She’s the biggest star in women’s MMA. She’s the heir apparent to Gina Carano’s throne. She breaks arms like she breaks hearts (oh lordy…). And she’s coming to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. FanSided’s Elton Hobson breaks down the implications for Rousey’s debut in the big leagues, and why it could be a game changer for the entire sport.
I hate to start an article off by boasting (ok, I don’t hate it that much) but guys – I toooooold you so.
In case you haven’t heard, news broke this morning via TMZ that Ronda Rousey, reigning Strikeforce 135-pound women’s champion, Olympic judo medalist, undefeated MMA fighter and all-round bad lady is headed for the UFC.
And make no mistake about it: this is the biggest a game-changing move the UFC has made since it signed some guy named Brock-something way back when.
Ronda being UFC-bound is news that MMA fans have been waiting to hear for quite some time – and yet there was always the expectation in the back of our minds that we’d never hear this news at all.
Dana White has said repeatedly that the UFC wasn’t interested in featuring a women’s division. As recently as last year, he poured cold water on the idea that the UFC would feature a women’s division any time in its near future.
What a difference a year makes – especially when it’s as bad a year as the UFC has had.
Not a year goes by where the UFC doesn’t get bitten by the injury big. The problem is that this year, it’s been less a “bug” than it is one of those giant insect aliens from “Starship Troopers”.
Just look at some of the fights that have been scrapped this year due to injury: Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz. Little Nogueira vs. Alexander Gustafsson. Junior dos Santos vs. Alistair Overeem (ok, that was a popped drug test, but still). Vitor Belfort vs. Wanderlei Silva. Urijah Faber vs. Dominick Cruz III. “Shogun” Rua vs. Thiago Silva. And let’s not even talk about the whole UFC 151-cancellation fiasco.
These aren’t small fights, on inconsequential cards. These are all big, headlining, fights that the UFC was anchoring a card around. And these are just the big name fights I could think of off the top of my head. Just take a look through the undercards of UFC events this past year to see the game of musical chairs UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has had to play.
Add in the fact that Brock Lesnar is gone, Jon Jones gets more despised by the day, and Georges St. Pierre has been on the shelf the whole year, and it adds up to a bleak picture for the UFC.
Ratings are down. PPV numbers are down. And outside of Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II, there really hasn’t been a fight that has captured the attention of that ever-elusive “mainstream”.
Like Gina Carano before her, Ronda brings that special something to all her fights. And by “special something” I mean she’s a gorgeous lady who kicks a** like it’s going out of style. That’s a proven formula for ratings success – just ask Strikeforce, which saw Gina Carano vs. Cris “Cyborg” Santos outdraw Dan Henderson vs. Fedor Emelianenko in terms of TV ratings.
That really says it all right there. And Rousey’s numbers for her recent Strikeforce bouts are right in that area as well.
But unlike Carano, we don’t get the sense that Rousey has one foot out the door of MMA. I think that was a large reason for Dana’s reluctance to get behind her as the “Face of Women’s MMA”. There was the struggles with weight, the long periods of inactivity, and the many side gigs, like starring in “Haywire” or appearing on “American Gladiators”. One always had the impression that for Carano, MMA was just a springboard to bigger and better.
In case anyone has the wrong impression, I’m not slagging on Ms. Carano in the least. She blazed a trail, elevated the profile of women’s MMA, and used her success to launch a much more lucrative acting career. She doesn’t owe this sport a damn thing – indeed, every women who puts on the four ounce gloves from here on out owes her a debt of gratitude.
But with Rousey, we get the impression that she’s in MMA for the long haul. She’s won one world title, defended it with authority, and has already set her sights on another. She trains with an elite camp in Cesar Gracie. She forecasts her career in terms of years, not months or days. As condescending as it sounds for a lazy-a** writer to say about an U.S. Olympian – she’s legit, yo.
All the old concerns about women’s MMA still exist. In fact, they’re only going to expand once Ronda makes her UFC debut, and folks in the mainstream get a load of the pretty lady who breaks arms like wishbones at Thanksgiving. There’s plenty of squeamishness in our society about women and violence, and the thought of two ladies fist-fighting in a steel cage still makes some fans uncomfortable.
But that’s not going to dissuade the UFC, and it shouldn’t. Heck, there’s still folks who don’t feel comfortable with any two people fighting it out on an Octagon, let alone women. MMA’s emergence into the mainstream has been a long process of educating the public, and that will only continue with the introduction on the grand stage of WMMA.
Just remember that, as is the case with male MMA fighters, this isn’t the Roman Coliseum. No one has forced Ms. Rousey or any female MMA fighter to step into the cage. These ladies are well-trained, often lifelong martial artists who fight for all the same reasons male fighters do. They deserve your respect, if not your viewing attention.
But let’s be honest: they’ll have that, too. Rousey’s arrival in the UFC will raise the profile of women’s MMA to a whole new level, and no matter if you love women’s MMA or loathe it, chances are you’ll be watching. That means Rousey will also raise the profile of the UFC, and the sport of MMA in general, right when it needs it the most.
We’re watching history in the making here, folks. I can’t wait.