It was Ronda Rousey vs. The World, and the "world" won. On Saturday at UFC 193, Rousey (12-1) suffered the first defeat of her career at the hands — and foot — of Holly Holm (10-0). It was arguably the biggest upset in UFC history and a huge win for Holm herself.
That being said, because the UFC is now guaranteed an even bigger payday, and more control and a viable backup plan, it may be the biggest winner of all.
Rousey is the UFC's most recognizable star. Prior to UFC 193, experts surmised that Rousey's endorsement potential was on par with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James. The world has seen her in movies, hosting SportsCenter and defending her title (three times since February). EA Sports even named her as the cover athlete of its UFC 2 video game and released the cover months before the game's release.
Ronda Rousey as the cover athlete on @EASPORTS UFC2 pic.twitter.com/gtoENS4Cl8
— Trey Jones (@sports_business) November 13, 2015
Rousey has helped not only move the needle for women within UFC, but she's established her brand as one that can grow the UFC as a whole.
Saturday night's fight was no exception. According to the UFC's post-fight press conference, UFC 193 set UFC records for gate receipts ($6.76 million U.S.), attendance (56,214) and PPV views (1.6M+).
That being said, Rousey's dominance presents a twofold problem for the UFC.
The first problem is that it has almost been too one-sided. Beating your opponents in 20 seconds or less does nothing to build the caché of other fighters and at some point has to be considered a detriment to future PPV revenues. Secondly, it won't last forever. Rousey had already hinted at retirement on more than one occasion, and she has the crossover appeal to make exponentially more money in Hollywood. Age, lack of injury and the chance at larger paydays are all very viable reasons for Rousey to leave the fight game altogether.
Sports leagues usually lack the opportunity to groom an heir apparent. For example, the PGA is still struggling with its plan beyond the dominance of Tiger Woods, and for a few years, the NBA struggled after Michael Jordan retired the second time. With Holm, the UFC has the chance to create its next undefeated champion if Rousey should leave, less it be forced into a middling rebuilding process.
By setting up the Rousey-Holm fight in the first place, the UFC may have killed two birds with one stone.
The fact that Holm not only made it through the first round, but was ultimately able to beat Rousey, goes a long way toward creating parity among all women fighters, and in a sport where a career-ending injury is a moment away, parity is critical to long-term success.
The parity angle having been established, the UFC now has the ability to market Rousey in the highly popular revenge/redemption/underdog angle, which is sure to play well with hardcore and casual UFC viewers alike. The powers-that-be also have the ability to further strengthen the brand of Holly Holm in order to further capitalize on their marketing revenue.
In the immediate aftermath of UFC 193, both Holm and the UFC are moving in the right direction, with the UFC selling replicas of Holm's pre-match tracksuit and championship merchandise on Saturday night, and featuring Holm prominently on its website. Holm has sounded humble and likable in her post-fight interviews, and she has already established the "Preacher's Daughter" persona, creating a yin to Rousey's "Do Nothing Bitch" yang.
Promotion, along with her victory, has allowed Holm to see a more than 400 percent increase in Twitter followers in the last month, and she also recently become a brand endorser for GrrrlClothing. While her brand is significantly dwarfed by Rousey's, the more the UFC marketing machine can promote its newest star, the more likely the UFC should break even more records for the inevitable Rousey vs. Holm II.
And that's why the UFC was a big winner on Saturday night; despite the defeat of its largest star, it now has a chance to significantly shape what should be the largest fight in mixed martial arts history, while simultaneously being granted the rare opportunity to develop a viable exit strategy, should its biggest star leave the sport.
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