Of “The Ultimate Fighter” and Perception – Ronda Rousey, Anna Kournikova, Miesha Tate and UFC 168

One of the interesting things being discussed over the past week has been of the change in perception of Ronda Rousey following the latest season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” It’s been something I’ve followed closely because I recapped this season for Inside Fights as well as my interest in Rousey on a professional basis. Rousey’s someone who has accomplished in MMA as a whole and who, if she retired after UFC 168 for any number of reasons, has accomplished more than nearly any women’s fighter.

She’s a game-changer of the highest proportions.

So the perception of Rousey always interested me because I like seeing what other people think of the newfound star. A good friend of mine nicknamed her “Bimbo Slice” because he didn’t think much of her talents, making an interesting comparison to Kevin Ferguson and Elite XC while watching her in a Strikeforce fight. Yet while covering a different event for Inside Fights while living at home my mother watched Rousey with a certain fascination. She gets a reaction no matter what, which interests me the most.

This is why the “changed perception” of Rousey following TUF 18 is unique as far as I’m concerned. It’s not that she was edited into being a villain, or that we’ve somehow judged her unique personality quirks differently than one of the Diaz Brothers.

We’re seeing an honest Ronda Rousey that the UFC didn’t want to promote coming into the program.

Dave Doyle had a great piece where he interviewed Rousey, which you can read here. And Cage Potato had an interesting Op-Ed on the subject, which is here. And they both are interesting pieces, so give them some click love. And both look to explore who the “real” Ronda Rousey is.

My answer has always been that Rousey isn’t what the UFC wants her to be, or what fans want her to be, or what even MMA journalists want her to be.

The UFC has promoted her as the best woman’s fighter on the planet, which is fair, but in the promotional venues afforded to her going into TUF, her debut fight and UFC 168 some of the focus of major outlets has been trying to focus in on Rousey’s sex appeal. Conan O’Brien or Jimmy Kimmel won’t mention sex and a female guest without it being brought beforehand in show prep, etc, and it’s easy to see what the UFC wants Rousey to be to low information types that make up a bulk of the casual fan base.

They want her as this cage-fighting sex kitten, someone who can bring eyeballs in with her looks and persuade them to open their wallets. Married with Children character Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) may have been a sexist but he was right when he once said that “Pretty women make us buy beer. Ugly women make us drink beer.” Pretty women exist in advertising because they can at least get eyeballs, at a minimum, on a product. It’s easy to see why; she’s a bleach blonde Barbie doll looking woman who’s easy on the eyes. She also happens to double as a legit badass with the Olympic credentials to boot, of course, but she functions in the same way Anna Kournikova did for tennis in the ‘90s.

In the samw way Kournikova’s appeal can be boiled down to “sex with a tennis racket,” Rousey’s sex with a pair of four ounce gloves … or at least that’s what the UFC wanted.

Kournikova never won anything of note in her professional tennis career, she just happened to be significantly more attractive than the average tennis player that she got eyeballs. The UFC no doubt saw Rousey as their Kournikova except with elite level talent. Kournikova got attention like no other tennis player during her career simply because she was attractive and just talented enough to be a professional tennis player. Rousey has that level of attractiveness but adds to it elite level fighting skills. But who is the “real” Rousey when you strip away the P.R and the promotion?

She’s what we saw on the show and what we’ve seen in the cage.

In another life there’d be a painting of her on a throne made up of the skulls of her vanquished enemies like Conan the Barbarian, pondering the riddle of steel. She’s a ruthless competitor who wants to win at everything and has an opponent in front of her who she detests. Rousey and Tate could be friends many moons from now but I doubt it; Rousey wants to be locked inside of a cage with this woman and hurt her for everything she’s said and done.

It’s why for all the cutesy sort of things that Team Tate pulled on this season of “The Ultimate Fighter” the one constant was that Rousey was above it all. She was there to coach and win, nothing more, which went against the sheer volume of promotion about Rousey from her Strikeforce days on. Tate was there to build her brand because she could do loads more on a television show than she could fighting several times a year on the main card in a prominent fight.

As for Rousey … Rousey’s brand is inside that cage. It’s an impolite truth but it’s a truth nonetheless.

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