Finding my seat at the IZOD Center last week was easy. Trying to grasp what I walked past on the way to it was the hard part.
Juggling concessions and talking to a couple of friends as I navigated the concourse, I was met by a throng of wild-eyed fans moving along and clustered around someone.
I couldn’t make out who or what it was, but I figured it was a fighter or known face from the UFC front office. If you’ve never been to an event live, it isn’t crazy to see fighters you know more or less all over the place, or even catch someone like Joe Silva out around on a walkie-talkie trying to get things in order.
As I shrugged it off though, the crowd broke and I saw what all the commotion was about. Ronda Rousey, Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion and perhaps the fastest rising star in MMA, had made her entrance.
And wow. What an entrance.
Equal parts athlete and rock star, she was clearly appreciative of the attention despite being on her way down to the floor to take in the night’s festivities. Once she got there, she took time for pictures and a few quick discussions with fans, and headed to her seat.
It was one of the only times I can say I was genuinely blown away by a person’s presence, and it made me realize one thing: Ronda Rousey could be a national star.
Not even a star outside of fighting, either. Not movies or TV or books or magazines or whatever else. She could be a national star right now, today, for this. For MMA.
Rousey has created a persona that flies in face of the conventional “nice girls” of MMA, and coupled with her looks and ability to thrash people senseless, it’s become one of the most marketable in the game. In a little over a year she’s gone from being a relative nobody to replacing Gina Carano as the face of her sport.
After witnessing her magnetism firsthand, there’s no telling where she could go from here.
Many enjoy her antics, others just like to look at her, and still others want her to take a beating and go away. Whatever side they’re on though, they’re all paying attention. Nobody since Carano—not even Cyborg Santos at her peak––has done that in women’s MMA.
Before seeing her handling her celebrity, I felt that a lot of her personality was manufactured. Her trash talk, Twitter jabs, and perceived brashness all seemed like the work of someone who saw an unfilled niche and decided she could fill it. Now I’m certain she was born to play the role she’s created for herself.
It’s no longer about how she got there or why, the fact is that she’s the first champion in the history of her sport that has the looks and the tools to change the game. Really, on account of women’s MMA going from life support to something even Dana White is reconsidering, she probably already has.
There’s no way to know what’s next for her, but there is no ceiling for Ronda Rousey. If she can keep winning fights and keep people paying to watch her do it, she could be as big as any star in MMA–female or otherwise.