Former UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey lost to Holly Holm at UFC 193, a fact that will be repeated many many times for many many weeks and months to follow. Rousey is by far the UFC's biggest star right now and the biggest mainstream star the UFC has ever had. Her crushing defeat has some wondering if this will damage her status as the top draw.
With that in mind, the New York Times has compiled a list of the top 10 fighters who are most likely to replace Rousey as the UFC's biggest star "in the months ahead." To my personal surprise, Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt were not on the list. They had to make way for UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, who comes in at #9.
Some fans do not like the smaller fighters, but they often put on a fast-moving, action-packed show. The affable Johnson is the only U.F.C. flyweight champion in history and has methodically defended his title seven times. No one doubts his skills, but a few more knockouts, and maybe a little less geniality, would help his popularity.
You know, Demetrious Johnson. A dominant champion who is so popular that they closed off the upper section of the Bell Centre due to awful ticket sales at UFC 186. Johnson has never headlined a UFC PPV that performed above 205,000 buys.
Slipping in just ahead of Mighty Mouse at #8 is former WWE star CM Punk!
Though the sport continues to mature, there is still a lot of carnival in mixed martial arts, and most fans enjoy that. Brock Lesnar was an accomplished heavyweight champion, but his popularity in the cage stemmed in large part from his years in professional wrestling. Now another colorful wrestler, C.M. Punk, whose real name is Phil Brooks, is set to try his hand at M.M.A., with a debut sometime in 2016. There is no telling how good he will be, and many people expect him to flop. But if it turns out he can fight, his background will make him one of the most watched fighters very quickly.
Well, the only things CM Punk and Brock Lesnar really have in common are their ages (Punk is 37 and Brock is 38) and the fact that they're WWE wrestlers. The chances that CM Punk's physique captivates an audience in the same way that Brock Lesnar's did are pretty damn low. There's also the whole "Lesnar was a highly successful collegiate wrestler" bit that Punk doesn't have going for him.
At #7 is umm ... Anderson Silva.
The king of M.M.A. for years, Silva holds the record for most consecutive U.F.C. wins, 16. Flamboyant and cocky, the Brazilian would have topped a list like this for a decade or more. But the last few years have not been kind; he was knocked out while showboating against Chris Weidman and lost his title, then suffered a terrible leg injury in the rematch. After a year away, he returned, then failed a drug test. He plans to return to the Octagon in 2016, and there will be excitement when he does. But at 40, his time may be past.
If we ignore that Anderson Silva is in his 40s, is no longer the best fighter in the world, currently under suspension, and was never the biggest star in the sport at any point in his career, then yeah it's definitely possible for Silva to have a late-career resurgence.
#6 through #3 are Chris Weidman, Holly Holm, Jose Aldo, and Conor McGregor. Let's skip to #2 where the returning Jon Jones occupies the runner-up spot, but there's one sentence here worth pointing out.
Jones has inherited the unbeatable mantle once held by Rousey. He is 21-1 in M.M.A., with the only loss coming on a disqualification for illegal elbows. He became the youngest U.F.C. champ at 23, and since then has taken on all comers in the light-heavyweight division and seldom been challenged. But Jones ran into trouble outside the cage when he was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Albuquerque. Jones was stripped of his title, suspended and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. Now reinstated, and only 28, there is no reason to think he will not return to his previous dominance in 2016.
Jones, already discussed as possibly the greatest MMA fighter of all-time (if not, at least the greatest light-heavyweight of all-time) INHERITED the unbeatable mantle once held by Rousey.
But #1 on the countdown? Ronda Rousey!
Yes, there's no getting around it. Ronda Rousey is still the U.F.C.'s biggest star. Part of her appeal lay in her invincibility. That is gone, but it has been replaced by an equally appealing comeback story line.
Love her or hate her — and based on the reaction to her loss, many fans hate her — Rousey makes news. Her comeback fight, probably against Holm, will draw as much attention, if not more, than any in her career.
So to summarize: We can't discount CM Punk and Demetrious Johnson vaulting towards UFC stardom, but Ronda Rousey is most likely to replace Ronda Rousey as the biggest star in the sport.
On one final note, I've provided my own poll for BE readers to vote on who would be the most suitable candidate for when Rousey legitimately is no longer the biggest UFC attraction.