a fight, and though her elite grappling skills remain her biggest weapon, the dedication she’s put in to developing her striking under the watchful eye of her coach at the Glendale Fighting Club, Edmond Tarverdyan, has clearly started to pay dividends.

While it’s the hip toss that draws the “oohs and aahs” in the above clip against Davis, it’s the clean overhand right that lands before it that first rocks the Canadian challenger.

Should she turn back Zingano tomorrow night, Rousey will hold victories over each of the competitors currently ranked in the division’s Top 5. Now other UFC champion can say the same right now, though light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones looks to accomplish the same feat when he faces Anthony Johnson later this year.

In just four years as a professional mixed martial artist, Rousey has become the most dominant force the female side of the sport has ever seen and arguably the biggest superstar on the UFC roster.

All hail “The Queen of the Octagon.”

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