The Year of the Rousey

The Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion is taking MMA by storm.

What is it that makes a star in mixed martial arts? Is it an undefeated record or a 15-fight winning streak? Is it the ability to trash talk like Ric Flair or make headlines on TMZ like Kim Kardashian?

The truth is, it’s not any of the above. It’s not about how many wins a fighter has—it’s about how they fight and what they look like while doing it.

Knockouts, submissions, and nonstop action are preferable to grinding out victories with cut-to-order gameplans, no matter how many unanimous decisions a fighter manages to string together. Jon Fitch and Ben Askren may not care what the fans think of their performances, but promoters and sponsors do. At the end of the day, Clay Guida and Pat Barry are making more money than those guys.

And while 2010 and the lead-up to Anderson Silva versus Chael Sonnen made the latter the star he is today, 2012 is the year of the Rousey.

Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion and Olympic judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey is the “It” fighter of MMA at the moment. And she’s more important to the mainstreaming of our sport than any other person involved.

When UFC on FOX 3: Diaz vs. Miller came to New Jersey on Cinco de Mayo, it was Rousey who captured the New York media and the fans’ attention the most. Executives from FOX fawned over the stunning arm collector more than the skull-tee wearing fanboys at the Izod Center. Even fellow fighters were impressed by the onslaught of attention the 23-year-old blonde bombshell enjoyed.

“It’s a lot of fun to see,” said Frankie Edgar on my SiriusXMSports TapouT Radio Show on fight day. “And with good reason. She’s earned it.”

Rousey is flattered by all the attention, and she does what she does every day—she simply rolls with whatever comes her way.

“People are trying to protect me, but if they haven’t noticed, I don’t need a bodyguard,” Rousey said as she posed for pictures in a shapely brown dress and high heels, her blond curls falling over her left shoulder, looking more like a model in a Pantene commercial than
the short-shorts and sport-bra wearing competitor who nearly took Miesha Tate’s arm off.

“I’m enjoying the moment,” she said. “The window can shut just as fast as it opens.”

And that is precisely what Dana White might be thinking as he suddenly embraces the notion that a woman—or at least this woman—can become the first UFC women’s champion.

“She’s a rock star, man,” White said. “She’s been fantastic. She’s been killing it for us. I just hope that we can get some really good fights for her. I love Ronda Rousey, man. I do.”

Rousey is a master trash-talker. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, and as we’ve seen, she can back up all the talk with a fierce fight game and an armbar so good that it cannot be defended.

Will Rousey make history and be involved in the first women’s fight to be on the main card of a UFC event, perhaps as soon as UFC on FOX 4? I hope so, and I’m not alone.

Rousey’s manager Darin Harvey thinks Ronda is the vehicle to help win over fans who still aren’t sure about MMA.

“I feel Ronda is the ambassador of MMA right now,” said Harvey. “She is being used to petition the politicians in New York and in California. Look, there were three fighters who opened the NASDAQ bell while we were in New York. Ronda was one of them. It’s just common sense, right?”

Ronda Rousey is lightning in a bottle. And if Zuffa doesn’t utilize her and make her rich in the process, it just may be a bottle filled with shampoo that does—and that would be a shame.

Mike Straka is co-host of MMA Uncensored on Spike TV and TapouT Radio on SiriusXM, and he is the UFC correspondent on Fight Now TV. His book Fighting Words: In Depth Interviews With The Biggest Names in Mixed Martial Arts is available everywhere books are sold.

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