With one more arm on the mantle, submission phenom Ronda Rousey has once again prevailed, and the target on her back continues to grow.
Last Saturday, at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman, the 25-year-old former Olympian chalked up another win, moving her undefeated record to 6-0, in what some could argue was one of the more anti-climactic title defenses in the history of MMA. With all the hype surrounding this fight and the quick, action-less finish coming at just 54 seconds of round one, is the ongoing success of Rousey becoming a buzzkill for women’s MMA or is it a good thing?
Rousey’s highly-touted first title defense was billed as one of the biggest fights ever in WMMA. Coming off of her title-winning match against Miesha Tate earlier this year, she quickly entered the spotlight as the face of WMMA. Of course, it helps that the scariest woman on the planet, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, had her newly-won Strikeforce featherweight title stripped for steroid abuse. With Cyborg’s temporary departure from Strikeforce, all eyes shifted to Rousey.
After all the other events during the first half of 2012, between The Ultimate Fighter Live, the Summer Olympics, the ESPN Body Issue, and Gina Carano’s move into the background of WMMA, Rousey received a major run, not only in the sports community but in popular culture as a whole. There was so much hype leading into this fight, including comments by challenger Sarah Kaufman about wanting to wipe the pretty off Rousey’s face, that Rousey was capturing headlines in all of the major sports publications.
By fight time, there was quite possibly the most hype ever going into a WMMA fight, including the 2009 bout between Santos and Carano. From an entertainment perspective, though, the fight had almost less action than UFC’s disappointing Fox debut between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
By the time the fight started, Kaufman never even got the chance to land a beauty-damaging punch before she was on the ground. By the time Kaufman knew what was going on, Rousey had her in her signature armbar, and Kaufman was tapping, just like every other opponent Rousey has ever faced in MMA. So, with all of the buzz going in, the fight was over in 54 seconds. That’s hardly a thriller worthy of “Fight of the Night” honors. In fact, in all reality, it wasn’t much of a fight at all.
This performance brings to question whether or not Rousey is good or bad for WMMA.
Looking at the big picture, there isn’t really a next logical competitor in the current Strikeforce bantamweight lineup that really poses a threat to Rousey, except for Alexis Davis. Davis holds black belts in both Japanese Jujutsu and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, has never been submitted, and has won six of her fights by submission. She should get the next shot at Rousey. Other than that, the only other real Strikeforce threat would be Cyborg, who would have to make the cut from featherweight to bantamweight.
If Cyborg really wanted to put an end to the legend of Rousey, she would need to lay off the PED’s for a while and actually make bantamweight, which could be a huge challenge in and of itself. Also, if she did make the cut and tested clean, would the fans see the same vicious Cyborg of the past or would she be slower, weaker and more lethargic? A Santos without steroids may not be the same Santos, which would put an even bigger asterisk on her record, deflating one of the scariest images in WMMA.
What about competitors outside of Strikeforce?
At Invicta FC 2, both Sara McMann and Shayna Baszler showed everyone that they are two of the baddest bantamweight fighters in WMMA. Contractual obligations aside, it would be good for the sport to see one of those women, especially the undefeated McMann, take on Rousey for the title in either Strikeforce or Invicta FC. Especially since McMann was also a decorated world-class grappler prior to her MMA career, giving her credentials closer to Rousey’s level of fighting.
All of the ”what-if” scenarios bring the conversation back to whether or not Rousey’s success is actually good for WMMA. The answer can really go either way.
If Rousey continues her first-round armbar success, she could realistically run through almost every serious competitor in two years or less. While these fights might temporarily increase viewership for WMMA, what happens when there’s nobody left to armbar? It will be hard to sustain sponsorship and viewers if she completely runs the gamut and makes the entire bantamweight division a moot point. That would be one-fifth of all the divisions in WMMA that would no longer be relevant. That’s not exactly the same thing as the UFC middleweight division, which Anderson Silva has rendered pretty irrelevant, at least for now.
But, again, is this really that bad for WMMA?
Organizations like Strikeforce and Invicta FC don’t think so. In fact, they could not have asked for better timing.
The spotlight on Rousey may not make most of the other female fighters happy, but it has to be at least bittersweet. Having a beautiful, undefeated phenom is never bad for the image of an up-and-coming sport. If everyone in the WMMA business plays their cards right, this could be a huge launching pad for increasing WMMA exposure overall.
Run-of-the-mill sports fans that are not into MMA probably didn’t know or care about Cyborg’s last three fights, but after the first half of this year—and with a little help from social media and the ESPN Body Issue—a heck of a lot more people knew of and cared about Rousey and her last fight. In fact, it was great to hear Kaufman talk about wanting to make Rousey less pretty, because that kind of hype brought more viewers in to see if she could actually do it.
Unfortunately for Kaufman, that didn’t happen. But McMann may bring an even bigger hype, because her ground skills may prove to be the best match-up for Rousey at this point. If Invicta FC really wants to grow its relevance, it would be wise to hype its bantamweight division as “producing the next competitor for Ronda Rousey.”
All the hype surrounding Rousey is great for the state of WMMA, but with a few stipulations. Rousey is a diamond in the rough that, if used wisely, could bring this sport to the next echelon. However, it would be wise for promoters to market this right, because if they throw all of the best competitors at Rousey and she runs the gamut, the party could be short-lived. Or, even worse, she may leave the sport altogether and start making B movies.
For the sake of WMMA, the promoters and sponsors need to work together to continue to bring quality competitors in all divisions to grow the sport as a whole. Too much time spent on Rousey could be detrimental to WMMA in the long run. In sports, sustainability is everything. Just ask the kickboxing fad of the 80’s.
Photo: Ronda Rousey (center) celebrates after defeating Sarah Kaufman (Paul Thatcher/Fight! Magazine)