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Is Ronda Rousey Becoming Too Commercialized?

Photo Courtesy of AP

“Once in a lifetime doesn’t apply to Ronda Rousey. It’s once ever in human history.”

UFC commentator Joe Rogan’s tantalizing description of MMA’s pound-for-pound queen is spot on. No female athlete in human history has ever captured the widespread media attention as Rousey. Forget about MMA. Rousey dominates all in the media market.

Serena Williams, Danica Patrick, Maria Sharapova, Stacy Lewis — it doesn’t matter. All of these women have attained iconic status in their particular sport, but there has never been anything quite like the “Ronda Rousey Show.”

Grown women cried when Rousey arrived in Brazil to face nemesis Bethe Correia, and a child snuck past a barricade just to hug her.

Television has become a common occurrence for Rousey, who recently became the first female athlete ever to serve as a guest anchor on ESPN SportsCenter. Her face is plastered all over magazines, billboards and the silver screen. The movie studio set is quickly becoming her home away from home.

Life has been a blur for Rousey in the last three years. She has built an empire based on intelligence, beauty and simply being the baddest woman on the planet. People love you when you’re on top so much that being a champion in the UFC can become an act of holding on.

You take fewer risks and become more business savvy for fear that a loss could ruin it all. Sometimes you become a commercial champion.

Invicta featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino is the most dangerous opponent available to Rousey, but the fight has never come to fruition. Justino has offered to cut down to 140 pounds in an attempt to bridge the weight gap, but Rousey sternly declined any form of a catch-weight fight. It’s an all-or-nothing drop as far as the UFC champ is concerned.

But that line of thinking contradicts Rousey’s own belief that she is the “greatest fighter of all time,” which is what she said during an appearance earlier in the year on America’s Pregame.

“The greatest of all time” takes on all comers. Rousey competed at 145 pounds when she started in MMA, and she has competed in an even heavier weight class during her bronze medal-winning Olympic run in Judo.

But all of that has been purposely ignored in the Justino discussion. Instead, we got to see Rousey knockout Correia, an unlikely contender who had never even fought a top-10 opponent. Before fighting Rousey, all of Correia’s opponents had a combined record of 1-7 in the UFC.

Holly Holm is next on-deck for Rousey, and while she has an extensive boxing resume, she is still relatively raw in MMA. Like Correia, she has yet to even face a top-10 fighter in the women’s bantamweight division. The UFC could have easily gone with Miesha Tate or even Amanda Nunes as the next title contender, but they opted to expedite Holm’s build and throw her right into the fire.

It all makes sense from an economic standpoint. There would be a huge risk involved for the UFC to green light a catch-weight fight between Rousey and Justino. As for Rousey, she is forced to balance the weight of legacy and business.

The competitor within Rousey wants the fight with Justino. She probably wants it at featherweight. Nothing would be more satisfying for Rousey than moving up in weight, defeating Justino and proving without a shadow of a doubt that she is an all-time great.R

But a hefty risk comes with that potential reward. Justino is bigger, stronger and more athletic than anyone Rousey has ever stepped into the cage against. She also has one-punch knockout power.

So far, Rousey has opted to go the business route. She will only accept the fight if Justino can make 135 pounds. The idea of a physically drained Justino fighting Rousey after an extensive weight cut isn’t flattering from a fan’s perspective, but it does lighten the load for Rousey.

Former world champions like B.J. Penn and Randy Couture, who took on all comers in multiple weight classes, were cut from a different cloth. They chose legacy over business. It was always about taking on the next challenge and not slipping into paranoia over a UFC title.

Rousey is an incredible athlete who will undoubtedly go down as one MMA’s all-time greats. She could easily set herself apart from the rest of the legendary pack by moving up in weight and defeating Justino. The path to all-time greatness is laid out in front of her as vibrant and visible as a yellow brick road.

All she has to do is push business aside and walk forward.

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