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Is Rousey vs. Carano a Circus Fight or a Money Fight?


(It’s the “Betty and Veronica” matchup that fight-fans have wanted for centuries.)

By Brian J. D’Souza

What Henry Ford did for the automobile, Ronda Rousey has done for women’s MMA (WMMA), popularizing the sport for mass audiences. Furthermore, Rousey was ranked #29 on the Maxim Hot 100—something Henry Ford never achieved. And Rousey’s stock may be on the upswing with a superfight on the horizon against Gina Carano.

UFC president Dana White continues to affirm that the UFC is negotiating for the services of the original “face of women’s MMA,” Strikeforce and EliteXC veteran Gina Carano:

“[Carano’s] lawyers and our lawyers are talking. It’s moving along. It should [happen],” White said at a UFC 174 pre-fight media scrum.

Between 2006 to 2009, Carano racked up a 7-1 record in MMA, losing only to Cristiane Justino (formerly known as Cris Cyborg). Former Strikeforce featherweight champion Justino poses a much more credible threat to Rousey than Carano ever will. However, it’s Carano’s appeal as a pin-up girl rather than her acumen as a fighter that has the UFC scrambling to reach a deal with Gina Carano’s lawyers.

As Dana White tells it, Carano’s representation is playing hardball. “This guy is a Hollywood lawyer and these guys are always a pain in the ass to deal with,” White said. “The shit that he calls back and says everyday is literally comical.”

Even though Carano is coming off a loss and has been inactive for five years, if a deal with the UFC is reached, she’ll be expected to challenge for the bantamweight strap in her very first UFC fight. That might seem counterintuitive, but Carano is perishable goods likely to have her value spoiled by a loss to a lesser-known fighter.

The UFC has never been a promotion that shied away from obvious mismatches designed more for spectacle than sport. At UFC 118 in August 2010, boxer James Toney was matched up with veteran Randy Couture in Toney’s MMA debut. The match played out like a lamb being led to the slaughter with Couture submitting Toney via arm-triangle choke in the first round. Toney never set foot in the cage again.

UFC pioneer Royce Gracie was 1-1-2 in his last four bouts when he was signed to face reigning UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes at UFC 60. Royce’s jiu-jitsu pedigree was no match for farmboy wrasslin’, as Hughes stopped Royce in the first round.

Perhaps most notable of all among overhyped and underprepared fighters is Kimbo Slice. Although Slice was exposed by Seth Petruzelli, being knocked out in just 14 seconds at a 2008 EliteXC show, he was picked up by the UFC (where he went 1-1) and rumor has it Slice is now headed for Bellator.

To put all this in perspective, Carano has spent her time away from the sport starring in B-level action movies like Haywire, Fast & Furious 6 and In the Blood. Even if Carano had spent the last five years training at a top camp and taking on top-ranked opposition, the odds would be stacked against her escaping the first round in a fight with Rousey.

Gina Carano’s best chance at UFC gold is the hope that a congenital heart defect fells Rousey.

Despite all this, there is a method to the madness of allowing a Carano-Rousey spectacle to unfold in the hallowed UFC Octagon. Every few years, the UFC product becomes stale, and needs a shot in the arm. Gina Carano would bring media attention, fans, and profit that could benefit both the UFC and all other women in the sport.

Ronda Rousey has worked hard to reach the pinnacle of the sport. She’s never ducked a challenger, and has done more than her share of promotion for the UFC including a miserable stint on The Ultimate Fighter and being on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine’s 2012 Body Issue. Facing easy opposition for the good of the sport puts her in the unenviable position of many great champions before her.

For example, former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko established himself with two dominant performances over Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and he cemented his legacy with his 2005 win over Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic. But a slew of circus matches and easy fights with unheralded or undersize opponents like Zuluzinho, Hong-man Choi and Matt Lindland tarnished his luster by giving ammunition to Fedor’s critics.

We shouldn’t criticize UFC management for attempting this farcical match-up in order to drum up interest in the sport. But while Rousey vs. Carano may put some cash in Rousey’s bank account, it will add nothing to her resume. To be a great champion, one must face the best available competition, and there are two active fighters currently unsigned by the UFC who fit that description—Holly Holm and Cristiane Justino.

It’s up to Rousey and the UFC brass to decide what direction they want to go in. If the UFC signs the trio of Carano, Holm, and Justino as Rousey’s next three opponents, they might be able to have their cake and eat it, too.

***

Brian J. D’Souza is the author of the critically acclaimed book Pound for Pound: The Modern Gladiators of Mixed Martial Arts. You can check out an excerpt right here.

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