Ronda Rousey was dismantled by Amanda Nunes in the first round of her first fight in the year since she was pummeled into submission by Holly Holm, and unexpectedly dispatched from her perch as the female UFC version of 1980’s Mike Tyson.
Holm pierced the cloak of perceived invincibility that Rousey enjoyed during her undefeated march from obscurity to globally marketable commercial superstar.
Last night in UFC, 207, it became painfully clear that whatever “it” Rousey had, she no longer possesses. And it’s not coming back anytime soon.
The larger dilemma arising from tonight, other than for Rousey personally, is for the business of the UFC, and more specifically, their business model.
The recent $4 billion UFC sales price to talent agency WME-IMG was not entirely because of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, but their presence as legitimate cross-promotional commercial superstars didn’t make the purchase less appealing.
Now Rousey is done. There is no other conclusion to draw from her bludgeoning at the hands of Nunes.
Every other time the UFC has faced the dilemma of losing a marketable face, they’ve managed to thrust someone from obscurity that has been capable of assuming the mantle. But, they’ve never had to replace a star of Rousey’s caliber or gravitas. She was a transcendent symbolic image of female strength. She was the Mike Tyson of female fighting. Last night, she fulfilled Iron Mike’s early career arc.
Will Dana White and the UFC be able to pull out another miracle, in what has been a seemingly endless successive string of marketing miracles?
Or, like the 2008 housing bubble, has the sport been so heavily leveraged against quickly expiring superstars that the business model is simply unsustainable over a prolonged period of time? Or, is it time for the bubble to burst?
The NBA had to replace Michael Jordan, it just didn’t have to do it every 18 months in perpetuity.
There’s no way to draw a conclusion at this point, but Rousey’s demise exposes a flaw in the UFC business model Matrix.
Does anyone really think Conor McGregor’s supernova is going to last five more years? Three? Two? Who’s next? This infinite question will have to continually be answered by the UFC to avoid having cards filled with just “people fightin’.”
To this point, Dana White has always had the answer, but now he’ll have to plan for future fight cards without Rousey, or the prospect of her return. The company line is that the sport is bigger than individual stars, and it will need to continue to be if that is indeed the case.
In previous periods where the sport searched for the successive next, it did so in relative anonymity. With the loss of Rousey, it will face it’s most hectic search for a successor in the midst of a more mainstream spotlight, following its $4 billion sale.
One fact is painfully obvious. Top UFC fighters’ careers more closely resemble the career of an NFL running back than that of a 10-year NBA superstar.
— Travon Free (@Travon) December 31, 2016