At the end of the red carpet Tuesday night to celebrate the premiere of Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey chuckled at the irony.
It was only one year ago when Rousey was one of the coaches on Season 18 of the UFC reality show. It was a six-week ordeal that left Rousey fuming about the editorial licensing.
Yet there she was, not only the UFC’s brightest star but, with three movies under her belt, a veteran ofHollywood red carpets.
And she was promoting a show — albeit a historic one for the sport, featuring all women in a new 115-pound division — that she once swore she would never do again.
“Everybody knows how I feel about the show and how it was produced, but I’m here solely to support the strawweights and the new division. And I’ll do everything I can to support the women in the sport,” the undefeated 135-pound champion said. “If that takes going to support a show that I did not have a great experience on, that’s what I’m going to do because that’s what the women in this sport need. And whenever they need something, I’m going to try my best to always be there for them.”
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It’s a telling statement. No one has done more for women’s MMA, and few better understand the importance of having another division to propel the movement.
And that means another women’s champion to help shoulder the burden, which is not lost on some of the TUF 20 competitors.
When asked what the name Ronda Rousey means to them, the fighters replied in reverential tones.
“I don’t think there’s gonna be anyone like Ronda Rousey,” Justine Kishsaid. “It doesn’t make sense to put anyone’s name with it. There isn’t going to be anyone in the planet that’s like her.”
Said Jessica Penne: “The name Ronda Rousey means opportunity. I mean, she really has done a huge service to the women’s MMA community. I don’t think there is a next Ronda Rousey. I think she’s her own entity.”
Which begs the question: Is it fair, as some have said, that the eventual TUF 20 winner and new champion is being referred to as possibly the next Ronda Rousey?
“That’s a tough one. I don’t know if there can ever be another Ronda Rousey. She’s that special,” UFC co-owner, chair and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said. “Hopefully, one will become the next superstar. Maybe not at the level of Ronda, but we’ll see.
UFC president Dana White has implied it, however, saying he thinks they might have “another Ronda Rousey” from the show. When quizzed whether that was a fair statement, White said, “I don’t know. We’re gonna find out. I think so though. I’m impressed.”
The problem is, the next Ronda Rousey needs to be more than just a title holder. They need to sell pay-per-views. They need to be in demand. They need to be on magazine covers. They need Hollywood to cast a longing look.
Being Ronda Rousey means moving the needle.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell, a breakout star in his own right with his mohawk and head tattoos, said it might not be a fair comparison.
“That’s putting it a little far,” Liddell said. “That’s putting a lot of pressure on that person to be someone who’s very dynamic and has done very well for herself. But is is a big platform for women to showcase what they can do. And it puts a little pressure on the girls to fight, not just be safe and win, but win impressively.”
UFC bantamweight Urijah Faber, one of the most popular fighters in the sport, said it is difficult to forecast.
“I don’t think so. You never know,” Faber said. “You don’t get to pick and choose who shines, and Ronda shines for a lot of different reasons. And it’s possible there could be someone who really stands out, but it may not even be the champion.”
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