I’ll admit that I’m getting a bit fatigued with the whole Ronda Rousey hype machine.
It happens to nearly all top athletes at some point, especially in the social media 24/7 era. Start out humble, get noticed, get noticed some more, do something big and suddenly everyone wants a piece of you. Doors open all around you, major media outlets want to feature you and just like that, you’re a star.
In MMA, and especially women’s MMA, the amount of real stars can be counted on one hand and Rousey is one of them. Since her title winning performance against Miesha Tate, the Olympian has been pushed everywhere imaginable and then, re-pushed again.
I think I’ve seen about 436 different interviews with her, all generally the same thing with the same angles. Since Dana White anointed her the chosen one, he now finds himself answering Rousey in UFC questions at nearly every presser.
By the way, she’s defending her title this Saturday against Sarah Kaufman, someone you’ve hopefully heard of because she’s being treated as an afterthought in the build-up. Make no mistake that Saturday night on Showtime is all about one thing: the next episode of the Ronda Rousey Show.
But what if she loses?
After the jump, I have more on how that could affect women’s MMA and how her rise is very similar to that of another megastar, Jon Jones.
One of the fun parts about watching Rousey’s rise in 2010 was that it came out of nowhere. A young, talented, athletic and attractive blonde from the West Coast was submitting women left and right and doing it quickly. She found her way onto Strikeforce undercards and more people got intrigued with this killer. We didn’t know anything about her and that made it more fun.
Then the Rousey controversy continued. After just four fights, she got a title shot and everyone had an opinion on whether she had earned it or not. Another first round armbar finish later, everything changed. The 25-year-old had grown before our very eyes and nothing would be the same.
It’s a very similar situation to another 25-year-old MMA star: Jon Jones. As he rose through the ranks, we loved his innovative offense in a division that needed another star. He was lanky and raw and undoubtedly awesome. Unlike Rousey, there was no doubt he earned his shot at Mauricio Rua in March 2011 at the ripe old age of 23. And when he destroyed Rua, things changed that night too.
That’s what being in the spotlight of a sport that needs you will do.
Since then, Jones has got considerably more attention from the mainstream sports media. He’s been on various ESPN outlets, appeared on Jay Leno and is arguably the face of the UFC from a casual fan perspective. That has come with a price, however. If you’ve watched the weigh-ins and subsequent three fights since the Rua win, it’s been impossible to not notice Jones is getting booed more than at any point in his career. For some, it’s not cool to be a Jones fan anymore. With fame comes resentment and he’s getting it in droves.
And, of course, there was the whole mess around the suspicion of DWI arrest. Good on him that he got a Nike deal, but there are signs of cracks in the foundation. They haven’t shown up in the cage yet, but you never know when the outside influences become an influence inside the field of play.
This week, I started to feel that with Rousey.
I watched both episodes of the All Access show (Pt. 1 | Pt. II) and surprisingly, the Showtime people didn’t do her any favors. At times, she came across unlikable. At other times, she came off diva-esque. At minimal times, she came off as the Rousey that I found interesting with along with the rest of us.
Then there was the video she made for a ticket contest Kaufman was running. It caught the attention of Jeremy Botter, a lead writer for BE content partner Bleacher Report, who called it ‘dreadful‘. Was it? Pretty much. However, we do forget she’s also 25 and should be allowed to have some goofy fun, although similar star Gina Carano managed to avoid coming off so oddly, but I digress.
That brings us to Saturday. Is she ready and what happens if she isn’t?
With a lot of her attention being taken from outside forces, Saturday will tell us how she is working around it. She’s a massive favorite and is expected to win. Based on what she’s done so far, it’s hard to argue against that, but Kaufman is no easy out as nearly everyone would have you think.
A loss, though, would be a huge hit for both Rousey and women’s MMA. White hasn’t talked about Kaufman in the same glowing terms as Rousey, nor has ESPN paid her any mind. A win would certainly validate what she’s been claiming she can do, but the mainstream would see Rousey as a paper tiger. All that work and attention would be for naught and the profile for women fighters to the casual fan would need to be rebuilt. It’s not fair, but that’s life.
Then there’s the fickle public that has built Rousey up and whether a win Saturday would kick off the Jones-style turn on her. It may seem unrealistic that fans would start booing an athletic and attractive female fighter, but stranger things have happened, especially when you can’t seem to go a day without seeing Rousey featured in headlines for no real reason at all.
Part of me wishes that we could return to the somewhat shy judo ace that seemed so humble and starstruck by all the attention, but I know the genie is already out of the bottle. On Saturday, we’ll all find out whether Kaufman can shatter that bottle and the image that has been built up around her opponent.
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