LAS VEGAS -- They always said Ronda Rousey was a Diaz brother in a woman's body.
Our ultimate proof came Saturday night, when the UFC women's bantamweight champion refused Miesha Tate's handshake after submitting her challenger in round three of their title fight at UFC 168. All that was missing from making the Diaz moment complete was the double middle finger flip.
Rousey's post-fight interview was drowned out in the jeers of the MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd. But her transformation to top-notch drawing card was complete.
Whether you identify with Rousey's realness combined with her world-class judo skills, or see Rousey as an opinionated brat and want to see her get her butt kicked, love her or hate her, Rousey has the undeniable charisma that brings in money either way.
And if you don't like it? Well, to paraphrase her walkout music, Rousey doesn't give a damn about her bad reputation.
"I wasn't surprised at all [because] I was aware of the role I was in," Rousey said of the vociferous chorus of boos. "The favorite analogy I use is that Batman played the bad guy and let Scarface [actually Two-Face] play the good guy. Every fight I approach it with what's needed at the time."
What makes Rousey resonate with the audience, good or bad, is her absolute sense of right and wrong. She felt disrespected by Tate's actions during The Ultimate Fighter and wasn't going to let the matter drop simply because MMA's deep-rooted sense of decorum demanded a handshake after the fight. In Rousey's mind, sticking by her team trumps making nice.
"I feel that the day she formally apologizes to my coach Edmond [Tarverdyan] and Chris Beal and they accept that apology, then I will consider shaking your hand again. I said up there boos are not more important to me than my family. If I feel like you've done wrong against my family, you need to make that right before I can shake your hand. It means something to me, it's not something I just throw out there."
Rousey was originally marketed as a trailblazing athlete in women's sports. That's an honor she deserves. She's become the Royce Gracie of women's MMA -- the first big star, the one who's able to blitz through the competition on the strength of one world-class skill set (And Gracie wasn't afraid to hold on to submissions after tapouts, so let's not get indignant by the comparison and act like he was an angel in his day). But Rousey's not, say, Sara McMann, her UFC 170 opponent, an Olympic medalist and a nice person who fits the traditional mold for Olympic athletes. And she's not going to play the part.
Like her sometimes training partners, the Diazes, Rousey is true to her family, true to her roots, true to her people.
You might like it. You might hate it. But you'll watch it and most of you will pay money to see it. And with the UFC losing Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva in a mere matter of weeks, that's the bottom line in more ways than one.
UFC 168 quotes
"Ray Longo once broke a guy's leg in training using what he calls 'The Destruction.' It's knee on shin, so when he goes to kick, you put your knee on his shin. It has happened in sparring and guys take a minute off and walk around, and at least it stops them from kicking you. "To break someone's leg, I've never done that before. I didn't want to see Anderson get hurt like that." -- Chris Weidman
"Anderson Silva has been amazing, and is one of the greatest of all-time, if not the best ever. It's a s----- way to see him go out, but it's part of the game." -- Dana White
"Actually, on stage I was so mad because before we walked on stage to weigh-ins he told me he was going to stab me in the neck, actually. And they had to separate us. Yeah, he was that nuts man. That's why I was so upset." -- Dustin Poirier, on his weigh-in encounter with Diego Brandao
Stock up/Stock down
Up: Travis Browne If there was any lingering doubt as to whether Browne was a legit contender to Cain Velasquez's heavyweight title, Saturday night provided the answer. Browne already showed his mettle under fire in August when he pushed his way through Alistair Overeem's beatdown, then knocked him out with a head kick. At UFC 168, Browne made jaw-dropping short work of former champion Josh Barnett. And did you notice Browne go out of his way to make sure that finishing sequence of elbows stayed legal? That's the type of subtle difference between a fighter in the pack and a real contender.
Down: Barnett It's hard not to notice that after going through rigorous NAC drug testing leading up to the fight, the former UFC heavyweight champion, who never exactly had six-pack abs, was noticeably doughy. And that he seemed to lack power. The upside for Barnett is that he can still sell a fight during a time the UFC needs star power, but his days as a title contender are over.
Up: Dustin Poirier The move to the American Top Team has done "The Diamond" wonders. Poirier dished out some frontier justice to Diego Brandao for being way off on his weight and in the process won for the third time in four fights. Poirier wants a rematch with Cub Swanson; I'd be fine with either that or Chan Sung Jung, his other loss of note.
Down: Brandao He threatened to stab Dustin Poirier in the neck before they went out to the weigh-ins on Friday. Then he Anthony Johnsoned his weigh-in. Then he gassed fast in his fight and took a beating. Former TUF champion or not, Brandao has no place in the UFC at this point in his career.
Up: Chris Weidman Maybe Silva was planning on pulling a rabbit out of his hat, a la his first Chael Sonnen fight. But right up until the shocking finishing sequence, it was clear that Weidman was having his way in the fight. He knocked Silva cold in the first fight. He dominated him in round one Saturday night and was controlling the bout in round two. At this point, if you're not giving Weidman his due as the undisputed middleweight champ and one of the sport's pound-for-pound best, you're in denial.
Thoughts on Silva's injury
(I'm skipping Good Call/Bad Call for this one, partially because the series of decisive finishes made the judging and officiating moot last night).
There are so many positives to the sport of mixed martial arts. Most of us were attracted to the sport by the displays of heart and determination; the mutual respect based in martial arts ethos; the wonderful camaraderie often displayed seconds after two fighters who just spent 15 minutes pummeling one another can display; the beautiful submissions and spinning knockouts that put the art into MMA.
There's so much good that it's easy to forget just what a heartless and cruel business this can be. That was never more stark than last night, when the sport's greatest artist, Anderson Silva, went down with a shocking, horrible, possibly career-ending leg injury.
While I wouldn't wish what happened to Silva on anyone, there's something strangely fitting that Silva went out in a bizarre manner, because nothing about Anderson Silva's career was ordinary. Silva beat opponents with face kicks, Bruce Lee one-inch punches, pinpoint knees to the chest which would have been DQ knees to the head if they missed by an inch, and so on. That his downfall was swift and spectacular in its awfulness -- first the knockout punch, then the horrendous injury -- I mean, were you really expecting Silva to have an ordinary drop down the ranks?
The UFC reported that Silva had successful surgery. Maybe six months from now, Silva will get it in his head that he needs closure and wants to make comeback. I hope not. Silva burned out in 2013, but coming back in 2015 just to fade away would only make matters worse.
Fight I want to see next
It might seem like the end of the world after the UFC lost both Silva and GSP in the span of a few weeks. No doubt, from a star perspective, and from a pay-per-view buy perspective, the company looks like it is about to take a step backwards in 2014.
But there's also a silver lining emerging in all this. If you actually look at the schedule in the early part of the year, there's a heck of a lot of good fights on the docket. Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas. Dominick Cruz vs. Renan Barao. Rousey vs. McMann. Gilbert Melendez vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov. Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler.
At some point, we'll get Browne vs. Werdum, a barnburner of a No. 1 contender's fight, with the winner to meet Velasquez. Urijah Faber awaits the Cruz-Barao winner. And if things go right, sometime over the summer or early fall, a Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson rematch will go down.
This means the UFC, after spending much of 2013 hotshotting big pay-per-view sellers over logical contenders, has to go back to pushing the sport on it's merit. Someone's going to have the opportunity to fill the void and become the next big star. And they'll earn it in the cage, against top opposition. Just like GSP and Silva, who emerged during the period where everyone was panicking over what would happen when Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell retired. In the long run, that's a healthy thing.