Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Ronda Rousey cannot do everything. She can carry one night on her back, she can do the talk show circuit, pose for magazines, offer sound bytes to every recorder within shouting distance, and yes, she can snap your arm with a quickness, but she cannot live forever. She cannot force you to watch her or anyone else. She cannot single-handedly validate the existence of the UFC's women's division. And so Rousey's presence on UFC 157, while historic, is just a step forward in the continually fragile journey of women's MMA.
This is what the leaders of the Rousey backlash seem to miss. That is also what the media has lost sight of. Yes, many of us have probably gone too far. In recent months, I've seen articles and columns offering comparison of Rousey and her place in sports history to Babe Ruth and Mike Tyson. But on the other extreme are the fanatical skeptics, like the small but vocal group who are boycotting the event because they don't want to pay $55 to watch Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida relegated to co-main event status, or because they don't want to see two women headlining the manliest sport around.
Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course, even if they are at best, short-sighted, and at worst, sexist.
I'm not suggesting that everyone should fork over their hard-earned cash to watch the pay-per-view event. Rather, choose to buy or decline on merit. Vote with your wallets. If you find Rousey and Liz Carmouche worthy of your money, the UFC hears your message. And if you don't, they hear that, too. In deciding this way, Rousey and the rest of the division will either sink or swim over time.
That's why what Dana White says about being only in the Rousey business isn't really true. We know this sport. Even champions get hurt, take breaks, and sometimes, they lose. And when any of those things happen, someone else steps into the void and attempts to replace them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Right now, Rousey looks unstoppable, both as a fighter and as a one-woman promotional machine, and she carries that momentum into her Saturday night fight against Carmouche. She's earned every bit of that push. Her career grew in an organic way. From her days on the mats as a young judoka, she has been building a base that translates well into mixed martial arts. Even her growth as a fighter from the time of her pro debut less than two years ago until now is noticeable. Rousey has sacrificed for her craft and now stands poised to reap the rewards.
The rest of the women? Not so much. At least at surface level, there is clear evidence that they won't see the benefits Rousey sees. The big paychecks? Nope. The magazine covers? Not likely. Major TV news profiles? No way. For now, they are just along for the ride as Rousey drives the bus.
And as people who have ridden shotgun with Rousey can tell you, that is not always a comfortable position to be in.
Right now, there are only a handful of other women under UFC contract: Carmouche, of course, but also Miesha Tate, Cat Zingano, Sarah McMann and Alexis Davis. The number stands at six. That roster would hardly be considered to be deep, but it's at least a starting point.
These original six will be tasked with doing something fairly impossible: winning over the holdouts, the people who rip the UFC for giving women main-event billing and for aggressively pushing Rousey.
By this point, women's MMA has been a part of major shows for several years, with high-profile fights on CBS and Showtime. Before Rousey became a media sensation, Gina Carano was the one invading the mainstream, and it was hardly a passing fluke. Carano was able to parlay her fight ability and looks into an exploding Hollywood career that has her linked to several major films.
Women's fighting could not count on Carano, and neither can it count on Rousey, only because neither one of them is solely responsible for propping up the game. Carano made a personal decision to focus on other pursuits, and no one stepped into the void. Now it's Rousey's turn at the vanguard, but like every athlete, there is a limited time there.
The point is that no one fighter can be made to carry the torch for everyone else. Even the early days of men's MMA saw several names combine to build momentum to carry us here. Royce Gracie wouldn't have been quite who he was without Ken Shamrock, and Shamrock wouldn't have been quite who he was without Tito Ortiz, and Ortiz wouldn't have been quite who he was without Chuck Liddell, and you get the picture. All of those legendary names are just links in a chain, made stronger when grouped together.
Rousey is ridiculously talented and engagingly charismatic. She is a killer on the mat who deserves her stage. Her presence has afforded the women of mixed martial arts the biggest opportunity women's sports has seen in 20 years. On Saturday night, she will win or lose, and on Sunday morning, the historic first will indeed be history. And then what happens? As the UFC event production team packs away the cage and moves on to the next town, Rousey and women's MMA will move into an uncertain future. Once her story is told, some of those talk shows that wanted her so bad may not be as interested to have her back. Some of those magazines will move on to the next big thing. And the MMA world will be left to figure out what exactly we have on our hands with the women's division, and whether it's a one-night stand or a keeper.
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