There are plenty of big names preparing to do battle on Saturday night in Anaheim, and most of them have a lot riding on their performances.
Dan Henderson, at 42 years old, may forever be out of the title picture with a loss and the clock ticking on his competitive career.
Lyoto Machida, Henderson’s co-main event dance partner, may be forever abolished from the light heavyweight division with a loss. He may have to move to middleweight just to remain relevant.
Bantamweight star Urijah Faber may firmly cement himself in the middle of the pack with a loss to Ivan Menjivar and would likely see his chance at one day fighting rival Dominick Cruz a third time go out the window. Hell, if Dana White is to be believed, he might be out of a job completely.
Josh Koscheck risks divisional relevance with a loss to Robbie Lawler, who himself risks his UFC roster spot with a poor performance, given that he’s a fresh Strikeforce import.
And yet none of them hold a candle to what Ronda Rousey, one half of the first all-female main event in UFC history, stands to lose.
Rousey has been a one-woman whirlwind of promotional dynamite leading up to this fight, drawing eyes from all over the world that haven’t previously taken to MMA. She’s proven to be the star that White and others thought she’d be, and with a win, she would instantly justify the existence of the women’s division made solely as her personal sandbox.
But a loss? A loss will be irreparable to her, to the UFC and to women’s MMA. Don’t think for a second that anything less is true.
Rousey is the face of women’s MMA. Gina Carano will always be the first face, but Rousey is the current one. The way she’s going, what with talk show appearances, walking red carpets and juggling major mainstream attention, it won’t be long before she’s the face of MMA in general.
The selling point is that she’s the total package: talented, undefeated, loaded with athletic credentials, beautiful and capable of promoting her fights. However, after all of her work to get to the big stage, a loss would erase it all.
No more hype. No more excitement about her fights. No more pay-per-view headliners.
Just champion Liz Carmouche, author of one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, trying to carry a division that wasn’t designed for that.
Make no mistake, it’s not likely that Carmouche will leave Honda Center as champion. Rousey has the edge everywhere outside of pure heart and grit, and this should serve as a showcase for her considerable talent.
But the last time that people said Carmouche was a lamb being led to the slaughter, she beat Marloes Coenen senseless on short notice before getting tapped in the fourth round, only a few minutes away from becoming an underdog champion.
There’s a precedent here.
Right now, like it or not, Rousey has changed the game. She’s grabbed White right by his surgically repaired ears and shouted square in his face that women’s MMA can entertain, it can sell and she should be the one to carry its torch.
That is an astronomical amount of pressure, pressure built on carrying an entire portion of the sport—one that many people are highly skeptical of, both as part of the UFC and in general.
If Rousey, media darling and promoter’s dream, loses the first fight of her career that truly matters, it may be a blow that can’t be overcome.
Women’s MMA on the whole may very well be on the line at UFC 157, which is what Ronda Rousey wanted from the outset. Now that she’s taken that on herself, no one could possibly have more to lose.