Ronda Rousey met with adversity and conquered it at UFC 157. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
In the days and weeks leading up to UFC 157, there was some debate as to whether Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche -- the first female bout to grace the Octagon since the Las Vegas-based promotion’s inception in 1993 -- was worthy of its headlining status.
For those who refused to get swept up in the feel-good women’s movement that had been taking most of the mixed martial arts community by storm, there were more pressing matters at hand, namely the light heavyweight title eliminator slated for the co-main event. The naysayers believed that by playing second fiddle to history, Lyoto Machida and Dan Henderson were being robbed of the five-round bout they rightfully deserved.
By the conclusion of Saturday’s card, there was little doubt as to who was the featured attraction at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. While Machida and Henderson played a strategic game of cat-and-mouse that was more frustrating than enthralling, Rousey-Carmouche provided the Ultimate Fighting Championship with a best-case scenario: its inaugural champion and most marketable female commodity prevailed in her usual fashion but not before enduring an unexpected crucible from a largely unheralded challenger.
Decades from now, Machida-Henderson will be remembered as little more than a footnote, a precursor to a milestone. Only time will tell where Rousey will reside in the sport’s history books, but for one night, she was its brightest star, with Carmouche coming in a close second. No one will recall missing out on two more rounds of “Hendo” and “The Dragon,” but everyone will remember the four minutes and 49 seconds put forth by a pair of MMA pioneers.
Prior to her showdown with Carmouche, a former United States Marine and the first openly gay fighter in UFC history, Rousey had encountered little resistance on her way to accumulating six-first round victories via armbar. Sure, Miesha Tate displayed an admirable threshold for pain during her encounter with the Olympic judoka in March, gutting out one armbar attempt before finally succumbing to a second as viewers everywhere cringed in sympathy pain. However, few would argue that Rousey was ever truly in danger.
Rousey’s first UFC belt defense quickly took on a decidedly different tone when Carmouche moved to her opponent’s back and paid homage to her own “Girl-Rilla” moniker by applying a brutal neck crank that had the champion in obvious discomfort. However, Rousey gradually shrugged off the submission attempt -- along with a wardrobe malfunction -- and proceeded to move the fight into her comfort zone, ending the bout with the only finishing move she has ever known. The records may show that Rousey achieved her seventh first-round victory by armbar on Feb. 23, 2013, but it was far from a routine triumph.
“I knew she was tough and I was expecting to go five rounds. Ten seconds difference and it could have gone a different way, and we would have been in round two. Much respect to her,” Rousey said on Fuel TV.
Much like when Vitor Belfort briefly had light heavyweight ruler Jon Jones trapped in an armbar in the first round at UFC 152, it was momentarily thrilling to think that a dominant champion like Rousey could lose in such an unexpected manner. With that said, while we like to see our champions face adversity, we also like to see them prevail through the trials and tribulations of battle. As much as Carmouche has become a breakout star, losing Rousey as the promotional champion so soon might have stunted the growth of women’s MMA as a whole.
As it stands, Rousey can continue to assume the burden of figurehead while the rest of the division -- beginning with Tate and Cat Zingano on April 13 -- begins to build recognition for itself under the intense scrutiny fighting in the UFC provides.
Those who have watched Rousey and her counterparts in recent months are not surprised that women’s MMA has reached this point. “Rowdy” surfaced as a big-ticket attraction when she squared off with Tate under the Strikeforce banner 11 months ago, and a host of other talent has been allowed to develop thanks to the diligent efforts of Invicta Fighting Championships. Nothing was as significant as what happened at UFC 157, but the foundation was being laid for quite some time.
While it did not seem likely at first, the UFC has shown a commitment to an entire 135-pound division, not just Rousey. UFC President Dana White recently said the women’s bantamweight division will soon expand to 15 fighters -- not a massive collection but not indicative of a short-term investment, either. White, who once said women would never fight in the UFC, did not sound like a man regretting his decision to showcase Rousey and Carmouche on the top of a pay-per-view.
“There’s no doubt about it. This was one of the biggest moments in sports. I’ve never had so much media around one event. SportsCenter was live tweeting about it,” White said. “But in 2013, I never realized the hate some guys have about women in sports. It’s sickening. And tonight, the main event was one of the best fights of the night.”
White is correct. No matter what Rousey and Carmouche over the weekend and no matter what others do after them, some will continue to see the growth of women’s MMA as a detriment to their beloved fight tradition. That will continue to remain true, but Rousey and Carmouche likely converted their fair share of non-believers, as well. Eventually, the women will be strong enough to survive their own version of Machida-Henderson, but, thankfully, that is not a concern worth addressing after a smashing debut.
“Is this real life?” Rousey asked. “I’m not sure.”
It is very real, and, in the UFC, a woman’s work is only just beginning.