No one else dominates like her
In gold-medal run, she refused to fail
If skill and work ethic are what separate an ordinary competitor from a champion, domination is what separates the greatest of those champions.
Rousey has laid waste to her sport, let alone her division, sporting a 10-0 record (all by submission or knockout). The UFC has rarely seen the type of domination Rousey has rattled off. She's single-handedly elevated a women's division that the UFC's own president, Dana White, at one point said was "a joke" and never would be part of his promotion. Now Rousey is one of White's biggest draws. She's not only commercially viable in mainstream media -- something that would have been unthinkable for an MMA fighter just five years ago -- but as a female she's equaled her male counterparts.
That's why Ronda Rousey should be the Female Athlete of the Year.
We've seen some spectacular female athletes excel and win championships in 2014, including the other two ESPY nominees for Female Athlete of the Year: Maya Moore of the WNBA champion Lynx and Breanna Stewart of NCAA champion UConn. Also, Petra Kvitova just won Wimbledon and Michelle Wie took the Women's U.S. Open. If we were talking about Serena Williams from 2012 and 2013, she'd probably give Rousey a run for her money. But Rousey alone has dominated her sport this year.
Rousey's been criticized for facing inferior competition, but is that a commentary on how good she is rather than her mediocre competition? She was so much better than the No. 1 contender that Las Vegas bookmakers at one point had her as a minus-1750 favorite over Alexis Davis -- a world-class jiu-jitsu practitioner -- at UFC 175. She dispatched Davis in 16 seconds.
That's domination worthy of an ESPY winner.
I'm not picking Mikaela Shiffrin because she won a ski slalom gold medal in Sochi. I'm not casting my vote her way because she won overall World Cup and world championship titles last season. I'm also not voting for her because, at 18, she became the first woman since 1972 to win an Olympic slalom event. Shiffrin didn't earn my vote because of what she accomplished; she won me over with how she got it done.
I'm thinking about a specific moment in Sochi, and I'm thinking about a mistake.
It happened midway through Shiffrin's second slalom run, after a brilliant start in less-than-ideal conditions. Carving around a gate, she hit a soft patch of snow, was thrown off balance and had her left ski shoot out from beneath her. Right then, as the crowd gasped down below, Shiffrin could have given up hope, succumbed to the power of her mistake and spent the next four years wallowing in how close she'd come to fulfilling her dream.
Instead, in that moment, which she later recounted to reporters, she said to herself, "No, do not do that. Do not give up. You see this through." She corrected her skis midair, avoided a fall and finished with a two-run time that was 0.53 seconds faster than three-time Olympic slalom medalist Marlies Schild of Austria, who took silver.
Shiffrin's first Olympic gold medal didn't come to her effortlessly. Hers wasn't a win without flaws. And that's why I loved it. Under the brightest of spotlights on her sport's biggest stage, against the best women in the world and under pressure intense enough to melt athletes twice her age, Shiffrin made a mistake. But she kept her head, believed in herself and won an event no American woman had won in four decades of trying.
Now that I think about it, I'd like to nominate Shiffrin's performance in Sochi for another ESPY ... Comeback Performance of the Year.
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