Ronda Rousey has been Dana White’s golden goose over the past two years. She’s smashed through the UFC’s womens bantamweight division, finishing all four of her opponents, three in the first round. In Rousey’s last two fights, she eschewed her signature arm bar for striking, and as a result, knocked out both Sara McMann and Alexis Davis in a combined 1:22.
Needless to say, the UFC needs a true foil for Rousey. They can’t keep throwing relatively anonymous contenders in front of her and letting Rousey bulldoze them. The organization has signed former top-ranked boxer, and current undefeated MMA fighter, Holly Holm, but she won’t be getting an immediate title shot. The specter of Cris “Cyborg” Justino still looms, but she’s not even signed to the UFC and all has been largely quiet around her in recent months.
Enter Gina Carano. The former EliteXC posterchild is reportedly nearing a deal with the UFC, and UFC president Dana White inferred that she would get an immediate title shot against Rousey. The prevailing logic is that this fight would be a superfight, and would draw plenty of casual fan interest. And Carano’s history would indicate that the logic is true.
The Strikeforce card on Showtime main evented by Carano and Justino averaged 576,000 viewers, a new record for Showtime and more than twice what the prior card, main evented by Robbie Lawler and Jake Shields, drew. The main event itself peaked with 856,000 viewers, obviously an outrageous number. Carano also fought a couple of times on CBS with EliteXC on cards that drew 4.56 million and 4.85 million viewers, with each show main evented by former backyard brawler Kimbo Slice. Carano obviously wasn’t the major draw during those events, but plenty of eyeballs were still tuned in to see her.
Even though Carano has turned in her gloves and jumped to the silver screen in recent years, her popularity hasn’t waned. In 2013, she ranked tenth among Yahoo’s most-searched athletes. But would that popularity result in more fans watching her fight Rousey?
Looking at a Rousey-Carano fight from the perspective of a fight fan, things are murky. During her years in EliteXC, Carano was notorious for having issues cutting weight, even when fighting at a custom-made 140 pound weight class. She completely missed weight in her fight with Kaitlin Young, weighing in at 144 pounds. Against Kelly Kobold, Carano had to completely strip down to make weight. There were no issues with a weight cut in the fight with Justino, though that was held at 145 pounds. Against Rousey, Carano will be expected to make the UFC’s 135 pound featherweight limit, which has been a talking point used when explaining the lack of a fight between Rousey and Justino, who fights at 145.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Carano would have difficulties making the lower weight against Rousey, which would render all of the hype surrounding the fight for naught. I’m also curious about the actual fighting abilities of Carano, given that she hasn’t had a competitive MMA fight in five years. Would she even be able to hold her own against Rousey, or would she fall victim to the buzzsaw like the rest of Rousey’s competition?
Furthermore, if the fight does happen, White said he was shooting for an early December pay-per-view to feature the fight on. Well, UFC 181 in December is the lone PPV the company is holding in the year’s final month, and it already has a pair of title fights on it – Anthony Pettis vs Gilbert Melendez, and Chris Weidman vs Vitor Belfort. Throwing Rousey and Carano on that card likely wouldn’t make many waves, solely because the card is already top heavy with the two title fights. If those two fights actually happen along with the Rousey-Carano superfight, can we really draw any conclusions about the drawing ability of Rousey and Carano? They wouldn’t be the only draws on the card, and they wouldn’t be the only reason for the success or failure of the event.
If the fight does happen, it would make sense to have it as one of the co-main events on a card as opposed to the sole draw. Rousey has been in two main events during her UFC career, and those two shows drew 450,000 and 340,000 buys. She was in the co-main event of shows that drew 1.025 million and (reportedly) 500,000 buys. Rousey clearly is a better draw when she’s not the sole headliner. Putting Rousey and Carano in the main event slot of a PPV with little support on the card could result in the UFC being disappointed and drawing another 400,000 or so buys, despite the name value they’re hoping Carano brings with her. If the two are part of a stacked card, the UFC would at least have their potential losses somewhat minimized.
And really, there may be no better time to do this than now. As Rousey’s movie career continues to blossom, and the longer Carano stays outside of the Octagon, the matchup becomes less and less of a desirable and realistic target for the UFC. They never did strike while the iron was hot with some superfights (Georges St. Pierre vs Anderson Silva for one), and if they’re going to do this, they should try to get it done as soon as possible. The year-end PPV that the UFC runs every December has traditionally been one of their landmark events, and they won’t have another opportunity to put this fight on a megacard until their traditional 4th of July event next year, and by then, it may be too late.