LOS ANGELES — Ronda Rousey won a fight in 16 seconds last summer, falling a second short of the quickest victory in UFC history. At the time, the bantamweight champion figured the speed with which she pummeled Alexis Davis was a fluke.
“It’s something everybody on my team was teasing me about, but I wasn’t taking seriously,” Rousey said. “I didn’t seriously think I could top it.”
Just about anything seems possible these days for mixed martial arts’ most dominant champion.
Rousey (11-0) needed just 14 electrifying seconds to finish off Cat Zingano at UFC 184 on Feb. 28 in her hometown. Not only was it the fastest finish ever in a UFC title bout, it was the quickest submission victory in the promotion’s several thousand bouts of history.
The search for a worthy opponent will take much longer.
Rousey is a bona fide superstar after selling out Staples Center and attracting what’s expected to be a solid pay-per-view audience, but the UFC is facing a problem finding opponents who can be sold to the world as having a chance to contend with her otherworldly skills.
“Yeah, we’re going to move her to the men’s division and see the odds,” UFC President Dana White said with a laugh. “I don’t know what to do with this lady.”
Zingano (9-1) was considered the most daunting threat to Rousey’s title reign, with more skill, toughness and pertinent experience than most of Rousey’s previous victims. But her curious decision to charge right into the grasp of an Olympic medal-winning judoka doomed her before many fans had even sat down.
When the wonder finally subsided, Rousey and White speculated on what’s next for one of the promotion’s biggest stars.
White faced a barrage of questions at the post-fight news conference about Cris “Cyborg” Justino, the Brazilian veteran and former Strikeforce champ currently dominating the all-women Invicta promotion at 145 pounds. Justino was widely considered the world’s best female fighter before she failed a doping test and Rousey rose to the pinnacle.
Both fighters have said they’re eager to face off, but Justino — a target of Rousey’s ridicule for that doping failure — fights at 145 pounds, and has been inconsistent about whether she could make the 135-pound bantamweight limit.
Justino looked big on Feb. 27 when she won her latest Invicta fight in Los Angeles, several blocks down Figueroa Street from Staples Center.
While hard-core fans have clamored for Rousey to move up to a catch weight to make the fight, White sees no reason why Rousey would make concessions for anyone.
“Why would the champ go there?” White asked. “It just doesn’t make sense. The champ doesn’t (compromise for) other people. … If (Justino) makes the weight, she can make the fight. She looked nowhere near 135 (Friday) night.”
Justino is expected to fight again in the summer, perhaps at 135 pounds. If she makes the bantamweight limit, a bout with Rousey could happen soon.
Until then, the UFC must find another candidate for Rousey — and the list, while getting slimmer, still has a few names.
Champion boxer Holly Holm made her UFC debut in the show’s penultimate bout, grinding out a split-decision victory over Raquel Pennington.
Although solid, Holm’s performance seemed underwhelming given the hype that preceded her. Afterward, Holm and White agreed she needs more UFC fights before she can contend with Rousey.
The most logical contenders for the next shot at Rousey appear to be Bethe Correia or Jessica Eye, two experienced fighters with championship designs.
“Holly Holm is a world champion boxer, and I want to test myself against that striking,” Rousey said. “And Bethe Correia, she’s undefeated. I’d like to take that ‘0’ away from her.”
Correia (9-0) and Eye (11-2) both called out Rousey after her victory, but White said he hasn’t decided who gets the next shot. Correia might be the most exciting prospect, given her perfect record and her victories over two of Rousey’s training partners.
Although Rousey mentioned Correia in the cage immediately after the fight, White isn’t sure when Rousey’s return will happen. Rousey revealed that she’s heading off next to shoot an unnamed film, likely pushing her next bout deeper into the second half of 2015.
But after 14 seconds of work for a huge payday, Rousey headed off to her real reward: a dinner of hot wings, duly immortalized on her Instagram feed.
(GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer)