BY GREG BEACHAM
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Ronda Rousey’s UFC comeback didn’t even last a minute.
Rousey was stopped 48 seconds into her first fight in 13 months Friday night, losing to bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes at UFC 207.
Rousey (12-2) never managed to get her footing against Nunes (14-4), who rocked Rousey with her very first punches. Rousey showed little defensive acumen as she staggered and stumbled backward with Nunes relentlessly pursuing her and landing 27 punches in the brief bout.
“Forget about Ronda Rousey!” Nunes shouted to the sellout crowd. “She’s going to go do movies. Forget about her. She has a lot of money already.”
Indeed, Rousey’s future in the sport is clearly in question. The biggest star in the women’s game, who left the arena without giving an interview, is likely considering retirement shortly before her 30th birthday.
“That’s it for her,” Nunes said. “For sure, she’s going to retire.”
Referee Herb Dean stopped the bout with Rousey still on her feet, and Rousey briefly protested the stoppage before leaving the cage in her mother’s arms. Nunes put her finger to her lips and circled the cage after the stoppage, pausing to taunt Rousey’s much-maligned coach, Edmond Tarverdyan.
“Her coach put some crazy things in her head, and her career started going down,” Nunes said. “I’m the real striker here.”
Cody Garbrandt won the men’s bantamweight title in the penultimate bout at UFC 207, battering champion Dominick Cruz to earn a surprising decision victory at T-Mobile Arena in the promotion’s traditional end-of-the-year show in its hometown.
But the sellout crowd left shocked when Rousey couldn’t compete in her first fight since losing her belt to Holly Holm 13 months ago in her first career defeat.
Rousey became arguably the world’s most famous female athlete and a combat sports trailblazer while she rocketed atop the UFC, but a year away from the sport apparently did little to heal the holes in her game. She made a guaranteed $3 million for her comeback bout, while Nunes’ guaranteed payday was just $200,000.
“I knew I was going to beat (Rousey),” Nunes said. “I’m the best on the planet.”
Rousey hadn’t fought since November 2015, when Holly Holm stopped her with a head kick in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. Rousey had never lost or been in much trouble while the former Olympic judo medalist earned a series of one-sided victories, but Holm’s veteran striking made Rousey look unprepared.
Rousey’s return fight was similar, but even quicker.
Nunes claimed the belt at UFC 200 in July with a violent stoppage of Miesha Tate, who had beaten Holm in March. Nunes made an impressive ascent after losing three fights earlier in her career to opponents beaten easily by Rousey.
Rousey nearly vanished from public view after her first loss, taking time away from the gym and attending to her acting career. The UFC also was sold during her absence to WME-IMG, the entertainment conglomerate that also represents Rousey’s career.
But Rousey refused to promote this pay-per-view show, leaving Cruz, Garbrandt and Nunes to do most of the work. While Rousey’s media blackout will hurt her cut of the pay-per-view revenue, it didn’t affect her guaranteed payday, which matched Conor McGregor for the biggest disclosed check in UFC history.
Earlier, Garbrandt (11-0) remained unbeaten with a virtuoso performance to claim the belt held for the past 11 months by Cruz (22-2), who ended up with a gaping cut over his left eye.
Garbrandt used precise striking, multiple takedowns and remarkable charisma to win over the judges, who all favored him by scores of 48-46, 48-46 and 48-47.
Cruz hadn’t lost an MMA fight since March 24, 2007, winning 13 straight bouts in a career marked by multiple comebacks from major injuries.
The 25-year-old Garbrandt is a native of Uhrichsville, Ohio, who trains in the Sacramento-area gym of veteran fighter Urijah Faber.
Cruz and Garbrandt taunted each other repeatedly during the promotion of their bout, and their genuine dislike translated into a frenzied five-round fight. Garbrandt lived up to his boundless promise with a resourceful effort against Cruz, who was favored to defend his belt.
“If you don’t lose, you don’t grow,” Cruz said. “We’re all competitors here, and it’s a game of inches. He beat me by a couple of inches tonight, and that’s OK. … There wasn’t one second of this fight I wasn’t trying to win. I chased him around the cage the whole night.”
While Cruz threw 100 more strikes, Garbrandt landed a higher percentage of his shots and did more damage.
Both fighters landed significant strikes in the first two rounds, but Garbrandt turned the fight in his favor early in the third during the exchange that opened the cut on Cruz’s face.
Garbrandt put on a performance in the fourth round, repeatedly knocking down Cruz when he wasn’t dancing away from the champion.
After receiving his belt, Garbrandt wrapped it around the waist of Maddux Maple, a 10-year-old leukemia survivor from northern Ohio who has been his motivational talisman.
Garbrandt’s first title defense could be against T.J. Dillashaw, who dominated John Lineker in a unanimous-decision victory moments earlier at UFC 207, winning 30-26 on all three cards. Dillashaw (15-3) showed off precise striking and a superior ground game to trounce the Brazilian brawler.
“Come try me!” Garbrandt shouted at Dillashaw afterward.
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