Ronda Rousey is set to defend her UFC women’s bantamweight championship against Cat Zingano on Saturday night. Yet, the woman Rousey has been asked about most this week is not her upcoming challenger. Instead, it’s someone who will sit just outside of the Octagon as opposed to standing across from her inside of the cage. That’s right, Rousey’s biggest feud right now is with Octagon girl Arianny Celeste.
A strange war of words between Rousey and Celeste captured the attention of the media, both mainstream and MMA, this week. In a recent interview, Rousey commented that she believed that fighters should be paid more than ring girls, a statement possibly directed towards Celeste, who has become a fixture at UFC events and is the primary face of the Octagon girls. When Celeste responded with a brief defense of her job and called Rousey “a bully,” the UFC champion fired back with harsh words for the Octagon girl, saying she “isn’t impressed with the job,” and gave a mocking reply as to what Celeste should have said when asked about fighter pay.
All in all, this entire feud is going to amount to nothing. Rousey and Celeste are never going to step into a cage and fight each other, so they can either just let the war of words die or they can keep on trading barbs back and forth until the public loses interest. Either way, it’s not going to make much of a difference. Whether it’s fair or not in the eyes of Rousey or anyone else, Celeste has done her job and done it well for a long time while working for Zuffa, and the company has obviously decided it’s worth a certain amount of money to pay Celeste to work its fight cards.
In all likelihood, the paycheck Celeste gets will be larger than what some of the fighters on the card will make, but that’s what the UFC decided she’s worth and it would be asinine for Celeste to voluntarily come out and say she thought she deserved less money. Celeste has her contract with the UFC and the fighters have theirs. The fact that some fighters get paid less than the Octagon girls is just a single gripe on a long list of problems involving fighter pay. The thing is, the media knows this, yet we’ll keep on harping on this mini-feud until probably less than 24 hours before fight time. Why? Because as badly as most fans and media want to be excited for this weekend, it’s getting harder and harder to get up for a Rousey fight.
The shine behind Rousey’s fights has been quietly diminishing for a while now, but due to the overall weak nature of the UFC 184 card this weekend and the fact that Rousey has no second star to help take some of the spotlight, it’s become more obvious than ever that the champ’s dominance is causing the women’s 135-pound division to feel a little boring.
No disrespect to Zingano, who has worked her ass off in order to get into the position she’ll be in this weekend, or to any of the other top female fighters at bantamweight, but the MMA community has a hushed opinion involving the division. We don’t believe any of these fighters can beat Rousey. In fact, most of us don’t think any of them can come close. That’s why it’s getting more and more difficult to get excited to watch Rousey step into the cage, and why websites with names like Bloody Elbow have spent the last week concentrating on a verbal beef between Rousey and what basically boils down to a model who wears the UFC logo. Not many are going to deny that Zingano is a talented fighter. Even fewer will argue that she doesn’t deserve the opportunity she’s getting. However, Rousey is so far above and beyond the rest of the division that it’s hard to take anyone seriously as a threat to her throne right now.
Still, while Zingano is certainly getting the raw end of the media deal this week, it isn’t like this is the first time that Rousey’s opponent has been overshadowed on fight week. The headlines were crawling with the names Gina Carano and Holly Holm in early July of last year, even though Rousey was just days away from defending her title against Alexis Davis. Before that, Rousey opponent Sara McMann ended up being overlooked when Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino jumping back into the news just days before their fight — and it didn’t help that Rousey was taking the fight on short notice either. The only opponent Rousey has ever fought who has truly gotten her due in front of the cameras and with the media is Miesha Tate, and she had a legit rivalry with the champion and a 13-week television show to help get her name out there.
When it comes down to it, the reason the media has spent this fight week talking about Rousey and Celeste — and pretty much every fight week before this one talking to Rousey about anyone but her opponent — is because the MMA community and media alike seem to have resigned to the fact that Rousey is the alpha female in the sport and no one is going to defeat her anytime soon. That’s why Zingano isn’t getting half as much attention as she should this week, and it’ll be the reason that everyone Rousey fights will continue to be overlooked.
Someone needs to drag Rousey into deep waters and show off a couple of flaws à la what Alexander Gustafsson did to Jon Jones. Until then, fans and media alike will continue to treat Rousey fights like little more than the next stop on her championship tour, and while that happens, the focus is going to remain on Rousey and no one else.