Ronda Rousey has made history yet again.
She became the first mixed martial artist to host Saturday Night Live over the weekend, and only the third female athlete to do so.
The former bantamweight champion, who has been out of the limelight since her loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193, has been slowly making herself known again, much to the delight of her fans and the UFC. Rousey’s appearance on SNL drew a 5.0 in metered markets — the show itself averages 4.6 — and a 2.5 in the most important 18-49 age demographic, making it the top show of the night on broadcast networks, primetime or otherwise. That’s not bad, considering there was a snowstorm on the East Coast.
While Rousey was used sparingly during the 798th episode of SNL, the fact that the producers of the show called her only days after her loss to Holm proves that the her appeal has not waned in defeat. In fact, many could argue that her star got just a little bit brighter as the narrative to her story takes a turn down comeback lane, with people dying to know what happens next.
MMA has long been a sport that has garnered very little media or public attention. It is watched mostly by the adoring hardcore fans who appreciate it for all its technical goriness. Times are changing, though, with Rousey bringing new eyeballs to screens and bums on seats like never before. In 2015 alone, Rousey managed 2.5 million pay-per-view buys across three events and broke the UFC’s attendance record by bringing 56,214 people into Australia’s Etihad Stadium.
The numbers are impressive as they are, but what is important to note is that Rousey carried those events solely on her own name and twice in overseas markets. The only other UFC fighter to come close to achieving what Rousey has done is Conor McGregor (2.025 million pay-per-view buys from two events), but one could argue that those cards were stacked to the hilt, with co-main events that could have easily stood on their own two feet and undercards that have been better than some past main cards. Not to take anything away from McGregor, as what he has done in a short amount of time is phenomenal, but it could be argued that if he is getting attention from mainstream sport fans, it is because Rousey opened the door.
The interest in Rousey is not going anywhere, regardless of the fact that her rematch with Holm was canceled. Yes, Miesha Tate is stepping up to fight Holm in March, but the most compelling part of this fight is who will be Rousey’s next opponent. That may not be a good thing for women’s MMA, but it’s a fair summation of where things are at. As long as Rousey continues to advocate for the promotion that made her a star, she will continue to be the UFC’s biggest draw and break down barriers for a sport that is still very much in its infancy.
Why? Because Rousey is a trailblazer. She has paved the way for MMA like never before. She has made people stand up and take notice of a sport that for the most part the average person took very little interest in. Rousey’s social media following is in the millions, leaps and bounds ahead of any other fighter on the UFC’s roster. Her headlines get clicks, whether it’s on MMA sites or general news publications. She’s constantly endorsed and admired by celebrities across the globe, opening her brand up to millions most would never get access to. And she has transcended the sport into movies, books and more.
The thing about Rousey is that she is so firmly etched into MMA’s history books now that whether she wins or loses — or even returns — she is as important as ever for the evolution of the UFC and its continued foray into, and acceptance in, the world of mainstream sport. The same cannot be said for anyone else. There have been many trash-talkers who backed it up, and there will be many more in the future. There will, however, not be another Ronda Rousey.