Ronda On Top: Ensuring a Rousing Debut For the UFC’s First Female Champion

By Raphael Garcia

Professional athletes are usually concerned with two things: 1) winning a championship of some sort; and 2) making the most amount of money possible during the length of their careers. There are some athletes that win championships, then fade to obscurity, see one Trent Dilfer. Then you have those athletes that never win a title, but earn the big money while playing, a la Allen Iverson. Yet the ideal is to attain a lot from column A and a lot from column B. Ronda Rousey seems to be no exception, as she is not only a champion at this time, but she’s also placing herself in a position to make the most money possible. She’s become the first woman to be signed by the UFC, and while this is a monumental moment in the development of the sport, the discussion about whether to build a show around her raises some interesting issues.

There isn’t any doubt across MMA that Rousey is a popular individual. She’s been embraced by mainstream media in a way that the sport as a whole has not. Chalk it up to whatever you want to call it — her skill or her beauty — but the fact is, she’s quickly become the baton holder for women’s mixed martial arts, and she’s working that position like none before her. Just look at her recent appearance on Jim Rome’s sports show in which she references preferring to have sex as many times as possible before a contest. That comment alone sent the online MMA blogosphere ablaze, spreading throughout social media. Her comment even became a talking point on various radio shows and podcasts. Her comments were very similar to comments that longtime champion Georges St. Pierre made during the buildup to his return to the cage, but the fact that it wasn’t talked about as much as Rousey’s words shows the type of pull she has within the MMA community.

According to a report from MMA Fighting, UFC President Dana White has stated that Rousey’s UFC debut would headline a pay-per-view unless a title match in a higher weight class is scheduled for the same card. The revelation of the company’s plan to do so has created a swarm of questions that need to be answered, but in reality, only a “Wait and see” attitude will suffice.

Ronda Rousey is a draw. She was the biggest fighter that Strikeforce could put in front of its audience, and her two opportunities to headline an event proved that. When she battled Miesha Tate, that brought in approximately 431K viewers, while her title defense against Sarah Kaufman was higher, with 529K viewers. When you look at those numbers, they are impressive, but how would they transition over to the UFC?

Her viewership numbers are comparable in a sense to the buyrates of many pay-per-views the UFC has put on in recent memory. According to multiple reports, UFC 152, where Jon Jones defeated Vitor Belfort, yielded 450K PPV buys. When Anderson Silva effectively retired Stephan Bonnar at UFC 153, the UFC earned between 400K and 500K PPV buys for that event. Early estimates for Georges St. Pierre’s return at UFC 154 are within the 680-700K buyrate range. Comparing Rousey’s numbers to these show that she has the ability to hold the attention of MMA fans to a similar degree, so just imagine what the results would be with the full power of the UFC’s marketing machine behind her.

However, there could perhaps be an even bigger benefit to placing her on free television first, before unleashing her on the world of Pay per View. UFC on Fox shows have the ability to garner a larger number of viewers on a consistent basis. For example, UFC on Fox 3 brought in an average of 2.25 million viewers, while UFC on Fox 4 scored a 2.14 average. Both of these shows featured fighters that were not nearly as big of a draw as Rousey. Imagine what her name and star power could do for a free event in which she was the main event draw. She could easily top those numbers, and perhaps give the UFC their biggest show on Fox since the deal was announced last year.

Another option would be to firmly place her in the co-main event of a larger show. For example, though the exact date hasn’t been set, it would be a good idea to place her title fight in the co-main event slot for the Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen pay-per-view card, due to take place some time in April. This show will already have ample buildup behind it, and adding her name will only add fuel to what has already become a hotly-anticipated event.

Ronda Rousey has found herself in a perfect position to become a major star in the sports world. She has the ability to put together a long run as the champion of her division, along with the flair and charisma to craft an image that sports fans love to watch. With proper planning, the UFC can have that crossover star that they’ve wanted for a long time, but developing her into a PPV draw should be the strategy they employ, rather than throwing her at the top of the first bill available.

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