If Ronda Rousey loses in any of her early bouts in the UFC, she will have failed the company and significantly damaged the prospective success for women in mixed martial arts.
Is that fair? Absolutely not, but it's true.
Rousey has just signed a historic deal to compete in the UFC, per ESPN. The deal makes here the first female to sign a contract to fight in the largest and most successful brand in the sport.
If you ask the casual MMA fan to name one female MMA fighter, nine out of 10 will tab Rousey first. Ask them to name another and you're likely to hear stuttering, stammering, non-specific references and even mispronounced names.
Hardcore MMA fans know the likes Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos, Miesha Tate and Sarah Kaufman, but the die-hards don't dictate commercial success. That is essentially what Dana White is chasing by signing Rousey.
The events that do huge pay-per-view numbers are the ones that feature the household names of the sport. These names are the stars that sell the most paraphernalia and command covers of magazines.
Enter Rowdy Ronda.
In October of 2011, White said this to a TMZ reporter:
Do you not believe that many MMA fans share or shared the same view on women in the UFC as White did just a year ago?
Will they flip the script as quickly as White has?
What made him change his mind so quickly about women in MMA?
Rousey's looks and fighting ability scream cash cow, and White has retrieved the biggest MMA bucket he could find.
What happens if she loses?
A catastrophe—at least for women's MMA.
The UFC will shake it off, as they have enough stars and a big enough fanbase to absorb her failure. It will likely take a while for many fans of the brand to really buy into Rousey as a main-event attraction. It'll hurt from a public relations standpoint, but it wouldn't sink the UFC.
For the concept of women in MMA on a major scale, an upset early in Rousey's UFC career would be like bringing a prep hoops star from a small town to a national All-Star game—and watching them fail miserably under the big lights.
Not only will fans doubt the validity of the prep star's ability, but they will doubt those that follow from the same background. Again, this isn't fair, but it is how the sports world functions.
By unofficially adorning Rousey as the face of females in MMA, she almost has to carry the torch of excellence for a significant time. Fans need to see her dominate on the major stage to put her over in their minds.
Once she gains the fans' stamp of approval, she will officially be a pioneer for females in the sport. Rousey's toughness, attitude, grappling ability and improved striking are legitimate. However, if she has a bad night too soon, the consequences will be dire.
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