Saturday night will be a wake-up call, either for Strikeforce bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey or her critics. Because Rousey is going to get punched in the face. Hard. How she responds will be critical, not just for her career, but for the future of women's MMA.
Rousey, as brilliantly documented in the recent All Access specials on Showtime, has become the face of women's MMA. She is the star, shining brightly over every other lady fighter, mere mortals who can only bask in her reflective glow.
Like Jon Jones, who recently signed with Nike and is on the brink of mainstream, Rousey is one of MMA's go-to stars. But unlike Jones, she hasn't established herself in the cage at the level commensurate with her fame.
How good is Ronda Rousey?
So far, signs point toward "very" and "amazing." It's too soon to say, though, despite early dominance. Because Rousey has never been tested in any significant way. What happens when she meets adversity for the first time? Will she fold? Or emerge even stronger?
Although, on its face, this comparison might seem odd, Rousey's career is similar to Brock Lesnar's. Like the former judo Olympian, Lesnar was pushed to the top of the sport based on his unique charisma and star power. Like Rousey, he found immediate success, winning the UFC heavyweight title in just his fourth fight.
Then the wheels fell off his career. At UFC 116, Lesnar and his fans learned something that would have a tremendous impact on his future in the sport. Against Shane Carwin, it became glaringly obvious that Lesnar didn't like to get hit. That's normal for most of us. For a heavyweight fighter, though, it was a deadly flaw.
I was one of the first to notice what would be the defining characteristic of "Lesnar: MMA Fighter." While others were singing the praises of his comeback over Carwin, I was ringing the warning bells as loudly as I could at the MMA blog Bloody Elbow:
We learned a few things about Brock Lesnar tonight. We confirmed what many suspected: Brock Lesnar doesn't like to get hit. As soon as Carwin touched him, Lesnar did more than cover up. He flat cowered against the cage. He wasn't hurt as much as terrified. Make no mistake—Carwin had that fight won. Against anyone who isn't the promotion's heavyweight champion, that fight gets stopped due to some brutal ground and pound.
Lucky for Lesnar, Carwin isn't merely a one-round fighter. He doesn't even have that much in him. Three minutes into the bout and Carwin's heaving breaths couldn't feed his mammoth muscles. Lesnar survived, less because of his own defensive prowess and more because Carwin gassed and gassed bad.
Will Rousey pull a Lesnar on Showtime Saturday night? She's a huge favorite over Sarah Kaufman and has looked nigh but unstoppable in her short career. Kaufman, however, is a different kind of beast. She hits hard, especially with her straight right hand, and she isn't afraid to be hit. Can Rousey say the same?
Saturday night will be very interesting indeed. Rousey can silence each and every doubter if she takes a licking and keeps coming. Kaufman can demand the powers that be recast the "face of women's MMA" with an upset.
The stakes are very high. It's not just a fight—the immediate future of women's MMA hangs in the balance. Is Ronda Rousey merely Brock Lesnar in a pink judogi? We'll find out for sure Saturday night.