Ronda Rousey: The Face of Modern Day MMA

MMA might just be the most guy-friendly sport in the world today, seeing that UFC events provide a nod to the stereotypical male necessities of sports, girls, and beer.

Attend a UFC event and outside the arena you’ll see most of the same things —  a beer garden, scantily clad promotional models, and motorcycles.

Right now the promotion has more ring girls than ever, displaying toned bodies wearing nothing but a bikini and a number card.

All of this makes it all the more amazing because for all the men who have put their lives and bodies on the line, the person changing the sport is a woman.

Ronda Rousey, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion from Southern California, has gone from unknown fighter to mainstream superstar in just three short years.

In 2015, she is a household name that both Business Insider and Sports Illustrated have declared “The World’s Most Dominant Athlete.”

Dec 28, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) and Miesha Tate (blue gloves) during their UFC Women

The faces of the UFC have come in all different shapes and sizes.

The deceptively frail-appearing Royce Gracie paved the way at UFC 1.

He was a smaller martial artist who was submitting much larger men in a sport that former Presidential candidate John McCain called “human cockfighting”.

As the sport became more of a phenomenon, the image of the athletes also evolved.

Chuck Liddell emerged, looking exactly how people thought a cage fighter should look, with a mohawk, tattoos, and rippled with muscles in a way that made you think he sweat testosterone.

“The Iceman” came at the right time in UFC history and bludgeoned his way into popular culture.  But the promotion has never had a female superstar.

Until now.

Today’s UFC is much more than a phenomenon — it’s a billion dollar corporation.  It’s aired around the world and events are held in countries across the globe.

In the United States the sport is aired on network and cable television.  The fighters of the UFC have become ambassadors for the sport and their names are increasingly becoming more mainstream.

In 2013, the promotion made a move that jolted the sport to even greater heights — the inclusion of women.

While women in boxing have never had a deep pool of talent and stars, the UFCs business model has allowed the females to flourish competitively and financially.  Most importantly, it’s provided MMA with a star unlike any it has ever had before.

Rousey is changing the UFC by the minute, even if her fights don’t last nearly as long.

Before “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey started MMA, she had a storied career in judo.  She learned from her mother, AnnMaria De Mars, who became the first woman to win the World Judo championships.

The story, now so familiar to fans, was that Rousey’s mother would put her in various chokes and holds at random to raise her to be the best Judo practitioner she could be.

It worked. Rousey went on to represent the United States in the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she won the bronze medal.

It wouldn’t be until 2012 that Rousey would become a name familiar to fans as she fought rival Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce title.  The fight was unlike any the sport had before, as the world saw two women who could sell a fight as much by their looks as with their skills.

Compounded into the bout was the fact that the women held as much of a grudge against each other as any men’s bout in MMA.  Rousey defeated Tate in the first round by her signature arm-bar and sold Dana White on the idea of bringing women to the UFC.

Since then, Rousey has become more than a trailblazer for women in the sport; she is changing the perception of what a UFC athlete can be.

In a space usually reserved for the UFCs ring girls, Rousey has a large number of men’s interest magazines to her resume: ESPN’s Body Issue, the cover of Maxim, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, and of course being featured in the UFCs own magazine several times.

Sep 9, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; FC Women

From a promotional aspect, the UFC has put her front and center every way that it can.  She has headlined or co-headlined every single fight card she has ever been on.

She coached one of the most watched seasons of The Ultimate Fighter reality show against rival Tate.

She is featured in the UFCs broadcasts in sponsors’ commercials such as the one for MetroPCS.

Finally, she was among the first fighters to sign an exclusive deal with UFC sponsor Reebok.

She is the UFCs most frequent ambassador to the late-night talk show circuit, being the only fighter to appear on the majority of them as well as being featured multiple times.

It also hasn’t always been just to promote the UFC.  She joined the ensemble cast of The Expendables 3 and Fast 7. She is scheduled to appear in the Entourage feature film and is filming another movie before her fight with Bethe Correia this summer.

If that’s not enough, Eminem is dropping her name on his album Shady XV.  Most recently this spring she has become an author, her book My Fight/Your Fight just released this May.

None of these would matter at all if Rousey were mediocre, or worse: unsuccessful.  Rousey is on a tear through her division reminiscent of the legendary Anderson Silva’s title reign.

Only one of her bouts has left the first round and her last two fights lasted a combined total of 30 seconds.  She has also won bouts against six of the top-ten ranked fighters in her division and her 14-second victory in her fight against Cat Zingano was the fastest finish in UFC championship history.

Of her remaining competition, only Bethe Correia and Holly Holm remain as viable opponents who will draw attention for pay-per-view.

Eventually, as it always is in sports, the opponent will arrive that will push Rousey to the limit.  Until then, her list of potential opponents on paper do not provide the level of competition that is expected to seriously threaten her time at the top.

Jul 5, 2014; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) takes down Alexis Davis (blue gloves) during the first round of a bantamweight fight at Mandalay Bay Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The one bout that threatens to destroy the castle that Rousey has built is the one that the UFC has had the most trouble making.

Current Invicta FC featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino was the biggest name in women’s MMA before Rousey came along.

She brings an animal-style ferocity into the cage and has pulverized every single opponent in decisive fashion for the last several years.

The two have mentioned an interest in fighting each other in the media several times but the bout appears to have more issues to being made than the long-awaited fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

Cris “Cyborg” may be the only fight Rousey needs to cement her legacy.

The situation is that “Cyborg” has long fought at 145 pounds while Rousey competes at 135.  The plan, in Justino’s words, is to fight at bantamweight twice: once to win the title in Invicta, the second a fight with Rousey.

All easier said than done.

In her last attempt she injured herself in training and instead took a bout at 145 pounds as the weight limit was easier to reach.  The explanation was that while she could still train she was not able to exert herself in the way that would allow her to cut the extra ten pounds to 135.

Justino has recently signed with the UFC however and she will have to do her part in order to reach the long awaited bout with Rousey.

Thus is the paradigm that Rousey has set in her brief yet electrifying time in the spotlight.  She is every bit the master in the cage that Silva, Liddell, St. Pierre or any other fighter in the sports history has been.

On the flip-side of the coin, her personal brand has made her an object of lust like her fellow athlete-model counterparts such as Anastasia Ashley or Caroline Wozniacki.  She’s the Hollywood starlet with the face of an angel and has the skills of a cold-hearted killer.

Pop-culture’s “chosen ones”, those characters that transcend their realm to become one of the figures of history, have never arrived there by their own power.

Their names are part of the lexicon; their legend familiar.  Michael Jordan, the basketball player who made people believe that man could fly.  Muhammad Ali, simply “The Greatest” and known as much for the causes he stood for as for his wizardry in the ring.

For all of their skills, their memorable bravado or timeless ideals, they became more than their profession by arriving at the right time at the right place in history.

Such is the case with Ronda Rousey.

Where once the UFC was holding events at about once per month, there are now several within that span and the sport is bigger than ever.  The roster has multiplied to a number that even the most hardcore fans may draw a blank when a certain fight is announced, Kyoji Horiguchi’s spot in the UFC 186 main event for example.

This is part of what makes Rousey’s road to stardom so special.  She has the elusive x-factor that companies crave to have.  She commands the kind of attention that no amount of money can buy and she delivers a phenomenal performance every night out.

Most importantly, she puts up historic numbers that gets fans to shell out the money for pay-per-view to see her perform.  As the UFC is reaching more corners of the world than ever before, Rousey’s face is the one the brand is using to spread the sport.

Because of her, the women of the UFC and MMA in general have a platform unlike ever before.  Her rival Miesha Tate has exploited the platforms that Rousey has opened up, using her sexuality to have her own feature in the ESPN Body Issue and Fitness Gurls Magazine.

UFC strawweight Felice Herrig has built a respectable social media following using the same model and has turned it into sponsorship dollars for herself.

As young newcomers like Paige VanZant come into the fold, more and more girls are following Rousey’s blueprint to make as much money in the sport as possible.

For the woman known as “Rowdy,” her profile is only growing as more events and movies are added to her resume.  Rousey has expressed that she enjoys the break from fighting when she goes to film, stating that it gives her the mental break from daily training and reinvigorates her when she does return to the gym for camp.

One assumes that every blockbuster she adds will continue to make her a bonafide action star.

Bottom Line: Rousey is one of the best to ever step into the ring

Competitively, she can continue to dominate her divisions talent until her legend is set in stone.  The only bout that can shatter the records she has already set for herself, at least in terms of promotion, would be the super-fight with “Cyborg.”

Until then, the UFCs brightest star continues to burn in the sky and the entire world is watching as she writes her own legendary story.