On November 20, 2010, I was at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit waiting for the preliminary card portion of UFC 123 to start. We were milling around in the media room, wrecking the catering as we are often known to do, when we were told that all media should congregate around the cage for a special presentation.
That special presentation turned out to be Jose Aldo being handed his brand-new UFC featherweight title. World Extreme Cagefighting was closing down, and Aldo's next fight was scheduled to be against Josh Grispi in January.
Instead of being forced to win the belt in his first UFC fight (or his final WEC fight, like bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz), Aldo was going in as the champion.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, in Seattle, where Ronda Rousey was awarded her historic women's bantamweight title at the tail end of the pre-fight press conference for UFC on Fox 5. It was the same essential scene, though Rousey was wearing a dress that I'm pretty sure would not look the same on Aldo. Just a hunch.
There wasn't much uproar when Aldo was handed his belt without being forced to win it. But the same can't be said for Rousey, and I'd like to know why.
Dan Henderson is featured on the same UFC 157 card as Rousey, but he's in the co-main event spot. That doesn't sit too well with Gustavo Pugliese, one of Henderson's coaches at Team Quest. Pugliese took to Facebook to express his dismay that a woman is stealing the main event spotlight from his main man Hendo.
She is not the UFC champion yet. She still has to win this fight to get that belt. On the other hand, we have Hendo, who has also been the Strikeforce champion (never lost the belt), Pride champion in two different weight classes; he has been ranked #1 contender for the UFC 205lbs, and #6 by many pound-for-pound best fighter [lists]. His resume is second to none, moreover, he is fighting a former champion, Lyoto Machida. Now why aren't they [the] main event? Is Ronda a better market value? I don't know, but her fight could be quick as usual and we could be missing another historic five [round] fight between two legends and possible hall of famers. I'm not saying she doesn't deserve to headline [a] UFC event, but certainly not this one.
Here's the problem with that: She actually IS the UFC champion. Dana White said she was champion, so she's the champion. She doesn't have to win a fight to get the belt, because she won her last Strikeforce fight to retain her title. Strikeforce is owned by Zuffa, the parent company of the UFC, and Strikeforce is being folded into the UFC. Therefore, the champions from that promotion—or at least the champions from weight classes the UFC doesn't currently feature—will come over immediately as champions.
She has the UFC belt. I was there to see White strap it on her waist. She's the champion, she's listed as such on UFC.com and so, the very foundation of Pugliese's entire belief crumbles from the very beginning.
And while we're issuing real talk, let's discuss Henderson's track record as a UFC pay-per-view headliner, because it's not great. His fight with Shogun a year ago at UFC 139 pulled in 290,000 pay-per-view buys, and that fight featured two legends and the former Strikeforce champ taking on an accomplished and loved PRIDE champion.
And even going back to Strikeforce, Henderson's fight against Fedor Emelianenko pulled in 571,000 viewers. By comparison, Rousey's fight against Sarah Kaufman—just the second time Rousey has appeared on a non-Strikeforce Challengers card, by the way—pulled in 676,000 viewers.
Any way you slice it, Rousey is a bigger draw and more well-known pay-per-view personality than Henderson. Let me put it to you this way: My mom knows who Ronda Rousey is, and she literally cannot name a single other mixed martial artist on this entire planet. Not only that, but she's intrigued to see her fight, and she'll likely be watching.
My point in all of this, I guess, is that it does not matter if Rousey or Aldo or Cruz or anyone else won their titles in the cage, or if they were handed to them by virtue of the companies they headlined closing up shop and being absorbed by the UFC. It's the same thing.
They're still the champs, and they still deserve to be in the main event spotlight. It's not about fair, and it's not about who has been around the longest and who has "paid their dues." It's about the champion, and it's quite obviously about drawing the most money possible.
And you may not like to hear it, but in a battle of who will draw the most money between Rousey and Henderson? Rousey wins every time.