As the UFC continues to ascend in the American sports marketplace it is still searching for one thing: a true crossover star. All of the major sports leagues have athletes that transcend the sports themselves. Players who are recognized everywhere they go, who constantly appear on TV, get referenced in music and are a part of the cultural landscape. A few years ago the UFCbelieved they had their guy in Chuck Liddell, but by the time he started to gain traction, he was approaching the end of his career. What UFC President Dana White wants is a fighter who is charismatic, engaging and fights with an aggressive and exciting style. Among the current crop of UFC champions, none have really stepped into the forefront. The most prominent three are Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, and Jon Jones. Silva suffers because he isn’t a native English speaker and is forced to do his interviews through a translator, which stifles his personality and his accessibility to the fans. St. Pierre started out as a dynamic fighter that overwhelmed his opponents with his athleticism and array of skills. However, since he became champion he has become incredibly conservative in the octagon and now routinely wins boring, slow-paced fights. It seemed as though Jon Jones was primed to become the face of the UFC, being the youngest champion in history who also fought like a tornado of spinning fists, feet, knees and elbows. But now, after a few very public missteps, he has become a polarizing figure who is now intensely disliked by many of the same fans who used to love him.
As unlikely as it may seem, the UFC’s first true mainstream superstar might just be a woman. This Saturday, the main event of UFC 157 is Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche. It is the first female fight in UFC history and it only happened because of the rise of Ronda Rousey. A few years ago, Dana White said that women would NEVER fight in the UFC, but Rousey is an undeniable force of nature. The daughter of a Judo world champion, Rousey is the first American woman to ever medal in Judo at the Olympics. After winning her Bronze Medal, Rousey found herself adrift with no money, no job skills and no idea what to do with her life after having such a single minded focus for years. While living in her car, she decided to apply her unique abilities to Mixed Martial Arts and nine fights later (3 amateur and 6 pro) she stands atop her sport. She has won each of her fights in the first round with her signature maneuver, the armbar. It is amazing to watch, because all of her opponents know what is coming and no matter how much they prepare, they cannot stop it. When she fights, Rousey is vicious and she will not stop attacking until you quit. It is a crowd-pleasing style that the UFC can definitely use more of these days.
Along with her prowess inside the octagon, Ronda Rousey has two more things that set her apart; her looks and her mouth. She was on the cover of ESPN’s Body Issue showing off a physique that can only be earned through thousands of grueling hours in the gym and she has made countless TV appearances where she has quickly become one of the best interviews in sports. She is blunt, candid and fearless with her opinions, whether the question is about her upcoming opponent or how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse (Houseboats, man!). The UFC has put all of its marketing muscle behind Rousey in the build-up to this historic title fight because they see the opportunity in front of them. The chance to take this brash, attractive and most importantly, dominant champion and make her a household name who can relate to both its male and female fans is one the UFC can’t afford to pass up.
The fights on the main card feature multiple former champions, giving this event some impressive depth. Here are my predictions:
Josh Koscheck vs. Robbie Lawler – Both of these fighters have impressive knockout power, but the deciding factor will be Koscheck’s wrestling which will allow him to dictate the pace and style of the fight. If Lawler doesn’t damage Koscheck with some big shots early he will be spending most of the fight on his back eating punches and short elbows. Koscheck by decision.
Court McGee vs. Josh Neer – McGee’s strength is that he is hard to hurt and has great cardio, but Neer is the more experienced and highly skilled fighter, so I expect him to frustrate McGee early. If McGee withstands the early pressure his superior conditioning will allow him to take over the end of the fight. Neer by submission in the 2nd round.
Urijah Faber vs. Ivan Menjivar – Menjivar is a very well-rounded fighter, but he is at a disadvantage in almost every area of this fight. Faber is the naturally bigger, stronger and more athletic fighter. He doesn’t get tired and he doesn’t make many mistakes which means that Menjivar will spend the entire fight waiting for an opportunity that won’t present itself. Faber by decision.
Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson – Both of these fighters are former champions, but that is where their similarities end. Lyoto Machida is as diverse and unorthodox striker as any in the UFC. He is hard to hit and difficult to prepare for. If Dan Henderson doesn’t land his Howitzer of a right hand he has no chance to win this fight. Henderson’s chin isn’t as stout as it once was, and it will be tested by Machida’s combinations. Machida by decision.
Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche – The ultra-aggressive and powerful Carmouche is looking to play spoiler to Rousey’s championship coronation. If Carmouche can take advantage of the early striking exchanges then she may be able to force Rousey to fight this fight on her terms. If Rousey takes the fight to the ground and gets an advantageous position then it is only a matter of time before she submits Carmouche. Rousey by 1st round armbar submission.
Enjoy the fights.