Sports fans, especially Americans, love to think that they have an emotional connection with their favorite athletes. As an athlete you don’t have to be a role model, like Charles Barkley warned, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t a target of worship. Part of that worship involves an insatiable desire to know as much as possible about most-favored celebrities, even if the information learned or consumed is completely shallow and false. No female MMA fighter has been better positioned to capitalize on this carnival spectacle than Ronda Rousey.
Ronda Rousey is The Arm Collector. She’s the sweetheart who cries when one of her teammates fails. She’s got a bad-ass mother who toughened her up. She’s petulant. She stomps her feet at anyone who she views as slighting her in any way. She is a strong symbol of feminism. She doesn’t rely on her sex appeal while posing in magazines.
The point? Nobody really truly knows who Ronda Rousey is. Not even her best friends. She’s complex. She’s contradictory, at times, in her behavior. Whenever she says or does something in public that induces cringing or hostility, her defenders say that’s just Ronda being Ronda.
It all depends on who you ask and who is asking Ronda the questions. In a business where perception is reality, Ronda Rousey is the ultimate Rorschach test.
All about the message & the messenger
Jim Rome asked her about sexual appetite before a fight and whether or not voraciousness for sex helped her fight performance. Several months later, a fan asked Ronda about her sexual proclivity and she chewed his ass out. When the Fox Sports 1 cameras were on this past Saturday night to promote her upcoming re-match with Miesha Tate, Ronda produced one of the most awkward interviews of the year. And when she was asked about whether or not the way she was portrayed on this season of The Ultimate Fighter damaged her image with the fans, she claimed that she didn’t give a damn about her reputation.
Part of the time, Ronda Rousey sounds like Steve Austin — as demonstrated when she cussed out Miesha Tate after a rock climbing challenge on TUF. She gave Miesha Tate the double-barreled middle finger salute on multiple occasions. On other occasions, she channels her inner Ric Flair when it comes to styling and profiling on camera. When she wants to, Ronda Rousey can charm anyone. Key phrase: when she wants to. Ronda and her fighting friends from The Ultimate Fighter even view themselves as this generation’s version of The Four Horsemen, only calling themselves The Four Horsewomen. It’s easy to envision Ronda Rousey barking at Ariel Helwani on camera, “If you don’t like it, learn to love it!”
The difference between Ronda & Ric is that Ric is a professional when the red camera light is on. Ronda? Not so much. But both champions share a larger-than-life personality that can sometimes be a walking contradiction. Ronda’s a sex symbol who doesn’t want fans asking her sex questions. Ric Flair is a guy who habitually has financial problems and yet thought it was a good idea to market a business venture called Ric Flair Finance. You get the picture.
The fact that I’m even analogizing Ronda Rousey to Ric Flair, Steve Austin, and The Four Horsemen should tell you everything you need to know about how little we truly know, let alone understand about the UFC champion. No matter how many one-hour television specials or Ultimate Fighter episodes featuring (her mother) Dr. Ann Maria you watch, it’s impossible to develop a complete picture of who Ronda really is and what makes her tick. The only thing we know is that when she loves, she loves hard, and when she hates, she prefers a blow-torch policy for destruction.
A most important lesson for fighters to learn
Her black-and-white, “us against the world” mentality makes her the perfect champion for the UFC. If there’s one universal crime in the fight business that someone can never shake off, it’s the boring label. Ask Andre Ward all about that. Once you are tagged as being boring or a fighter who nobody has an opinion about, you’re sunk in the water.
The concern amongst both Ronda’s fans and critics is that she’s approaching Jon Jones territory, meaning that she is trapping herself with her actions & on-camera behavior to a point where there is an artificial glass ceiling for interest in buying PPVs based on fans being turned off by an awkward, stunted personality. In the cases of both Ronda Rousey & Jon Jones, the critics are arguing over one aspect: fragility. The supposed fragility of Ronda’s irrational & immature on-screen behavior juxtaposed to the fragility of Jon Jones’ seemingly vulnerable & injury-prone body after every fight. The theory of criticizing Ronda’s behavior as fragile is based on the premise that somehow the pressure of being a big star is getting to her and that she’s about to crack, which would negatively impact her future fight performance.
There’s also a flip side to the equation. In combat sports, it’s always about the politics of the personal. Ronda Rousey is the face of women’s MMA on the national stage. She’s the face that UFC wants out there in public. Maybe she is a jerk who uses her mercurial nature to perpetually have a chip on her shoulder in order to generate motivation for destruction. Plenty of famous fighters, past and present, have been assholes. Film at 11. And plenty of famous fighters have also hidden behind characters, like Chael Sonnen, in order to distract the public from finding out who their idols really are as human beings. Do you want reality or do you want fantasy? Welcome to the fight business, which is often built on the temptation fantasy fights and the art of the con. Ronda Rousey doesn’t care if you like her or not as long as you have an opinion and will pay to watch her fights.
On the outside-looking-in, trying to figure out who the real Ronda Rousey is remains 100% impossible. Even those closest to her can’t give you a profile that’s 100% accurate. There is a breaking point regarding how far her behavior will carry her in future business ventures. But that’s her problem to figure out, not ours. It may become UFC’s problem in the future. It won’t stop fans & foes from trying to psychoanalyze how & why Ronda Rousey is the champion that she is.
Front-Page Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports