Is Ronda Rousey too good?
Ronda Rousey's congeniality sometimes belies her supreme confidence.
She is excited for this weekend. The UFC women's bantamweight champion has not rested much over the past seven months. Her bout with Alexis Davis (16-6) this weekend will be her third title defense in that short time.
"Three title defenses and three movies in seven months. After I beat Alexis Davis this weekend, I'm going to have some wings and sleep forever," she said somewhat nonchalantly.
Note that's "beat Davis" in the past tense. Champions must have uberconfidence. It is the more stern stuff that shields them from self-doubt. Rousey believes Davis has lost already. She's never afraid to offer an opinion. For Rousey (9-0), winning is reality.
But can a champion be too good? Rousey is red-hot now, but could fans eventually tire of her dominance? UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones nearly experienced that until his slugfest with Alexander Gustafsson finally offered a glimpse of vulnerability.
"Not according to the numbers," Rousey said. "As long as I keep selling [tickets and pay-per-views], I really don't care. I try my best to be entertaining when I fight. Even though a lot of my fights are dominant performances, they're still the type of fights where no one ever sits down."
By some reports, pay-per-view cards headlined by Rousey have drawn up to 350,000 buys. Rousey's win over Miesha Tate at UFC 168 as part of the "Ultimate Fighter 18" finale marked the first time a women's bout headlined a UFC pay-per-view card.
If Rousey's greatness is hurting the UFC women's bantamweight division, it's hard to see how. But at some point, can invincibility be boring?
Just how much better is Rousey?
Advanced metrics certainly bear out Rousey's dominance. According to Reed Kuhn, author of "Fightnomics: The Hidden Numbers and Science in Mixed Martial Arts," Rousey's average betting line thus far has been minus-584 (not including the odds for UFC 175). At minus-584 odds, that means she's averaged an 85 percent win expectancy, far and away the highest of any female bantamweight.
As for UFC 175, at one point Rousey was a minus-1750 favorite. If that line stays there, she would be the biggest odds favorite in UFC history, with a remarkable win probability of 95 percent.
She has laid waste to the division, clamping down her patented armbar in eight of her nine professional wins, between the UFC and Strikeforce. Rousey's Submission Attempt Rate is 0.46 attempts per minute on the ground, the highest of any women's bantamweight fighter (the UFC average is 0.14).
So not only do Rousey's submission attempts come quickly, they come three times more frequently than the typical fighter's.
And Rousey's submission success rate is an astounding 57 percent, with no one else in the women's division even close. Only Tate has ever survived a Rousey submission attempt -- once in their first fight, and twice in the second. All other Rousey opponents submitted on the first attempt.
The problem with this is exactly what one would think: Where's the competition?
Although Rousey's star continues to burn even brighter, she leaves behind embers of her opponents in her wake. Her stardom is a double-edged sword. On one hand, her domination leaves fight fans (not her fans, mind you) wondering why they should watch. Rousey's going to win, regardless of who the UFC throws in the cage with her. On the other hand, her performances and fan following bring more attention to women's MMA, having single-handedly carved out legitimacy for the sport.
It has led Rousey to the point where even at this stage of her career, she is mindful of her legacy. Because women's MMA is still in its infancy, she understands she has to be its shepherd as well as be its lightning rod.
"I just try to incite passion from the fans one way or another," Rousey said. "So a lot of times I'll have a whole stadium of fans booing me. People still love watching because now people just want to see me lose. I try not to care about why they watch, just give them enough reasons to watch, period."
She invokes the name of Royce Gracie, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master considered by many to be the modern pioneer of mixed martial arts. For women's MMA, Rousey envisions herself something akin to Gracie. Indeed, she has easily surpassed anything Gina Carano, often considered one of the main buoys of women's MMA while fighting for Strikeforce, had achieved. She and Jones are easily the UFC's largest draws, and both enjoy mainstream endorsement deals that Gracie probably only wished could have been possible for fighters in MMA's early days.
"It's getting to the point where I've accomplished so much that I'm really starting to think of what kind of legacy I leave behind," Rousey said. "I'm envious of seeing Royce Gracie at the UFC events, and you can see him with a look of contentment and accomplishment. This is something he did. I really want that opportunity in the future to sit and watch women fight in the UFC with regularity and think, 'Wow, I was part of that.'"
Rousey points to the UFC's new women's strawweight division as an addition only possible on the coattails of the momentum she has created.
"Women's fights are routinely some of the most exciting fights on the cards, so now with the new 115-pound division, it's a deep and talented division," Rousey said. "I think it's going to be extremely successful. But there you see it's easily going on without me."
She talks about helping recruit from her own base discipline, judo, and trying to drum up more women's MMA prospects. But most importantly, she's found that her dominance has earned her -- and her sport -- respect from male followers, both fan and fighter alike.
"I've never had a male UFC fighter disrespect me," Rousey said. "In judo, it happened all the time. But in the UFC, every guy I meet is so respectful and cool. I think female MMA fighters will be surprised at how warmly they are welcomed into the UFC."
And Rousey does think this openness makes it easier for girls and women to become fans of a sport so often seen as male-dominated.
"You'd be surprised how many female fight fans there are. I can say that my fans are split just about 50-50 male-female. Especially for the women's division, I think there are a lot more female fans now."
One thing she won't do is a literal battle of the sexes. Where Billie Jean King might have bested Bobby Riggs on the tennis court in 1973, you won't see Ronda Rousey take on Urijah Faber in the Octagon at 135 pounds.
"Yeah, that would be a pretty ridiculous idea," Rousey said with a laugh. "I mean, we're still struggling to get MMA legal in New York. I mean, anything could happen in a fight. One person could be better than the other. But the last thing you want on TV is some guy beating up a girl, which could happen. But I'd like to think that the way I could compete with male fighters is by my numbers. If my numbers do just as well as the guys, then that's a point proven."