Ronda Rousey’s existence so far has been fairly paradoxical. For starters, she’s a woman and she fights for a living, which goes against every innate genetic disposition Homo sapiens have had since our ancestors were knuckle dragging hunter-gatherers. She also has achieved an almost incomparable level of mainstream success, appearing on magazine covers and late-night talk shows. The problem? She hasn’t exactly deserved it.
A couple writers at this site have apparently been vigorously charmed by Rousey, since they can’t stop penning stories about how glorious she is. It’s fine. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions. But when top media members are claiming someone with five career fights is “the face of MMA” or “bigger than Jon Jones,” it becomes apparent that a deeper look into the intricacies of the matter must be taken in order to maintain a certain level of moral integrity.
For starters, let’s lay out the facts.
Rousey, by almost all accounts, is a very attractive human being. She is perhaps not as naturally beautiful as former MMA fighter Gina Carano, who looks like she was spewed directly out of a supermodel generator, but she is still significantly prettier and exceptionally more toned than the average woman. This much is apparent if you’ve seen her pictures in ESPN’s recent Body Issue, where she jumps around in the buff like a pixie surrounded by a whimsical haze and neon strobe lights.
But Rousey is more than just six-pack abs in a sports bra. She happens to be a fairly talented fighter as well, and the current Strikeforce 135-pound champion. Her overall skills are still somewhat of a great mystery, but we do know that her grappling is world class and her knack for putting opponents in armbars is remarkably uncanny.
But unquestionably, Rousey’s brightest quality as a person is her magnetic personality. For the first time in the history of women’s MMA there is a fighter who perfectly treads the line between feminine and masculine, a bubbly, smiley beauty who isn’t afraid to talk smack or beat up groups of guys at movie theaters.
Can Ronda Rousey become a legit mainstream star?
And so it’s the holy trinity of looks, talent and personality that has so enraptured some fans and media members. It’s easy to see why people think so highly of her, but the question of if she’s deserving of the praise still lingers heavily.
Of course, it’s not uncommon to see athletes rise and fall with rapid succession in an age when reporters stalk celebrities like a pack of ravenous velociraptors. Just look at Tim Tebow or Jeremy Lin to see examples of superstars who rose to prominence because of their looks, background story and personalities and who are sustained by the living, breathing entity that is hype. It’s not entirely true that Tebow and Lin are untalented buffoons, but their level of stardom has far exceeded their athletic accomplishments at this point.
So, no, Rousey definitely isn’t alone when it comes to reputation significantly overshadowing the actual person. But Tebow and Lin also don’t fight for a living. You know who did? Brock Lesnar.
Ah, yes. Him. Literally the 800-pound gorilla in the room. He’s perhaps the only person you can compare to Rousey, which is both a gift and curse. Lesnar, the snarling, drooling, physical embodiment of retribution that he is, was the biggest star that MMA has ever seen. His headlining act at UFC 100 remains the most successful pay-per-view show in UFC history, and he’s without a doubt the only fighter to have truly entered the consciousness of mainstream media.
But he’s also the sport’s biggest enigma, a one-trick pony that was handed a title shot after three professional fights and vanished after only eight. Like Rousey, Lesnar is a paradox, a man who is probably the most overrated and underrated MMA fighter in history, and a person whose superstardom ran so far ahead of his physical talents he could never hope to catch up.
So when you think of Rousey and get caught up in the smile and glutes and engaging stories, remember Lesnar. Remember that MMA is a sport that has the world’s fastest turnover rate and that careers end in one punch.
Right now she’s the flavor of the month, to be sure, but preemptively calling her the “face of MMA” before she’s even defended her title, and more importantly, before she’s even in the UFC, is a serious miscalculation, especially when she could lose to Sarah Kaufman Saturday night and disappear into a puff of smoke.