Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014 | 2 a.m.
UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey’s budding acting career came in handy during the past week.
Rousey played coy to the media in regards to her striking ability. She hinted just enough, through both words and body language, about her improvements that it was evident she was hiding something. But she never cracked under the pressure of interrogation from reporters to give away the secret.
Rousey knew when she would make it public — Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in the main event of UFC 170. The reveal presented itself in the form of a knee to the liver of Sara McMann at 1:06 of the first round that the champion used to retain her title with a TKO victory.
“I promised my coaches that I would go out and drop her with a body shot,” Rousey’s voice softened, as if a part of her wanted to keep the information confidential. “We called it. We trained it a lot. It was a goal I had in this fight.”
The world’s best female fighter is now more than armbars and controversy. As much as Rousey championed her original sport of judo, in which she won an Olympic bronze medal in 2008, she recently caught the urge to flaunt the rest of her fighting game.
Nabbing a first knockout victory against the supposed toughest competition with the fastest finish of her UFC career would suffice as a grand exhibit. Rousey planned McMann’s cruel fate with her coaches.
“When we were going over Sara’s footage and how she fights, we saw that no one had really gone to the body with her,” Rousey said. “Being that she’s a wrestling style, she’s more likely to be bent over more and I just thought it would be really unexpected.”
So unexpected and devastating that McMann admitted to feeling momentarily paralyzed when Rousey pounded her in the area of her organs. McMann fell to the mat clutching her midsection and turning her head in the opposite direction, forcing referee Herb Dean to call the fight.
Fans protested with boos thinking the bout should have continued, but McMann’s comments were telling as to her state at the end of the fight.
“I’m not going to blame a referee for something I feel like I should be able to control,” McMann said. “I should have gotten up a little bit quicker. If you want to win fights, you have to regardless of what’s going on.”
UFC President Dana White took an even stauncher stance, declaring the stoppage completely justified after watching the replay.
“I’ve been in this business a long time,” he said. “I’ve seen that happen to Oscar De La Hoya and a lot of other great fighters. When you get hit to the body like that, regular people who have never been hit to the body have no (expletive) clue what that feels like.”
McMann recalled reaching for a leg when she heard Dean rush in, but it was a split-second too late. Rousey had her hands up above her head in celebration.
The champion circled the octagon to take in a victory that held special meaning.
“People forget I won the title for the first time a year after my first pro fight,” Rousey explained. “I’m leaning still. It took a long time for me to really feel like I just wasn’t trying to do the judo I learned as a kid. I’m really trying to become more well rounded as a martial artist. I’m not just looking for one finish. I’m looking for what’s available.”
Despite those being ominous words for Rousey’s future opponents, plenty of women are falling over each other trying to get a shot at her. Cat Zingano, who earned the opportunity to face Rousey nearly a year ago, remains at the top of the queue, but it’s unclear when she’ll be ready after a devastating knee injury and the tragic death of her husband.
Cris “Cyborg” Justino, long considered the best female fighter in the world before Rousey came around, attended UFC 170 and committed herself to making the 135-pound weight class to face Rousey before the end of the year. Alexis Davis stayed perfect in the UFC at 3-0 with a split-decision victory over Jessica Eye on the preliminary card.
Rousey welcomed any of them as the next contender. She wants to fight again before the end of summer, but a couple Hollywood obligations complicate her schedule.
Rousey will film the “Entourage” movie next month, and she’ll be expected to promote “The Expendables 3” with the rest of the cast before it hits theaters in August. She gave a sneak peak to her drama chops during her day job.
“I don’t like calling (the body-shot TKO); I don’t like saying it to the media or anybody else,” Rousey said. “But, to my coach, I promised him I was going to try.”