Ronda Rousey has yet to fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship but she’s already the hottest thing to hit the mixed martial arts world in quite some time.
Next month, Rousey is slated for her first match in the UFC, which just so happens to be a pay-per-view headliner, but how it will impact the sport is anyone's guess.
The UFC experts are still a little puzzled about how tickets remain for the Feb. 23 bout at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. It’s always been more difficult to sell an event outside of Las Vegas due to the strong casino market that the city has in its corner, but these tickets were thought to fly off the shelf, given Rousey’s quick rise to MMA stardom. Not to mention the match is for the UFC women’s bantamweight title which essentially is the former Strikeforce title belt.
Women’s matches have long been a part of MMA, but never the UFC. Typically these events have done well as far as television ratings are concerned, though they have never really been a big ticket in a main event. In 2009, Gina Carano and Cris Santos became the first women’s MMA pay-per-view headline event, though it had mixed success. Tickets for next month have been on sale since the week before Christmas but only about 5,000 have been sold to date.
But that certainly has little to do with Rousey.
Rousey first turned heads at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, when she became the first woman to earn an Olympic medal in the Judo. Within two years, she began her MMA career and won all three of her amateur matches before turning professional. She’s only fought in six matches since then – all with Strikeforce – but has won all six of them convincingly and the same way – with armbar submissions. Shortly after, she announced that she’d become the first female fighter to sign with the UFC.
She’s got the good looks, she’s got the talent, but will it change the UFC forever?
It’s difficult to say at this point but if Rousey continues at the pace she’s going, she will leave some sort of imprint on the UFC. The hope is that this first fight will generate more mainstream media interest, as Rousey is likely to make the rounds – even more so than usual – to promote the event. That doesn’t guarantee success, however.
Boxing went through a similar period just over a decade ago, using names like Laila Ali and Chirsty Martin and although they became moderate stars, they never really transitioned from undercard attractions to pay-per-view juggernauts. There was one fight that had successl; a 2001 bout between Ali and Jaqui Frazier-Lyde, but it was simply a gimmick, attempting to cash-in on the greatest rivalries the sport had ever known. It led to 125,000 pay-per-view buys but came and went with little notice.
If the UFC begins to look for ways to turn Rousey or her counterparts into gimmicks there’s little doubt that it will suffer the exact same fate. Instead, the company must have the right balance of promotion – because oversaturation could prove fatal in attempting a women’s movement. It won’t be easy, but there’s a market for it, as Rousey has proven in such a short amount of time.
Needless to say, there’s a lot riding on Rousey’s upcoming UFC premiere.
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