Going into this Saturday’s card you’d think Ronda Rousey would just have to show up to win. Liz Carmouche isn’t the sort of fighter one expects to give Rousey any decent run for her money in the same way that Sarah Kaufman and Meisha Tate weren’t expected to (and didn’t). Carmouche opened as a 15-1 underdog in December on the gambling circuit and right now Rousey is a decided -1100 favorite. The line hasn’t moved much as gamblers are still content with the idea that Rousey should take the fight (and take it in a rout). And while MMA is a sport, and not scripted entertainment, the surest thing in MMA still has to be “Rousey by armbar” right?
It’s that dilemma that makes the pressure Rousey is facing at UFC 157 more than any other fighter in modern UFC history. In fact the only other fighter who’s faced similar pressure would be Royce Gracie upholding his family tradition at the very first UFC in the “no holds barred” era.
Rousey and Carmouche, who are making history as not only the first two women to fight inside the UFC’s Octagon but the first two fighters to make their UFC debuts in the main event of a card, represent a watershed moment in MMA. But for Rousey the pressure is much higher because she’s expected to wreck Carmouche.
Carmouche has everything to gain with this fight. She’s not expected to last the first round, much less win, and as such anything she does is going to be considered an accomplishment against Rousey right now. She’s a profound underdog, perhaps the biggest in a UFC title fight, and merely surviving the first will be considered a moral victory for her. If she can take Rousey past the first round Carmouche will have defied most expectations for the fight. She’s a tough, savvy fighter and has enough skill to be able to make this a competitive fight. If she does even that it’ll be a surprise to many people. That’s a lot less pressure than what Rousey has to face.
Right now the Olympic Judoka is the face of women’s MMA. She’s the one ESPN asked to be in their “Body” issue (and got a cover which apparently sold exceptionally well) and the one getting unprecedented coverage coming into this week’s fight. Rousey’s the first MMA fighter to be featured on HBO’s “Real Sports” and has gotten more coverage, and done more media, than any fighter in her position would have coming into fight week. No one has more expectations coming in, either. When you’re labeled the female equivalent to Mike Tyson by many people, including Dana White, the expectations are high.
Women’s MMA also needs her to win, and win in dominant fashion, for it to have a reasonable future in the UFC. Rousey as the women’s champion means that WMMA has a viable future in the UFC, at least for as long as she’s a full-time fighter. She’s the reason the UFC crafted a women’s division in the first place and without her as its titleholder the future for WMMA in the UFC is short. Forget people thinking of her as over-rated and such with a loss to Carmouche; no one in the women’s division has that “rock star” persona that Rousey does. Without her the division has a short shelf-life in the same way Elite XC was finished as a promotion the moment Seth Petruzelli stopped Kimbo Slice on CBS.
As the undefeated, badass champion of the world “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey means something because she’s the sort of package appeal you’d want in a women’s champion. But with a loss, especially in her first outing in the UFC, Rousey’s ability to be a drawing champion is damaged beyond repair. The build to her championship fight has been one of Rousey destroying her competitors in brutal fashion, finding an arm that needs a barring whenever she can. She’s a force of nature and watching highlights of her previous fights is difficult at times because of how deadly she is at that staple of grappling.
There’s an air of menace to her that only Mike Tyson in his prime had. But Tyson lost that aura as soon as Buster Douglas stopped him in Tokyo and he never got it back. Unlike Tyson, though, the hopes of a division didn’t ride on him like they do on Rousey.