SACRAMENTO, Calif. – If this was pro wrestling, Ronda Rousey would have shown up cageside at UFC 177 and issued a challenge.
Rousey, the UFC women's bantamweight champion, and her regular training partners – Shayna Baszler, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir – have formed a clique they've named the Four Horsewomen, a homage to Ric Flair's famous rasslin' faction of the 1980s.
And in pro wrestling style, a foil has emerged. Undefeated Bethe Correia of Natal, Brazil, defeated Baszler on Saturday night during UFC 177's main card at Sleep Train Arena. Correia put on a vicious striking clinic to finish the veteran Baszler, essentially leaving her knocked out on her feet as the fight was waved off in the second round.
"I have a message for Ronda Rousey," Correia said through an interpreter in her postfight interview. "I want her belt and I'm coming to take it. The belt is going to be mine."
Mind you, this was the second of the Horsewomen Correia has taken out. She defeated Duke via unanimous decision at UFC 172 in April.
Shafir has just two pro MMA fights and isn't ready to step in. So this is where Rousey is expected to ride to the rescue. According to UFC president Dana White, that's exactly what she wants to do.
"As soon as [Correia] started talking, [Rousey] texted me and said, 'I want that fight; I want it now,' " White said. "'I want it before someone else beats her,' and I said, 'Calm down, lady. You've got other people to fight. We'll figure it out.' "
White is right to put the brakes on things for now. There are too many potential options on the table for Rousey's next fight to commit to anything just yet. For one thing, there is the ongoing attempt to create a superfight with the first big star of women's MMA, Gina Carano, which would do bigger business than all but a few fights (Saturday night, White characterized a deal with Carano as being close to completed, but he's been saying that for awhile).
If you're looking at booking Rousey's next fight from the angle of, you know, actually earning a title shot, then Cat Zingano's bout with Amanda Nunes at UFC 178 on Sept. 27 is one to watch. Zingano earned a title shot by defeating Meisha Tate in June 2013, but a knee injury and the death of her estranged husband kept her out of action, and it was agreed the 8-0 Zingano should have a tuneup fight before being thrown to the wolves against Rousey.
But there's little question Correia has forced her way into the title picture. The biggest knock on Corriea going into UFC 177 was that seven of her previous eight fights went the distance, including her first two UFC victories.
Correia's masterful display of striking against one of the sport's craftiest veterans in Baszler forever changed perceptions. It was a deliberate move on Correia's part.
"A lot of people was saying that I fight for points," Correia said through an interpreter at the postfight news conference. "But I wanted to go in there and I wanted to show that I can finish fights and I can't leave it all in the hands of the judges. … I'd love to have a chance at the title, I'd love to be champion. I have three fights in the UFC I'm undefeated right now. I feel like if I would have the chance at the title I would go in there and I would make the most of it."
The second-round show of force came after a hairy first round in which Baszler managed to lock Corriea into an arm triangle and nearly secured an armbar.
"In the first round, she was grappling with me but I had a chance to adjust a little bit," Correia said. "My corners told me to use my hands, and that's what I did in the second round. I've been working on my boxing for the last two months. My plan was to go for the body and gas her out, and that's exactly what I did. When I was on the ground, I was basically defending because I didn't want her to take my arm. It was close."
It was close, but it was also a true pro's sense of poise which enabled her to turn the tide. And while White isn't afraid to put business ahead of the sporting scheme of things in making his title fights if the situation calls for it, in this case, it's clear that if Correia gets a title shot, it's because she earned it in the cage.
"I don't think Bethe moves up because of the rivalry; I think Bethe moves up because of what she did tonight," White said. "That was crazy. The punches she hit [Baszler] with, I haven't seen anything like that since [Phil] Baroni [vs. Dave] Menne. She looked good tonight. That's what's going to get her a fight with Rousey."
Of course, the angle of Correia as the Horsewomen-slayer doesn't hurt, either, especially since Correia doesn't mind playing it up.
"My message to Ronda: If there's someone who will retire without any losses in the UFC, it's going to be me," Correia said. "I'm going to retire with the belt, not her."
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