Going into 2014, the one noticeable thing the UFC is lacking is star power. With Georges St. Pierre retiring, and most of the fighters who were big draws before him already long gone, we find ourselves clinging to names like Nick Diaz and Brock Lesnar as guys who might be able to come back and maintain the heights that UFC has seen in the past, and on Saturday Night I think that the vocal Las Vegas audience shed some light on who might be the UFC’s next great heel.
A simple passing up of an immediate post-fight hand shake from Ronda to Meisha made the crowd at the MGM give one of its biggest reactions of the night. A small wave of boos started to form, and as Rousey’s face was shown on camera more and more, and they replayed her refusal to shake hands with Tate, whom she had just submitted via her signature armbar, the boos grew into a steady constant sustained hail of vocal negative energy pointed directly at the champ. And we all know how irrational it can get when an uproar of booing breaks out at a Vegas UFC event, but this seemed direct and intentional, and most of all, genuine.
When asked at the post-fight press conference whether or not she was surprised by the reaction she received after defending her title in a fight-of-the-night performance, Ronda acknowledged her status as someone the crowd didn’t want to see succeed.
“I wasn’t surprised at all, I was aware of the role I was in.”
The crowd reaction was quite refreshing in a way. Part of the problem that some of the UFC’s champions and main event fighters face, the ones who fail to break away as big draws despite impressive resumes anyway, is that they aren’t memorable in a way that the viewing audience is willing to spend money on. Towards the end of Anderson Silva’s middleweight title run, after he had started exhibiting the showboating and clowning around against his opponents, there was a segment of the fan base paying attention just to see if Silva would lose. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have people dislike you, especially if they can route for your demise, and pay to see it.
I think it would be worse if fans didn’t appreciate her fighting style, which clearly isn’t the case. Rousey moved to 8-0 as a professional, with two UFC title defenses and has the distinction of saying every single fight she’s fought has gone her way by armbar. Her skills and athleticism are among the best in the UFC, and thus far she has been superior to all of her competition, and I don’t see anyone on the horizon possessing a serious threat to her reign as champion.
As long as Ronda remains unfiltered and unapologetic in the media and towards people she doesn’t like, and keeps on winning in dominant fashion, more and more people will be interested in her fights. Ronda is also the face of women’s mixed martial arts, being the first and currently the only female UFC champion, and the first woman to fight in the UFC. She is a pioneer in the sporting world and this naturally brings more mainstream media attention.
The combination of her dominance in the cage, and brash, sometimes unsportsmanlike behavior create the sort of must-see scenarios that this sport is made of. A lot of people watched GSP fights to see if and when he would finally lose, and Chael Sonnen wrote the book on how to create media backlash to hype a fight, so it has been proven that being someone the fans love to hate can pull in big numbers. UFC President Dana White announced at the post0fght presser that Rousey will headline UFC 170 in February opposite fellow Olympian Sara McMann, in a that fight should show us how Rousey holds up as the main attraction, without the luster of being the first women’s fight in the UFC or having Silva vs. Weidman booked right above her fight. Looking ahead to a future in the UFC without names like George St Pierre, and possibly Anderson Silva, I think that the strong reaction Rousey gets can’t be bad for business.