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Click Debate: Is there a market for Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg in the UFC?

Gallery Photo: UFC 170 Weigh-In Photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Miesha Tate seemed to echo the feelings of many fans this week when she took to her new MMA Tonight radio show to lambast Edmond Tarverdyan.

A few days prior, Tarverdyan made a stunning statement on the 400th episode of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani. Ronda Rousey’s longtime head coach wanted Rousey to return to the UFC and fight not just any opponent, but knockout artist and women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg.

Tate called Tarverdyan’s sentiment “asinine.”

“I think Edmond just wants another payday so he can try to pay off his bankruptcy issues, because Jiminy Christmas,” Tate said on SiriusXM. “Poor Ronda. I’m not her biggest fan, but I wouldn’t even want to see that fight. I’m not her biggest fan, but I wouldn’t want to see her get slaughtered by Cyborg at this point in her career, either. It’s not appealing.”

As far as MMA takes go, that was a pretty cold one. The fan response to Tarverdyan wanting Rousey to fight Cyborg after dropping two straight by knockout to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes was basically this: Why does Tarverdyan want Rousey to get hurt and has he taken a life insurance policy out on the former champ?

All joking aside, there was something very interesting in Tarverdyan’s reasoning, an embedded point that fans might have missed while they were shaking their damn heads at the thought of Rousey vs. Cyborg in 2018 (or whenever).

“Ronda needs a challenge that she really needs to be like, ‘This person is no good and I need to prove something to the whole world,’” Tarverdyan said. “That’s how Ronda works good. … And she didn’t have that with Holly, she’s the one that pushed and wanted some aggressiveness before the weigh-ins. [With Cyborg] she has it. She said she cheated before, she’s hurt women and she wants to come and beat her.”

Let’s rewind a bit here to the fall of 2015. Rousey is coming off a very emotional victory over Bethe Correia, who disparaged her and the suicide of her late father, in August of that year. A few months prior to that, Rousey was promoting her book and filming movies. In February, Rousey beat Cat Zingano in just 14 seconds at UFC 184 in Los Angeles, which was a massive catapult for her pay-per-view drawing power and mainstream exposure.

When she landed in Australia to fight Holm in November, she was very likely an exhausted athlete, maybe even burnt out on MMA, if you read between the lines of what Tarverdyan is saying. Rousey needed to manufacture a beef with Holm at the weigh-ins just to get up for that fight.

Remember, Rousey wasn’t supposed to fight Holm until January 2016, but the fight was moved up when Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit was scrapped due to injury. Of course, let’s not take anything away from Holm, who outclassed Rousey on the feet and didn’t just make her look human, but not even in the same league.

We all know what happened next for Rousey. A pillow over her face at LAX, tears on “Ellen,” barely even congratulating Holm on the victory. It seemed to everyone on the outside that the bulletproof “Rowdy” was having a meltdown of the highest order. She went away for nearly a year and then returned last December only to lose by Nunes in just 48 seconds.

So how could the UFC possibly sell a fight between Cyborg, the most dominant women’s fighter in history, against the apparently broken Rousey? The chances of it ever happening are extremely slim, but we’ve seen crazier things in MMA and combat sports.

For a fight to draw exceptionally well in MMA, it usually has to have two things: big names and a legitimate outside-the-cage beef. Rousey vs. Cyborg checks both of those boxes. Rousey didn’t talk to anyone with a tape recorder, microphone or notebook — a full media blackout — during fight week before Nunes and UFC 207 still drew more than 1 million buys.

Even after losing in under a minute, her star power probably hasn’t diminished all that much and there are probably a good amount of people who would pay $60 to see Cyborg knock Rousey out or vice versa. Both are polarizing figures in the sport and that also adds up to dollar signs.

Let’s not forget, we’re living in a world where Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor — an all-time great, undefeated boxing champion versus an MMA star with no pro boxing experience — is likely to become the greatest selling pay-per-view event of all time. At least Rousey competes in the same sport as Cyborg.

So, of course, Rousey vs. Cyborg would sell. Tarverdyan knows Rousey better than any of us do, so maybe he is onto something when he said Rousey would be different mentally going into a fight like that.

Whatever. It probably doesn’t matter. The chances of seeing that fight are slim and Cyborg herself even brushed it off, saying she’d prefer a matchup to happen in the scripted world of WWE.

Rousey vs. Cyborg doesn’t really make sense anyway, because there are far more attractive future fights for Rousey that will sell nearly as well, if not better.

Holm vs. Rousey 2 would still be a box-office hit. Holm has looked vulnerable herself in recent outings. Rousey vs. Tate 3 has always been something that would make money, and the UFC probably should have done that in 2015 when Tate was promised the title shot. The trajectory of the sport could have very well changed if Rousey fought Tate in Australia in 2015, not Holm.

How about this one: Ronda Rousey vs. Gina Carano? Why not? It wouldn’t be any kind of grudge match — the two women’s MMA luminaries have a great deal of respect for one another — but a bout between two athletes who have successfully crossed over to Hollywood is more than bankable. It was bandied about years ago at the height of Rousey’s title reign, but fans and media pooh-poohed it because no one thought Carano could win. That opinion might have changed slightly with Rousey’s in-cage stock at an all-time low.

All three of those matchups are far less asinine — to borrow Tate’s word — than Rousey vs. Cyborg, if Rousey were to ever step in the Octagon again. But let’s not it twisted here. While, we can’t be sure of Tarverdyan’s motives and it’s easy to dismiss his opinion that Rousey would win, there’s still little doubt that fight could make money.

There was one other thing that Tate said last week about the situation, something she was wrong about.

“That’s not what this sport is about,” Tate said. “It’s about great competitive matchups and I just don’t feel like it’s even fair to ask for something like that.”

Maybe combat sports should be about that and perhaps it is some of the time. It’s just that when millions — billions, even — of dollars are on the line, it makes fights that seem improbable an inevitability.

If I asked you 2-1/2 years ago which fight was more likely, Rousey vs. Cyborg or Mayweather vs. McGregor, what would be your answer?

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