It’s been eight months since Ronda Rousey found herself on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. The previously dominant women’s bantamweight champion dropped her belt in a shocking loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, and she hasn’t been inside the octagon since.
There has been a lot of uncertainty surrounding Rousey’s future in UFC. She doesn’t have a scheduled opponent, and UFC president Dana White,as well as Rousey herself, has been unable to give a return date for the company’s biggest female star.
But whether she comes back in late 2016 or 2017, Rousey has made her goal abundantly clear: she wants to become champion again.
“I want to win my belt back,” Rousey recently said at a conference hosted by Robin Roberts.
If Rousey plans on returning in the coming months, possibly at UFC 205 on Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden, her opponent will likely be current women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes. But with the way the 135-pound division has gone over the last year, the belt could change multiple times before Rousey is ready to fight again.
After losing her first fight in UFC, Rousey was expected to eventually return for a rematch with Holm with the title on the line. But Holm lost the championship in her first title defense, falling victim to a rear naked choke by Miesha Tate at UFC 196 in March. Four months later, Tate’s first title defense lasted just over three minutes before she lost to Nunes.
Against whomever she fights upon her return, Rousey will be favored. But winning the title back is far from a guarantee. Her best chance to regain the belt might have come against Tate, who she’s already beaten twice. But unless Rousey doesn’t return until well into 2017, she won’t get a third fight against Tate, who is out for six months because of the broken nose she suffered at UFC 200.
This isn’t the same 135-pound division of which Rousey was champion for three years. Holm’s boxing ability proved to be a difficult matchup for Rousey, and the former champ could earn another title shot by defeating Valentina Shevchenko on Saturday. Nunes has four losses in her pro career, but she’s proven to be a top competitor with four straight impressive victories, culminating with her win over Tate.
There’s also Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who’s wanted her shot at Rousey for years and in May dropped to 140 pounds for her first UFC fight. Justino might present the biggest threat to Rousey, though it doesn’t seem likely that the 145-pound champion will drop down to bantamweight anytime soon.
Having gone undefeated as a pro until she lost to Holm, it’s unknown how Rousey will respond to her first UFC defeat. In her first interview after UFC 193, Rousey discussed how embarrassed she was to lose in such a lopsided fashion, and she later told Ellen Degeneres that she had suicidal thoughts as a result of the loss.
But Rousey is ready to channel those angry feelings in a manner that will help her sit atop the women’s bantamweight division, once again.
No matter how competitive the bantamweight division has become, Rousey’s track record still sets her apart. She successfully defended her title five times, and Rousey needed just 64 combined seconds to win her last three fights. Before UFC 193, she knocked out every one of her opponents, and Tate was the only UFC challenger to ever survive the first round against Rousey.
Much like Jose Aldo came back from his stunning 13-second loss to Conor McGregor by defeating Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 and looking as impressive as ever, Rousey hopes her loss will ultimately make her an even better fighter.
“What builds character and toughness is struggle,” Rousey recently wrote in an article for Refinery29. “What makes us better and more human is attempting something, coming up short, and then trying it again.”