The Brock Lesnar era -- glorious as it was for the UFC's bottom line -- is over, with Lesnar having scurried back to World Wrestling Entertainment with his tail between his legs and his wallet wide open.
Georges St-Pierre, consistently one of the UFC's biggest pay per view draws, has only competed five times since the beginning of 2009 due to repeated injuries. He's scheduled to return in November, but there's no guarantee he'll fight on a regular basis after that. Hell, there's no guarantee he'll even make it to his date with Carlos Condit without getting injured.
The aforementioned two men were the UFC's two biggest stars. They were the ones who got the most publicity because they had the most star power. They drew the biggest pay per view numbers and helped sell the most tickets. In short, they were -- along with Dana White -- the faces of the company.
And now -- with both men either missing in action or outright finished in the UFC -- who takes up that mantle? Who is the current face of the company?
There's White, of course. He'll always be the public face of the company, until the day he retires and stops his involvement with the UFC altogether.
But I'm not talking about White. I'm talking about the fighter that the UFC consistently pushes in the media. They're on the covers of magazines. They're cageside at every show, whether they're involved in the event or not. They're being pushed to the mainstream and to the moon, and they're keeping a publicity tour schedule that would seemingly make a real training camp all but impossible.
Who is that fighter? Right now, in 2012?
My answer may surprise you.
It's Ronda Rousey.
Yes, I know she's not actually in the UFC. But that's a minor quibbling point.
You must remember that White and Lorenzo Fertitta have historically pushed their company brand as the entire sport, not just a single promotion operating amid a field of contenders. To them, the sport is the UFC, and that's the way it's marketed to the mainstream media.
And no other Zuffa employee has done as much media as Rousey, at least not in the last few months. Rousey is everywhere you turn, doing radio and television and the Espy's and on the cover of ESPN's Body issue.
She's got killer looks to go along with a deep athletic pedigree and undeniable talent in a sport she just started training in a few years ago. She also has a willingness to say the outlandish or brutally honest things that most other fighters strive to avoid like the plague. This trait makes her a media dream. Put a microphone in front of her, ask her a question about another fighter or a controversial topic, and then just sit back and let her work.
You may point to guys like Anderson Silva or Jon Jones. Yes, they're very big stars, much bigger than Rousey on a global level. But Silva doesn't speak English and does very few interviews, while Jones has been kept under lock and key for the last few months due to his legal issues.
It doesn't matter that Rousey isn't in the UFC. She's still one of the most-public and most-pushed faces of the entire Zuffa brand. And if she keeps winning her fights, and continues being a controversial and magnetic figure in the media, Rousey will enter the UFC within the next two years -- once the Showtime deal expires -- as one of the biggest superstars in the sport.