As Ronda Rousey laid unconscious from a Holly Holm head kick at UFC 193, the MMA world took a collective gasp and attempted to comprehend what they had just witnessed. The UFC brass likely also took a moment to realize what had happened to its most popular athlete.
Rousey, a champion who had looked so dominant throughout her MMA career, was made to look like an amateur by Holm. And worse yet, this came at what is being reported as the UFC’s second biggest pay-per-view ever. Rousey’s image went from unstoppable force to “not ready for a rematch” in a matter of hours. This is despite the fact Rousey opened as a slight favorite in a potential rematch. It’s a testament to the dominance Rousey has enjoyed throughout her MMA career that she would open as a betting favorite despite the one-sided fight at UFC 193.
With that dominance came a whole new world for the now former UFC champion. Movie roles, TV spots and magazine covers all became more prevalent each time she had her hand raised in the cage. With a huge fanbase backing Rousey, the UFC’s hype machine went into full overdrive. What other fighter has articles like this circulating around during the week of their fight? Rousey had become a transcendent star, capable of drawing in fair-weather and hardcore fans alike. But all that changed after UFC 193.
There will still be a great deal of interest in Rousey’s next fight, but there’s no way of knowing when — or if — that will happen. From all accounts, Rousey has a tremendous competitive nature. She will definitely be back, but with her stating she’d like to disappear for a while prior to UFC 193, odds are we won’t be seeing Rousey in the Octagon any time soon. That means the UFC will have to go star-searching to find another woman to become the face of women’s MMA.
The easy response is, of course, to look toward the woman who beat Rousey. Yes, Holm’s starpower just shot through the roof after taking out the sport’s most dominant champion. She headlined a major show and more than validated herself and her skill set to any doubters. However, Holm’s personality could hold her back. She’s been nothing but nice during her career and is regarded as one of the nicest people in the sport. While that makes her likable for the crowd that opposed Rousey’s abrasive personality, nice ultimately doesn’t equate to pay-per-view buys. Look at the history of UFC events. The majority of the most anticipated bouts are the result of some kind of controversy or rivalry. Unless someone specifically comes at Holm through the media, odds are we won’t be getting too many one-liners to promote upcoming fights with her on the card. The UFC may even opt to hold Holm out to set up an immediate rematch.
With that being said, the UFC does have some items to build up Holm. There is the new champ’s laundry list of credentials and the fact she’s the complete opposite of Rousey in front of a microphone. In addition to her boxing and kickboxing credentials, she’s had a stellar run in MMA. Her regional fights feature a number of highlight-reel finishes and then there are her numerous highlights from UFC 193. Although it may not help in selling pay-per-views, Holm’s personality will be a godsend for fans who’ve grown tired of the brash Rousey appearing across MMA media. No, Holm won’t reach the same level of popularity as Rousey did, but she also won’t be creating as much negative reaction as the former champion did. With nearly every report about Holm behind the scenes saying she’s the nicest woman in combat sports, it will be a welcome change for some from the anti-Rousey sentiment that’s been so prevalent during her run.
Another option for the UFC is to turn to its strawweight champion, Joanna Jędrzejczyk. She has her own lengthy list of credentials outside of MMA and has the personality to match.
Jędrzejczyk’s MMA career has produced a number of memorable moments, evident by her highlight-reel finishes of Carla Esparza and Jessica Penne. We’ve also seen Jędrzejczyk battle adversity when she struggled with Claudia Gadelha and had to fight a lengthy war of attrition for 25 minutes against Valérie Létourneau. She’s an accomplished striker who has drawn comparisons to Chuck Liddell in his prime, and we all remember how popular “The Iceman” was during his prime years. It’s no secret that successful strikers can find immense success not only in the cage, but outside of it as well.
The Polish champion has some personality to showcase as well. Her “Penne pasta” jab showed she has a comedic side to match her fighting skills. Her weigh-in gifts to Esparza and Penne have also gotten a laugh and created excitement within the MMA community. Her ability to go from smiling and happy to “fire-breathing dragon face” has also become a fan favorite.
Jędrzejczyk also has the ability to hit on the European markets where the UFC has been looking to convert more fans. The organization had previously utilized guys like Michael Bisping and Conor McGregor as its big draws in western Europe, but Jędrzejczyk presents a chance to move into the Eastern European markets that have thus far eluded much of mainstream MMA promotions and fans. Jędrzejczyk will be on the sidelines for a bit due to a broken hand, but it’s no secret as to why the UFC chose to showcase her on the same card as Rousey. The starpower rub for the strawweight champion should show in her next outing, which should be a rematch with her rival, Gadelha. The two ladies have taken their turns engaging in throwing shade at each other, which has the potential to be a solid build-up for their second bout.
There are other fighters that rival these ladies in popularity, but they’re missing UFC belts around their waists. It’s imperative for the UFC to build up these Holm and Jędrzejczyk to become big enough stars to fill in during Rousey’s absence. The former champion will always be the biggest star of women’s MMA, but she can’t be the only star.