Ronda Rousey: Is the UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion the UFC's Biggest Star?

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Ronda Rousey: Is the UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion the UFC's Biggest Star?
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Dana White isn’t shy when it comes to making bold claims, but perhaps the most curious of his recent claims is his assertion that Ronda Rousey is the biggest star the UFC has ever seen.

What exactly does it mean to be a star, though? It has something to do with renown, critical acclaim, transcendence, mass appeal and the ability to both earn and generate money. However, the truth is that superstardom, as a concept, isn’t particularly well defined.

There’s an arbitrariness that makes measuring it more difficult than one might think. Sure, we could just count up ticket sales and pay-per-view buys, but many middling talents have had the ability to draw a crowd.

What makes the UFC president’s claim interesting is the fact that Rousey isn’t the biggest pay-per-view draw in the organisation’s history. Indeed, she may not even be the biggest draw on the current roster.

The legitimacy of White’s claim rests on how much emphasis we place on Rousey’s mainstream appeal. She may not be doing the kind of business that Brock Lesnar did—having twice been a co-headliner, her drawing power hasn’t yet fully been tested—but the UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion does transcend the sport, does possess mass appeal and has received widespread critical acclaim for her athletic feats.

Some argue that 27-year-old’s star power is being overstated, particularly in light of Floyd Mayweather’s recent comments. Boxing’s pound-for-pound king responded, “I don’t even know who he is” when asked for his thoughts on the claim that Rousey would best him in a fight.

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This was a clear diss on Mayweather’s part, of course. He lives in Las Vegas and isn’t exactly a hermit, so the idea that he could avoid seeing anything about the former Olympic judoka is comical.

Don’t even get me started on the all-too-deliberate pronoun usage when confronted with an unambiguously female name like “Ronda.” It’s a bit like being asked about someone called “Dave” and replying, “Who’s she?” But I digress.

Does it matter that Rousey isn’t breaking pay-per-view records when she has already made her way into Hollywood, has won an ESPY for Best Female Athlete, and generally receives so much more attention from the mainstream media than any other athlete in UFC history?

Her movie roles and talk show appearances may not directly impact the UFC’s bottom line, but their importance cannot be overstated. The sport just isn’t creating stars quite like it used to, and MMA needs transcendent figures to help shine a light on it and generate more interest.

This is particularly true for North America, where the sport appears to have, at best, plateaued. The UFC’s global presence has never been greater, as I recently argued, but there is no question that recent pay-per-view numbers give cause for concern domestically (around 100,000 buys for UFC 174).

People may argue over the increasing number of events and oversaturation of the market, but the one salient factor that no one disputes is the sport’s chronic inability to create stars. Rousey may be the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak domestic picture.

The simple fact that Rousey is four fights into her UFC career and we are even debating whether she is the sport’s biggest ever star is astonishing. If she continues at her current rate, there’s every chance her drawing power will be a point in her favour in this debate.

Let’s just hope that Rousey doesn’t become so big that she abandons MMA for a full-time Hollywood career. Despite what Dana White says, losing her would be disastrous for both the UFC and the sport.

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