Rousey reigns, but she didn’t get there alone

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With all the buzz surrounding Ronda Rousey (9-0) who just defeated Sara McMann in order to defend the UFC bantamweight title for the third time this Saturday, viewers may, again, be reading headlines that claim Ronda is responsible for the increased interest in female MMA. Aside from that statement only being partially true, not all Rousey’s publicity is even favorable. When Ronda made the choice to appear on reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter while she was preparing to fight rival Miesha Tate at UFC 168, it became clear that previous admirers hadn’t quite noticed one of the primary aspects of Rousey’s character — namely, her prickly personality. Rousey claims the show made a decision to cast her as the villain and used scenes in such a way as to portray that role. But it was still Rousey who extended her middle finger toward Tate, as one episode very clearly showed.

One famous instance of the Rousey personality is when she called out UFC ring girl Arianny Celeste, both of whom placed in in Maxim’s 2012 “Hot 100” by saying, “It would have been really funny if I’d beaten Arianny Celeste, because that would be like a triathlete coming along and beating the runners in a marathon. Like, ‘Haha, it’s your job to show your t****** — I do that better than you!” Afterward Celeste admitted, “She’s paving the way for women’s MMA,” but added, “she should definitely recognize that and be nice.”

Rousey is a competitor and has never asked to be loved by her audience — her goal has always been to win, and win she will. But she’s not going to do it quietly. Since her emergence into the spotlight in 2012, Rousey has been involved in her very public rivalries with competitors like Cris Cyborg — who famously failed drug testing and was suspended from the Octagon. Shortly after Rousey’s recent win against Sara McMann, Cyborg took to Twitter again to show her excitement, calling out UFC President Dana White to arrange a fight.

Rousey is undoubtedly the fighter to beat, but it seems MMA fans aren’t ready to give her the respect they give to, say, Gina Carano. Analysis of Twitter trending topics from social media tools (I used Viral Heat) show that while Ronda is being discussed far more than Carano (in the past week, Ronda’s name was mentioned on Twitter almost 300k times, while Gina clocked in at close to 150k) Carano’s mentions are about 70 percent positive, whereas Rousey clocks in at around only 50 percent positive. Of course, the top phrases paired with Carano’s mentions are, unsurprisingly, Rousey’s name.

A fight between the two has been anticipated since Rousey’s appearance on the scene. Rousey isn’t opposed to the idea, either. As she likes to say, she’s not stupid, and knows Carano paved the way for her own career.. but she’d still like to fight her. Rousey told the NY Post, when asked about former Strikeforce headliner Carano: “I would never be an MMA fighter if it wasn’t for [Carano]. I’m not dumb enough to not be grateful… I just say thank God for Gina Carano. I really think what she’s doing with films is just as much an influence on women’s MMA as her fighting again. She’s continuing to represent us very well, bringing women’s MMA to an audience that doesn’t know MMA really at all. Of course I would [fight her]. I would just hope that she’d be OK. Obviously, I’d want to win. What she did before me has radically changed my life.”

At least Rousey has realized what many others shouldn’t forget: that it is Carano who carved the throne that Rousey now sits on. Before anyone cared about women’s MMA, when Dana White was quoted stating there would never be a female UFC division, Carano worked to bring female MMA into the limelight.

Before that, even, there were stars like Megumi Fujii, who was around before Cristiano “Cyborg” Santos arrived, and had 18 submission victories before Rousey submitted an opponent. When Fujii began her career, there weren’t nearly as many female MMA competitors as we see today. Despite the majority of her fights taking place in Japan, women worldwide have cited Fujii as a role model. When she finally competed in the Bellator 115-lb tournament in 2010, fans were finally given the opportunity to see her skills in action. She has never earned a MMA title, but she won on 26 occasions, and inspired many other women to strap on some gloves.

No matter how long Rousey stays in the spotlight, or if another steps up to take her place in the coming years, it will still be up to the continued presence of powerful female fighters to expand what Carano, Santas, Rousey, and others have done.

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Elizabeth Eckhart is a Chicago born blogger who can be followed on Twitter at @elizeckhar

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