But in the days leading into Rousey’s UFC 175 women’s bantamweight title defense against Alexis Davis, the quandary as to whether the best can get better is at hand.
“Ronda, right now, I don’t feel a threat from anybody,” said Edmond Tarverdyan, Rousey’s trainer at Glendale Fighting Club and lead corner man. “She’s been getting better every day.
“This fight, everybody is gonna see a different Ronda Rousey.”
Considering the old Ronda Rousey has mowed through her previous eight opponents to the tune of a perfect 9-0 record, just one of them extending past the first round, that could well be a frightening prospect.
Gladly taking on the daunting task is Davis (16-5), the No. 2-ranked UFC women’s bantamweight, boasting a wealth of experience and a versatile skill set as she enters the octagon Saturday night for the co-main event of UFC 175 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. The bout will serve as the co-main event of a card that is headlined by the UFC middleweight title match between champion Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida and starts at 7 p.m. on pay-per-view.
“I feel really good,” the 29-year-old Davis, a black belt in Japanese and Brazilian jiu jitsu with a pronounced muay Thai background, said Monday in a UFC conference call. “I feel in great shape. This is the best I’ve felt in a while; not just physically, but mentally.”
Likewise, Rousey, 27, believes she had her best training camp since joining the UFC ranks, with just the right amount of time in between fights and the right amount of media attention and outside projects to balance. Thus, while many in the media have been more interested in possible future matchups for Rousey with the likes of Gina Carano or Cristiano “Cyborg” Santos or talking about Rousey’s upcoming roles in movies such as “The Expendables 3” and “Entourage,” the only women’s champion the UFC has ever known has been steadfast in focusing on a contender who she believes is as formidable as she is overlooked.
“I think that her muay Thai is just as good as her jiu jitsu,” said Rousey on Friday at a UFC media luncheon. “This is also the first jiu jitsu black belt I’ve ever come up against and being that I’m known for my armbar and my ground game, it’ll be very interesting to see how the styles of judo and jiu jitsu really match up against each other, because styles make fights and I’ve never come up against this style combination before.”
In her three-fight tenure under the UFC banner, though, Davis has largely built a reputation for being a grinder, earning a trio of decision wins in hard-fought affairs against Rosi Sexton, Liz Carmouche and Jessica Eye.
“Alexis Davis is a very durable fighter. She can take punches. She has a lot of experience,” said Tarverdyan, adding that he knows Davis will come in well-prepared for the bout. “Anybody who fights Ronda, I know they’re training their ass off.”
In a UFC women’s division not yet two years removed from Rousey winning the first female fight in company history against Carmouche in February of 2013, Davis and Rousey are the only two female competitors to boast three victories in the octagon. They took considerably different routes to get there, though.
Davis, who’s won five straight, has won twice via knockout, seven times by submission and seven times gotten the decision nod in her career. In utterly decisive fashion, Rousey has finished every opponent she’s faced, winning eight of her fights with her signature armbar until stopping Sara McMann in February at UFC 170 with a first-round technical knockout emanating with a crushing knee to the liver.
“She’s been dropping champions in the gym,” Tarverdyan said. “To the body and the head. She has power in both hands now. Everything is at an elite level.”
In all, Rousey has spent 24 minutes 32 seconds in the cage fighting over a span of nine career bouts, which is five minutes and change less than Davis has battled in just her last two fights combined.
Like many a Rousey foe before, Davis and her camp have noted that pushing Rousey into the later rounds could exploit a weakness, as the champion is known for her fast-pace, uber-aggressive fighting style. Then again, in the view of many, Davis’ output waned late in her bout against Eye, which was on the Rousey-McMann undercard.
“Ronda’s a great fighter, she adds great pressure to her opponents,” Davis said. “That’s one of the key components to my training camp is to have people like that make them really push you out there.”
Rousey has only been extended past the first round once and that came against Miesha Tate following a 10-month layoff from competition in which the champion was filming “The Ultimate Fighter,” along with “Expendables 3” and “Fast and Furious 7.” Though Davis has gone the distance many times before, she’s gone the five-round title fight distance just once, in a bout for the Raging Wolf title in 2009.
Hence, while Davis has fought for Strikeforce and Invicta Fighting Championships before her UFC days, this will be far and away her grandest opportunity upon the biggest stage, while Rousey, in an amazing statistic, has fought in title matches for the majority of her career. She defeated Tate for the Strikeforce bantamweight strap in March of 2012 – less than a year from her professional debut and in just her fifth professional fight. After defending the Strikeforce title against former champion Sarah Kaufman with a 54-second win, Rousey was crowned the UFC champion after the company absorbed Strikeforce. Now, she looks to defend the UFC title for the fourth time in her sixth consecutive championship bout.
So, perhaps to equally improve upon a past hiccup in her game and hopefully expose a weakness in the champion’s, Davis said stamina has been a focus.
“I have been pushing my cardio a lot. It’s not just a five-round fight … it’s a potentially five-round fight against Ronda Rousey where you don’t really get that five seconds to take a breath in there,” Davis said. “Obviously, from the get-go, that’s something I’ve been working on.”
Davis has also looked upon improving her wrestling game, having trained with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, which houses the likes of UFC men’s bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, Chad Mendes and Joseph Benavidez, among others, all of them boasting strong wrestling backgrounds.
The first woman to medal in Olympic judo, Rousey was a bronze medalist in the 2008 Olympics and very much used her overwhelming talents in one area to lead her to the top of the women’s MMA mountain. But Rousey continues to evolve.
“I really feel like I’ve been learning on my feet,” Rousey said. “I won the world title after I’d only been a professional for a year. I haven’t put a judo gi on in years.
“I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of these girls make is that they go into MMA, yet they still mostly do what they’re most comfortable with.”
Rousey, on the other hand, has steadily shown improvement in her striking game as one can glimpse fight by fight, but is most prevalent in her second win over Tate at UFC 168 in December of last year and her victory over McMann.
“I focus more on filling my holes,” Rousey said. “Everyone keeps talking about, ‘Oh, if you strike too much you’re going to forget your judo.’ I’m not gonna forget my judo. You could hit me over the head, throw me over a cliff, stick me in a cave for five years, I will walk out being able to do a perfect harai goshi. I need to fill all the holes. I obsessed over making myself comfortable striking so I could be comfortable overall and not revert to my safe place.
“I still always have it, it’s not going anywhere.”
Neither has Davis it seems. When Rousey first drew mass attention with what some deemed as brash talk that led, in part, to her getting a Strikeforce title shot against Tate, Davis was seemingly the odd woman out as Rousey clamored for a shot, while Tate and Kaufman believed she should wait her turn.
When Rousey fought Carmouche, making history at UFC 157, Davis was there along with Tate, McMann and Cat Zingano at the prefight press conference. All along, Davis did little in promoting herself, simply winning again and again.
“Everybody’s different. It’s different personalities,” Davis said. “That’s the hard part about being myself. I’m kind of quiet. I don’t really speak up when it’s the time to speak up. Obviously, I think if I would’ve been more vocal, especially earlier in my career, maybe I would’ve got my chances a little bit sooner.
“Maybe it’s just my time.”
Thus far, as it relates to the new world of women’s MMA under the UFC banner, it has been Rousey’s time to shine.
Oddsmakers believe that won’t change, as Rousey is as high as a 9-1 favorite.
“I just want to win and I want it to be exciting and I want it to be a dominant performance and I want it to be entertaining,” Rousey said. “I always like the fans to be left with the feeling of wanting more.
“It’s like the tagline at the end of a movie that you couldn’t wait for the sequel. I like the fans to have that feeling after seeing me fight.”
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.