If there’s a plus side to women’s MMA lacking depth, it’s that “super fights” are easier to comprehend. Take the case of Cristiane Santos (the most menacing champion there ever was) and Ronda Rousey (the galvanizing force of brand new interest).
Rousey has gnarled the limbs of every woman put in front of her and used them as dusters to clean out Strikeforce’s 135-pound division. “Cyborg” treated Jan Finney like a ragdoll for eight sadistic minutes, until Kim Winslow -- the third woman in the cage -- finally signaled the copter.
But here’s the crux: If the divisions were deep, there would be no Jan Finney as challenger. And there would be at least a contrarian outcry about putting together the 145-pound champion and the 135-pound champion, not seeing the point of two crescendos coming together.
Instead, it’s the only fight that looks right. Better yet, it’s the only fight that looks colossal, intriguing and positively “must see.” Rousey is the true crossover artist in the fight racket right now. She is the Royce Gracie of women’s MMA, and there are plenty of unsuspecting girls wondering if they could do what she’s doing. This is how it starts. Ask any number of fighters on the UFC’s roster how they decided to make a living trading punches and they cite watching skinny, unassuming Gracie at UFC 1.
That’s where women’s MMA is at. Right around UFC 1, when depth wasn’t a concern but curiosity was.
Rousey, like Gracie, is a link to possibility. She’s a slightly shy, at times audacious blonde who makes fighting look easy. So easy that she can break limbs quicker than she can a sweat. That’s what happens when you wake up defending your mother’s armbars in lieu of an alarm clock.
The bottom line is, there's nothing but fresh captivation going on with Rousey.
And right now, with Santos serving out a suspension for anabolic steroids, there’s an antihero out there. She’s 10 pounds heavier, and 100 pounds meaner, but “Cyborg” is the Ken Shamrock of UFC 1. If the fight is made, Rousey should come out in train formation, arms on Manny Gamburyan’s shoulders, wearing the Gi.
All of this plays into the bigger picture, which is that Rousey inspires interest and crossover appeal in ways that the UFC can’t. No matter how much you stick Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones on television, the idea of pugilistic men not only predates civilization, it’s always been a very real niche within it.
Rousey isn’t the barrier jumper for women in combat sports, but she could be the one who makes girls conscious of crossing the bigger barrier still. The one that goes: “That could be me.”
In fact, at the UFC 150 pre-fight news conference, when the UFC’s Jon Anik opened the floor to the public, it was a group of teenage girls who asked most of the questions. One prefaced her question with, “I’ll be the first woman to fight in the UFC ...” That’s an evolved attitude, and Rousey is helping with the inroads that something so far-fetched is now at least possible.
Of course, there’s more. Part of Rousey’s appeal is that she doesn’t show the toil. There isn’t any cauliflower on her ears, no thick leathery brow that looks like it could stop buckshot. She shows up and leaves in mint condition. And because she’s been so dominant in her night job, she’s popping up on Conan O’Brien and on the cover of magazines. There’s no bigger intrigue in MMA right now. Not in terms of communicating with the general public, anyway. For all of the discussion of the UFC on Fox’s crossover potential, Rousey need only torque an opponent’s arm and then smile.
That’s why a fight with “Cyborg,” should they work out the weight barrier, becomes the biggest fight in women’s MMA history. Yes, Rousey’s defended her title only once and has a grand total of nine fights. But it’s all the young benefactors out there contemplating a judo class. It’s all the impressionable minds, like the ones that watched the VHS of Gracie beating Shamrock and ended up either a fan, or a practitioner.
That transcends the lack of divisional depth in women’s MMA. In fact, Rousey is very directly addressing the issue each time she fights.