Can Ronda Rousey Reclaim UFC Women’s Bantamweight Crown?

Once considered to be the undisputed queen of mixed martial arts, former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey no longer resides at the center of the MMA universe since losing her title to Holly Holm last November.

But as the world of MMA turns its collective attention to this weekend’s UFC 198 in Curitiba, Brazil, and the highly-anticipated promotional debut of Rousey’s longtime nemesis, Cris ”Cyborg” Justino, many are wondering if Rowdy Ronda will ever reclaim the women’s bantamweight belt that she wore for nearly three years.

During Rousey’s unrivaled reign over the UFC women’s bantamweight division, fight fans could find images and articles related to the former-Olympian plastered all over every MMA website even when she wasn’t preparing to defend her belt or coming off of another dominant win.

These days, fight fans are more likely to read about Rousey’s next movie role, or see images of the former champ on the cover of an unrelated magazine than learn of her next test inside the octagon. And while there was a time when many fans couldn’t imagine a UFC women’s 135-pound division without Rousey as its ruler, the likes of Holm, current champion Miesha Tate, and even Cyborg, have proven that there is life for the division after the fall of Rowdy Ronda.

Many seriously doubted that the UFC would ever manage to make the women’s bantamweight division what it is today unless Rousey immediately bounced back from her loss to Holm. After three years of Rousey’s unbelievably dominant run it just didn’t seem possible.

However, at UFC 196 in March, octagon-addicts were treated to an entertaining glimpse into the future of the women’s bantamweight division when Tate became its newest champion by submitting Holm in the final frame of a five-round war.

As a result, Tate has been paired with Amanda Nunes for her first title defense at July’s UFC 200, while Holm is scheduled to face Valentina Shevchenko at UFC Fight Night Chicago on July 23. But if you’re wondering when Rousey will next grace the octagon with her presence, you’re not alone.

Initially, most figured that Rousey would be given an immediate rematch with Holm before anyone else had a chance to take the boxing legend’s belt. Considering that Rousey successfully defended her UFC title a total of five times and won 10 straight before that fateful night last November, she deserved that fight, and there’s no doubt that the fans would’ve paid to see an immediate Rousey-Holm rematch.

But that loss shook Rousey and sent the former champion spiraling into a brief stage of very public depression that even included a surprisingly emotional appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in which she spoke about contemplating suicide.

”Honestly, my thought, I was in the medical room and I was down in the corner and I was like, ‘What am I any more if I’m not this?’ I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself, and that exact second I’m like, ‘I’m nothing. What do I do any more?’ and, ‘No one gives a [expletive] about me any more without this,”’ said Rousey.

Rousey defeated Liz Carmouche to win bantamweight title at UFC 157

With Rousey temporarily out of the picture and Holm’s camp actually preferring to face Tate, the UFC was forced to set the fight, sending the women’s bantamweight division down a path that would eventually lead to the crowning of its third champion in four months.

Fortunately for Rousey, a career in acting, with lead roles in the Roadhouse remake and Mile 22, has offered her an escape from the suddenly cruel world of big-time mixed martial arts. Yet, at the same time, it’s also given Rousey a reason to postpone her octagon return until the fall, likely extending her absence to a full year.

Recently, the state of New York’s legalization of MMA has sparked rumors that Rousey’s return will take place in the Big Apple, and in an April interview with ESPN’s Beadle and Shelburne Show, UFC President Dana White confirmed those rumors.

”[Rousey] is definitely part of the discussion [to fight at UFC 205 in New York in November], and she will fight whoever has that belt when she comes back,” said White.

And although White once laughed at the idea of women competing in the UFC, it was obvious during the interview that the promotion’s president is genuinely intrigued by what the future holds for both the women’s bantamweight division and its first champion.

”What’s cool about that 135-pound division is everybody is fighting right now. The only one who isn’t fighting right now is Holly [Holm]. Miesha [Tate], she’s fighting Amanda Nunes, who’s very, very tough, so if anything crazy happens and she came out of that fight with a quick win, 100 percent healthy, she could turn around and fight again and then fight Ronda,” White told the hosts of the Beadle and Shelburne Show.

During an April press conference to promote her women’s bantamweight title-tilt against Nunes at July’s UFC 200, Tate didn’t hesitate to include Rousey in her plans for what remains of 2016.

”I told everybody that I was going to beat Holly [Holm], and I did, and I’m meant to be here,” said Tate. ”I’m going to beat Amanda [Nunes] on the 9th, and I’m going to go on and hopefully, after that, we’ll see Ronda in Madison Square Garden. That would be great.”

But after struggling with a brutal bout of post-loss depression, and even questioning her future in a sport that she herself helped hand-deliver to the masses, the exact date of Rousey’s return and the identity of her next opponent is almost irrelevant compared to the questions surrounding her ability to once again become the undisputed queen of mixed martial arts.

[Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images]