In the world of MMA, the women's division is ruled by Ronda Rousey.
She’s snatched the position created by Gina Carano years ago and ran with it into stardom. Even though Carano has been away from the sport for years, she’s still a name that draws attention when mentioned. As talks between Carano and the UFC seem to have stalled, according to Mike Chiappetta of Fox Sports, one must ask if her return is not only in her best interests but those of women’s MMA as a whole.
Gina Carano made history when she took to the Strikeforce hexagon and became, along with Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino, the first women's main event of a major MMA card. Even though she was toppled in brutal fashion by Cyborg, that one moment led to Carano's leap into the movie industry.
At the same time, it pulled her out of the cage for what would be a five-year hiatus. In those five years, women’s mixed martial arts has grown by leaps and bounds.
UFC President Dana White softened his hardline stance against letting women compete in the Octagon. Many attribute that change of heart due to the rise of Rousey. How could you blame him? Rousey immediately become one of the sport’s most important stars and is branching out into other ventures just as Carano did before her.
Comparisons between the two quickly became the norm for fans and talking heads alike. The momentum for a Rousey vs. Carano fight has picked up in 2014. White has even gone on record to say that Carano “deserves” a shot at Rousey. This is Dana White doing the job that he’s become known for doing. While both individuals are trailblazers for women in combat sports, it’s clear where the overall value for this fight lies.
A few things are certain when addressing this potential contest.
First, Rousey, Carano and the UFC would make enormous amounts of money on what would most likely be the biggest women's fight in the sport's history. If this bout was made in 2014, there would be a shot for it to be one of the most watched of the year as well. Rousey's promotional debut at UFC 157 against Liz Carmouche had one of the highest pay-per-view buyrates of 2013.
Even though her second title defense of the year was a co-main event against Miesha Tate on UFC 168, that card ended up being the best-selling event of 2013 (although the show also featured the rematch of Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva). A fight between Carano and Rousey would be promoted so well that it would easily surpass UFC 157 if not come close to the seven-figure buyrate of UFC 168.
The second certainty of this bout is that Carano would be a major underdog to Rousey. Whether this fight took place at 135 or 145, Gina would be facing an individual that would be the best athlete she's ever fought. Rousey has faced tougher matchups while enduring a higher level of scrutiny than Carano ever dealt with in her career.
Asking Gina to return after so many years away from the sport to face the pound-for-pound queen of women's mixed martial arts would be asking way too much, especially if the expectations are for her to be competitive. Many expect Rousey to dispatch of Carano quite easily.
“I really feel that it's just kind of a joke,” former title challenger Tate stated on MMAjunkie radio. “It really is. Gina was a great fighter, and she's a beautiful woman. Ronda is a great fighter, and she's an attractive girl. But to say that Gina should be able to come in after five years of nothing and take on arguably the best female fighter ever? Come on.”
With top fighters such as Holly Holm and Cristiane Justino waiting in the wings, it's clear why the UFC is making a push to obtain Carano's services. As debates rage as to whether or not mixed martial arts is a sport or entertainment, this conversation will stand as a point for those who believe it is clear entertainment. Rousey vs. Carano does have appeal, but that demand comes in the form of dollar figures, not sporting value.