It’s difficult to pinpoint the precise moment when Ronda Rousey became a 'star'.
It wasn’t when she beat Meisha Tate for the first time, becoming the Strikeforce Bantamweight Champion and, for all intents and purposes, the best female fighter in the world.
It probably wasn’t the moment when, in a remarkable u-turn inspired in part by Ronda, UFC President Dana White decided that yes, the UFC would have women’s fights and a women’s division. And that Ronda would be the champion of that division.
And it most likely wasn’t when Ronda defeated Liz Carmouche in her first defence of the women’s UFC bantamweight title. Although that came pretty close.
Arguably it was all those moments combined. But if it was possible to pinpoint one specific moment where Ronda moved out of the MMA bubble and into the mainstream, it was most likely the moment when Ronda, after winning Fighter of the Year at the ESPYs over Floyd Mayweather, openly wondered how Floyd felt about being beaten by a woman for once.
Discussions about double standards aside (in her auto biography Ronda admits hitting a boyfriend for taking naked pictures of her unaware) it was a significant turning point for both Mixed Martial Arts and women in sport. It signaled a transition: the world’s best boxer had been usurped by an MMA fighter who also happened to be a woman. A woman who then rubbed salt in the wound by calling out Floyd -- in a concise, tweet-sized, instagrammable fashion – for a disgusting history of domestic abuse.
That moment, in a sense, was everything. It was a punk moment. It was women asserting themselves in a male dominated culture. A new sport waving its flag over the waning institution of boxing. It was a broad statement: MMA feels coolerm more significant than boxing, particularly when Ronda is involved.
It was a moment that played into multiple different media narratives, not least that open-ended discussion: could Ronda Rousey beat the world’s best boxer in a fight? The answer: almost certainly. Unless that fight were in a boxing ring. That’s the nature of this discussion and its defining point: Floyd Mayweather is a boxer, he is a master student of that one specific art. Ronda is a fighter.
But Ronda’s statement was more than MMA vs Boxing. In the scheme of things that’s trivial. Ronda isn't just a fighter, she's a superstar. And that moment made her a superstar because it represented female empowerment in the rawest sense. Ronda literally walked fearlessly into a male-dominated spaces and made it her own. That’s powerful. That means something. In some ways it makes her a historic figure.
And that's what makes Ronda so compelling: it doesn’t matter whether she is fighting, talking, or appearing at Wrestlemania – when you watch Ronda Rousey, you are literally watching history in the making.
Today’s fight in Melbourne -- the entire card, the event itself –- it's historic. It’s the first UFC show in Melbourne. In terms of attendance it’s set to be the biggest UFC event ever.
An event headlined by a woman; driven by a woman; made possible by a woman. That’s the power of history in the making, that’s the power of Ronda Rousey.
And interestingly, it’s a fight driven by very similar forces, similar tensions simmering beneath the surface. Ronda’s opponent, Holly Holm, is arguably one of the greatest female boxers that ever lived. A boxer that made the transition into MMA because of the intense maelstrom of attention that Ronda brought to the sport. To get the attention she deserved, Holly had to come to female MMA; the house that Ronda built.
For Holly, it's a tough situation. This is a fight the overarching narrative demands she lose. To reassert the dominance of mixed martial arts over boxing, to bolster the legacy of Ronda. The woman who obliterates barriers one at a time; the woman who makes history with every single step she takes.