UFC 175 Star Ronda Rousey Isn't the Royce Gracie of Women's MMA—She's Better

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UFC 175 Star Ronda Rousey Isn't the Royce Gracie of Women's MMA—She's Better
USA TODAY Sports

It's disconcerting to find beauty in the midst of absurdly cartoonish violence, but there was something jaw-droppingly gorgeous about Ronda Rousey's UFC 175 win over Alexis Davis.

Watching Davis fly through the air, her night already over long before Rousey's perfect harai goshi throw ended all doubts, was mesmerizing. It may have lasted less than two seconds in real time—but in that moment, and in our memories, Davis hung in the air forever.

It's here, in those eye blinks when time freezes and jaws drop, that legends are born. To watch Rousey is to see combat sports history written right before your eyes.

Davis came into her title challenge looking fit and ready. Gone was the soft doughiness of her last fight. Standing in front of us on press row, back to the cage, Davis looked powerful, her core and shoulders rippling with muscle.

None of it mattered. Rousey was across the cage. All hope was lost.

MMA is more than the sports world's foremost expression of human aggression. For all its inherent brutality, it's really a sport of angles and mathematics. The best fighters, like Rousey, are human calculators, constantly gauging distance and position, looking for the most minute opening and then striking like a mongoose.

In the history of combat sports, there's never been a woman athlete this compelling.

John Locher/Associated Press

For decades wrestling and boxing promoters have attempted to create a female superstar. For decades they have failed. "Foxy boxing" and mud wrestling have limited appeal. That's what separates Rousey from her predecessors.

Others have had the cheesecake factor, and a handful have had the athletic skill. But none have combined them, adding a predator's cold stare and an eternal chip on their shoulder to boot.

In 1993, Royce Gracie ran through the field at UFC 1 like a 175-pound elephant. No man could stand before him. His art of Gracie jiu-jitsu placed him on another plane than his opponents, men who had not yet learned what the new face of fighting would look like.

Rousey and Gracie are often compared for this reason. Like Gracie, no one can stand before Ronda for much more than an instant. Like Gracie, she's established a dominance that has foes quaking before the bell ever rings.

But while the comparisons are meant to be complimentary, they actually aren't fair to Rousey.

Women's MMA is not in the same place the men's sport was when Gracie reigned. Gracie was a martial encyclopedia in the ring with savage ignorance. Rousey has no such advantage. Her opponents are highly trained martial artists.

When Gracie fought Ken Shamrock, the Lion's Den founder was completely unaware of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the transformative martial art that changed the world of fighting forever. Davis, by turn, was a black belt in the same art. She's fought professionally for seven years, competing with some of the very best women in the sport. She's not Shamrock—she's a more sophisticated, skilled fighter than Ken ever was.

That's the truly exciting thing about Rousey. It's not that she's a shark among guppies. She's a shark among sharks. And her teeth are only getting sharper.

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