The sound of the ‘whack’ by Holly Holm’s foot as it crashed into Ronda Rousey’s neck could be heard from around the entire stadium. The greatest female fighter of all time buckled at her knees and dismantled, face first into canvas of the octagon. The great Ronda Rousey coming into the fight boasted a 12-0 undefeated MMA win record and was at her most vulnerable for the first time in her decorated career.
The reigning Bantamweight champion of the world was unconscious on the floor. The crowd gasped in sheer disbelief. A momentary pause in time, and even in reality, it seemed. Was this really happening? The underdog, Holly Holm, pounced and landed a further three devastating blows to the already bloodied and bruised face of Rousey. It was over. The referee called an end to the fight, coming to the aid of Rousey’s unconscious body lying flat on the canvas. Again there was a momentary pause, the crowd struggling to comprehend what they had just witnessed. It only took one round and fifty nine seconds in the second round for the greatest female fighter of all time to be dethroned.
The crowd suddenly burst into cheers and applause as it realised the world had a new champion! What a privilege it was to see it live at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. Whilst I was standing on my feet, applauding and welcoming in a new Bantamweight champion, I realised something some quite profound – not only had I witnessed one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, I was also experiencing something much greater. Never had I seen, heard or experienced such anticipation and wide-spread media coverage for an event headlined by professional female athletes. This fight, regardless of the result, was a triumph for gender in sport, generally.
Boxing and MMA have always been used as metaphors for life. This metaphor is often married with a fighter who has championed against a great injustice or a fighter who has come from humble beginnings, never giving up hope of becoming a champion, until one day they became champion of the world. The story of Jimmy ‘The Pride of New Jersey’ Braddock comes to mind. He was known for his powerful right hand, solid chin and comeback from a floundering career. He had lost several bouts due to chronic hand injury and was forced to work on the docks and collect social assistance to feed his family during The Great Depression. He battled the adversities and in 1935 fought Max Bear for the Heavyweight title and won. For this unlikely feat he was given the nickname ‘Cinderella Man’.
Rubin ‘The Hurricane’ Carter was the Middleweight boxing champion of the world and was falsely convicted of a murder he never committed. After spending almost twenty years in prison, the United States Federal Court reversed his conviction. Carter's attorneys filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal Court. In 1985, Judge Haddon Lee Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District Court of New Jersey granted the writ, noting that the prosecution had been ‘predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure’ and set aside the convictions. Carter, forty eight years old, was freed in November 1985. Carter represents so many Black African Americans who have suffered injustice at the hands of the United States judicial system. Carter was a champion for civil rights and before passing away was the ambassador for The Innocence Project, a non-profit organisation to assist prisoners who could be proven innocent through DNA testing.
Joe Fraser and Mohammed Ali don’t need any introductions, as the world knows; they are both boxing champions and legends of their respective sports. These two boxers were at the top of their sport in times when there was segregation and severe marginalisation between the black and white communities across the entire United States. They represented strength, defiance and hope.
The UFC 193 may not have the same profound social impacts as so many other previous boxers or bouts. However, UFC 193 hosted one of the great moments in female professional sporting history. The gender issue in sport has had considerable media attention of late, expressing the discontent with the lack of remuneration and media coverage for professional women’s sport, especially in comparison to their male counterparts. However, UFC 193 has taken a quantum leap forward for women in professional sport. The all-female drawcard set a record attendance for the UFC, totalling a number of 56,214, and the commercial business for UFC 193 posted a monster pay-per-view (PPV) card. This show topped the previous mark of 55,724, which was set at UFC 129 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, on April 29, 2011. That card was headlined by a Welterweight title fight between Georges St. Pierre and Jake Shields. The value of the gate at UFC 193 was recorded at AUD$9.5 million, which equates to USD$6.8 million. UFC 193 was pipped at the post by UFC 129 which still holds the record of AUD$11 million. This is a massive achievement for women in professional sport, given that before 2013, women weren’t even allowed to fight in the UFC. Fast forward to 2015 when both female Strawweight and Bantamweight weight divisions hosted and co-hosted the major drawcards for UFC 193.
The fight between Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm has captivated the world media in unprecedented fashion for women’s sport. Post-fight, the news was even greater; the media went into overdrive to provide coverage for one of the greatest upsets in UFC history. Facebook and Twitter went crazy, going mad with updates to supply the demands of the hungry online consumers.
Ronda Rousey is the greatest extended metaphor for triumph and gender equality in professional sport. She advocates strongly that woman can become titans in sport like the male professional athletes can. The NBA has James, the NFL has Brady, football has Messi and the UFC has Rousey. She is the highest paid female athlete in the world, and is definitely one of the highest paid of all athletes (male and female) contracted by the UFC. Rousey is marketed heavily by the UFC, she stands as one of their media personalities, as a cover girl and for the first time in the history of the UFC, she finds herself on the EA Sports UFC game cover. However, undoubtedly and evidently one of the UFC’s most important drawcards, Rousey’s success in the UFC is not limited to wealth and the wonderful legacy she will leave behind; she is an international brand that offers remarkable value in many forms. Hollywood and late night television have even found the commercial value in Rousey: she has been casted and appeared in many cameos for Hollywood blockbuster films.
Ronda Rousey seems to have defied all the odds, not only in a sport that is heavily dominated by males, but in an age where the vast majority of female professional athletes are paid considerably less than their male counterparts, Rousey is laughing all the way to the bank. Professional tennis is a leader in this space; tennis has played a significant role with eradicating the gender divide in professional sport. The winning prize money in grand slams is equal in both the male and female events. Tennis harbours female global superstars like Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, whose brands are equal, if not more valuable, than the vast majority of their male counterparts.
UFC 193 saw a fight that has put the professional female athlete up in the stratosphere with the male professional athlete. The world stopped in anticipation for the Bantamweight bout between Rousey and Holm. The bout captivated the world and is a giant leap forward for the recognition and value of professional female sport on the international stage.