UFC fighter Ronda Rousey brings attention to women’s MMA

Michael Thompson, Contributing Writer

What does it take to be a superstar in the incredibly competitive world of mixed martial arts?

Well first, you need to be good ― perhaps great. You need to do things in the cage that no one has done before. You need to dominate the competition with such ease that you get everyone’s attention.

Ronda Rousey has all of these attributes. Last week, Rousey had another fight, another armbar and another victory.

With one submission maneuver, Ultimate Fighting Championship Women’s Bantamweight Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey has rapidly risen through the ranks of mixed martial arts. Last Saturday, she successfully defended her title against number-one contender Cat Zingano, forcing her to tap out via armbar in just 14 seconds. These quick victories are not an anomaly, either. In 11 fights as a professional, Rousey has forced opponents’ submission in under a minute eight times. Her dominance mirrors the heyday of Mike Tyson’s reign as boxing’s heavyweight champion.

CAS freshman Ben Schneider, a devoted fan of MMA, has never seen anything like it.

“Rousey may be the most dominant female athlete I have ever seen” Schneider said. “She beat someone in 16 seconds, then beat her next opponent in 14. What she’s doing right now, I don’t think anyone has ever seen before.”

To be a successful MMA figure, fighters need presence. Rousey has personality in spades. She is outspoken, honest and, most importantly, intense. There are no smiles when she marches to the cage, just a fierce and focused stare. But after a fight, she is joyous and humbled.

Now comfortably sitting on the throne as queen of the UFC, Rousey’s national celebrity is expanding. Her path to the top wasn’t always guaranteed, however. Women’s mixed martial arts struggled in its initial years, as larger organizations such as the UFC and PRIDE Fighting Championships rejected the idea of women competing in their leagues. There were some signs of progress, such as former Strikeforce Champion Gina Carano’s transition from fighting to Hollywood, but UFC president Dana White was not sold on the idea.

Rousey debuted in 2011. Expectations were high for the 2008 Olympic Judo bronze medalist. She won both her first and her first championship, the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship, less than a year later via armbar. During this period, Zuffa, the parent company of UFC, bought Strikeforce, putting Rousey’s career in jeopardy.

But as the support for a women’s division in UFC grew, White eventually capitulated, and Rousey made her UFC debut in 2013, becoming the first woman to headline a mixed martial arts pay-per-view event. Not surprisingly, she submitted her opponent Liz Carmouche via armbar in the first round.

Rousey’s appeal has only grown since. She continues to defend her championship title, and her reach is expanding. Rousey is now a crossover celebrity, with an upcoming modelling career and roles in “The Expendables 3” and “Furious 7,” still to come out. As the days of Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre fade away, Rousey may be positioning herself as the UFC’s biggest and brightest star.

In a sport that is still male-dominated, Rousey has broken down walls on her way into the spotlight, bringing with her a stable of talented female fighters. Students, such as Stern freshman and former swimmer Esther Chao, look at Rousey as a source of motivation.

“I think any time an athlete like her can put women on center stage, it’s a good thing,” Chao said. “I look at her and say to myself, ‘Hey, we’re just as good and exciting as the guys.’ We don’t get the same attention on TV as men do, but she definitely helps”

It may be some time before Rousey tastes her first defeat, or it may be never. But every time she steps into the octagon, she brings with her a growing fan base, myriad admirers and well-deserved attention to women’s sports.

Email Michael Thompson at [email protected].