LAS VEGAS -- A year ago to the weekend, Liz Carmouche came within seconds of crashing the Ronda Rousey empire before it ever really got built.
UFC 157 was going to be a success as a one-night event regardless of how the fight panned out. The first UFC women's fight brought the company an unprecedented wave of publicity and made the card a must-watch.
But Carmouche almost derailed the Rousey hype train at Anaheim's Honda Center with a neck crank that nearly finished the champ, before Rousey rallied to victory late in the first round.
Fast forward a year, and the Rousey of 2014 is far removed from the fighter who struggled to beat the game but raw Carmouche. And that's bad news for the rest of the women's bantamweight division.
"People forget, I won the title for the first time a year after my first pro fight," Rousey said after finishing Sara McMann at UFC 170 Saturday night. "I'm learning, still. It took me a long time to feel like I wasn't just doing the judo. I feel I'm becoming a more well-rounded martial artist."
While the most of the focus in the fight's immediate aftermath was on a Herb Dean stoppage most felt came too fast, up until that point, Rousey was clearly getting the best of a bout that was fought at her typical furious pace.
McMann landed a couple clean punches. Other than that, Rousey overpowered an Olympic wrestling medalist in the clinch, mixed up her strikes with an impressive efficiency, and created the space necessary to land the nasty knee to the liver which ended the bout. All against the fighter widely considered her only real athletic peer in the division.
"I promised my coach this time that I was going to drop her with a body shot," Rousey said. "I called it. We've been training it a lot and it's just a goal that I had."
The state of women's MMA, one year into the UFC's involvement, has been compared to the early days of the UFC. But this isn't the Gracies bailing from the scene at the first sign the competition was improving. Rousey is committed to getting better, is still young in the game, and that's a scary thing for the rest of the pack.
UFC 170 Quotes
"If she doesn't move to protect herself, how long do I wait until I stop it? I don't know how big of a knee it was, because I didn't take it, but she was just holding her midsection and after awhile, I had to stop it." -- Dean, to Yahoo Sports
"I stabbed myself. It was pretty embarrassing, when it happened I was so embarrassed. I couldn't believe, I thought that I was going to have to pull out of the fight because I easily could have hit tendon or something." -- Rory MacDonald, explaining how an avocado nearly caused him to drop out of UFC 170.
"I think the genius [Tito Ortiz] put her in a box, because saying that you'll die if you make 135 pounds is a pretty bold statement," White said. "She'll probably have to make 135 pounds a couple times somewhere else and fight and show that she's healthy, and then we'll see what happens." -- Dana White, on what Cris Cyborg will have to do to get into the UFC and fight Rousey.
"Looking back, it did seem kind of quick on the screen. Things are kind of slowed down in my head in the cage. I felt it connect, and my body just flew to protect itself. I heard [Dean's] voice, and I immediately tried to get back up. I'm not going to blame a referee for something I feel like I should be able to control. I should get up quicker. If you want to win fights, you just have to do it, regardless of what's going on." -- Sara McMann on the stoppage.
Then and now
Then: "[Renan] Barao gets screwed and [Urijah] Faber gets screwed. It's the cherry on top of the 10-decision, record-breaking catastrophe." -- White after UFC 169
Now: "You said, ‘What's up with all these decisions?' Now they're all too quick. I'll give you something to b---- about next week." -- White after UFC 170
Stock up/Stock down
Up: Rory MacDonald. Now there was the Rory MacDonald everyone was waiting for, the one who was on the cusp of stardom a year ago. MacDonald showed heart in weathering the storm on the ground against Demian Maia, a guy you don't want to be on the ground with. By round two, MacDonald showed the precise and nasty striking that used to make opponents freeze in front of him, using his length and reach to full effect. And his takedown defense over the final two rounds was superb (even Maia's one highlight, a third-round slam, came after a fierce struggle). This might be a weird thing to say about someone who is still only 24 years old, but the old Rory MacDonald is back.
Down: Upon further review, none of the major players really took any sort of major tumble last night. Sure, McMann lost, and she was losing the clinch battle, which led to Rousey landing that nasty knee, but she has the ‘what if' factor regard the early stoppage and the crowd's sympathy. Patrick Cummins, to paraphrase Dennis Green, is who we thought he was. Maia is running into the same problems at welterweight he found at middleweight. T.J. Waldberger basically maxed out at the level we expected him to max out at. And that's about it.
Up: Daniel Cormier: Not "up" in the sense that beating Cummins means anything for his career. Cormier did the only thing he could do in that situation, with a fast finish. But "up" in the sense that there were so many questions going in whether Cormier could truly make the cut down to 205. Not only did he do so, but Cormier appears to have freakish power for the weight class and newfound speed. That's going to make him an instant threat at light heavyweight.
In the absence of anything on the officiating end which really deserves any sort of commendation, here's a nod to McMann, who was truly a breath of fresh air this week. McMann conducted herself with the sort of dignity and class we expect, but don't often enough receive, from a world-class, elite athlete. I'm taking across all of sports, not just MMA. McMann capped off her week with her grace in defeat. McMann blamed herself for the loss when everyone else was blaming Dean (And here's a thought: Maybe she did so because she knew something about the stoppage the rest of us didn't). This sport's so much better off for having Sara McMann involved.
For the second straight pay-per-view, Dean was on the receiving end of the fans' wrath, and for the second time, I can't bring myself to be too harsh on him. Chances are, if both Rousey-McMann and Barao-Faber go another 10-15 seconds, we've got no-doubt-about-it, decisive finishes. At the same time, I'm not going to pretend like the fans have no right to be angry. If you're someone who has been shelling out money for PPVs, over the last four main events, you've seen a bad decision screw Johny Hendricks out of the welterweight title; Anderson Silva's leg break, and now back-to-back fast stoppages. None of those are the UFC's fault, but the cumulative effect on paying customers can't be a good thing.
The announced attendance for UFC 170 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center was 10,217. The attendance for UFC 64, in the same building, when Silva defeated Rich Franklin for the middleweight title, was 10,173. Like UFC 170, UFC 164 was also held two months after the previous event in Las Vegas (UFC 62, featuring Chuck Liddell's knockout of Babalu Sobral).
While it's true the Silva of 2006 didn't get the media push Rousey gets now, pretty much every major media outlet was producing the same "growth of UFC" trend story back then, so the company itself was riding a huge wave of publicity. My ultimate point here? While Rousey's obnoxious haters are ready to pounce on anything negative, people were noting the empty seats the night Silva won the title, too. So let's not try to make too much out of one night's results.
Fight I'd like to see next: Daniel Cormier vs. a top light heavyweight contender
Cormier should not vault to the head of the line at 205 pounds based off beating Cummins. That said, he shouldn't be too far off the top of the pack, either. Who he exactly he should fight isn't clear yet, with most of the top of the weight class accounted for at the moment. Jon Jones is fighting Glover Teixeira in April; Alexander Gustafsson meets Jimi Manuwa next month. Rashad Evans is out with an injury. We have to wait and see how this all pans out, but, if you sub out Manuwa's name and add Phil Davis, these are the only names who really make sense for DC going forward.