MEDIA & BUSINESS: Navigating the Ronda Rousey media narratives – Is she a villain now? Will this be her last fight? Will she ever be the same?

By Robert Vallejos, MMATorch contributor

Ronda Rousey (photo credit Jayne Kamin-Oncea © USA Today Spots)

The media reaction to the announcement that Ronda Rousey is returning to fight at UFC 207 has shown there remains interest in her. While the excitement may be high, the wait to see Rousey once again mix it up in the Octagon will be rather long.

In the meantime, the MMA world will experience the massive spectacle of UFC 205, a possible mega-card at UFC 206 amidst a lot of speculating about Ronda Rousey. With such a dynamic figure like Ronda Rousey, the media will find no shortage of talking points in the lead up to the fight.

Here is a list of some potential media narratives that MMA fans are sure to encounter, with some perspective on their validly and relevance. Several hyperlinks are included to establish the credibility of each narrative.

This will be Rousey’s last fight:

Basis: Even before Rousey suffered her shocking defeat to Holly Holm, Rousey herself was making noise that she has little desire to fight into her 30s. Since her sole defeat, Rousey’s extended sabbatical from the UFC has confirmed the idea that she is not long for the sport.

Reality: In all honesty, Rousey has very little left to accomplish in MMA. Rousey has already defeated one-third of the UFC’s current top 15 ranked Women’s Bantamweights. Outside of a Holm rematch or a Cyborg superfight, Rousey has very few dynamic bouts left in her MMA career. If Rousey never sets foot into a cage again, she will still be afforded opportunities in the entertainment world. Brett Okamoto argued that a win or loss could plausibly send Rousey into MMA retirement.

Rousey is no longer the star she was, now that her invincibility is broken:

Basis: One roundhouse kick to the side of Ronda Rousey’s head seemingly instantly dampened the star power of the UFC’s most marketable property. Immediately speculation grew that Rousey could never again be the star that she once was Additionally, Rousey’s defeat at the hands (or foot) of Holly Holm, a highly decorated former boxing champion, gave ammunition to those who were critical of Rousey’s media feud with Floyd Mayweather Jr. In her absence the UFC has done just fine. Conor McGregor has emerged as the undisputed king of pay-per-view, while the company was sold for record profit.

Reality: For at least one fight, Rousey will remain in the upper pantheon of UFC stars. For someone who was once so visible, Rousey is now a presence that will remain largely shrouded in mystery until UFC 207 The intrigue alone will drive interest in her bout with Nunes. If Rousey is victorious, the UFC has a high-profile redemption story that they can market for the remainder of her career.

Rousey will not be the same because she in in her own head:

Basis: For Ronda Rousey, losing a single fight represented the crumbling of a once unbreakable figure. The limited access that the public had to Rousey indicated that she could not cope with the loss/ She did no media after UFC 193, attempted to hide her face from TMZ cameras, reportedly fell into deep depression, and admitted to having suicidal thoughts. To some, the long layoff from the Octagon solidified Rousey’s new demeanor.

Reality: Until the public witnesses Rousey fight again, no determination can be made. Obviously, Rousey will exhibit her hardened exterior in media appearances leading up to UFC 207, but true proof will be revealed on Dec. 30. Logic would indicate that Rousey has decompressed enough to once again be herself, but the real question lies in where her psyche will be if she again is vanquished.

Rousey is now the villain:

Basis: While Rousey was largely beloved during her ascent, something drastically changed after her loss to Holly Holm. Unlike other fights that Rousey had, the buildup to her showdown with Holm never drifted into a war of words. That was until Rousey manufactured animosity at the weigh in and refused to touch gloves prior to the fight. After suffering the shocking second round knockout, a slew of anonymous “Keyboard Warriors” and visible celebrities unloaded their disdain for Rousey. Donald Trump and Lady Gaga were absolutely delighted, while rival Miesha Tate revelled, and quasi-rivals Chris Cyborg, Laila Ali, and Floyd Mayweather  were not disappointed with the result.

The most cerebral takedown of Rousey came from Nancy Armour of USA Today who perfectly summed up the backlash with one sentence: “With one swift kick, it seemed, Holm exacted revenge for everyone who had grown tired of Rousey and her brat act.” Recently, Dana White has intimated that Rousey’s primary problem is that the media turned on her. While Rousey was on top her detractors had very little merit, once she lost the floodgates of criticism was busted open.

Reality: Despite nearly a year of venom, Rousey will likely see a diminished level of vitriol. Dominant athletes such as Rousey, LeBron James, J.J. Watt, Peyton Manning, and Serena Williams become vilified for their visibility regardless of their performance in their respective sports. In November 2015, the public was tired of Ronda Rousey. Rousey’s near invisibility over the past year will soften the fatigue that that consumers were experiencing. Furthermore Rousey’s low-profile has quelled many of her public feuds. The public has a short memory; Rousey can easily reclaim her crown as the Queen of the Ring.

The Redemption of Ronda:

Basis: As noted throughout this column, the fall of Ronda Rousey was swift and hard. As soon as she lost to Holm, it was widely assumed that Rousey would return to glory at UFC 200, putting an exclamation point on what was expected to be a seminal event. The year off, retirement rumors, public negativity, and low profile had the MMA world speculating that Rousey would never be seen in the UFC ever again. However, in the last few months Rousey and the UFC have left a few bread crumbs indicating their marketing strategy. In July, Reebok released an ad campaign that in sum stated that “Perfect Never gets a Shot at Redemption.”

Reality: By the start of 2017, if Ronda Rousey is once again the Bantamweight Champion, the UFC machine will undoubtedly charge ahead with the narrative of “Ronda’s Redemption.” Dana White has been peddling the idea that Rousey is a still a much bigger star than current golden boy Conor McGregor. Outlets such as MMATorch have extensively debated and debunked this notion. But the reality is that a renewed Rousey would result in the UFC possessing a very profitable two-headed monster.

As Damon Martin of Fox Sports points out, unless a total Rousey meltdown occurs at UFC 207, “there are plenty of reasons to think she will get the job done and walk out of the T-Mobile Arena with the UFC title back around her waist.”

Surely a once again prosperous Rousey is a proposition that the UFC will gladly support.

(Robert Vallejos writes a new Specialist column for MMATorch titled “Media & Business” focused on, you guessed it, the media coverage of MMA and the business side of MMA. He is fascinated by the presentation, business decisions, media strategy, and press coverage of both UFC and MMA as a whole, and will bring that curiosity to explore and delve into that side of MMA to his weekly Specialist column here at MMATorch. He explains his approach: “As a sport in its relative infancy, MMA does not receive the same level of scrutiny and informed analysis from the sports media as other more established entities. This is why it is vital for independent outlets such MMATorch to grow, while featuring a variety of voices. Unlike mainstream outlets, MMATorch is not beholden to any organization. Therefore I believe it is essential for individuals such as myself to explain not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ of MMA.”)

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