When Gina Carano brought women's mixed martial arts to the forefront less than five years ago it was due to her sex appeal. She never came across as charismatic or supremely talented. But she was paired up in favorable fights to continue winning and use her looks to become a star.
When she finally fought someone in her weight class she was dispatched from MMA in a rude way. Cyborg Santos ushered her out with brute force. Cyborg had a little buzz around her due to her violent style, but it never matched Carano's appeal to the casual fanbase.
Fast forward two and a half years later and the next women's MMA superstar has arrived. Not because of her looks, but because of her talent and charisma. Ronda Rousey is the complete package.
Most will probably argue that her looks do a play a part, and I may concede a small portion to that. It happens across all women's sports. However, unlike with Carano, even the casual fans did not take notice of Rousey until this title match where she did numerous interviews that captivated the audience because of what she had to say, not because of how she looked while saying it. Coupled with the promotion of her numerous armbars, trash talk and, yes, her beauty the world of MMA became intrigued with the fight versus Miesha Tate.
The major difference between these two stars is that the audience is putting aside her looks and focusing on her performance. And that is what is exciting for the future of women's mixed martial arts.
When Carano would fight all I would hear from fans at bars and private parties would be talk of her looks. There was no talk of her striking or victories or other women. It was sex appeal.
Prior to Saturday the talk among casual fans in Columbus was about Ronda's brutal armbars and her trash talk. She has a charismatic personality that transcends. Fans were excited to see her talent on display inside the cage, not her physique.
When fight night came fans filed in to Nationwide Arena waiting for the main event. The other fights simply did not excite the crowd... except Sarah Kaufman vs. Alexis Davis.
Without the promotion leading in to the fight many in attendance had no idea of who they were, but once they traded leather it did not matter. They were in to it.
The Columbus crowd gave that fight numerous standing ovations and applause throughout its duration. And after the fight, even though they booed the decision, cheered Kaufman and her victorious performance.
When the main event came around there was a buzz inside the arena that I had only felt a handful of times in my time of attending live MMA events. The pre-fight anticipation of the crowd may have been only matched by Fedor and Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen. It was that electric.
Once the fight started fans were jumping out of their seat with the fast-paced action that ended with another brutal armbar from Rousey. The crowd erupted. And when she got on the mic the crowd responded to her near heel-like interview.
This is what women's MMA needed. A superstar who is not just style and not just substance but a combination of both. It will not turn women's MMA into an overnight success much like Carano's work did not. But it will grab the attention of other high level female athletes who will look at MMA as a possibility now.
Don't believe me? 2012 Olympic judoka hopeful Hannah Martin has already stated her interest in MMA.
That will be just one of many. And the post-Olympic fallout of athletes looking to compete at a high level will be an indicator of just how far we have come in the development of women's MMA.
Sure, the case can be made that like Carano, Rousey will be the lone star and not assist the development of women's MMA. But I don't find that to be the case. Simply from how differently the fan's respond to her I sense that fans are genuinely beginning to change their tune on women's MMA. It's no longer two women fighting, it's two athletes.
Ronda Rousey has elevated the game. Not by looks but with skill and charisma. The new Strikeforce 135-pound champion can lead women's MMA to new heights as the newest superstar of the sport.
Originally posted on my personal blog: accbiggz.wordpress.com