–Kenny Rice

Ronda Rousey Poses for the ESPN The Magazine Issue

Ronda Rousey Poses for the ESPN The Magazine Issue — Courtesy ESPN The Magazine

She apparently has fallen on hard times. Poor Ronda Rousey can’t even afford clothes for her appearance on the cover of ESPN The Magazine.

She does cut a striking figure, the perfect body for the magazine’s Body Issue.

Rousey grabs instant attention, much like her brief but eye-catching 5-0 MMA career, all wins with stunning first round arm bar submissions. The last victory, over Meisha Tate, giving her the Strikeforce bantamweight championship in March.

Obviously Rousey is keenly aware of what she’s doing in front of a camera or in the cage. The 25 year old Californian is the quintessential marketer’s dream—good looking, athletic, feisty, confident, smart, mischievous, talented, and oh so appealing to that key demographic: 18-35.

She is such a model, even a role model for many young women, that many miss the irony of her verbal bashing of Kim Kardashian for using sex to gain fame while she stands in strategically covered nakedness. That is spin doctoring at its best, a savvy figurative strike that is seen coming, but so what?

Though still young, this could be a pivotal point in the future of Ronda. She has her first title defense coming up August 18 against Sarah Kaufman, but after that, what? Assuming she wins, and she is the favorite, where does she go from there?

The conundrum facing Rousey is that there are a limited number of talented fighters in the female ranks that will draw enough interest to warrant a nice paycheck. It was a similar – very similar, at that – situation facing the first attractive women’s MMA star, Gina Carano.

After Carano’s loss to Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in August 2009, she has never fought again. It was and remains the landmark fight for women in MMA history, the most watched, the most reported. Even with all the rumors and speculation that any moment could be her return there has been little interest exhibited by Carano. She hasn’t had to, becoming more known for her acting work, including the lead role in the big-budget Hollywood movie Haywire.

In a more than interesting coincidence, Carano three years ago also appeared in the ESPN magazine issue featuring the beautiful bodies of sports stars. Consequently for Carano, her focus changed and so did the direction of her career.

An expert in the field who doesn’t follow MMA but certainly understands the importance of positioning for commercials, modeling and entertainment, Liz Harris of Harris Consulting Services, feels one doesn’t have to know the difference between an arm bar or the one that serves alcohol to realize the intrinsic value Rousey is building for down the immediate road.

“Where she sees her future is the key. If she wants to become President of the United States or marry one, then posing for ESPN might be a controversial choice. But this is not Playboy, it is a well-respected sports magazine. If I were her agent I’d create talking points. She was not posing nude, she was in an issue celebrating the athletic body. She needs to deflect anything not talking about her future as a fighter, what her goals are.”

“Things have changed so dramatically. Remember when a pregnant (actress) Demi Moore posed for the Vanity Fair cover? That was so avant garde. It created a stir and also got rid of the stigma for all public women, entertainers and athletes,” Harris adds, “I wouldn’t give it a second thought. It appears Ronda has a career path, I’m guessing she knows a fighting career can only last so long and what if she loses? She has positioned herself for something to fall back on and have the marketability to attract product endorsements beyond the MMA world, which is still limited in the big picture of advertising.”

Rousey has perhaps learned as well from the other sport she excelled in before MMA, judo, that no matter how good one is, how far they go, there is still a glass ceiling the public just won’t crack for the athlete. Rousey is a two-time Olympian and when she won the Bronze in 2008 she became the first U.S. women to medal since the sport was introduced to women in The Games in 1992. Yet, few outside the devotees of the sport could appreciate that and no one on Madison Avenue even flinched.

There is no denying the dedication to defending her belt. She did not even consider an offer from NBC to be the analyst for judo in the network’s upcoming coverage of the London Games. Presumably so she could devote all her energy to preparing for Kaufman. “I would have strongly advised her to take the NBC job, great on a resumé and expands her notoriety to an international audience,” Harris notes, “But then I am not an expert in training a fighter or how that would or could have changed her focus for the fight she has coming up.”

Kaufman is the only worthy test at the moment for Rousey. The first Strikeforce bantamweight champ in 2010 with one successful title defense, Kaufman presents enough difference in style than Rousey has previously faced to make this an interesting proposition. If Rousey wins there is only one other place to go, the place where Carano went before — into the cage against Cyborg, still universally considered the greatest female fighter.

While Cyborg serves her yearlong suspension for steroid use, there are many questions if that scenario unfolded. When it could happen is the biggest. How soon could Cyborg be ready? Would she be interested? And how long would Rousey wait in 2013 for another title defense in what likely would become the most watched women’s fight ever?

Kaufman will be her second fight this year, the first since March. Considering the overall lack of coverage given the women’s side of MMA months can seem like years.

Ronda Rousey’s biggest decision in the next year could be more about her next photo shoot, maybe an acting job, rather than a training camp. Who and how many legitimate match-ups are on the horizon could outweigh the real fighting talent that she is. Looks and brains have her in a position to take on that challenge as well. Picture that.

Can’t get enough of Ronda Rousey? Thinks she needs to concentrate on fighting?  Tell us what you think on facebook or twitter, or tell the man himself on Kenny’s twitter or facebook page

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