Since she last fought in a cage as part of the first female match in Ultimate Fighting Championship history in February, Ronda Rousey has filmed a reality show and two movies, granted countless interviews and appeared on so many magazine covers she says she doesn’t even get excited about them anymore.
Despite just one appearance in the octagon, the undefeated women’s bantamweight champion, who has submitted every opponent with the same maneuver inside the first round, is the biggest mainstream star on the organization’s roster.
Tonight she faces her biggest rival in a rematch of the fight that convinced UFC executives a women’s division could be added to the UFC when she fights Miesha Tate at UFC 168 at the MGM Grand Garden.
The rematch has been anticipated ever since Rousey did significant damage to Tate with an armbar to take the Strikeforce belt in March 2012.
Yet it’s not even the main event on this card. That distinction falls on the rematch between longtime middleweight champion Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman, the man who knocked him out in July to take the belt.
The two title fights make for one of the biggest cards in UFC history. As of Friday afternoon, the event had done an estimated $6.3 million at the gate, which would make it the second biggest total for a mixed martial arts card in Nevada history, behind only the $6.9 million for Silva’s rematch with Chael Sonnen in July 2012. Company officials also expect big pay-per-view numbers.
UFC president Dana White said there was no grand plan to stack together two of the year’s biggest title fights on one card, only that the organization always wants to put on big shows for the annual year-end event in Las Vegas.
“It’s the end of the year, and it just lined up. It just made sense,” said White, who has been talking about his enthusiasm for this card, and the Weidman-Silva rematch in particular, for months. “I sell fights for a living, I know. But I have been thinking about this fight since the first one ended, and now it’s finally here.”
Silva looks as if he has been thinking about it, too. His demeanor at Thursday’s news conference was far different than the silly Silva who appeared before and after — and to an extent during — the July loss to Weidman.
Silva said after that fight he was relieved to be free of the burden of the belt he held for seven years. Now he says he once again is ready to carry that weight.
“(After tonight) the pressure of the belt is going to be all back with me,” Silva said.
While he stated immediately after the loss that he wasn’t interested in a rematch with Weidman, it took him only a few days to agree to this fight.
“After the dust settled, I was sitting thinking alone and thought maybe I should stop. Maybe this is it,” Silva said. “But I got on the phone with my son, and he said, ‘Dad, do what you want to do. Do what makes you happy,’ and that’s what I’m doing.”
Rousey also talked about a rejuvenation coming into her second UFC fight. The Olympic judo medalist has seven pro wins in MMA, all by first-round armbar.
She was worried that even this early in her career, she could fall into a routine. That’s one of the reasons she decided to film roles in “Fast and Furious 7” and “The Expendables 3” before starting her training camp.
“(Georges St. Pierre) is kind of right when he says that there’s simplicity in the struggle and complexity in success,” Rousey said. “Even though its complicated and crazy and it takes a lot of energy, that’s the environment where I really thrive. I’ve really been able to change it up and do a whole bunch of things in this last year. I couldn’t have been more excited to start camp again. This is where I belong. This is where I feel right.”
In addition to challenging herself, having so many other things going on outside the cage also serves a marketing purpose for Rousey.
“I also wanted to do something people would doubt, and I don’t want to ever put myself in a situation where it’s a lose-lose because if you win, it’s, ‘Of course you won.’ And if you lose, it’s the end of the world,” Rousey said. “I want every single time I have a fight coming up for people to have a reason to doubt. So that’s what really made me even more motivated for this fight, is I made it even more impossible for myself and I’m going to do it anyway.”
Another decisive win over Tate might put this nasty rivalry behind Rousey for now. She doesn’t regret all the drama between the two that dates to the first fight, however. The fact UFC officials took notice and added a women’s division outweighs the two years of animosity and anger she has felt toward Tate.
“If we didn’t have that rivalry, I’m not sure if Dana and the Fertittas would be watching that fight in the first place,” Rousey said. “It’s because people were interested in it for some reason. For the time, I think it was exactly what was needed. Everybody was playing the Ms. America card, and though they were great fights, nobody was really watching them. I think a spectacle had to be created at first.”
The fights headline the pay-per-view portion of the card, which airs live at 7 p.m.
Four preliminary fights, including a middleweight bout between Chris Leben and Uriah Hall, air live on Fox Sports 1 at 5 p.m. Two preliminary card bouts will stream online beginning at 4.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at email@example.com or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.