Rousey vs. Carmouche “full of tension and drama”
AS IMPORTANT AS UFC 157 was from the point of view of the history and future of the sport — featuring the first women’s fight in the UFC, the first openly gay fighter, the inauguration of the women’s bantamweight division and the first women’s headlining fight in the organization — the success of this fight card was, in some ways, up in the air until the numbers came in. No matter how exciting the headlining fight, and card, was, PPV buys matter a great deal, in terms of the future of women’s MMA in the UFC and how high profile those fights will be.
Now, the numbers have arrived — and they’re excellent. Tuesday, journalist Dave Meltzer revealed that the PPV buy-rate was solid: over 400,000 bought the event, and that number could reach 450,000 easily with strong replay buys. Since the UFC estimated the card would potentially do 250,000 buys, this is a huge success, exceeding expectations. MMA writer Adam Swift provided some context for these numbers: Rousey vs. Carmouche ranked 48th out of the 92 UFC PPV cards since 2006, putting it solidly in the middle of the UFC’s PPV rankings. Without a doubt, this means that women’s fights (at least when the champion, Ronda Rousey, is concerned) are viable choices for the headlining slot.
To be honest about UFC 157, the headlining fight made the night. Considering the price of the UFC’s PPVs (especially in HD), if the main event had been Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida, I’d have been pissed. The penultimate fight of the night was three rounds of the experienced light heavyweights feeling each other out, with occasional bursts of activity — Henderson stalking, occasionally bull-rushing, Machida counter-striking, as ever, evading and maintaining distance. Machida won the bout coolly, with a cerebral and elusive approach that frustrated Henderson’s game plan of “lead leg kicks then rush in hoping to land his patented H-bomb” (his huge overhand right).
The split decision win (which should have been unanimous) was a necessary step towards Machida earning his lightweight title rematch against champ Jon Jones (assuming he gets by/wrecks Chael Sonnen next), and I can appreciate it from a technical standpoint, especially on Machida’s end, while also admiring Henderson’s seemingly adamantium chin. But the fight didn’t set the world on fire, as Henderson’s last bout against Shogun Rua did, or produce a highlight-worry KO, the likes of which Machida graced viewers with when he dropped a frustrated Ryan Bader charging in during his last contest.
The rest of the main card was solid enough: Uriah Faber tapped out a standing Ivan Menjivar with a rear-naked choke. Court McGee and Josh Neer brutalized each other for the full 15 minutes, with Neer coming out worse for wear in a fight McGee really should have finished in the first round. And, in his return to the UFC, and the welterweight division, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler knocking out Josh Koschek (well, it was officially a TKO, but it was impressive nonetheless) was deeply satisfying. Taken together, it was a meat-and-potatoes kind of card — impressive without being electrifying — featuring seasoned athletes competing in the Octagon with confidence and skill.
Then there was the main event, which took place at a completely different level of intensity. While the rest of the fights gave the impression of seasoned professional fighters getting in the octagon and doing their jobs, both Rousey and Carmouche fought as if their lives depended on it. More than skill, it was a display of unmitigated passion, ferocity and desire. Both women took to the cage and fought with every scrap of strength they had in them. The men looked like fighters — like athletes. The women looked like gladiators.
The fight itself was full of tension and drama as well. Carmouche threatened Rousey more so than any other opponent. To begin with, it was the longest fight of Rousey’s career, going deep into the first round (4:49, to be exact). Carmouche’s strength was undeniable, fending off Rousey’s initial clinching and keeping the opening moments standing and clinching. Then, after Rousey dragged her to the ground, Carmouche managed to escape and take a standing Rousey’s back, in search of the rear-naked choke, eventually switching to a neck/face crank so tight Rousey went red and purple. Carmouche tightened the hold so brutally across Rousey’s face that her mouthguard was dislodged, leaving visible (and entirely unintentional) teethmarks in Carmouche’s arm. Rousey was able to keep her cool and shake Carmouche off, heralding a change in the direction of the fight.
Rousey, after some up-kicks from Carmouche, spun out of an ill-advised Carmouche leg-lock attempt and ended up in side-control with Carmouche in a headlock. After some flinch-worthy ground and pound to Carmouche’s head, while avoiding her grasping legs, Rousey gained full-mount and went for her signature move: the arm-bar. Though Carmouche worked her hardest to defend, as inexorable as the tides, Rousey gained control of her arm and extended it, leaving Carmouche no choice but to tap. As much as the win was expected, it was also a moment of exultation and relief.
As I predicted, and sincerely hoped, the world of women’s MMA has begun to change in the wake of this fight. Ten female fighters are already under contract with the UFC, with Dana White stating that at least five more signings are on the way (confirmed fighters include Canadians Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis). Liz “Girlrilla” Carmouche, who has been open about the fact that she leads a spartan existence, to the point where the modest apartment she shares with her partner lacks a kitchen table, earned the deep respect and support of the UFC for her performance. (During the press conference, Dana White, while as tight-lipped as ever about performance bonuses and payouts, stated that, “I can promise you this: she’s gonna have a fucking kitchen table.”)
While there were a few moments that bordered on silly during the night, such as Joe Rogan’s reliance on the word “chicks” to describe the women fighting for their lives in front of him, or No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” playing in the arena prior to the main event, overall I couldn’t be more pleased. The debuting female fighters were treated with respect and spoken of as elite athletes — rightfully so. The response from fans was overwhelmingly positive. And above all else, the fight set the bar astronomically high for main card and headlining bouts this year, in terms of excitement and drama.
In the past, I’ve stated that I often find myself in the position of loving things that seem to hate me, counting MMA as one of them. After UFC 157, I think that maybe the sport hates me just a little bit less.