It isn't enough for Ronda Rousey to retain her UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship at UFC 168. She has to dispatch Miesha Tate with ease if she's going to be a winner in the fans' eyes.
With Georges St-Pierre's self-imposed hiatus, Rousey has arguably become the biggest star in the company. Nobody creates more of a buzz than she does. Rousey is on the cover of magazines, a guest on talk shows and featured in major motion pictures.
As a result of all this added attention, Rousey will be faced with increased scrutiny. She has to win and win in dominant fashion in order to keep her reputation from taking a hit on Saturday night.
Going in, the 26-year-old champion has at least two objectives that she must complete in order for UFC 168 to be a success.
End the Fight Quickly
This fight isn't unlike any other sporting event where a major underdog tries to upset the odds and shock the world. The longer the fight goes, the bigger the window is for Tate to win.
Rousey hasn't been faced with a real test in the Octagon. She's always gotten ahead early, locked on the armbar and won in a matter of minutes.
Nobody truly knows how Rousey would handle adversity. Liz Carmouche locked on that rear-naked choke in the first round in her match with Rousey, but the champ never looked like she was in major trouble.
Should the fight get pushed past the second round or so, a tiny seed of doubt could get planted in Rousey's mind. She begins pressing and leaves herself open for Tate to lock in a submission or possibly land a couple of knockdowns that impress the judges.
Neither outcome is good for the reigning champ.
You also have to consider the aura of invincibility that surrounds Rousey in the Octagon. As Ivan Vanko said in Iron Man 2, "If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him."
Even the most minute of weaknesses Rousey shows will be analyzed by future opponents, and they'll start to believe that she isn't the unstoppable monster her previous fights would have you believe.
It's like watching early Mike Tyson fights. Some of his opponents were beaten before they even stepped in the ring.
Then Buster Douglas came along, and it was open season on "Iron Mike."
Win over the Fans
Rousey has become overexposed to the point that she's beginning to lose fans. It's the same thing you see with every major star in any sport.
Of course, her appearance on The Ultimate Fighter did her no favors, according to Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole:
She didn't make many new fans during her coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter. She frequently came across as mean and petulant and constantly seemed to have a sneer on her face.
The fact that Tate beat her head-to-head in the first round of a fan-voting contest to be on the cover of a video game says much about the perception of her after TUF. To be fair, Tate campaigned to win the vote and Rousey did not, but the public outcry against her from TUF viewers was loud and clear.
Tate sums up many fans' feelings toward Rousey (via Fox Sports' Marc Raimondi):
She runs her mouth. She's very loud, very boisterous, very opinionated. Love her or hate her, you take notice of her. I think that's the biggest thing. She's different than most of the girls who fight in MMA. A lot of fans out there have the WWE mentality. Those are the fans that fell hook line and sinker and loved her. She was that controversial one, that s**t talker, she started drama.
The best thing that Rousey can do to swing the fans back to her side is dominate the fight and win quickly. That would make people remember what was so cool about Rousey in the first place. She was a force of nature who made opponents tap in minutes.
What's not to like about an athlete demonstrating mastery of his or her sport?
Since she hasn't fought in 10 months, some have forgotten how talented she is.
By winning, Rousey can get everybody talking about her performance in the Octagon rather than what she said on a television show or how she acts outside of the UFC.
Just ask LeBron James, Ray Lewis and Kobe Bryant, for starters. There is no better redemptive agent than performing well as an athlete.