Ronda Rousey seemed destined to be one of the biggest stars in the sport as she ascended the ranks in Strikeforce before arriving in the UFC with the inevitable closure of the second tier promotion. She was attractive enough to be an easy sell -- an unfortunate marketplace reality -- while also being so stunningly good at what she did and so willing to embrace the most violent aspects of the sport that she seemed a natural to fill a "big drawing superstar" slot.
Her arrival in the UFC went over well. She and Liz Carmouche sold well on pay-per-view and she was great in the media blitz that came with the arrival of "girls in the cage." She was personable enough and successful enough in competiation that she received the opportunity to star in -- or at least be in -- The Expendables 3 and The Fast and the Furious 7.
Red flags did crop up at times. On one notable occasion Rousey posted a video suggesting that the tragic Sandy Hook shootings were a government "false flag" operation. That the video was moronic isn't the point. Rather, it was a moment where that lovable violent prizefighting woman became a bit of a crackpot in the direct wake of the deaths of many children.
The Sandy Hook video hiccup was nothing that couldn't quickly be smoothed over, and that's what happened before the fight with Carmouche. So, after filiming her movie roles Rousey received the inevitable opportunity/burden of a position coaching on The Ultimate Fighter.
TUF can do weird things to a fighter. Some come across as truly caring "coaches," others as surprisingly good personalities, and on rare occasion the show hurts someone's image. Rousey fits solidly into the third camp.
Rousey stormed off when she found out that Cat Zingano had been replaced by Miesha Tate, residual effects of the bitter feud between the two the first time they fought. She cried angry, frustrated tears when things weren't breaking her way on the show. She coached from what many felt was a selfish place, focusing on trying to "beat Tate" rather than do what may have been better for the women and men she was supposed to face.
Since the TUF stint, Rousey has given a series of bizarre interviews. She was angry and standoffish during a UFC cageside interview, she is less friendly with mainstream reporters than she was during the first time through a UFC press tour.
Dennis Hallman talked about a run-in he had with Rousey during TUF and pulled the "mental illness card":
"I do think that Ronda has some sort of mental health issue," Hallman said. "It's either that or she's severely immature. She acts like a 14-year-old boy trapped in a woman's body, always trying to make everybody think that she's tough when really she's just not sure of herself. I knew she wasn't going to do anything. She's not going to go about and slap someone or anything like that. She definitely just wants to assert herself and make herself feel like she can get in someone's face."
Cris Cyborg, a rival who may never get to fight Rousey, went to the same place:
"Ronda is a little mentally sick," Cyborg told MMAFighting.com. "Miesha is more focused. I don’t know if that’s because Ronda is younger, more competitive. The mental aspect can affect her, but what makes you win inside the Octagon is training. The better prepared fighter will win."
The sure-thing, darling that could carry the UFC into a new era is now having to talk about how she's ready to embrace being booed when she faces Tate for a second time this Saturday at UFC 168. She's now an angry, possibly mentally ill bully who may or may not be focused depending on how Hollywood has affected her. Dana's dream of a Diaz brother in a beautiful body has gone the nightmare route of...acting like a Diaz brother!
It's a new era in sports, obviously. One where the always on nature of the internet and, especially, the 24/7 marketing/disaster opportunity provided by social media means that the smallest things can be blown up into bigger ordeals than they truly are very quickly.
But how much of this is fair to Rousey?
She's a competitor. I have no idea about how deep the ranks go in female judo, but I'm assuming it's no cakewalk to take home Olympic bronze. She exploded into mixed martial arts and dominated everyone she faced. Five of her seven wins have come in less than a minute, and that includes fights against experienced and talented fighters like Julia Budd and Sarah Kaufman.
I tend to agree with former Bloody Elbow staffer Mike Fagan's take on things over at MMA Owl:
Yet, the thirteen hours of Rousey on TV ended up as the biggest disaster. Rousey went from smiley-blonde-Olympic-bronze-medalist-turned-MMA-champion-with-a-quirky-personality to frowny-blonde-Olympic-bronze-medalist-turned-MMA-champion-with-a-sick-obsession-with-competition-and-maybe-some-stunted-emotional-growth-too-but-hey-that’s-just-Ronda-being-Ronda-right? Part of the problem is that Rousey is a woman. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Tiger Woods all share the same psychotic characteristic and are lauded for it. But those guys also have huge PR firms who would never allow a reality show to illuminate said psychosis.
Sports fans -- and, I suppose, society in general -- is going to look at someone like Rousey as being more broken than she actually is because we're less equipped to deal with and less experienced with hyper successful, hyper competitive, hyper driven female athletes. Women's tennis gets a lot of love in the world, but less in America, and even in the cases where a female tennis player gets famous it's often with a focus on their looks and a strong desire to just have them look good and play well.
And, the most successful WTA players are making serious money to train and do little else. Maria Sharapova topped the Forbes list of highest paid female athletes with $29,000,000, Serena Williams was at $20,500,000 They've got much stronger management behind them than anyone in the MMA space and they certainly aren't responsible for the same level of press or the same expectations. Nor are they stuck on a reality show with no control over the editing process.
What Rousey has is likely less of a personal problem and more of a brand management problem. Yes, some things are entirely her doing (the Sandy Hook thing will forever stick in my craw), but there's a reason that a guy like Georges St. Pierre had his image so meticulously managed. GSP's management is why he made as much money as he did. Sure, a few MMA fans got themselves in a twist that he didn't really run his own Twitter account, but that never hurt his drawing power and it probably kept him from one or two unnecessary issues. She shouldn't be in a position to do the Brandon Vera style (seriously, check out his Facebook sometime) conspiracy theory posting nonsense. Someone should be there saying "hey, what benefit do we get from this?"
Rousey doesn't have the friendly personality that people may have thought initially. And that is perfectly fine, so long as the UFC and her management adjusts accordingly.
Media appearances will have to happen, and they should. They're a part of building her brand and she is an interesting personality. But minimizing the ways that her drive, a drive that almost all great athletes possess, can come across as her being "unlikable" and maximize the ways that it will be seen as a strength.
Does the ability to manage such a complex brand exist in the UFC infrastructure? I suppose only time will tell on that.
But Rousey's main job should be exactly what it always has been. And it's the thing she's best at.
Note by Brent Brookhouse: The original article said that Rousey won an Olympic silver medal. Rousey won bronze at the Olympics and silver in the world championships.