Part 5 of the strange history of MMA will examine the impact that FOX has had on the UFC, and the biggest stars in the sport today.
The UFC has exploded in popularity since the deal with FOX. Each of the 18 events that have been broadcasted on FOX’s main channel have brought in millions of viewers, and many of the smaller FOX Sports 1 events draw many spectators as well.
In the post UFC-FOX era, two superstars have separated themselves from the pack. These two fighters have done what so many fighters wish, to become a household name. In many ways, they could not be farther apart, but their charisma, talent, and fighting styles have turned them into stars. I am, of course, referring to Ronda Rousey and Conor Mcgregor.
The Rapid Rise of Ronda Rousey
The Ronda Rousey story is one of the most fascinating in the strange history of MMA. From a very early age, Rousey was taught judo. Her mother, AnnMaria De Mars, was the first American to win a gold medal in the World Judo Championships. Ronda found her first real success in judo at the age of 17 when she qualified for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Judo.
Rousey failed to medal in 2004, but again qualified for the Olympic Games in 2008, and managed to win a bronze medal, becoming the first American to win an Olympic medal in Judo. After the Olympics, Rousey retired from Judo and moved to Venice, California to begin pursuing an MMA career. During this time, Ronda worked as a bartender to support herself.
Ronda eventually made her amateur MMA debut on August 6th, 2010. Things didn’t last long. Ronda rushed at her opponent from the opening bell and finished the fight with an armbar in just 23 seconds. She went on to have 2 more amateur fights (winning both by first round armbar) before starting her professional career.
Rousey’s First Title Shot
After only 4 professional fights, Ronda Rousey was given a shot at the title against tough veteran Miesha Tate. This fight garnered big interest from MMA fans thanks to Ronda’s trash talk and pre fight disrespect towards Tate. By the time the bell rang to start the fight, the whole MMA world was watching.
This fight would end up being a pivotal moment in the strange history of MMA, as Rousey secured an armbar on Tate in the first round. She was instantly regarded as the face of Women’s MMA, and the head execs at the UFC began to take notice.
It only took one more victory for the UFC to announce that Ronda Rousey would be brought into the UFC. Just a short time before this, Dana White had claimed in an interview that women would never fight in the UFC. Ronda changed his mind.
Rousey would go on to win her next six fights in the UFC in increasingly devastating fashion. Her striking became something to be reckoned with, as she knocked out tough Brazilian Bethe Correira in only 34 seconds. All good things must come to an end eventually, however, and on November 15th, 2015, Ronda Rousey found this out the hard way.
In what is now the largest live audience ever for an MMA fight, Ronda Rousey attempted to defend her title against former boxing world champion Holly Holm. It became clear early on that Rousey was off, as she was hit numerous times with punches in the first round and failed to generate any offense. In the second, Holm capitalized on a slip by Rousey and knocked her unconscious with a head kick in what is considered by many to be the greatest upset in the strange history of MMA.
Conor Mcgregor Begins his Climb
While Ronda Rousey was busy medaling in the Olympics, McGregor was beginning his MMA career in local Irish shows. After a promising start that saw him go 12-2 McGregor decided to quit MMA. “So, I was unsure of what to do. A longtime teammate of mine had got some bad news from too many wars inside the Octagon. So, you know, I sat back, and the UFC had not called at this stage where I had two gold belts wrapped around my waist, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t think I want to do this. Maybe, maybe this is not for me.” McGregor said.
Luckily for fans of MMA, McGregor decided not to retire. His coach John Kavanagh called him and informed him that he was offered a UFC fight against fellow prospect Marcus Brimage. The Irishman capitalized on that opportunity, knocking out Brimage in just 67 seconds, and sending a message to the world that he had arrived.
The UFC knew they had something special with McGregor right away, and booked him to face another up and coming prospect, Max Holloway, in Boston. McGregor made it look easy against Holloway, winning a unanimous decision but suffering an ACL tear in the process. Just like that, McGregor’s career was halted.
The Return of the Notorious One
Less than a year after McGregor’s injury, he was back in the cage for the UFC’s return to Ireland. Opposite the octagon was Diego Brandao, a dangerous knockout striker with a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jistu. The Irish fighter showed no signs of ring rust, as he dominated Brandao and scored a first round TKO.
McGregor would next face Dustin Poirier at UFC 178. Most predicted this would be the hardest fight of Conor’s career. Poirier was a top 10 fighter with wins over some very respectable opponents. McGregor would tell anyone that would listen he would knock the American out in the first round. In Ali-like form, Conor McGregor’s prediction came true; he knocked out Poirier in just 1:46 seconds.
Conor McGregor’s next fight was against veteran fighter Dennis Siver. By this time, many had come to believe in the Irishman’s fighting skill, and were rushing to online sportsbooks to bet on him. He continued his winning ways with a 2nd round TKO. Less than a month later it was announced that McGregor would fight Jose Aldo for the UFC featherweight championship.
Out Steps Aldo, in Steps Mendes
With only two weeks before their anticipated fight, it was announced that Jose Aldo had suffered a rib injury in training and would not be able to fight. The UFC immediately began searching for replacements, and perennial contender Chad Mendes was eventually chosen.
For years, people had been claiming the UFC was keeping wrestlers away from McGregor. Mendes was known as one of the best wrestlers in the UFC. Now was his opportunity to show he could stop a takedown.
Mendes did manage to take McGregor down on multiple occasions, and even cut him over the eye with a hard elbow, but the Irishman weathered the early storm and stopped Mendes with a 2nd round TKO in one of the best fights in the strange history of MMA. He was given an interim featherweight belt, and was quickly booked to face Aldo at UFC 194.
McGregor Becomes a Superstar
MMA fans had been anxiously waiting for the McGregor-Aldo fight to happen. Many were worried that Aldo would get injured in training again. McGregor helped flame these worries by claiming the Brazilian “was scared to death.” No injuries took place, however, and the two finally stepped into the octagon on December 12th, 2015.
Conor McGregor needed just 13 seconds to score perhaps the greatest knockout in the strange history of MMA against Aldo. He caught the Brazilian with a picture-perfect left hand, and quickly landed two hammerfists on the ground. The fight was over before it even began, and Conor McGregor instantly became a superstar.
Today, McGregor and Rousey are the two highest draws in MMA, and perhaps combat sports. They are leading the pack and setting the blueprint for how to market a fight. Despite them both losing their last fights, the fans are clamoring to see them return.
The sport of MMA has come a long way since the days of Royce Gracie and Tank Abbott. FOX has given the UFC a mainstream platform, and stars like McGregor and Rousey have become household names. It remains to be seen just how far the sport will go, but if the past 23 years are any indication, the sky is the limit.
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