Taschuk on MMA: The Ronda Rousey effect

November 12, 2012, 4:25 AM

By Brad Taschuk

Let’s do a quick synopsis of UFC president Dana White’s stance on women’s MMA, and what seems like a perplexing decision by him recently to allegedly add Ronda Rousey to the UFC roster. When asked about the prospect of women fighting in the UFC years ago, White’s response was that he didn’t like women doing MMA. With some successful shows like Hook ‘n’ Shoot running female fights, as well as numerous organizations in Japan, this was simply seen as another foolish position held by White on a topic he didn’t particularly know, or care to know.

Perhaps the UFC boss softened over time — or simply realized that women have as much a right to compete in MMA as men — as eventually that stance gave way to a thought process that has become most synonymous with White’s feelings on the topic until recently. Women’s MMA is fine, but it just isn’t deep enough to carry a division in the UFC. Even as recently as the UFC 139 post-fight press conference in November 2011, Dana was spouting the same concerns about depth. (Finding articles on White and women’s MMA that haven’t been published in the past few weeks is nearly an impossible task… further illustrating how insignificant a topic he’s seen it in the past).

Fast forward to early 2012 and White could be seen out cavorting with Strikeforce bantamweight champion Rousey who, if we’re being honest, is the only recognizable female MMA fighter since Gina Carano. He was sporting a T-shirt of Rousey’s ESPN The Magazine “Body Issue” cover at a weigh-in, attending premieres with her, and suddenly his tune on females — or more accurately, Rousey — fighting in the UFC started changing.

Despite no real development that has created deeper female divisions (no, Invicta MMA has not made the women’s side of the sport stronger, simply more centralized), gone was the talk about depth issues — despite White’s own admittance as recently as August that the only two female fighters he could name were Rousey and former bantamweight champ Miesha Tate. Gone was the derision White had long held over the women’s side of the sport, and in its place came a new rhetoric about trying out a female division in the Octagon.

Then in recent weeks, White completed his 180, and announced that he was “committed” to having a women’s division in the UFC. And then late last week, rumours circulated that Rousey is a full-fledged UFC fighter. Now I find myself questioning why his thought process has changed so drastically. The major concern he held onto was the lack of quantity when it comes to quality female fighters, and this is something that has not changed, nor could it possibly have time to change in less than a year, the time period in which this about-face has taken place. So then, what are the motives?

First, let’s get something clear. White and the UFC are not interested in getting into the women’s MMA business. They are getting into the Ronda Rousey business. Female MMA as a whole is still not a viable commercial product, simply because MMA as a whole isn’t a very commercially viable product. The entire history of the sport has produced only one promotion which has proven financially stable over the long run — the UFC — while countless others have fallen by the wayside. The UFC has been through the sport-building process, and are now in the business of making as much money as possible.

Developing female MMA isn’t a priority (nor is it a smart financial endeavour) for the UFC. However, they see the potential to make money by adding Rousey to the roster (as despite her exposure she hasn’t proven herself as a ticket-seller or a draw people are willing to pay to see yet), and that is appealing.

Another potential — albeit misguided — reason for pursuing Rousey female MMA is that this year has proven that the UFC brand simply doesn’t carry the same power that it used to, and the higher-ups are realizing how star-based their product is. Gone are the days when any card could pull in 300,000 pay-per-view buys because it was the UFC. PPV sales are closely related to the UFC’s stars being on a card. Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and to a lesser extent, Junior dos Santos and Rashad Evans, are stars that people are willing to lay their money down for. The UFC needs as many names as it can possibly get who are able to headline cards right now, and they believe Rousey could be one of those names. White has gone on record saying that a Rousey vs. Cristiane Cyborg fight could headline a PPV, which while technically true, would probably result in a buyrate along the lines of UFC 147, or WEC 48 (less than 200,000).

Finally, if the UFC opens up a female division it would allow them the ability to retain Rousey under Zuffa employ after Strikeforce ceases operations, meaning she wouldn’t be signed to either Invicta FC or Bellator. We’ve seen the lengths Dana White and the UFC are willing to go in order to prevent talent from staying with competitors, as they overpaid for Hector Lombard and are likely in the process of overpaying for Eddie Alvarez. Why would Rousey be any different?

Were Dana White actually interested in bringing women’s MMA to the UFC, his change of tune would seem confusing and completely out of sorts. Yet after taking a closer look at the developments (or lack thereof) leading to his newfound interest in the female side of the sport, and noticing that his interest really only lies in Rousey and her ability to make the organization money, it makes perfect sense.

It may not do anything to develop the sport for the fairer sex, but as mentioned earlier, that’s not necessarily the number one priority of the organization at this point. It certainly wouldn’t be the driving motivation to change the tune on what was quite frankly sound reasoning for keeping women out of the UFC, but because Dana White is smitten, none of that matters.

Rousey is in the UFC, whether the rest of the women’s MMA is ready or not.

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