By Zach Arnold | August 18, 2014
— Team Rousey (@ArmbarNation) August 18, 2014
Guest article by Brandon Engel (on Twitter at @brandonengel2)
If Ronda Rousey leaves UFC in the near future, will she be remembered as a pioneer in the Mixed Martial Arts space?
Ronda Rousey is a polarizing — but nevertheless fascinating — figure in contemporary sports. Her fans & supporters laud her as a pioneer for all female athletes; an icon who will take the women’s MMA scene to the next level. Her skeptics question whether or not she’s an opportunist looking to get out of MMA as soon as possible in order to capitalize on her increasing celebrity status.
Sounds a lot like Gina Carano with more talent & aggression. Who knows how much longer she will stick around the MMA scene. What can be said is that she has received more honors, awards, and attention than any other female MMA fighter. She recently won an ESPY for “Best Female Athlete.” The only MMA fighter to win an ESPY, period. She was also nominated for “best fighter” but lost to Floyd Mayweather, which led to a rather regrettable comment of “I don’t know who he is.” It also led to a nonstop month-long stream of “Ronda could beat Floyd” palaver on ESPN & Fox Sports television.
The idea of Floyd hitting a woman? The recent domestic violence incidents with War Machine & Josh Grispi put a stop to the Floyd/Ronda debate, which should have never happened in the first place.
When comparing the opponents she faced in judo to the opponents she has faced so far in the women’s MMA scene, is Ronda Rousey truly a pioneer? Her critics say no, emphatically so. How does Rousey stack up to, say, Billie Jean King? Babe Dickinson Zaharias? Ronda’s in-ring dominance is undeniable. But to call her a pioneer?
There have been many female athletes prior to Rousey that have played pivotal roles in advancing the cause of women’s sports. However, you wouldn’t know that if you bought all of the spin doctoring and media coverage. She’s portrayed as a game changer for all athletes. What about Alex Morgan? Dana loves Ronda and he loves her even more without manager Darin Harvey in the picture.
“This is a chick that could leave this building, walk down the Las Vegas Strip and wreck every guy on the Las Vegas Strip. There’s never been a woman in the history of the world that could do that.”
There’s definitely a machismo enthusiasm at play here. Fine. Let’s say we went through the exercise of having some sort of Battle of the Sexes type competition and let’s say Ronda won. Would that validate the efforts of all female athletes currently dealing with sexism in today’s sports climate? In the cage, she’s disposed of her competition in record time. Outside the cage, there are plenty of challenges waiting for her. That’s the prize at the end of the rainbow. It seduced Gina and has seduced Ronda. Not just Hollywood, but WWE as well. The Four Horsewomen appeared at Summerslam in Los Angeles on Sunday night. WWE acknowledged her presence. They see her star power. They know she is a wrestling nut. WWE always wants to be recognized by Hollywood as a strange but unique cousin. Ronda has many suitors right now.
— Tim Peterson (@TimWMMAToday) August 17, 2014
Perhaps UFC and WWE work out a loan with Brock Lesnar heading back to the cage and Ronda heading to the ring? With the tug-of-war between UFC, Hollywood, and perhaps WWE in the near future, legacy is everything.
“It’s getting to the point where I’ve accomplished so much that I’m really starting to think of what kind of legacy I leave behind,” she recently stated in an interview with espnW.com. “I’m envious of seeing Royce Gracie at the UFC events, and you can see him with a look of contentment and accomplishment. This is something he did. I really want that opportunity in the future to sit and watch women fight in the UFC with regularity and think, ‘Wow, I was part of that.’”
For all of the good will that Ronda has created amongst female sports fans who might give Mixed Martial Arts a chance, that good will can evaporate in a hurry with a string of domestic violence incidents involving fighters like War Machine & Josh Grispi. All of the negative exposure that comes from the TMZs of the world is a fast way to erode fan trust in an already volatile industry fighting, scrapping to earn positive headlines. Ronda Rousey has done a great job of being the face of UFC during a time period where so many fighters have gotten in trouble over tattoos, steroid usage, domestic violence. Throw in memory loss and over health-related issues. The UFC knows that star power trumps everything else in America’s celebrity culture. Ronda Rousey has managed to become a star in an organization where there really aren’t any other major female stars. Gary Shaw gave Gina Carano the Elite XC platform. Scott Coker gave Cris Cyborg the Strikeforce & Showtime platform. The UFC has given Ronda Rousey their PPV & Fox Sports platform.
A lack of talented opposition is a dual-edged sword for Rousey. It’s great to get paid a lot of money to beat up opponents. At the same time, Ronda Rousey is a competitor and wants to constantly challenge herself. It’s what makes her so great. She’s irresistible to Hollywood. The movie roles keep on coming. Her next appearances will be in Fast and Furious 7 and Entourage. She’s also in the recently released third installment of the Expendables series, which features her alongside veteran action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Expendables stands to boost her visibility tremendously, as the series is one of the most lucrative action franchises in history and the earlier installments are being televised frequently on demand and as direct television specials. Not bad work if you can get it.
So what happens when Ronda eventually gets out of MMA for good and becomes a part-timer? Will the fans be accepting or will they start booing her like some of the WWE fans booed The Rock during his program with John Cena? The part-timer who turned his back on the full timers? The good news is that Ronda & Rock have the same agent. She wants to be as big as The Rock.
Which is why the talk of UFC wanting to book Ronda Rousey vs. Gina Carano is such an interesting proposition. The sport has dramatically changed since Carano left five years ago. Think about Gina vs. Cyborg and how that was a supposed passing of the torch. We know the fight between Rousey & Carano will attract eyeballs but in the same kind of way that Matt Hughes vs. Royce Gracie sold PPV buys and we know how that turned out.
Whatever Ronda Rousey does next, either in the cage or on screen, she will continue to generate headlines and make seven-figure checks. The question is how much longer can she balance these two different worlds and find a way to stay a step ahead of the female competition in the UFC. Gina Carano couldn’t balance the two worlds. Will Ronda be able to? If she can, you can truly call her a pioneer in more ways than one.