Ronda Rousey's journey from interesting novelty act to UFC superstar and champion has been meteoric. She's put women's mixed martial arts on the map, which is good news, but her level of dominance against everyone else isn't doing anyone any favors anymore.
The UFC women's bantamweight champion is a great marketing tool to have on late-night talk shows, SportsCenter, Fox Sports and other programs because she's always good for a quote. She's got movie roles to increase her celebrity, starting with the Expendables 3 and Fast & Furious 7, but what ultimately matters to fight fans is having compelling fights.
For instance, take a look at the buyrates for Rousey's first three UFC fights:
|UFC 157||Liz Carmouche||450,000|
|UFC 168||Miesha Tate||1,025,000|
|UFC 170||Sara McMann||340,000|
The obvious outlier in this group is UFC 168, which comes with two huge caveats. First, the main event of that show was a rematch between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight championship. Silva was also coming off his first loss in UFC.
Second, while Rousey does deserve some credit for helping that buyrate, it was also a product of her longstanding feud with Miesha Tate, which dated back to the Strikeforce event in March 2012 when Rousey defeated Tate to win her first major title in mixed martial arts.
So it's impossible to include the UFC 168 buyrate in this group because of those factors. UFC 157 and 170 are better representations of Rousey's value to the company because she was the headliner on those shows.
Rousey's first match in UFC was going to do good business because it was the first women's fight in company history. That show did exactly what it was supposed to do, with "Rowdy" Ronda winning the title and doing 450,000 pay-per-view buys.
Who will Ronda Rousey's top challenger be?
However, sustaining that momentum with no other serious challenger in the division has proven to be difficult. Her most recent fight at UFC 170 did 110,000 fewer buys than her first fight.
Certainly the blame doesn't go on Rousey but rather on the fact she was fighting an opponent in Sara McMann who is good at what she does but isn't exciting to watch.
The point being Rousey, just like any other fighter, can only take UFC so far. To draw eyeballs, there has to be some kind of rivalry, storyline or even the hope that an opponent can defeat the champion.
Unfortunately, as Michael Huang of ESPNW.com wrote, that opponent hasn't been around yet and doesn't appear to be Rousey's UFC 175 opponent Alexis Davis.
Advanced metrics certainly bear out Rousey's dominance. According to Reed Kuhn, author of 'Fightnomics: The Hidden Numbers and Science in Mixed Martial Arts,' Rousey's average betting line thus far has been minus-584 (not including the odds for UFC 175). At minus-584 odds, that means she's averaged an 85 percent win expectancy, far and away the highest of any female bantamweight.
As for UFC 175, at one point Rousey was a minus-1750 favorite. If that line stays there, she would be the biggest odds favorite in UFC history, with a remarkable win probability of 95 percent.
The biggest problem her opponents have, also noted by Huang, is trying to contain her ferocious ground game and submissions.
She has laid waste to the division, clamping down her patented armbar in eight of her nine professional wins, between the UFC and Strikeforce. Rousey's Submission Attempt Rate is 0.46 attempts per minute on the ground, the highest of any women's bantamweight fighter (the UFC average is 0.14).
And Rousey's submission success rate is an astounding 57 percent, with no one else in the women's division even close. Only Tate has ever survived a Rousey submission attempt -- once in their first fight, and twice in the second. All other Rousey opponents submitted on the first attempt.
Rousey's greatest accomplishment thus far is paving the way for women's MMA to move into UFC, but in order for the division to sustain itself for years, new stars have to be made. The only way to make new stars is by beating the champion.
It's a Catch-22 for UFC, which understands that Rousey is going to be the main drawing card in the division as long as she is around, but the gap between her and anyone else in the division is so wide you could put the Grand Canyon between them.
Things are so dire that Dana White was reportedly deep into negotiations with Gina Carano, who is a huge draw in her own right but hasn't had an MMA fight since August 2009. The talks stalled at the end of June, however, according to Ariel Helwani on UFC Tonight via MMAJunkie.com.
Making matters worse for women's MMA in UFC is that Rousey is planning a break from fighting after her bout with Davis. She made the announcement during an appearance on the Great MMA Debate podcast, via Damon Martin of FoxSports.com.
I have been constantly on the go, charging it since 2010 it feels like. I work in quadrennials so it's 2014 now, so I've gone through like a whole Olympic cycle and I'm ready to take a little bit of a break after this one.
Without Rousey around for however long her sabbatical lasts, what's going to happen to the division? This is the danger for UFC with virtually all of its eggs in one basket.
No one is saying women's MMA will go away because Rousey is destroying all of her opponents. This is still a division in its infancy with UFC—the first female fight in the Octagon took place on February 23, 2013—but right now it looks like the 2009-10 Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James leading the roster and Mo Williams as the No. 2 player.
Rousey is the entry point, but she can't be everything or else those buyrates on shows she headlines will continue to drop, and her value to UFC will plummet.
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