Just under a week ago at UFC 190, Women’s Bantamweight Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey defeated Bethe Correia. In 34 seconds, or about the time it’s taken you to read up to this point in the article. The fight was a stolen wallet away from being a full blown mugging. Correia went into the fight running her mouth, promising to expose the champion, getting personal, and making grand claims about her ability to challenge for the throne… but just about half a minute into the contest, took knuckles to the temple and collapsed like a sack full of mashed potatoes.
This outcome was entirely expected. Vegas listed the odds for each fighter as Ronda Rousey (-1700) and Bethe Correia (+1100). For those of you who are not degenerative gamblers, a quick lesson: a minus sign before a number means that you will be paid out a fraction of the money you risk if that fighter wins, whereas a plus sign in front of a number means that you will be paid out more than you risk if that fighter wins. The bigger the number, the more fractional or exponential your payout, respectively. 1700 and 1100 are STUPIDLY large numbers in this situation – betting lines (as they are called) usually fall in the 100 to 400 range. To sum up: Vegas (the place specifically designed to divest suckers and money) was so sure of Rousey winning that it protected itself by giving practically nothing to anybody who bet on Rousey and simultaneously hoping to find enough dupes to take the ridiculous high pay outs on Correia.
Not a single credible pre-fight prediction had Correia winning. The only real question was in regards to how long she would last. Come to find out, Rousey must be slipping, because this fight took a massive 34 seconds… you know, given that her last two fights went 30 seconds combined. In fact, Rousey has fought professionally 12 times now, winning all of her bouts in a combined 25 minutes and 36 seconds. Which means she finishes fights in an average of two minutes and eight seconds. Eight of her fights have been for or in defense of a Championship. Phrased another way: in the time it takes for you to brush your teeth and put on deodorant, Rousey could have dismantled another world class fighter. Hell, my one way commute to work is 55 minutes. In that time, Rousey could have embarrassed 24 contenders.
Rousey is 28 years old. She stands 5’7” and weighs 135 pounds. Her reach is a shade over 66 inches. These aren’t characteristics so much as specifications. She is an orthodox judoka with the following accomplishments: Gold in the Pan American Judo Championship, Gold in the Pan American Games, Silver in the World Championships, and Bronze at the Beijing Olympic Games. And in case that Bronze seems like a let-down, bear in mind that it was the first medal of any kind won by an American in women’s judo since it became an Olympic sport. In 1992.
Her judo is near flawless. A typical Rousey fight sees her toss her opponent around, position herself across their torso, get hold of an arm and then start bending it at grotesque angles until it (sometimes literally) breaks. Nine of her fights have ended with an arm bar submission. For a while, people criticized her as a one trick pony, ignoring the fact that this particular pony was capable of winning the Kentucky Derby by a god damned country mile. Also, when Rousey’s signature move is so blatant that people can spend months preparing for it, and she still wins with it, isn’t that impressive in its own right? When you know something is coming and are completely powerless to stop it… that’s terrifying. Thankfully, she took the “one trick pony” criticism to heart and just started knocking people the fuck out. Three of her last four victories have come via TKO. That stray submission happened in 14 seconds because Rousey’s opponent walked across the Octagon, put out her arm, and said “I don’t need this anymore, thanks.”
So now the question is: who’s next? Her next challenger will likely be Meisha “Cupcake” Tate. This will be the third time these ladies have fought, and it will only be interesting because Tate is the lone person to survive longer than a single round with Rousey. Many people want Rousey to fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Besides the fact that Cyborg has been busted for Performance Enhancing Drugs, she also has to starve herself to cut down to 145 pounds, which is a full 10 pounds outside of the weight class Rousey fights in. For those of us that drop and gain pounds based on how much Chipotle we’ve been eating lately, 10 pounds might not sound like much. But for finely tuned athletic machines, it’s a sizeable gap. And Rousey doesn’t owe anybody a fight outside of the weight class that firmly belongs to her.
In fact, the mere suggestion confirms her complete dominance. “Fight in a different weight class.” That’s because there are literally no women left in her division to fight – she’s cleaned them out. Ladies are having to come back for second and now third helpings. Some folks have earnestly suggested she fight men, a notion UFC President Dana White helped foster when he said Rousey would destroy undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. in a street fight. I mean, I think we would all be interested to see what happens if Mayweather tried to beat a woman willing and able to fight back……………………….. Allegedly.
Fuck it. Let’s make things really interesting. One hand tied behind her back? How about a blindfold? Think Rousey could take on two fighters at the same time? Let’s get her in a Tables-Ladders-Chairs match. What if we made her fight a bear, Game of Thrones style? What if that bear had chainsaw hands?
The point is: Rousey doesn’t win. She annihilates. Overwhelms. Destroys. Embarrasses. Obliterates. Dismantles. Rousey is a world ending juggernaut machine that runs down everything in its path, leaving shattered arms and dreams in its wake. And she keeps rolling, despite what critics say.
All of which raises a question for me: is she the single most dominant athlete I’ve seen in my lifetime?
I decided to rank the top 6 according to my own criteria:
- They were an active athlete within my lifetime
- I watched them compete, whether in person or on television
- More specifically, I went out of my way to watch them compete
- There was a period of time where they were clearly the single most dominant person in their sport
- More specifically, there was a period of time where they defined / shaped their sport
- I didn’t include Wayne Gretzky mostly because he doesn’t belong but also because it would irritate JT
6. Roger Federer (Peak Years: 2004-2007)
Father Time and younger competition have currently caught up to Federer, but his peak is widely regarded as the most dominant stretch of men’s tennis ever. In 2004: he won 3 of the 4 Grand Slam Tournaments (the first person to do so since 1998); he won 11 singles titles, more than anybody in two decades; and his record was 74-6 (the best since 1986). He improved in 2005, with 11 more singles titles and an 81-4 record. 2006? 12 singles titles and a record of 92-5, at one point winning 29 straight matches. He appeared in the finals of all four Grand Slams (winning three of them) that year, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished since 1969. For good measure, he did it again in 2007. During his entire career, every other tennis player has been compared to him, and for good reason.
5. Ronda Rousey (Peak Years: 2011 – The Beatings Continue with No End in Sight)
See everything above. She may climb this list if she keeps going.
4. Michael Phelps (Peak Years: 2004-2012)
During his peak, which spanned multiple Olympics, Phelps produced the sort of performance that typically only happens in video games on the lowest difficulty setting. (Takes a deep breath). In the 2004 Olympics, as a teenager, he brought home 6 Gold Medals and 2 Bronze, setting three Olympic Records and two World Records; at the 2005 World Aquatics Championships he won 5 Gold’s and a Silver; at the 2006 Pan Pacific Championships he brought in 5 more Gold’s, another silver, and three more World Records; the 2007 World Champions was another 7 Gold’s and 5 World Records; and then he went super nova at the 2008 Olympics, which deserves its own paragraph.
Eight gold medals. Seven of them were World Records, and one was an Olympic Record. Eight gold medals at a single Olympics is also a record. During this time, Phelps became a house hold name, and as he stacked up gold medal after gold medal, his events became appointment television.
And he wasn’t done. At the 2009 World Championships, he added on 5 Gold’s, a Silver, and four more World Records. At the 2010 Pan Pacific Champions? Five more Gold’s. At the 2011 World Championships: 4 gold’s, 2 silvers, and a bronze. This stretch of dominance was capped off at the 2012 Olympics, where he won 4 gold’s and 2 silvers.
Shit, after going through all of that, I might have him rated too low.
3. Michael Jordan (Peak Years: 1991 – 1998)
Jordan is the only athlete on this list who played a team sport. Individual sports, or even the relays Phelps participated in, by their very nature do a better job of highlighting a single athlete’s performance. Team sports have a different dynamic in terms of success. Additionally, from a pure numbers perspective it’s much harder to visibly stand out: basketball has 10 players on the court at any given time, football has 22 players on the field at any given time, etc.
And yet, for the better part of the 90’s, night after night after night, Jordan made nine other people look completely inconsequential.
In 1991, his Bulls went 15-2 in the playoffs. Jordon won the Finals MVP with an absurd stat line: 31.2 points a game on 56% shooting, 11.4 assists, 6.6 rebounds, 2.8 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. That’s dumb.
The next season, they went 67-15 in the regular season. In the first game of the finals, Jordan set two records: 35 points in the first half and six made three-pointers in the first half. They would win that series, and Jordan would collect another Finals MVP.
Look, I can do this four more times. His team won 3 Championships in a row, and he retired for two years because of a secret gambling suspension to play baseball. Then he came back and they won 3 more Championships in a row. In all of these seasons and all of these playoff series, he was ludicrous and unstoppable. His career accomplishments include: those six championships, six finals MVPs, five regular season MVPs, 14 All Star games, a bunch of stuff that I’m not even going to list because it’s granular and repetitive but let me assure you he was damned good at everything on the basketball court up to and including tenacious defense, a gold medal at the Pan American games, a gold medal at the FIBA Americas Championship and two Olympic gold medals, including being the primary star of the Dream Team.
When it comes to individual basketball players, he’s the Greatest Of All Time. If you had to make a Mount Rushmore of basketball players, Jordan is the only surefire lock. What you’re really picking is the three people to join him.
2. Tiger Woods (Peak Years: 1997-2008)
Right now, Woods is an injury prone, petulant, struggling golfer who cheated on his wife with every Denny’s waitress ever, and he also seems like a generally unpleasant bastard. And while he’s always been kind of a prick, there was a long time where he was the single most dominant athlete alive. For an entire decade, “Tiger or the field” was a legitimate question. His 79 PGA tour wins rank 2nd all time. His 14 Major Championships rank 2nd all time – and he won a Major championship playing with one leg that was practically worthless and subsequently required surgery to fix. He has the lowest career scoring average and most career earnings ever. He is 14-1 at Major Championships when taking a lead into the final round – which earned him the title of “greatest closer of all time.” He has spent the most consecutive and cumulative time as the world’s Number 1 golfer. He was the youngest to ever complete the Career Grand Slam (winning all four Majors), and is the only person to ever win all four of them in a row. He was the PGA player of the year 11 times.
He was so dominant that people argued he was bad for golf, because he was making courses obsolete and making everybody else continually play for second place. Except, he was never bad for golf. He was (and can still be when he is competitive) a ratings juggernaut. He brought more people to the game than anybody ever has. During his peak, his only peer was history. No actual player could truly compete with him.
1. Mike Tyson (Peak Years: 1986-1990)
He barely qualifies for being in my lifetime, but it counts. When I was a kid, my father would steal cable from our neighbors pay for every UFC event and for every Tyson fight.
Until drugs, bad decisions, horrible advice and general apathy brought Tyson down, he was the scariest motherfucker on the entire planet. He was called “The Baddest Man Alive,” and that was probably a god damned understatement. Do yourself a favor and Youtube his best knockouts, and then weep for all those poor sons of bitches that he took out to the woodshed. He was stronger than everybody else, he was faster than everybody else, and he moved like water. You couldn’t hit him, and when you missed, you paid a heavy price.
He fought constantly, with 15 bouts in his first year as a professional. You can fight 15 times in a year WHEN NOBODY CAN FUCKING TOUCH YOU AND YOU JUST BREAK PEOPLE. He won 26 of his first 28 fights by knockout, and 16 of those knockouts came in the first round. He became the youngest heavyweight champion ever as a 20 year old. He became the first heavyweight to own all three major belts at the same time. He routinely put boxers into retirement. Oh yeah, he also starred in one of the best Nintendo games ever.
After everything went wrong, which included time in jail for rape and also trying to bite somebody’s ear off oh and also a really ill advised face tattoo, Tyson became (deservedly so) a punchline and one of the best examples of somebody falling from grace. While he has come back in his later life and displayed humility and remorse, he was at least at one point a despicable human being. All of that said, he was the single most dominant force I will probably ever see in my lifetime. Memories of his knockouts remain etched into my brain decades later.
I am a fan of sports because I enjoy getting to watch history be made. I sincerely hope that Ronda Rousey will continue on her current path of dominance, because I am eager to witness whatever she does next.