After 20 days of wild speculation and calculated innuendo, I honestly can’t decide if it’s more difficult to imagine a world where Ronda Rousey next defends her UFC women’s bantamweight title against Gina Carano or one where she doesn’t.
At this point, both seem equally preposterous.
And equally possible.
In their unwavering refusal to die, rumors of Carano vs. Rousey officially became the Rasputin of unconfirmed MMA stories this week. Carano herself fanned the flames Monday, telling Fox Sports’ Damon Martin she’d be “very open” to resuming her fighting career if the “circumstances” (read: money and workload) were to her liking.
"I feel like I can't say too much,” Carano teased. “I've got all this information that if I could just speak freely, this is actually what's going on. ... I think to sum it up in a nice, safe way for me is, if circumstances were right (I would come back) because my first love is MMA.”
So there you have it. We’ve now heard from each of the principals in this big-budget melodrama. Rousey says she’s in (at 135 pounds or a catchweight), UFC President Dana White says it’d be a no-brainer and now Carano—if we can read between the lines a bit—says if the world’s largest MMA promoter fills her swimming pool with Scrooge McDuck money, she might dive back in.
Everyone has been very careful to remind us that nothing is finalized, but the obvious assumption is that now it’s just a matter of getting all those very large numbers to fly in formation. It's all still very hypothetical, but more and more, it’s starting to look like a megadeal might actually be possible.
How you feel about that probably depends on which side of the equation you’re on.
From the inside looking out, it’s easy to see the appeal of this fight. These are professionals we’re talking about, after all. The very least surprising aspect of this story is everyone’s apparent willingness to sign on for a slam-dunk pay-per-view hit.
Carano clearly has wares to sell—her newest movie drops on April 4—but if her IMDB page is to be believed, her future calendar looks pretty wide open. With the popularity of female MMA currently sky-high, a meeting with Rousey might constitute both her biggest available payday and her best chance for extended exposure.
Plus, despite the fact she hasn’t fought in five years, Carano remains a fighter in her head and in her heart. It’s possible she exists in a world where she actually has a chance to win.
To Rousey, meanwhile, Carano no doubt represents the most advantageous kind of matchup: big money accompanied by very little risk. She’ll be off this summer making the Entourage movie and last week told Fox Sports’ Marc Raimondi that her fondest wish for her next Octagon appearance is to "come out completely unscathed and just go straight from the fight to the red carpet."
If that’s her mindset, Carano fits the bill.
For people who don’t stand to directly profit from this fight, however, things look a little different. If you like your UFC as a place where the best take on the best and championship opportunities always go to the most deserving, this bout shapes up as a bitter pill to swallow at $54.99 a pop.
Fight fans literate enough to appreciate both women’s resumes do not expect any contest between them to be competitive. In fact, it’s tempting to say the proposition of this fight more succinctly lays bare the gap between MMA the sport and MMA the for-profit entertainment venture than any other in recent memory.
For the record, there would be nothing wrong with Carano returning to fight in the UFC’s bantamweight division, assuming she can make the weight. But fast-forwarding her into an immediate title shot? Or even a catchweight bout against the best female fighter in the world? That’s impossible to justify, at least from any standpoint that concerns actual athletics.
The last time she fought was August of 2009, at a different weight and in an organization that no longer exists. Oh yeah, and she lost.
As long as we view Cris “Cyborg” Justino, Holly Holm and Cat Zingano as the most credible threats to Rousey’s crown, a fight against Carano would be dismissed as a cash grab—and a fairly audacious one at that. Especially so long as the UFC professes to have no interest in Justino or Holm, both of whom continue to toil on the independent circuit.
But again, there’s nothing wrong with booking a fight simply because it stands to make everybody a lot of money. The trick is, you have to get people to tune in.
As long as hardcore fans’ bellyaching about mismatches and beauty pageants doesn’t prevent us from actually lining up to buy the PPV, our objections can only carry so much weight.
In the end, our desire (or lack thereof) to see Rousey fight Carano probably has a lot to do with what kind of fights we like to spend our money on and what kind of MMA world we want to live in.