Ronda Rousey is the hottest thing going in the sport of mixed martial arts. With apologies to Jon Jones, recent recipient of Nike's engraved invitation to immortality, Rousey's is the act with the most impact right now.
Jones's is a carefully crafted celebrity. His management has taken an approach similar to that of pretty much every big name NFL player. You don't see Jones in a public setting unless the appearance has been planned to death, controlled like it was a military operation and just a little bit lifeless. Like a professional politician, he's never off the cuff. Everything is done with a purpose.
What drives Jones's stardom is his athletic accomplishments. His public persona is a little dull. He smiles, talks about God and tries his best (often unsuccessfully) to stay out of trouble. Nike isn't interested in his dynamic personality. They are interested in his one-of-a-kind brand of fighting. And maybe that will be enough.
Rousey, like UFC President Dana White and most of her MMA brethren, plays things more fast and loose than Jones. She says what she likes, when she wants to say it. And, yes, sometimes it is for effect. She didn't make the tabloid pages for calling out Kim Kardashian by chance.That was a calculated grab at media attention—and one that worked.
But there's a difference between smart media-savvy appearances and the false sheen of most athletic celebrity. Rousey's rise to fame is more organic. She may not have Nike (yet) but appearances on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine and a turn on Conan are nothing to sneeze at.
Rousey is more comfortable in her own skin. She's got a clever and quick wit, reminiscent of Chael Sonnen. When she does hit the big time in earnest, she'll be ready. Jones beat her to the punch, but when she gets her opportunity, she has the charisma to be more than a boring old pitchman. She has the potential to be a transcendent figure in the world of sport.
Look at the success pretty tennis players like Anna Kournakova had in the marketing world, with little more than a nice smile and incredible gams. Rousey has the look to succeed, but combines it with (possibly) native athleticism that makes her women MMA's best fighter.
Her fight with Sarah Kaufman is Rousey's first since being under the spotlight. This is Act 1. By the third act, the whole world will be riveted. It's going to be amazing to see.
In the battle of Rousey vs. Jones, give Jones Round 1. When it's all over, though, she'll be smiling, hand raised in triumph. She'll be wearing her custom Nike top and drinking from a special pink Gatorade with her face on the bottle. Nothing can stop Ronda Rousey. It's just a matter of time.