One of the more appealing aspects of mixed martial arts is the fact that the sport is still small enough that multiple layers of handlers and management do not insulate the athletes. This setup allows the fighters to not only hear feedback from their fans, but also respond to that feedback. That intimate relationship has its drawbacks, something the UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey recently discovered.
The majority of the MMA fan base has, let’s be honest, been in love with Rousey since she began making a name for herself with Strikeforce. When the young Olympic medalist in Judo revealed that she was also an adept self-promoter and trash talker, her stock inched up a few notches. When Rousey left Miesha Tate’s arm bent in a very unnatural manner, and claimed the Strikeforce title in the process, her stock continued to rise.
At that point it seemed like Rousey may have hit a glass ceiling of sorts. Yes, she was the Strikeforce champion, but if she wanted to take the next step, she needed to do what most MMA fighters need to do, fight for the most well known, and influential MMA promotion in the world, the UFC. A seeming impossibility, as UFC president Dana White had, on more than one occasion, made it clear he wanted nothing to do with women’s MMA.
In August 2012, Rousey defended her Strikeforce title against Sarah Kaufman. Rousey won that fight, forcing Kaufman, like the five fighters before her, to tap to an armbar in the first round. Shortly after that win it was announced that White had seen the light, and the UFC announced the formation of a women’s division.
Make no mistake, that decision was based almost purely on the fact that the UFC wanted to be in the Ronda Rousey business. White made that fact abundantly clear when he told Ariel Helwani, “There’s no doubt, for people who say, ‘Oh, this is the Ronda Rousey show,’ f—— right it is. You’re absolutely right. I’m not trying to shy away from that and say, ‘Oh no, we’re getting into women’s MMA.’ This is the Ronda Rousey Show.”
White made that statement prior to Rousey defending her UFC crown against Liz Carmouche on February 23 of this year. Since then the UFC has added to the women’s roster, and filmed a season of The Ultimate Fighter featuring women’s bantamweight fighters.
The UFC is still very much in the Ronda Rousey business, but the door has opened for others to make their names known in the division. Miesha Tate has done so with her rivalry with Rousey. Carmouche, in giving Rousey the biggest scare of her professional career, has put her name on the list of women fighters to watch. Sara McMann, an Olympic medalist in wrestling is also on that growing list.
Is the pool of women fighters in the UFC the deepest? No, but it does seem like the division has moved past the experiment stage and on to the growth stage.
That’s a good thing, because Rousey, in an interview with MMAJunkie.com, said that she is looking toward the future, and that future may not include fighting. In fact, Rousey put a time limit on her career, giving it, in her words, “I’d say two more years.”
That’s when the small world feel of MMA became a little ugly for Rousey.
Fans, for some reason, lashed out at Rousey for planning a career past fighting. Those comments did not go unnoticed by Rousey, nor did they go unanswered. Rousey, never afraid to say exactly what’s on her mind, hit back via twitter.
One tweet of Rousey’s that sticks out for me is where she warns that the hate she received for even entertaining a post-fight career may expedite her decision.
I don’t see that as an idle threat. Let me be a little clearer, I don’t see that as a threat at all. I see that statement as fact. If Rousey is unwanted or unappreciated by the fans, what reason does she have to stick around? She’s in a full contact sport, where she risks significant damage for relatively little compensation. If the pressure of the “fans”, through their misguided belief that Rousey owes them her blood and sweat, results in her not enjoying the competitive aspect of MMA there’s no reason for Rousey not to move on to other endeavors.
Rousey is involved in a profession that does not lend itself to a lengthy career. As White himself has said, “This isn’t a long-term f****** job. You don’t come into the UFC thinking, man, I’m going to stay here until I’m 65 and then I’m going to retire, get a pension and do this, that and the other. This is a f****** short-term gig.”
Fans are entitled to their opinions, but when they want to hold someone back for purely selfish reasons, that only hurts the sport in the long run. That type of thinking on the part of the fans could end up pushing Rousey away from the sport; it could leave other fighters wondering if it makes sense to be so open, and so available to fans. It could leave the next great potential fighter contemplating if they actually want to subject themselves to that type of scrutiny and vitriol.
My advice is to let Rousey do what she wants on her own terms. Enjoy the fact that she is in the UFC right now and appreciate all that she has done for the sport. Because when Rousey is gone, you can bet that there won’t be a coming out of retirement bout for her.