“Rowdy” Ronda Rousey finally makes her UFC debut this Saturday night, in her hometown of Los Angeles, at the Honda Center in Anaheim. The UFC women’s bantamweight champ will be fighting Liz Carmouche in the first-ever UFC women’s fight on a stacked pay-per-view card.

2012 was the year of Rousey. The former Olympic bronze medal-winning judoka had a meteoric rise, which included winning the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title, a successful defense of that title, a spot on the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue, and a sudden admiration by UFC President Dana White, which became the driving force for women to finally make it into the Octagon.

Rousey’s rise was met with mixed feelings. Some people became huge fans of the attractive California blonde. Finishing every one of her pro MMA fights by first-round armbar has given Rousey a ton of street credit. Her appearance in the Body Issue didn’t hurt her image, and her brash, foul-mouthed attitude really brings her down to the level of “normal people.”

However, on the flip side, she has never been truly battle tested in the cage, is extremely cocky, and has continuously avoided challenges from the scariest woman in the world, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. This doesn’t sit well with some MMA fans. Granted, Cyborg has been busted for steroids and is much larger, so finding the right weight class might be difficult. But it still doesn’t look good for Rousey, who some feel is already over-hyped, especially after being given a six-fight contract right out of the gate, when the norm is closer to three.

The biggest question now is, after having contracted a super-hyped newcomer in Rousey to six fights, what happens if she loses the belt in her UFC debut?

Most people feel that this will not happen, which is a safe bet considering she is undefeated. In fact, in Las Vegas, Rousey is the odds-on favorite to win with lines currently ranging from -1200 to -1050 in Rousey’s favor, which basically means that Vegas believes Carmouche has a snowball’s chance in SoCal to win this one.

However, the former U.S. Marine, Carmouche, will definitely not just lay down and offer her arm to Rousey. Carmouche is a very well-rounded fighter who not only has a couple submissions under her belt, but also has laid some serious beatdowns on opponents in the past. One can be certain that the former leatherneck will be ready to bring a level of striking action into the Octagon that Rousey’s previous opponents have yet to deliver.

Rousey needs to ask Demian Maia how it feels to get punched in the face as a submission specialist. Maia came into his fight with Nate Marquardt at UFC 102 with an 11-0 record, including eight submissions, six of which happened in the first round. Maia had tapped out some of the best fighters in the world, including Chael Sonnen, Nate Quarry and Ed Herman. However, in 21 seconds of round one, a straight right from Marquardt sent the Brazilian flying through the air for one of the fastest knockouts in UFC history.

In a sport where anything can change in the blink of an eye, it would be unwise to assume Carmouche could not hand Rousey a similar loss. And, if Carmouche delivers Rousey her first loss, the effects could be catastrophic for UFC’s poster girl.

Rousey’s game has been questioned repeatedly, and it is unlike Dana White to put so much confidence into a one-trick pony. This is made even more surprising given that the other women coming into the organization—Miesha Tate, Alexis Davis, undefeated Cat Zingano, and the equally-undefeated Sara McMann—have all proven to be well-rounded fighters that can stand and brawl, as well as grapple.

Taking a step back for a global view of women’s MMA, Rousey, while being partially responsible for the rise of the women in 2012, seems more like a novelty item than a true MMA brawler. If Carmouche brings the heat and bloodies Rousey up, all she’s going to end up being is a good-looking submission specialist that people are going to know how to beat, which will reduce her cage-effectiveness overall.

A Carmouche win would also make the UFC brass look bad. But, this is really a problem of their own doing.

Dana White and the UFC marketing department have been carrying this image of the female Jon Jones in a very premature manner. Even Jones, who has ten times the amount of proven skill that Rousey could ever imagine having, was out there tearing guys up for a few years before getting the recognition he earned and, ultimately, his title shot. And, when Jones got that shot, it was only because his teammate, Rashad Evans, was hurt. It was not until Jones became the youngest champion in the history of UFC that he became the new poster boy of the organization. A Rousey loss in her first UFC fight will destroy all of the credibility and hype that surrounds this young fighter.

Between Zingano and McMann, and possibly Carmouche, there are a few female fighters out there that are looking to make statements too. Should Carmouche win, it is expected that McMann will be next in line for a title shot, but Zingano is not very far behind.

McMann is also a U.S. Olympian, winning a silver medal in wrestling in 2004. She also has won several other medals on the world level, including gold at the FILA Grappling World Championships and the Pan-American Games. As with most wrestlers in MMA, McMann is a grinder that has gone to the third round three times, but she also has a TKO and a couple submissions under her belt. She was set to fight for the Invicta title before announcing her move to the UFC. McMann, while being equally worthy of the same status that Rousey enjoys, doesn’t carry the same brash, arrogant attitude, which is why she’s not as heavily marketed as the champ.

Zingano is another very game fighter. She has been known for years as the most dangerous woman in Colorado, her home state, but has not gained national recognition until recently. Zingano is very dangerous both standing and on the ground, and she showed fans exactly what she would do to Rousey. In 2010, Zingano, who trains out of her husband’s BJJ gym, a Black House MMA affiliate, pounded out Carina Damm, a Brazilian BJJ black belt with eight submission wins.

McMann currently doesn’t have anything scheduled, whereas Zingano is set to face Tate at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale on April 13. If nothing gets announced for McMann, and the winner of Rousey-Carmouche comes out healthy, one can certainly assume that McMann, who was scheduled to face Carmouche in Strikeforce anyway, will probably get the next title shot. The next person in line will probably be the winner of Zingano-Tate.

As it stands now, Rousey is still expected to win her UFC debut this weekend, and the UFC brass is definitely setting up the women’s bantamweight division moving forward, whether or not Rousey wins.

However, the main thing at stake this weekend is the image of the Zuffa staff. Nobody can really fault Rousey, other than because of her relentless trash talk, for riding the wave of hype. Any fighter that is given the opportunity to get that kind of media face time would be dumb not to take advantage of it.

Photo: Ronda Rousey (R) works for her patented armbar (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)

  • Robby C.

    I think Vegas is definitely wrong on their odds and I’m not seeing any 1st round armbars.