Ronda Rousey will carry the women’s MMA torch into the Octagon. | Jay Talbott/Icon SMI
The “Happiest Place on Earth” turns extra violent on Saturday when the Ultimate Fighting Championship drops anchor at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., just minutes from Disneyland.
For its fifth pay-per-view at the venue, the promotion will make a significant contribution to the history books, as Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche step into the cage for the UFC 157 main event. The UFC’s first-ever female bout will feature Rousey, an Olympic bronze medalist in judo, against Carmouche, the organization’s first openly gay fighter. Keep these future trivia question answers stored in the back of your heads.
How We Got Here: The Strikeforce hexagon was just too small for the larger-than-life Rousey and her pay-per-view potential. With the San Jose, Calif.-based promotion’s lifeless body still warm, UFC president Dana White introduced the Olympic bronze medalist as the first UFC women’s bantamweight champion and announced that she would headline an event inside the Octagon. Of course, the judoka could not fight herself in the cage, so Invicta Fighting Championships and Strikeforce veteran Carmouche was called up to the big leagues because, as White put it, “No one else would say yes.” … Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson will provide the Southern California crowd with a karate-versus-wrestling showdown in the co-main event. “Hendo” was in line to challenge light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 151, until a knee injury kept him sidelined and eventually cost him a title shot. The oldest fighter on the UFC roster is now left with the tough task of figuring out Machida’s complex style in order to keep is championship aspirations alive … Urijah Faber has been left to spin his wheels with nowhere to go.
The former World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight champion remains arguably the sport’s brightest star below 155 pounds, but his recent 0-5 run in title fights keeps him at a distance in the rush for bantamweight gold. Ivan Menjivar, owner of a 4-1 UFC record, will look to derail “The California Kid” in their long-awaited rematch.
Shooting Star: Throw in some armbars and a few bright smiles and you have a recipe for success. Rousey took the world by storm, plain and simple. Her intriguing backstory, vicious fighting style and easiness on the eyes grabbed her more headlines from non-MMA media than any fighter since Brock Lesnar. She is as comfortable on the red carpet as she is taking leather to the face from a sweaty sparring partner. Just when we thought Conan O’Brien, HBO and the New York Times had bled Rousey’s story dry, UFC “Primetime” debuted with some of the best storytelling Zuffa has ever produced. Rousey’s journey is heart wrenching, and, with the help of some expensive cameramen, the story was told to perfection. America is falling in love with the blonde judoka. Will it translate into pay-per-view buys?
The Other Woman: Do not feel bad for Carmouche in her role as the foil. Instead, consider the opportunity a winning lottery ticket for the Marine. She will likely make more money in sponsorships from her first UFC appearance than she made in any other purse in her 10-fight career.
Add in the exposure money cannot buy from the “Primetime” treatment, and you have a feel-good story on your hands, even for someone playing second fiddle to the Queen of MMA.
This is heartwarming, win or lose, for a woman who served our country, works at her gym just to pay the bills and does not even own a dining table.
Useless Fact: Machida will be the 16th current, former or eventual UFC, Strikeforce or Pride Fighting Championships titleholder Henderson has fought.
His illustrious career spanning the middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, the greatest American fighter of all-time owns a 13-6 record against this murderer’s row, splitting fights with Kazuo Misaki, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Wanderlei Silva, while twice beating Murilo Bustamante and Renato Sobral. No other fighter in history can tout this level of competition. Not to hijack these facts with a testosterone replacement therapy debate, but would have MMA fans been robbed of the last couple of incredible years if “Hendo” had not dipped into the fountain of youth created by the controversial treatment? It is something worth adding to an already heated discussion.
A Tale of Two Titles: The futures of two UFC belts could be decided at UFC 157. The next challenger to Rousey’s women’s bantamweight championship will be up for grabs should the 12-to-1 favorite do what the oddsmakers expect her to do. Potential challengers for Rousey have already either been victimized by the champion or remain relegated to Miscellaneous Fighter X status. Former Strikeforce titleholder Cristiane Santos is the only potential opponent at the moment who would not be a massive underdog. “Cyborg’s” newly signed Invicta contract gives her the option of a UFC move if the 145-pound Brazilian decides to drop the extra 10 pounds to face Rousey. Otherwise, the biggest female fight in history may go the way of Olympic wrestling -- dead and gone because of greed and dilution ... Henderson’s title shot evaporated when his knee gave out in September. If we have learned anything, it is this: the UFC’s golden tickets come with an expiration date. White mentioned Alexander Gustafsson as the next contender to Jones’ belt should he beat Gegard Mousasi in April. However, if Henderson pulls off something stellar against Machida, a date with Jones could again be in reach. If not, the 42-year-old two-time Olympian may find himself left out in the cold, with only his countless other accomplishments to keep him warm.
Say What: During the pre-fight conference call for UFC 157, it did not take long for the media to start prodding Henderson for a reaction to the fact that the future hall of famer is situated in the co-main event underneath a pair of UFC rookie females. In Henderson’s typical, shoulder-shrugging style, he responded by looking at the silver lining. All UFC main events are five rounds; non-championship undercard fights are three rounds. Who would complain about a lighter workload? “I’ve got no problem, especially [since] only having to fight three rounds is kind of nice,” Henderson said. “I’m definitely a fan, and I’ll be watching after my fight is over.”
Head Scratcher: Seriously, did anyone see the Josh Koscheck-Robbie Lawler fight coming -- a former UFC title contender against a middle-of-the-road Strikeforce slugger? I could have named 1,000 potential matchups, and this one would not have made the cut. Not that there is anything specifically wrong with the pairing, but I would like to know what UFC matchmaker Joe Silva’s dartboard looked like that day.
Awards Watch: Rousey already has a spot picked out on her mantle for Carmouche’s arm, and her “Submission of the Night” check is all but spent … Lavar Johnson and Brendan Schaub have fought a combined 24 times in their professional careers, and 23 of those bouts never heard the final bell. The judges might as well take a smoke break for the final preliminary fight. Expect Johnson and Schaub to rattle each other’s brains in search of a “Knockout of the Night” bonus … Sam Stout-Caros Fodor is a tempting clash for “Fight of the Night,” but history shows the deeper a fight is buried on the undercard, the less likely it is for its participants to cash bonus checks. Faber has never gone consecutive appearances under Zuffa employ without a performance bonus, and Menjivar fights with a willingness to engage his opponents on their terms. Expect these two bantamweights to bank some serious dough for their troubles.