Rousey vs Holm & The Paradigm Shift: Will One Kick Change Everything?

Raquel Pennington, Holly HolmNovember 14th, 2015. The night that one kick changed everything… or at least it has the potential to. It’s why we love MMA; a sport equal ­parts thrilling and cruel where the trajectory of fights and careers can change in an instant. Ronda Rousey, the darling of women’s MMA and one of the most engaging characters in the history of the sport, has reaped it’s many rewards of fans, fame and money; will she now become it’s latest victim? The next few months will be telling as to just how big of a star Rousey is in the grander scheme of things. Were her fans more enamoured with the person, or the fighter? Everybody loves to back a winner; basic principles of social psychology say that it’s easier for those caught up in the pack mentality to get behind an undefeated, untouchable whirlwind of victory than someone for whom guaranteed success isn’t as clear cut. Will the Rowdy Army rally around their fallen general, or will the historically­ proven fickle nature of MMA fans switch allegiance…or even ditch women’s MMA for good? That last question is probably running through Dana White’s mind ad nauseam in the mist of his Sunday morning hangover. To be completely blunt, the women’s 135 lb division has existed as little more than a factory production line of opponents for his star to trample. While it’s obscenely premature to start talking about Saturday’s loss being the beginning of the end for Rousey (or at least her immense bandwagon), White has to be wondering exactly how bright a Ronda­-less future might be. The UFC hasn’t come close to spending the time and effort promoting another female athlete in the way they have with their first ever women’s champion. Even the equally beautiful, personable and arguably #2 fighter in the division – ­ Meisha Tate – has only gotten real promotional play as a foil for Rousey. This month’s Fight Pass has been Tate­branded, but in the same week White had told media that the disgruntled fighter should “…probably retire” if she is not happy with her lot. Of course, that could all change with the massive paradigm­ shift at the top of the mountain, but do Holm vs Tate, Tate vs Corriera, or Holm vs Zingano hold the same kind of allure as any contest with Rousey’s name on the billboard? Will the UFC be willing to put time and effort into former drug cheat Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino if there is no Rousey ‘super fight’ as a payoff? This is where we’ll learn if women’s MMA in the UFC is truly fashion or fad. This is all discounting the possibility that people are in fact just as enamoured with Rousey the athlete and the person as they are with riding the Rousey bandwagon. In the (as yet, brief) aftermath of last night’s shocking upset, the story of Rousey losing has gained more traction than the fairy tale of the woman who beat her. The social media narrative is almost exclusively Rousey-focused, as fans and media strip down the loss and dissect the circumstances around it like some bizarre forensic examination of fame, fortune, pressure and psyche. Paths and Parallels Questions are already being – and will continue to be – asked of Rousey herself. Did Holm beat her at her best, or did she down a fighter distracted and weary from her own media tour­de­force and the lure of Hollywood’s promised mainstream fame? Is Rousey destined to follow the career trajectory of Gina Carano? Both were poached by the movie business at the peak of their fighting careers while finally meeting their match in the cage. Carano hasn’t fought since…is Rousey destined to be Gina 2.0? There’s another potential parallel to consider; Georges St Pierre. In 2007, it was unthinkable that the young French ­Canadian would lose his belt to Matt Serra. The fight was written off as an obligation to the (then hot property) Ultimate Fighter reality show, on which semi­-retired veteran Serra had won a title shot. St Pierre had barely been scooped off the canvas before talk of him being a mentally broken fighter had begun; rumours given credence by hushed whispers of personal distractions and sports psychologists. GSP’s championship calibre came to bear in the aftermath of that wild, April night in Texas; he would return from his massive upset defeat to forge one of the most dominant, impressive and lucrative careers in the short history of the sport. Rousey is, as she has stated on infinite repeat throughout the media tour for UFC 193, no stranger to coming up short. She did not win gold at the Olympics, or become a world champion in her chosen sport of Judo. She was unable to completely step out of her mother’s impressive shadow on the mats. Instead, she accomplished an arguably greater feat; picking herself up, dusting herself off and mounting an assault on a completely different sport that will probably never be replicated. If past truly is precedent, Rousey’s tenacity may see her take the opposite path to Carano; postponing her inevitable switch to the Hollywood hills until she’s taken ‘her’ belt and Holm’s arm back to the trophy cabinet. The odds would be much more reasonable in a rematch, but there’s no reason to think that Rousey wouldn’t still be the favourite. If it really was pressure that broke the 28­-year ­old, Rousey’s biggest test will be how she deals with that outside of the cage moving forward. She’s the global cover star of the UFC’s 2016 video game and is set to star in a remake of cult ­classic Road House. A second loss to Holm would see her written­ off as finished by the unwashed masses; things are not going to get any easier. Parallels to Carano and St Pierre are fine in principle, but when you strip away all the hype and hyperbole of the UFC’s marketing machine, there is a universal truth about Californian that cannot be denied. Ronda Rousey is truly unique; she will no doubt continue to surprise us in both victory and defeat. By Brad Wharton @MMABrad48

Written by Brad Wharton

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