Last night in Los Angeles, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey became the first MMA fighter to win an ESPY Award, when she claimed “Best Female Athlete” honors at ESPN’s 22nd annual sports awards ceremony. Rousey was nominated alongside basketball players Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart, and Olympic skier Mikaela Shiffrin, none of whom have ever KO’d a woman in 16 seconds. Rousey was also nominated in the “Best Fighter” category, along with UFC light-heavyweight champ Jon Jones, but the category was won for the fifth time by Floyd Mayweather.
Sure, the ESPY’s are just a fan-voted* popularity contest, but Rousey’s win is kind of a big deal. Since 2007, various UFC stars (including Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Quinton Jackson, and Randy Couture) have been nominated for Best Fighter, but have lost every single time to Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao. UFC fights have popped up twice in the “Best Upset” category as well — Frankie Edgar’s UFC 112 defeat of BJ Penn in 2010, and Chris Weidman’s UFC 162 KO of Anderson Silva, which was nominated this year — but mixed martial arts has always walked away empty handed.
It’ll be a while before an MMA champion can draw more votes than the biggest star in boxing. Maybe that will never happen. But if Ronda Rousey is the most compelling, dominant, and popular female athlete in sports right now, that’s great publicity for the sport as a whole. So let’s enjoy it before Rousey buzzes off to Hollywood full time to become an unholy hybrid of Milla Jovovich and The Rock.
* I submitted a write-in vote for that chick who just killed it on American Ninja Warrior. Ah well. Maybe next year.