In some ways, it seems like Ronda Rousey likes to pick her enemies. When a fighter enters her consciousness as an antagonist, they never quite seem to leave it. In part, this has to do with the world of media, where old topics are often the best topics, and where the best quote always wins out in dictating narrative. But, of course, it usually boils down to the subject, the fighter. What sets them off, what gets them talking, what makes a person say more than “I had a good camp,” and “this is my toughest test to date”? For Ronda Rousey, one of her triggers is Cris Cyborg. More a target of fan and media interest than an actual war of words between the two of them (unlike Miesha Tate), Cyborg, or the specter of her, continues to loom over the current UFC women’s bantamweight champion.
Recently, Ronda Rousey was the subject of a long (and startlingly fair and well crafted) article in the New Yorker. It’s a further show of just how she has the potential to continue breaking new ground for the UFC, even in markets or publications where they’ve long remained absent or stagnant. The article is largely focused on who Rousey is and what her life was like leading up to her MMA career and what it is like surrounding her two recent title fights against Sara McMann and Alexis Davis. It goes into detail about her time on TUF, her approach to training and family life, and the ways in which her upbringing and competitive history have molded her into the star we see today. It also spends a brief passage talking about Cris Cyborg, and a potential future fight between Rousey and the Invicta 145 lb champion. Perhaps not out of character, but surprising nonetheless, Rousey’s opinion on Cristian Justinho was uncompromising in it’s disdain.
“In a perfect world, she wouldn’t have been taking all those steroids and hormones for so many years that she ceased to be a woman anymore,” Rousey said one afternoon, when Cyborg’s name was mentioned-she was driving back to the gym from a nearby juice bar, and her sunny mood suddenly darkened. “In a perfect world, she would be a girl and not an it.” This sounded more like passionate indignation than like idle pre-fight trash talk. Beneath Rousey’s anti-drug message, you could also hear echoes of the old insistence that women fighters take pains to be scrupulously feminine, lest the spectre of manliness turn the fledgling sport into a freak show.
As a fighter for whom quite a lot of value has been placed on her ability to not only win, but look good doing it, it’s a bit disheartening to hear Rousey so heavily reinforce the idea that “being a girl,” (or really, feminine in appearance) is seemingly as necessary to being a good fighter as, well, being a good fighter. The idea that Cyborg is not quite feminine is a point reinforced by fans, the media, the UFC, and at times even Cyborg herself (the nickname “Cyborg” certainly self-identifies as something more than woman). Thus, her ability to be a “good fighter,” seems to constantly come into question, even as she destroys her opposition. Recently, as Ronda’s public profile has risen, the necessity to dehumanize Justinho has been put into overdrive by the UFC. Dana White’s mocking of Justinho walking in a dress and heels was a particular low point in his own continuing attempts to paint Cyborg as something other than a woman who fights other women.
Eventually, in a really superb piece meant to paint a fair and even portrait of Ronda Rousey as a dominant athlete in a niche sport (which, for the most part it does admirably), it also shows how heavily ingrained the narrative is that women fighters are fighting a battle on two fronts. The goal is not just to fight well, but to fight pretty. And unfortunately, it’s a battle that their biggest star seems to feel is worth embracing
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