It could be argued that in 2016 the UFC has reached the pinnacle of success, certainly in the world of MMA, but quite possibly in all sports. They are surpassing all previous pay-per-view numbers, breaking attendance records both in the states and on an international level and don't seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Yet, they did so void of the one fighter that helped bring them there ...
No, not Conor McGregor.
Long before we were enthralled with the trash-talking Irishman, AKA self-proclaimed "God" Conor McGregor, there was only one fighter who even your mailman could name, Ronda Rousey. Her name became synonymous with the UFC. In fact, in writing this article I wanted to give her the ol' "Google test" and after typing "R-o-n" her name popped up first. That means it's more frequently searched than soccer stud Ronaldo, former president Ronald Regan and fast food Godfather Ronald McDonald (not pictured).
Lots of fighters have become quite popular, sure, but none have been more influential than Ronda Rousey and I'll tell you why.
In November 2012, the UFC announced it was signing its first female fighter, Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. That's right, she was the first. The OG, as the kids say. After that, any female bantamweight the UFC signed, she'd run through them, including current UFC champion Meisha Tate. Ronda, like any true superstar, wore many different hats and took on many different personas. There was Ronda the fighter, who has a lengthy and impressive list of accomplishments inside the cage. In a 2015 ESPN poll, she was voted as the "Best Female Athlete Ever"... ever. There was also Ronda the "Late Night darling" appearing on every talk show imaginable. Ronda the sex-symbol graced the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, and then there was Ronda the actress, making cameo appearances in blockbusters like The Expendables 3 & the Entourage movie.
UFC President Dana White found his superstar and girls all over the world had found the role model they were dreaming of. The anti-DNB ("Do Nothing Bitch," her words). She was larger than life, defied all the odds and did it all her way. So, what happened?!
There's an old saying in Hollywood, "Enjoy the ride up because the fall down happens much faster." Come to think of it, I might have made that up, but damn does it sound right! We've seen it time and time again. A star, whether athlete or actor, can be on top of the world one minute and on a reality show searching for relevance the next. All the success in the world is just a scandal, poor choice or in this case a head kick from being taken away. On Nov. 15, 2015, Rousey stepped into the cage with heavy underdog Holly Holm and all seemed like the norm. She did her usual walk to the cage, and by "usual" I mean where she storms out of the tunnel like a lioness who's been let out of her cage and is surrounded by steaks. The bell rang and the two fighters came to the center of the Octagon, but that's where the "norm" stopped dead in its tracks.
Holy Holm put on what should only be described as a striking clinic on Rousey. We'd never seen a fighter looked so overwhelmed, let alone Ronda Rousey, who up until that point seemed invincible. There was a scramble, they were tied up on the ground, Ronda got to her feet, then Holly pushed her off and delivered what was later called "the kick heard around the world." Ronda hit the canvas and for a split second, and it seemed time stood still. Even UFC commentator Joe Rogan, who's seen so much for the years he's been with the UFC, could do nothing but stare, mouth agape, realizing the levity of this monumental event. Holm put an end to Ronda's impressive win streak and did so in definitive fashion. The next day it was Holm on all the talk shows, not Rousey. In the next weeks, months, Holm's name would rise and Rousey's would fall.
The backlash was unreal. Fair-weather fans jumped ship faster than rich people on the Titanic. Ronda went from being the most beloved athlete, to the most trashed. So why the hate? Or should I say, why you hating?
Since that fateful night, Holm lost her title to Meisha Tate, undefeated fan favorite Cris Cyborg has finally made her UFC debut (who straight up murked her first opponent, Leslie Smith) and Rousey still has not seen the Octagon in 2016 and as of now, has no upcoming fight scheduled.
Like her or not, you have to respect what she's done for the sport and more importantly what she's done for our perception of women in sports. She didn't just participate in MMA, she took it over. Ten years ago, hell, five years ago, little girls didn't have this kind of role model: A powerful woman who could legit kick ass, all the while keeping her femininity intact.
Before I started working for Champions, I had my hand in many projects, one of them included casting commercials. I cast this one commercial that was looking for female mixed martial artists, ages 6 to 16. I thought "this is going to be next to impossible."
Not the case.
I found plenty that fit the bill and I didn't even have to stray outside of Los Angeles. For every girl I auditioned, I'd have them state their age, fighting experience and favorite fighter. Guess who's name came up time and time again? Ronda's. This was this past January. Post-head kick. They wouldn't just mention her, they would light up and then go on to tell me how badass they thought she was. Here's a group of girls, who even if they don't end up pursuing fighting, have learned an imperative form of self-defense and at the very least have become afans of the greatest sport on the planet (MMA) and we have only Rousey to thank.
These girls didn't seem to care about her loss to Holm. They didn't seem to bat an eye at the slew of negative articles that followed. They didn't care about any of it... and neither should you. Because they were able to look past it at and appreciate Ronda Rousey for what she is, a walking legend.
So maybe it'll be just me and a ton of young girls cheering on her return, but something tells me if she comes back in impressive fashion and looks like the Ronda of old, we'll all happily jump back on the train for one more exciting ride.