On Monday, Ronda Rousey was in a car heading to New York, doing a phone interview when her other line rang. On the other end was UFC president Dana White, calling to congratulate her for her weekend victory. As you might imagine, White does not ordinarily spend much time thinking about women’s MMA. With the UFC as his main priority, the Zuffa part-owner doesn’t devote much time to Strikeforce, and even less to the females on that promotion’s roster.
But in a flash, Rousey had ascended to become a legitimate gate attraction. Less than a year ago, she began her professional career. Five fights, five first-round submission wins and series of headlines later, she was the Strikeforce bantamweight champion, defeating a far more experienced opponent in Miesha Tate.
During her quick rise, the 25-year-old played her hand like a virtuoso, capitalizing on her background as a 2008 Olympic judo medalist, her blue-eyed, blonde-haired California girl looks and her unflinching aptitude for violence. That made the promoter in White grin from ear to ear.
Calling her "unbelievable" and predicting she'd be a "huge star," White was about as animated in discussing Rousey as he is in talking about his top male stars like Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones. But his words were tinged with a little bit of frustration. For those who follow women’s fighting, the situation is obvious that problems await Rousey, through no fault of her own.
"Unfortunately, I think she’s going to end up being the Lucia Rijker of our sport," White said during a press interview in New York City on Tuesday, bringing up the name of the former undefeated female boxer. "She’s so nasty that I just don’t think there’s enough competition out there for her to showcase in great fights.”
White said that unlike someone like longtime middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva, who has turned back challenge after challenge, Rousey may not get the consistent opportunities to face worthwhile opponents. After beating Tate, the options are limited. Former divisional champion Sarah Kaufman, who has an excellent career record of 15-1 -- is almost a certainty to face her next.
But beyond that, who is there? Perhaps a rematch with Tate is the best option due to the bad blood between the pair. Women’s featherweight champ Cris “Cyborg” Santos is currently serving a suspension due to a positive steroids test which has tainted her reputation, but a match between the pair could be a big money-winner at the box office.
A look at the rest of women’s best shows a thin crop of potential challengers. Veteran Marloes Coenen is no longer with Strikeforce, and Sara McMann -- herself a former Olympic medalist, but in wrestling -- might also be a future option, though she's currently signed with upstart promotion ProElite.
“Ronda Rousey isn’t going to have that type of career where there’s going to be all this amazing talent that you can throw out there that she can beat," White said. "That’s what I’m saying: there’s not enough depth in the women’s divisions right now.”
For now, White, who helps run Strikeforce when not overwhelmed with the UFC’s exploding schedule, is trying to remain hopeful about the future. He recognizes the value in the big one-off fights that Rousey can help build with her verbal and physical skills, but the possibility of a fully stocked division remains a far-off dream.
At least for one night, the women stole the show in mixed martial arts, and even the president of the larger, more established sister company at the UFC couldn't say otherwise. And while the cupboard isn’t completely bare, White doesn’t have many ingredients to keep the formula fresh.
“It’s all good stuff,” he said, “but the difference is I’ve got 375 guys who do that every day. I have two women, you know?”
UFC President Dana White (above) embarrassed after Gray Maynard beat Clay Guida by split decision to win a lightweight bout and the main event of the UFC card in Atlantic City.
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