The 2012 Summer Olympics may have been making all the headlines in sports nearly a week ago but some were stolen by an Olympian, who wasn’t even in this year’s games. 2008 Bronze Medalist in Judo, Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey (5-0 MMA, 3-0 SF), is the breakout Mixed Martial Arts sensation of 2012.
Just five fights into her professional career, with none of them even making it to the second round, Rousey is poised to shatter a number of barriers in Mixed Martial Arts.
She’s gained notoriety in the mainstream by appearing naked on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s: the Body issue, and also with an appearance on ‘Conan,’ where she flirtatiously discussed her personal life while demonstrating to Conan O’Brien the proper way to dislocate an elbow.
These mainstream media appearances are tremendously important to the long-term future of women’s MMA. The general public, if they are aware of the fact that women fight in MMA at all (there has never been a single female fight in the UFC), have a stereotypical view of brutish, butch, and heavily tattooed women fighting in small shows in bars and clubs. Rousey’s fitness model looks and affability on camera have demystified the female fighter to many.
Rousey is not the first time that a beautiful woman (in the classical definition) made waves in MMA. Gina Carano won seven straight fights, including two on CBS primetime for Elite XC. She became a highly in-demand personality for movies, television, and video games, and her acting career ousted her from the sport. She has not competed in MMA in nearly three years, since a 2009 TKO loss to Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos for the Strikeforce 145 pound title. Carano changed the sport forever. Her bout with “Cyborg” marked a permanent change from three to five minute rounds for professional women’s MMA, and it was the first women’s main event for a mainstream promotion.
The acting bug is unlikely to bite Rousey. Rousey obviously loves the act of fighting, no matter how comfortable she may appear in front of a television camera. It would be hard to imagine a woman who brings both Chael Sonnen’s passion for trash talk, and Rousimar Palhares’s desire to snap limbs together in one package, trading the cage for the silver screen.
Rousey’s disrespect toward opponents, twitter feuds, and in-cage brutality have made her a polarizing figure in the MMA world. The animosity toward Rousey feels like sour grapes. She may be the first woman in MMA savvy enough to realize that people talking about a fighter is almost always good for the fighter’s wealth and status.
One man who has been talking about Rousey (and came to a weigh-in with her naked photograph emblazoned across his t-shirt) is a man who very seldom talks about women’s MMA,UFC President, Dana White. White said, “In the next 10 years, if there’s a woman in the octagon, it’s probably going to be Ronda Rousey.” This is a dramatic change from White’s normal attitude toward women’s MMA, which is usually a statement that it does not have enough depth and will never happen in the UFC.
In fact, it’s hard to believe it’s going to take anywhere near ten years. The 25-Year-Old Rousey is hot right now and there is money to be made on her fights. Not one fight on Strikeforce’s calendar and a few on the UFC’s calendar in 2012 caught the public imagination the way Rousey’s title win over Miesha Tate in March did. The feud’s pro-wrestling style hype and even third-parties (Namely Tate’s overzealous boyfriend, UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway) brought interest in the fight to a fever pitch. Rousey’s first-round armbar victory in that fight helped with her legitimization.
She can further cement her ground in women’s MMA with a win over inaugural Strikeforce 135-pound champion, Sarah Kaufman (15-1 MMA, 5-1 SF). The 26-year-old Canadian has a tremendous experience edge, boasting more than three times as many fights as the champion. An all-around talent, Kaufman is known for her brutal slam KO over Roxanne Modafferi in her first title defense and more recently, her March war with Strikeforce and Invicta standout, Alexis Davis. The demure, humble Kaufman has let her record and abilities speak for themselves in promoting this fight, and she should be a formidable foe for Rousey. Of great concern, however, is that her sole loss is by way of Rousey’s signature hold, an armbar.
A win by Rousey tomorrow night will put her stock higher than nearly half the current UFC champions. It will not be long before her popularity necessitates a pay-per-view price tag, and a UFC countdown show. In the next two years, Rousey could crack yet another barrier for a female mixed martial artist, the Pound-For-Pound (P4P) rankings.
Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman is live from San Diego tomorrow night on Showtime at 10 P.M. Eastern Standard Time.