Just before we begin – yes, I realize that calling it the “women’s division” is a bit of a misnomer. This isn’t WWE after all. There are theoretically as many women’s weight divisons as there are men’s.
But until the UFC decides to introduce more women’s weight divisions, the 135-pound women’s division is it. It’s the alpha and omega as far as women fighting in the UFC goes. Meaning, of course, that Ronda Rousey is the face and the franchise of women’s MMA in the UFC.
Stop the presses! In other news – did you hear the Ravens won the Superbowl?
Yeah, I realize I’m not exactly telling you anything you don’t already know. But all this ruminating on the obvious does bring up an interesting question: what happens to the UFC’s women’s bantamweight division after UFC 157?
I’m not going to follow the usual line of media thought, and just assume Ronda will take Liz Carmouche’s arm home in the time it takes you to update your IPod. Instead, I’m going to look at each of the possible outcomes to UFC 157’s main event (spoiler alert: there’s two possible outcomes) and ask the simplest of questions:
Why does anyone in the world not like pulled pork?
Wait, wrong question. What I meant to ask was:
What comes next?
Ronda Rousey Wins:
Here is the outcome that Dana White, every bookie on the planet, and 90% of MMA fandom believe is beyond a lock: Ronda Rousey, the undefeated armbar phenom and Olympic Judo medalist, will absolutely walk through Liz Carmouche.
In fact, I’m sure plenty of people’s reaction to this fight went something like “Wow, Ronda’s coming to the…wait…Liz who?”. That’s no disrespect to Liz, a former U.S. Marine who could undoubtedly kick my ass like it’s never been kicked. But outside of Rousey, Gina Carano and arguably Cris “Cyborg” Santos (more on her later), no one else in women’s MMA has really broken through to become a “name” amongst MMA fans.
Then you throw in the fact that Rousey has looked absolutely unstoppable in her career thus far, and this fight really starts to look like a squash match. I call it the Anderson Silva syndrome: when a fighter is viewed as head and shoulders above the competition – not just beating opponents, but blowing them out of the water – it takes more and more work to convince fans that said fighter’s next fight is worth tuning in for.
Which is why the next move Rousey makes after this fight is so important. Let’s assume she wins as she always does, and adds Carmouche’s arm to her growing collection. At that point, she would pretty much be a God among (wo)men in her division in the eyes of most fans. So who the heck does she fight next?
The obvious answer is “Cyborg” Santos, in what would be the biggest fight in WMMA history. One minor problem: “Cyborg” very recently turned down a contract offer from the UFC to sign with all-female promotion Invicta FC. So there goes that. And even before “Cyborg” signed with Invicta, there were some problems putting this fight together. The two women couldn’t agree on what weight to fight at, for one. “Cyborg’s” failed PED test hung like a sword over the proceedings, as well.
And finally, the last time “Cyborg” was put in the biggest WMMA fight of all time, against “The Face of Women’s MMA” Gina Carano, she rearranged that face so badly that Carano hasn’t fought since. MMA lost it’s greatest female abasssador (at the time) in exchange for a fighter who would shortly piss hot and spend a year on the shelf collecting dust.
Miesha Tate makes the most sense as Rousey’s next fight. The two have a legitmate beef, and have met before in a highly-watched fight. And hey, Tate did better than anyone else has against Rousey – she almost made it out of the first round!
But that fight is hardly written in stone. Tate is set to meet Cat Zingano in April, and a loss would certainly derail a rematch with Rousey. Then again, Zingano is herself an interesting prospect, also undefeated who could pose an interesting challenge to Rousey down the line. The UFC has always been good at building a stable of challengers in any given division, and their experiment in WMMA will ultimately come down to how well they are able to cultivate a steady crop of women fans want to see fight Ronda – and be champion, should they beat her.
Liz Carmouche wins:
WHOA CRAZY CRAZY! First of all, go outside and throw some rock salt on the places where Hell just froze over. Then pour a drink for Joe Silva and Dana White, because their plans for a women’s division in the UFC just got turned upside down.
The common line of thinking here is that if Rousey loses this fight, the UFC will abandon WMMA entirely. But that assumption ignores both history, and practicality.
For starters, there’s no telling how a fight will play out until it happens. If Liz is entertaining and captivating in victory – be it by putting on a war, making a big comeback, escaping a close submission hold, the list goes on – then the situation changes entirely. Liz becomes a star (or at least better known) while the inevitable rematch becomes that much more lucrative.
You simply never know how a fight’s going to unfold. If I had told at this time last year that Jon Fitch would be in one of the most entertaining fights of 2012, you’d have laughed in my face. But it happened, and not a single person on planet Earth could have predicted it.
A Carmouche victory also has the benefit of relieving the UFC of it’s biggest problem in WMMA: namely, that it’s the Ronda Rousey show, featuring these other women who also fight, too. Sure, the title’s visibility would take a hit without Ronda holding it. But having her as a title challenger working her way back to a rematch (and that’s assuming she doesn’t get an automatic rematch, which is likely) means you get to keep promoting Ronda Rousey, while also promoting another girl as women’s 135-pound champion. Not exactly the best of both worlds – more like the not bad of both worlds.
A Carmouche victory throws open the door as far as potential title challengers. With Rousey as champion, only the toughest of competition would be viewed as legitmate (whether deservedly or not), meaning you’re selling fights based on her name alone. She gets injured, gets into some sort of personal trouble, or decides to follow in Gina Carano’s footsteps and go kick Ewan MacGregor’s butt, and the UFC is more or less stuck.
With Carmouche as champion, all that pressure is gone. The UFC can build and promote a division without having to anchor it around one fighter, the way they’re doing with the flyweight division right now. Carmouche could face Miesha Tate in a fresh match with plenty of implications. She could also rematch someone like Sarah Kaufman, who is still very much “in the mix” to borrow a Dana-ism.
Would a Carmouche title fight draw as well as a Rousey one?
Not a chance. Undoubtedly, the UFC would take a hit in the short term, as would WMMA as a whole. In the long term, though, a Rousey loss could help to free the division from being entirely about her. You still have Ronda Rousey – but you also get to promote a seperate world champion, broadening the division and allowing more freedom in the matchmaking.
I also laugh at the notion that a Rousey loss would make her “damaged goods”, hurting her appeal and overall drawing power.
When newly-minted welterweight champion GSP got absolutely frosted by Matt Serra, plenty of folks thought it would tarnish his reputation forever. Instead, the UFC made Serra/St. Pierre one of the biggest rivalries in MMA, and GSP more than rebounded from the loss to become the top draw in MMA today. When Anderson Silva danced around Demian Maia for 5 rounds in Abu Dhabi (a win, but it may as well have been a loss), many folks swore they’d never watch one of his fights again. Instead, the UFC went to Chael Sonnen, and promoted one of the most popular rivalries in MMA history.
And the list goes on: Brock Lesnar getting tapped by Frank Mir. Cain Velasquez getting starched by Junior Dos Santos. Keith Jardine getting slept by Houston Alexander (ok, bad example). In each case, the loss seemed to destroy the drawing power of the loser. In the long-term, however, each guy found a way to bounce back in the minds of fans, and the UFC found a way to make even more money.
Should Liz get her hand raised this Saturday night, I’m really hoping this is the way things play out. The future of WMMA is going to depend a lot on what happens in the next few days.