Did Zuffa make the best choice by pitting Liz Carmouche against current bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey for her first-ever UFC fight and title defense?

Frankly, it depends on who is answering that question.

The year 2012 launched Rousey into the highest stratosphere imaginable, not only in the world of mixed martial arts, but in sports and popular culture too.

The former Olympic bronze medalist in judo was already building a name for herself in MMA, but a title-winning fight against then-Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate, the launch of Invicta FC, the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the much-anticipated end of Strikeforce as an organization created a perfect storm, and Rousey reaped a huge windfall of street credit along the way.

However, even though Rousey is undefeated, beating every opponent she has ever faced by submission in the first round, some naysayers feel that her eight-fight UFC contract and subsequent crowning as champ without an actual UFC fight were a little premature.

All but one of her wins were in less than a minute, and her longest fight—against Tate for the title—ended under four-and-a-half minutes in the first round.  So, here’s a fighter who is undoubtedly a judo expert, has one-and-a-half years of pro MMA experience, and has never been truly tested as a striker or a distance fighter in the sport.

In her defense, Rousey has beaten some really game opponents, but it’s not uncommon for newer fighters to go undefeated when they’re extraordinarily awesome at one aspect of the game and nobody has a good game plan for that style.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Demian Maia is the perfect example.  Maia went undefeated in his first eleven pro fights, five of which were in UFC action against guys like Chael Sonnen, Nate Quarry and Ed Herman, but he was eventually knocked out in 21 seconds by Nate Marquardt.  Maia went 5-3 in the Octagon after that first loss, so there is some argument that an eight-fight contract for Rousey is feasible, especially since the Olympian is only 25 years old.  However, Rousey’s early road in the UFC won’t be as easy as Maia’s was.

For Rousey’s UFC debut, she will be facing former Marine helicopter electrician Liz Carmouche.  The openly-lesbian fighter is no slouch in the ring.

Carmouche, at 7-2, is also fairly young in the sport, having only fought professionally for two-and-a-half years.   She recently beat mediocre veteran Kaitlin Young, and her only losses are to former Strikeforce bantamweight titleholders Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen.  Carmouche is more of a striker, but she did pull off a submission in her latest win.  However, there’s no question that Carmouche will not hold a candle to Rousey on the ground.

So, back to the original question, is Carmouche the best match-up for Rousey’s debut?

Carmouche is definitely a tough girl with a lot of heart, but Rousey will most likely make short work of her.  If one were to ask UFC President Dana White what he wants, that’s most likely his exact response.  If Rousey went into her first fight against Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, steroids or not, the Brazilian would probably pummel the American, embarrassing Zuffa for signing her to such a huge deal.  There’s no doubt that the UFC chief has quickly brought Rousey into the “UFC clique” with fighters like Jon Jones and Urijah Faber, and they will undoubtedly try to build her up before releasing her to the wolves.

Not to discount Carmouche’s ability, but to MMA experts and fans, there are a couple other match-ups that would be much more enticing.

Former Olympic wrestler Sara McMann certainly comes to mind.  McMann won a silver medal in freestyle wrestling in Athens in 2004 and is also undefeated in MMA.  The 32-year-old has won by TKO, submission and decision, so she has definitely proven herself as a well-rounded fighter.  McMann won a bantamweight title eliminator fight against veteran Shayna Baszler in her last outing under the Invicta FC banner, but she was signed with Strikeforce shortly thereafter, set to face Carmouche.  However, the event set to feature that fight was canceled after a number of injuries decimated the lineup, and with most of Strikeforce being absorbed into UFC, it would only be prudent for her to get the next shot at Rousey.

Another highly-anticipated match-up would be a rematch against Tate.  Tate is the only fighter to get past the first minute with Rousey, and she almost made it to round two.  Tate, like McMann but with a longer history, is also a well-rounded fighter with wins by just about every way imaginable, and with a recent submission of fellow veteran Julie Kedzie, she has definitely stepped back to the front of the line to essentially win her belt back.

When it comes down to it, outside of Tate, McMann or a slimmed-down Santos, Carmouche is as good as any to face Rousey for the inaugural women’s UFC bout.

Most of the current top-ten bantamweight ladies, even with amazing striking, will not be able to keep Rousey from swarming them like an octopus.  The young judoka is just too highly skilled at securing takedowns and submissions.

If the UFC brass did want to pose a real challenge, they would have, but they have too much skin in the game to put a possible true contender in front of Rousey.  If she lost her title right away, it would make them look foolish for handing it to her in the first place.  In the UFC, when there’s a vacant belt or a title in an interim status, the promotion makes guys fight for the belt, it doesn’t just hand it to them.

Dana White’s affinity for Rousey is so ridiculously over the top that he just handed her the strap, as well as her most likely first win in the UFC.  Carmouche is a very good, top-level fighter, but she will most likely endure a loss as Rousey continues her stretch as a first-round armbar specialist…that is, until she suffers that one-punch knockout, à la Demian Maia.

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  • robbyedwards

    I find it strange that you dont mention, alexis davis, or shana basyler, or cat zingano as match ups for rousey, any of these three girls are really good at subs and sub defense, plus theyal are better than rousey in the stand up, mcmann and basyler was really close, either girl could of gotten the dec, i will also bet if kaufman ever gets the chance to fight rusey again, it will be a much different fght. I wonder if the ufc will show case another female fight on this card, eg lets get davis against zingano or basyler vs tate, something like this so the casual fan can see other talented females. then maybe more people might be willing to give this a chance