Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
UFC 157, welcome to the Ronda Rousey show! There is a lot riding on her historic fight with Liz Carmouche tonight and it has little to do with her bantamweight title. UFC has shifted its promotional machine into overdrive, but how she handles herself later tonight (Feb. 23, 2013) and onward will have a major impact on the future of women's mixed martial arts (MMA).
UFC 157, which takes place later tonight (Feb. 23, 2013) from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., features what will be one of the most historic moments in the mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion's history, nearly on par with momentous happenings like Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar and the its network television deal deal with FOX.
Ronda Rousey will make history alongside Liz Carmouche in the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women's bantamweight title fight, and I'd be lying to you if I said this wasn't a very big deal.
Let's get this straight, UFC 157 is the Ronda Rousey show. Forget about Carmouche, forget about inaugurating women's MMA into the UFC. She is solely responsible for this fight being put on, and with her, everything else will fall into -- our out of -- place. She is intelligent, pretty and anything but soft spoken. To outsiders, Rousey is the most intriguing thing about the UFC since Brock Lesnar's unforgettable run, either because they are perplexed or charmed by her.
The spotlight on her is cast not only by UFC fans, but by the general public, something fairly rare in a sport that is far from mainstream.
The dynamic Rousey brings with her to the UFC is that of a superstar. She has appeared in front of mainstream audiences in issues of Sports Illustrated and on television programs, including "Conan O'Brien," "TMZ," ESPNs "SportsCenter" and "Real Sports" on HBO. Her success, and in turn the success of women's MMA in the UFC, relies not only on her performance against Carmouche, but how she handles everything that comes after.
With Carmouche as her opponent, success is certain. I don't mean to take anything away from "Girl-Rilla" -- she is tough, brave and I appreciate her contributions to the armed services. However, she is not in the same league as Rousey. This fight will be just what we've come to expect from a Rousey fight: a first round armbar victory. The impression that will leave on the mainstream populous that will be watching has yet to be seen, but I'm doubtful it would hurt her image.
What comes after is the important part. If this pay-per-view (PPV) is the success some forecast it to be, there will be hordes of mainstream media mounting the "Rowdy" bandwagon. It may bring Rousey out of her element, and it may even break her down more than any opponent ever has. We've seen how immense stars like Jon Jones have struggled in the spotlight, and if Rousey does the same, that could be the beginning of the end in a telling time for women's MMA. A squeaky-clean image will go a long way in keeping the public intrigued, and she'll also have to keep up the charisma for which she's becoming known.
That's a difficult task for anyone. And when combining that with a quick thrust into superstardom, a daily training regimen and a diet that would make anyone cranky, there's definitely going to be a lot of stress that comes along with it. She will undoubtedly see success, but she'll also bear the brunt of being the face of women's MMA for much of the foreseeable future.
With no other real stars in women's MMA, and still very few in the UFC altogether, Rousey will pave the road for those who come after her. Women's MMA can take off and become wildly popular behind her, but if she crashes and burns, it will, too.
Rousey isn't UFC 157's "Fighter to Watch" because she's the promotion's first-ever women's bantamweight champion, and she isn't the "Fighter to Watch" because this will be some career-defining performance. Rousey is UFC 157's "Fighter to Watch" because she controls the fate of all of women's MMA, and even a piece of MMA as a whole.
One step in the wrong direction could erase a career's worth of work, whereas making the right decisions in the spotlight could mean success in a big way. Not just for her, but for all women in the sport, current and future.