Ronda Rousey: The future of MMA?

Dylan Snyder

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Mixed Martial Arts has proven to be a pretty contentious subject, even amongst those passionate about combat sports. The casual observer tends to find it gruesome and overly violent; boxing purists see it as a bastardization of a once great sport.  Still illegal in many states, most notably New York, the issues facing MMA are not only social, but also political.

For a long time MMA was almost exclusively a men’s game, just as boxing hasn’t had a really recognizable figure in many years with the exception of Laila Ali, but her fame, despite her greatness, was as much to do with her name then her actual performance. The men’ side of MMA is pretty stagnant right now as an unprecedented number of injuries and contract disputes have prevented fans from seeing the fights they want.  Almost all the men’s weight classes have long-standing or dominant champions who pick and chose who they fight with great care.  Along with many fighters who don’t really have the resume, but are good a trash talking have skipped other more skilled fighter is line for title fights (Chael Sonnen fighting Jon Jones for the light heavyweight belt despite coming off a loss ). But even with the damper being put on the men’s game a new name is rising to the forefront of MMA.  Former Olympic Bronze medalist Ronda Rousey has taken women’s MMA by storm and may soon be the most popular fighter in the world.  Her brash outspoken personality combined with her incredible fight record make her the perfect candidate to be the unconventional face to the unconventional sport that is modern mixed martial arts.

Part of the reason that Rousey is so perfect for the spotlight, especially in a sport like MMA, is that she isn’t afraid to back down and will always speak her mind.  Although not quite as vulgar as UFC president Dana White she has certainly had her moments of saying something most other sports stars wouldn’t think of saying.  The most notorious of these outbursts was her candid opinion of reality television star and pop culture icon Kim Kardashian.  After being prompted with “Who do you hate?” on the red carpet at the release party for ESPN: The Body Issue Rousey proclaimed “You know what? I would beat the crap out of Kim Kardashian” (warning: harsh language). She then followed that up with quite a tirade about the importance of good role models in young woman’s lives. This kind of outspoken mentality shot her up the women’s rankings early in her MMA career where she earned a title bout with only her 5th professional outing. She has consistently said however that her attacks on her opponents are more to hype the fights and bring in more publicity than to belittle her opponents.

It would be easy to dismiss Rousey as a hot headed up and comer who hasn’t faced anyone of importance yet, but her fights speak just as loudly as her mouth.  In her six professional fights she is 6-0 with 6 submission wins with only one fight lasting more than one minute in length.  Rousey comes into every single fight the same way. She has the same gameplan: jab, jab, hip throw, finishing armbar. Somehow even though her opponents know that her signature armbar is coming they are unable to stop it.  A two-time women’s MMA fighter of the year Rousey has not only brought the sport into the public eye, but is dominating it in a way that no one ever thought she would.  UFC president Dana White has been famously critical in his treatment of the female side of MMA, commenting that he never though it would mature to a point where it would be comparable to the mends game.  Then Rowdy Ronda came along and this is what he had to say:

“[She is like] Mike Tyson. Why did everybody like Mike Tyson? Because he had fantastic boxing skills and loved to go the distance? No, because when you watched a Mike Tyson fight, you knew somebody was about to be executed. When Tyson would walk into an arena you would get goose bumps. As a fight fan those are the kind of fighters you like. And trust me when I tell you, Ronda Rousey is that person.”

Rousey turned the idea of women’s MMA from a sort of side show where American Gladiotor Gina Carano was the big star, but quit in her prim to become a model, to a sport where she is being compared to legends in the men’s game. Coming from Rousey’s history of Judo, where she was the first American to ever medal in the Olympics (she won a bronze in Beijing) her throws have left opponents stunned.  In judo she was a constant contender at the world championships grabbing silver in 2007 soon after winning the gold in the Pan American games. Her track record speaks volumes to her dedication to the sport. In a recent interview with Yahoo! Sports she addressed her critics who said she fast tracked to the top because of her trash talking.  She replied, “People say I’ve only been around for two years. I say I’ve been around for 14 years, I didn’t get handed my judo medals” (warning: potential harsh language).

Rousey is a dominant figure who doesn’t hide when the camera is placed on her.  She comes out and takes what she feels she is entitled to and that is the UFC women’s bantamweight championship belt and her continued use of her First Amendment rights. She may be brash, and at times nasty, but a sport like MMA needs a brash and nasty face to show that MMA is a gritty nasty sport.  If she keeps this up Rousey will be the most recognizable face in combat sports, a scenario many people never even thought possible. Her fight against Liz Carmouche this Saturday could propel her into unprecedented popularity in mainstream culture.