July 10, 2014
With hands occasionally covering my eyes to protect them from the sometimes gruesome pummeling that goes on during a UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) match, I’ve slowly, reluctantly become a bit of a fan in recent months. Last week, however, my level of fandom shot through the roof. Sitting in a sports bar in Daytona, Florida, I watched a handful of pay-per view-fights, including an entertaining middleweight championship bout in which Chris Weidman successfully defended his title against Lyoto Machida.
But, in retrospect, every fight that night was pretty much forgettable. Every fight, that is, except one: Ronda Rousey, the current Women’s Bantamweight champion, facing Alexis Davis in defense of her own Bantamweight title.
I’ve never seen anything like it. I’d heard about Rousey’s penchant for putting opponents in an armbar – a painful submission hold that ends in certain victory. But this woman looks like she could stop a Mack truck with little more than her snarled lips and steely gaze. She entered the arena and marched with purpose toward the Octagon where Davis awaited her. Moments later, the bell rang, and in just 16 seconds – SIXTEEN SECONDS – she had Davis in a headlock, flipped her on her back and threw NINE debilitating punches to the head…and it was over. Just like that. Had I blinked a few times, I might have missed it all.
So that was the fight. It was shocking. It left you (or me, at least) feeling a little sorry for Alexis Davis.
But the most fascinating thing about the entire experience was what was going on around me in this bar. A bar filled with men. Men who live for this UFC stuff. Guys who love to watch guys beat the tar out of other guys.
I guess I didn’t expect to hear what I heard. As the 135-pound Rousey walked toward the Octagon, the noises these men made…their words…it was fantastic:
“She’s like a cyborg.”
“She’s gonna kill her.”
There were no catcalls. No derogatory “girl” remarks. No observations about her body.
There was respect. Perhaps a little fear. And I thought, is Ronda Rousey the new face of feminism in this country? Is it possible that this male-dominated sport – this primal, violent form of entertainment – is where we’ll find the next generation of “girl power” feminism not really seen since the ERA–era of the ’60s and ’70s?
The answer just might be yes, and I think it’s awesome.
But Ronda Rousey isn’t about burning bras, and she certainly isn’t anything approaching the trite, sugary “girl power” the Spice Girls sang about in the ’90s. She is real. She is hardcore. She is unforgiving, and in a mere 16 seconds, she showed how strong, powerful and in control she is.
Following the fight, Sports Illustrated ranked her No. 5 pound-for-pound versus men and women across all UFC weight classes. It’s a hypothetical means of comparing fighters, but when you think about the credibility that stat alone affords her, it’s pretty amazing. It raises the notion that she is an equalizing force between the genders in this testosterone-laden sport.
Now, I’m not really contending that Ronda Rousey is the Elizabeth Cady Stanton of our day. But. like it or not, she represents something pretty cool. If I had a daughter, I may not want her to grow up to be the next great UFC fighter. But I would love for her to look up to somebody as strong, uncompromising and – as far as I can tell – classy as Rousey.
As my interest in UFC grows (and it will), I think I’ll always be interested in watching her career unfold. When she undoubtedly obliterates her next opponent, I look forward to paying even closer attention to the swirl around her, and I hope I continue to see fans – especially male fans – of the sport continue to support and respect her for all she has accomplished.