UFC bantamweight women’s champion Ronda Rousey is easy to love and hate, somehow all at the same time. Of course, it’s that dichotomy of emotion that she inspires in mixed martial arts fans that keeps them glued to the television screen every time she fights.
Since 2011, Rousey’s fought and won decisively 10 times professionally. Four of those victories were for UFC pay-per-views and each and every time Rousey seems at once to be the worst and best person in sports — an identity that’s exemplified in New Yorker writer Kelefa Sanneh’s recently published profile about her.
Take this single sentence for example, which the New Yorker piece discovered Rousey once wrote in 2008 for her now-deleted blog in her pre-MMA days:
“I really do try to be a good person, but sometimes I just feel like deep down I’m a selfish egomaniac and there’s nothing I can do to make up for it.”
People generally need years of therapy to uncover that level of acute self-awareness. Rousey did it herself when she was just 21. You’ve got to respect that, right? But then you realize she’s identifies as a selfish egomaniac and you remember, “Oh yeah, I don’t like her.”
But the most interesting passage in Sanneh’s New Yorker essay that explains why Rousey is so simultaneously liked and disliked is this one:
Part of the problem with being a dominant champion, like Rousey, is that fans are never satisfied with mere dominance. We want to see a great fighter tested and possibly hurt—at which point we reserve the right to start muttering that the great fighter might not have been so great after all. In order to keep the attention of a restless audience, Rousey needs to find another Rousey.
MMA fans both love and hate Rousey for her dominance. Regarding the former, one can’t help but be mesmerized by her remarkable skills. And regarding the latter, well, after watching the same show over and over again during which Rousey soundly beats her opponents, people seem to just yearn for something new to do. Booing is slightly different than cheering, after all.
Of course, all this raises questions about the current state of the UFC women’s division and female MMA fighting, in general. Does it exist outside of Rousey? Keeping with the theme of dichotomies, the answer is both yes and no, at least in its current state.
“Rousey is the woman who made women’s UFC possible, and now she may signal its downfall… The company may believe that women’s MMA is ultimately unsustainable because most competitors aren’t up to the challenge.”
So what’s a Rousey-dominated UFC women’s division to do? Hess suggests UFC President Dana White, whose arm had to be twisted (not literally) to allow female competitors in his promotion in the first place, “invest more seriously in women’s athletics — and not just throw all of their resources behind the one exception to the rule.”
White is attempting to do just that. Although his latest efforts — to set up a women’s strawweight division (for women up to 115 pounds) — won’t find a rival for the five-foot-six-inch Rousey, who grapples in the 135-pound bantamweight division.
Hey, it seems if you can’t beat ‘em, set up another division in hopes of finding a mini-Rousey to join ‘em.