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Can Women’s MMA Survive Without Ronda Rousey?

Ronda Rousey
Photo Courtesy of AP

Thousands of emptied chairs neatly surrounded the UFC Octagon in a deserted arena early Monday morning in Australia. Remnants of half-eaten food and empty beverage containers filled garbage cans to the brim, signaling the aftermath of a big show.

The spiritual energy left behind by 56,214 human beings echoed from beyond the hallowed walls of Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. An arena that was joyous and full of life for a moment in time had been reduced to nothing more than a desolate sanctuary. People always leave whenever the show is over.

For years, Ronda Rousey had been the star attraction of the UFC’s traveling circus.  She was the Olympic judoka blessed with beauty and brawn. Fans from all over the world would buy tickets to a live event or gather around a television to witness her destroy world-class fighters in less than a minute.

Rousey wasn’t just some prize fighter capable of selling a lot of pay-per-views. She became a cultural phenomenon.

Hollywood movies, television appearances, a biography — Rousey’s life was consumed with far more obligations than stepping into a cage. She appeared on the front of magazines and billboards for things that had nothing to do with MMA. Her celebrity status had taken a universal turn, and the UFC benefited from it every step of the way.

More eyes on Rousey meant more eyes on the UFC. Business boomed to historic figures, as Rousey proved the largest MMA promotion in the world could be spearheaded by a woman. She was the most popular champion the sport had ever seen, until it all came crashing down at UFC 193.

Holly Holm, a world champion boxer-turned-MMA fighter, put a punctuation mark on Rousey’s title run with a six-minute boxing lesson and a devastating head kick knockout. MMA fans watched in disbelief as Rousey’s motionless body crashed to the canvas in complete finality.

The Ronda Rousey show had finally come to an end.

Talk of a rematch has already permeated the media circles with UFC President Dana White recently saying it “makes a lot of sense.”

But it may not make a lot of sense for Rousey. The former women’s bantamweight champion was completely outclassed by Holm. It was the type of lopsided beating that forces an athlete to go back to the drawing board, not step right back into the fire against the same opponent.

In an Instagram post, Rousey claimed she would “take a little time” and return at a later date. With Rousey out of the picture, there is some genuine concern for the future of women’s MMA.

A photo posted by rondarousey (@rondarousey) on

The show will go on with or without Rousey, but it’s still unfair to expect anyone to step in and take her place. Holm may never produce the same kind of star power that can carry a pay-per-view card. Women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk may never climb any higher than a co-main event spot on a marquee event.

We’ll learn in the future if either champion is capable of moving the needle enough to warrant some serious marketing attention. Rousey’s run at the top planted the seed for women’s MMA, and it has matured into a permanent and prosperous commodity for the UFC. The women’s bantamweight and strawweight divisions are loaded with talented fighters that have been acquired from all around the world.

Women have become every bit as important to the UFC insignia as men. Rousey’s brief absence could lend the way for the development of new stars. The UFC managed to develop new stars when Anderson Silva lost to Chris Weidman and Georges St-Pierre went on an indefinite hiatus. It isn’t far-fetched to believe the same could be done in the women’s bantamweight division.

There is also the likelihood that Rousey returns. Her rematch with Holm should do monster pay-per-view numbers, and if she wins, it would setup an even bigger rubber match.

Women’s MMA will be just fine.

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