Fortunes changed for five at UFC 157

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The ascension of Ronda Rousey as one of UFC's biggest stars didn't just garner considerable interest this past weekend, but it changed the careers of a number of women, both signed by UFC, and female athletes in a number of sports.

When we look at who the fortunes changed for at UFC 157, the correct answer is far more than many of the fighters, but fortunes also changed for the sport.

Whether Saturday night's show at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., was the beginning of a period where Ronda Rousey will become the female equivalent to a Georges St-Pierre or Brock Lesnar as one of the UFC's biggest money generators (something 18 months ago which would have been inconceivable) or it was one night where she just became a curiosity piece is something only time will tell.

No pay-per-view numbers are in this early, but there has been more curiosity about these numbers than any show since the Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen fight in July. What is known is that web site traffic on not just MMA sites but a number of sports sites and even pro wrestling sites went through the roof with coverage of her. Locally, the Los Angeles Times' traffic for Rousey articles was at the same level of a Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao before one of their big fights. Google search volume for Rousey over the weekend exceeded that of anything related to UFC since Silva vs. Sonnen. And reports from around the country indicated sports bars were packed, also doing their largest crowds since July.

There was never a question whether Rousey would be able to draw if put on television, as she had already proven that last year with Showtime. There was little question she could garner press, or get people talking, since Gina Carano, with far less of a gift of gab, had already done that in the past. The question was whether people would be willing to pay $44.95 to see it. But selling out a major arena, in a market where selling tickets for UFC hasn't always been the easiest, was surprising. But there was also a local aspect to that, with Rousey being from nearby Santa Monica. And there was a California theme to the other headliners, with Dan Henderson from Temecula, Liz Carmouche from San Diego and Urijah Faber being "The California Kid," even if Sacramento was hundreds of miles away.

More than anything, Fortunes changed for a number women sitting right behind the press section or at ringside, people like Miesha Tate, Julie Kedzie and Sarah Kaufman, who will all be fighting with not just the potential to be in prelims on a big UFC show, but with a few wins, to have a shot at headlining major a pay-per-view and earning money that they likely thought would never be possible when they entered the sport.

Fortunes changed perhaps more for Cris "Cyborg" Santos, who is not under contract to UFC. If Santos and Rousey continue winning, their eventual showdown could become a major event that should make Saturday night seem like veggie appetizers to the eventual steak dinner, as the biggest female combat sports fight of all-time. And fortunes changed for women high school wrestlers, judo players and kickboxers, who at least right now may be able to have a long-term focused goal of having a shot at using their skills to become a professional athlete.

Or could this be a flash in the pan. It could be a one-night novelty. It could be something, like with boxing in the Christy Martin era, where it came and went. It could be all about Ronda, and when she's no longer the star, interest will fade. Or, and the most likely long-term, is that it will be like all the lighter weight divisions in UFC. It will be there as an accepted part of the promotion, and peak interest if the right star or the right match comes along.

As for the five big names from Saturday's show, this is how their career paths have changed:

RONDA ROUSEY - Now 7-0, with seven first-round armbar victories, she's still facing all kinds of questions. Will the sudden fame remove the necessary hunger to stay on top? What happens when an opponent can finally defend her armbar, or keep the fight standing? Will she get outside offers that lead to her having a relatively limited career in the sport?

For now, she's the "it" girl. To capitalize on her momentum, they'll probably get her back in the cage as soon as possible. Most likely, her next opponent will be the winner of the April 13 fight in Las Vegas, with Brazilian Cat Zingano (7-0), the 30-year-old wife of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Mauricio Zingano, against Rousey's most noteworthy career rival, Tate (13-3).

It was the mutual dislike that Rousey and Tate were able to project to the public a year ago that got the ball rolling on what ended up culminating on Saturday. The latter fight, under the UFC banner, has the potential to be a big one.

LIZ CARMOUCHE - Carmouche (7-3) was brought to the UFC simply to be the opponent for the showcasing of Rousey, but somewhere along the way she went from a faceless "opponent" to a major part of the show's narrative. She came in with a compelling life story. She served in the Marines. She was the first openly gay fighter in UFC history. She worked 14-hour days, and lived in an apartment with no kitchen table or couch. And her goal was to win so she could move her mother from Guadalajara to San Diego.

The woman now jokingly referred to as Faber's identical twin sister, had a beaming smile on her face even though she had lost in the first round to the very move she had trained to avoid. Even though Rousey was the star of the night, Carmouche got no derisive catcalls, and nothing but respect from the crowd all night long.

Privately, UFC officials were hoping she could put together a few wins and get another shot. She was heavily praised for her part in making the event, and her working tirelessly to promote it. When the fight was over, UFC President Dana White noted that he's going to make sure she gets herself a kitchen table, and a couch.

DAN HENDERSON - At the age of 42, time is running out on someone who is one of the sport's legitimate legends. Henderson fell on the wrong end of a split decision, one that actually stunned most in the live audience who felt he was the one at least trying to fight in a boring three-rounder with Lyoto Machida.

Henderson (29-9) came in as the No. 1 contender for light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and now is in a tough situation with Machida, Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira all in line for potential title opportunities.

Every fighter past 35 is going to be constantly questioned about whether the gig is up, and Henderson has had almost an entire career of answering the same question. The brace on his knee was a telltale sign that he was not 100 percent. But this fight was almost impossible to judge where he's at. Machida specializes in making many of the best fighters look ineffective. Henderson is usually an aggressive, entertaining and compelling fighter, and had little chance to show what he did, or didn't have, left in the tank.

LYOTO MACHIDA - Machida, who came into Saturday's fight with Henderson as the No. 2 contender, beat No. 1, and White pointed out those numbers to say Machida would get the next title shot at the winner of the April 27 bout with Jones vs. Sonnen.

But he hardly sounded thrilled saying it. When it was later suggested, given Machida's performance, if Gustafsson picks up an impressive win on April 6 in Stockholm, Sweden over Gegard Mousasi, could it be Gustafsson getting the shot, White didn't really give an answer. But he certainly made it clear he hadn't closed his mind to that possibility.

Machida already lost via second-round guillotine to Jones on Dec. 10, 2011, in Toronto. The show did weaker numbers than most Jones fights. Jones made it clear Machida is a guy he would prefer not to fight, noting he's the most difficult opponent to have a good fight with, and to prepare for, and he can't make the same level of money with him.

Machida did look impressive on FOX with a win over Ryan Bader. He was criticized for turning down a short-notice shot at Jones in September. He probably shouldn't have been, given the magnitude to his career a second loss to Jones would have had, and he'd be foolish to try and fight someone as talented as Jones when he wasn't in his best condition.

But the reality is, while Machida has a chance to befuddle and frustrate anyone, including Jones, and win a close decision, it's hardly the match-up, nor the kind of match, that the public wants to see.

URIJAH FABER - Faber (27-6) put lighter weight fighting on the MMA map during his run as WEC featherweight champion from 2006 to 2008. Since losing, Faber has had four title opportunities, twice as a featherweight, and twice as a bantamweight, losing each one via decision.

He's right now the ultimate paradox. There is every reason to believe Faber would be the most logical opponent for Renan Barao, if Barao would have to defend the interim bantamweight title. In UFC's official rankings, he is No. 3, behind injured champion Dominick Cruz and Barao. The next two on the list are Michael McDonald, who Barao finished on Feb. 16 in London, and Eddie Wineland, who Faber beat two years ago. And there is no question that a Faber fight would generate more interest than any other contender, so it's not even a marketing issue. While Faber's popularity is not at the level it was during his championship run and in the years shortly after, when it comes to fan appeal and interest, he's still at a different level from everyone else in the weight class.

Still, there is a fan base that would bring up that this would be his fifth title opportunity, and that he showed nothing in his loss to Barao that would indicate a different result if they were to fight again. The Faber dilemma is the rare situation where ratings, results and fan appeal are all in line that he should get the shot, but that nagging voice that he's had more than his share makes it difficult to pull the trigger. The ultimate irony is that even though Faber earned every one of his shots, there is a narrative that UFC plays favorites with him because of his popularity. And without question, UFC does, for the obvious business reasons, favor fighters who will draw the best in a situation. But in this case, it's not exactly the opposite, but it is something very unique when it comes to title fight decision making.

On Saturday, Faber's finish, climbing up on the back of Ivan Menjivar, starting like a flying crucifix, and turning it into a choke with a body triangle, was nothing short of spectacular. It's even more impressive considering the opponent, someone who has a lifetime of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and hadn't lost by submission since 2002.

What would probably be best for Faber, is to get one more win, and hope Cruz returns at his best, and can beat Barao. Faber and Cruz have split wins in their two prior bouts. And even though Cruz's decision win over Faber really wasn't controversial, Faber did knock him down three times in the fight. With Cruz's television exposure doing analysis while injured, as well as coaching on The Ultimate Fighter, he's upped his profile considerably. A Faber vs. Cruz III fight, if it should happen, would be the bantamweight title fight that would garner the most public interest.

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