Ronda Rousey and Adrien Broner: Are they combat sports' next big thing, or products of promotion?
One is a flashy, trash talking rising star from Cincinnati, the other an outspoken former Olympian turned arm bar specialist looking to revolutionize women's mixed martial arts in ways her predecessors could not. For boxing's Adrien "The Problem" Broner, and mma's Ronda Rousey, the road to super stardom, as much gold and jewels that make up the path, there are just as many forks and potential dead ends. As arguably the biggest breakout fighters in their respective combat sport, both have been charged with the duty of carrying the mantle for the next decade if time and skill allows as such.
Rousey becomes the first female world champion in UFC history and her meteoric rise through the world of mixed martial arts is nothing short of admirable. No matter how critical of her I remain, I can't help but to give credit to her intelligent approach to how she has mapped out her career path. Ronda gets that in today's sports world the brand matters almost as much, if not more so than the athletic accomplishments.
Combat sports current box office mega star Floyd Mayweather successfully merged entertainment and ring ability in route to becoming the highest paid athlete in the world and boxing's biggest pay per view attraction. He hangs with A-list rap stars, commands the attention of fans and foes alike, and not matter what they may think of him, Floyd understands that even the most casual boxing fan will likely pay the 60 bucks to watch him do something as routine and obvious as brushing one's teeth: Win a fight.
Adrien Broner has a different set of criteria on his plate. He must both prove his highly touted skill in the ring against the world's best, and at the same time successfully replace the man in which he's crafted his entire outside and inside the ring persona: Floyd Mayweather. More than Canelo Alvarez, more than Nonito Donaire, Adrien Broner is looked upon as boxing's inevitable heir to the mainstream throne. However just because he's the apprentice to the keeper of that kingdom, the aforementioned Mayweather, doesn't mean he'll glide into that position with as much ease and natural comfort as Floyd did in 2005 when the era of Roy Jones Jr. came to an end.
Much in the same way Broner will have to fill Floyd's shoes; Rousey will have to lift the bar higher than her predecessor Gina Carano. Carano was the most popular female fighter in the world before shifting her focus to box office action flicks like Haywire. She was the face of a sport that barely hovered about women's boxing in the eyes of sports fans. Women's mma would not be in a position to hand Ronda Rousey the baton had it not been for Gina Carano. Rousey in turn must open a lot more doors and set a higher standard for her successor down the line.
Great expectations of a rising star are also set by their level of competition. Adrien Broner just dispatched the universally recognized #1 lightweight in the world in Antonio DeMarco, capturing the WBC version of the 135 pound title in so doing. That performance made a believer out of many skeptics and made his detractors frantically search for more reasons as to why he's not a legit talent and budding mainstream attraction. A future bout with WBO champion Ricky Burns, should he unify the title with the IBF belt held by Mexico's Miguel Vazquez is one both Broner, his team, and boxing fans have wanted since 2011, when Broner was the mandatory challenger for Ricky Burns' WBO title at 130 pounds (super featherweight).
Ronda Rousey securing and winning a fight against Cris Cyborg will dramatically define her career both in the short and long term. She will have beaten the woman once considered the best female fighter on the planet pound for pound; and the one who literally sent Gina Carano into retirement.
Aside from Cris Cyborg the fights for Rousey in the world of women's mma are as concrete as the fights that await Broner in boxing. The trouble with having a sport that isn't nearly as establish as its male counterpart or boxing is that opponents for a rising young champion are often a game of "cycle". Plus Dana White is more concerned about how much money he stands to make off Rousey the brand, and not Rousey the champion. The question remains if he would stomach possible stiff competition for his new cash cow.
Two questions remain: First, is carefully matching Rousey with showcase opponents better than having her prove her mettle against the best? And how do you orchestrate such a venture? Is a defeated Rousey at the hands of an equally talented fighter better than an undefeated Rousey with a belt but has on her record a Conga line of C and D level opponents?
What I mean by a "defeated Rousey at the hands of an equally talented fighter" is, would it be better for Ronda's star power for her to build rivalries with equally great fighters despite maybe losing along the way, so that she has more career defining moments than to just have her in showcase fights in hopes that her mainstream appeal will outpace whatever she does in the cage because it simply wouldn't matter because people would want to see her regardless of who she's fighting?
Time will certainly answer our questions concerning both young fighters. One thing is certain however: Hype and expectation are not mutually exclusive. At some point the moment will be force to respond to current events, thus shaping a new moment. Rousey vs. Cyborg is a moment in which a highly touted yet still unproven champion will have to account for all the attention and red carpet affair given to her by the UFC. Whenever that fight happens if at all, we'll know by that time.
As for Adrien Broner, Gavin Rees is levels below Antonio DeMarco and therefore we're right back where we started with the young man they call "The Problem". I do think he's the real deal but I won't go as far as to say he's the next Floyd Mayweather, nor will I rush to put him in my top ten pound for pound list like Ring Magazine did. Although, the Ring was purchased by Oscar De La Hoya, who owns Golden Boy Promotions, of whom Adrien Broner fights for.
Fighters mention in this post:
Ronda Rousey (UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion)
Roy Jones Jr.