Conor McGregor vs. Ronda Rousey: Who's Really the Biggest UFC Star?

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2015

USA Today

At times, the UFC has found it difficult to successfully promote its top fighters.

Perennial champions such as Jose Aldo and Demetrious Johnson have been unable to captivate the audiences that their skills would suggest they can bare.

The reasoning is never actually solidified, but some fingers point at the smaller weight classes having an underclassman-type feel to the bulkier rosters like light heavyweight and heavyweight.

Others go as far as diagnosing this lack of exposure on the grounds of lackluster microphone skills or finishing ability.

Jun 14, 2014; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; Demetrious Johnson (red) fights Ali Bagautinov (blue) in the Flyweight Title bout at UFC 174 at Rogers Arena. Demetrious Johnson defeats Ali Bagautinov via unanimous decision. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie
Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Whichever cause you choose to back, there's no denying that some fighters simply cannot catch on, even a guy like Johnson, who is the most quintessential pound-for-pound king we've ever seen.

The void that is left often strangles ratings and pay-per-view buys while performances scream for recognition.

But this is the fight business, and whatever the people want to pay for, that is exactly what they're going to pay for. It's a truly cut-and-dry approach to handling millions of dollars and throwing even more cash into promoting a fight, but this is the way it is and the way it will presumably be.

That's why dynamic superstars like interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor and women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey are such polarizing entities in the UFC's grand plan (ironically, they occupy two of the smaller divisions).

Especially when you consider past draws like Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez have either lost their thrones, relinquished their titles or stepped away from the game completely.

As the promotion's two biggest stars, McGregor and Rousey have ushered in their own respective followings. McGregor has initiated a groundbreaking resurgence for international countries like Ireland while Rousey has opened up a gateway in mixed martial arts not only for fighters like herself, but a gargantuan market for female fans who usually wouldn't tune in to see a Diego Sanchez or Matt Brown take to the cage.

Add in the fact that both fighters have an unparalleled ability to make people want to see them lose and you have an ultra-profitable concoction of media coverage, PPV buys, merchandising, commercials, product endorsements and on-the-edge-of-your-seat Octagon action.

But in today's world where someone always has to be No. 1, who takes the cake as the UFC's biggest star?

McGregor is clearly the biggest male star in the sport right now, and Rousey is the biggest female star, but who nudges out the other when we get down to brass tacks?

Some people might make this comparison based solely on PPV buys and how much each star is bringing in on a fight-to-fight basis. That's all well and good because these numbers are often telling, but this is a clash of international trailblazers that warrants a more in-depth approach.

Octagon Comparison
UFC FinishesAvg. Fight TimeStrikes Landed Per Min.Strike Defense

For McGregor, his rise to ultimate stardom is the most rapid ascension to dominance and acclaim that we've ever seen.

From fighting exclusively overseas to headlining UFC events in Las Vegas and Boston in a matter of two years, the 27-year-old Irishman has risen to unprecedented heights in such a short epoch.

While Rousey made her own rapid expansion in the UFC when she debuted back in February 2013, the 28-year-old had already made a name for herself by breaking arms in Strikeforce.

Needless to say, The Notorious has seemingly skipped the introductory stage into the U.S. market and jumped right into superstar status, whether you hate him or adore him. An upcoming stint as a head coach on The Ultimate Fighter Season 22 opposite Urijah Faber should even further his sweeping assimilation.

But at the end of the day, McGregor's self-promoting tactics and leading role in a European takeover is merely one thing he holds over Rousey. Unfortunately, his leverage stops there.

Because for Rousey, her status has surpassed that of MMA.

Sure, an undefeated record, 15-second finishes and a clear stranglehold on a fairly competitive division stand out as some of her strong suits, but it is her unflappable spillover into movies, magazines, television and award shows like the ESPYs that has cemented Rousey as one of the most influential women in the world.

She may not possess the financial powers of an Oprah Winfrey or widespread notoriety of a Michelle Obama, but she represents a movement to empower women worldwide that wasn't necessarily present in sports before her rise to fame.

McGregor does incorporate the skills, quick banter and in-cage flashiness to become one of the greatest UFC fighters of the past 10 years, but his value is only meant for combat.

Could he one day pose as a James Bond villain or run for some sort of governmental position in Ireland when he retires?

Absolutely. He would make a terrific bad guy, and considering how popular he is right now among the Irish people, there's no telling what they wouldn't vote him in for.

But it doesn't stack up to Rousey's Hollywood cohesiveness or her eminence as a women's leader in today's society.

There are certain athletes who transcend the dollar signs, and the UFC women's bantamweight queen is one of them.

Although, Rousey has hinted toward retirement of late, per a report by Marc Raimondi of MMAfighting.com, if she's able to end her career by beating Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino.

An exit from the sport shouldn't take away from Rousey's overall public image, but it would in fact lessen her opportunities to speak, and be heard, on a national platform.

In any case, the 135-pound champion will be on full display come Aug. 1 as she defends her title for the sixth straight time opposite undefeated Bethe Correia at UFC 190 in Rio de Janeiro.

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