[Image via www.rondamma.com]
If you paid attention to the fallout on the Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey conference call, a recurring theme reared its head regarding the way Ronda Rousey essentially talked her way into a title fight with Miesha Tate. As the champion noted, she doesn't think her challenger deserves the spot that Sarah Kaufmann or Alexis Davis could have. But as the build-up to the fight has proven, solid winning records are only half the prerequisite.
Simply put, Ronda Rousey is more attractive than contender Sarah Kaufman and most of Strikeforce's female bantamweights. Coupled with her trash talk and 4-0 record, that's more than enough reason to make the fight. If anything, it'll draw in more casual fans to simply want to see two attractive girls in a sweaty brawl.
Although it would be great if female mixed martial arts fighters could be recognized based on their combat skills alone, they just aren't. Take Cristiane Santos for example. Even when "Cyborg" brutalized her Strikeforce opponents worse than any beating Anderson Silva's ever dished out on a hapless middleweight, it simply wasn't enough to catapult her to headline an event without the alluring presence of Gina Carano. Despite Cyborg's otherworldly (and steroid-infused) talent, her harsh features and manly physique helped keep her from breaking through that ceiling.
Ronda Rousey isn't wrong when she says that "looking like Xena: Warrior Princess" is important in selling the fight. It's a statement that says more about casual MMA fans than anything else. If Rousey or Tate were unattractive, there might not be such heightened interest in her upcoming fight, and even Tate has to begrudgingly accept it:
I think it's good to add the aspect of beauty because it's different. I like it. I think it's good for us. I think it's great that we've both embraced being beautiful strong women but the most important thing is that we deliver inside the cage. It's perfectly fine to have both.
Sadly, female fighters with solid MMA records like Sarah Kaufman, Shayna Baszler, and Liz Carmouche just aren't going to get that extra push because not many men are clamoring to see them in a sexy magazine spread, online photo gallery, or even racy forum threads.
But like it or not, more people will watch Miesha Tate fight Ronda Rousey simply because of their conventionally beautiful features. Mixed martial arts still plays host to a male-dominated audience, and as Rousey points out, appealing to the most base sexual desires of that casual crowd just may be the best tactic for getting women's MMA back into the mainstream. If that means you're a 14-1 female fighter getting shunted aside because you're not as pretty as the 4-0 blonde bombshell with the mouthy attitude, you're out of luck for now.
It's not fair, but Rousey hits the nail on the head thusly, as noted by MMA Fighting:
Whether those people wanted to see it because it was a compelling match-up or because they just wanted to see two pretty girls in sports bras sweating on each other hardly mattered, [Rousey] insisted. Women’s MMA needed fans more than it needed the ethical high ground.
Regardless, we'll see how much of a difference Rousey and Tate's good looks will make after March 3rd — no matter how beautiful the combatants may be, looks can only go so far if the match is a ratings disappointment.
[McKinley Noble is a former staff editor at GamePro and an MMA conspiracy theorist. Follow his Twitter account for crazy talk, 1990s movie references, and general weirdness. Or you could just stalk him on Google.]