Full Contact Fighter’s “The Daily Takedown:” Take Two: Can Ronda Rousey in 2013 Do What Brock Lesnar Failed At?
By Joshua Molina
A year ago the biggest star in the history of mixed martial arts, the man who attracted the most Pay Per View buys in UFC history, the behemoth who convinced the mainstream press to pay attention to MMA, Brock Lesnar, retired from the UFC.
Who knew that the massive mastodon would be replaced as the biggest star in the sport by a girl?
Well, not just any girl. Ronda Rousey is a woman and a fighter who can probably judo throw and armbar most guys.
Lesnar went back to the WWE, where he battled John Cena in a WWE-style, no-holds-barred match that is widely regarded as one of the most realistic WWE matches in recent years. Lesnar reportedly signed a $5 million deal with WWE to work 20 shows over the year – a incredibly sweet deal, considering that by comparison UFC heavyweights Junior Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez earned a paltry $400,000 and $200,000 for their performances Saturday night.
Lesnar was undoubtedly the most babied athlete in the history of the UFC. He was granted a heavyweight championship title shot against Randy Couture, who was at the end of his career, after just three professional fights, one of which he tapped out in. (And people complain about Chael Sonnen’s title shot against Jon Jones in April).
Truthfully, if mixed martial artists are the best fighters in the world, and the UFC is supposedly made up of the best mixed martial artists in the world, Lesnar never deserved to be inside a UFC cage. Lesnar was a much better athlete than Kimbo Slice, but he wasn’t much better of a fighter inside the cage.
But he was big and well-branded from his days as WWE champion. And Dana White knew it – and rushed him onto the big stage. It was another example of Dana White’s business brilliance. Lesnar made the mainstream press pay attention.
Suddenly the UFC was appearing regularly on the sports pages. Lesnar’s second fight with Frank Mir drew 1.8 million Pay Per View buys – a UFC record, and a phenomenal number.
But Lesnar never took off after that. He battled diverticulitis, which set him back nearly a year. He was never the same. Lesnar was nearly knocked out by Shane Carwin in his first defense of the title, but rallied back to win by arm triangle choke after Carwin ran out of gas.
Lesnar would never win again. He was KO’d by Cain Velasquez and then Alistair Overeem. After eight fights, he retired. The UFC’s biggest money maker was gone before he started and along with it, the UFC’s big mainstream star.
A year later, the UFC is on the verge of lightning striking twice. Much like White lured Lesnar to the UFC, White has lured Rousey to the UFC.
Bigger than Anderson Silva, Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and any other UFC star, Rousey is the talk of the MMA world.
Nearly ever year-end MMA list has her as fighter of the year, and her match with Miesha Tate is at the top of many MMA match of the year list. Her potential, so far, is unknown.
First, she’s no Lesnar. Rousey can fight. She’s an Olympic Judo Bronze Medalist. She has tapped out all nine of her opponents in less than one round.
There is no MMA comparison to her rise. The closest thing is Mike Tyson from the 1980s.
The UFC has great athletes. St-Pierre, Silva, Velasquez, Jones, Benson Henderson, etc., are well-proven, fantastic athletes. The unfortunate reality is, however, that no one outside of the MMA world, and MMA beat writers know who these stars are.
If the UFC wants to grow in 2013, it badly needs Rousey to win and be on television. She represents a growth area for the UFC. She’s a beautiful star that fans enjoy looking at; she can be a role model for other female athletes; she seems to have all the talent necessary inside the cage to succeed.
In essence, she can do for MMA what Tiger Woods did for golf, what Billie Jean King did for tennis, and what Madonna did for pop music.
Like Lesnar, there’s a lot riding on her success.
She could be the one to finally erase the “human cockfighting” stigma that remains among people who don’t understand the sport. She could be the one that convinces the cynics to pay attention to MMA and perhaps gain an appreciation of the sport.
As the UFC continues its quest to legalize MMA in New York, Rousey, a U.S. Olympian, could be essential to winning that battle. She might make lawmakers pay attention.
Rousey will headline UFC 157 against Liz Carmouche in the first UFC women’s match in history, in a fight that could change the future of the UFC, beyond just another Pay Per View.
Lesnar flamed out when he had his big chance to forever alter the business.
In 2013, with Rousey, the UFC, fans and the MMA world get another chance.