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Addition of Ronda Rousey bolsters UFC, opens sport of MMA up to greater audience

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

Stars are the lifeblood of any sport, but particularly individual sports. The athletes who appeal to the casual fan and the non-sports fan are the ones who account for big events and help the sport grow.

On Thursday, the UFC officially added another transcendent star, and the reverberations from the move will have a significant impact on the company's business.

Ronda Rousey is now the women's bantamweight champion and will headline UFC 157 on Feb. 23 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., against Liz Carmouche. 

A great deal of attention will be paid over the next few months to the fact that the UFC has added a women's division, but the more significant news is the addition of Rousey's outsized persona.

UFC president Dana White said he believes she can surpass Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell in star power.

Ronda Rousey poses for a picture during a Strikeforce event. (Getty)

Ronda Rousey poses for a picture during a Strikeforce event. (Getty)

"Yeah, no doubt about it," White said. "She's definitely better looking than Chuck Liddell. She speaks well. The media loves her. It's hard not to like her. Some people don't like her and don't like the way she talks. But regardless of what you think of her personality or what you think about her, she's a mean, nasty fighter, she likes to finish people, and that's what I look for, and that's what I care about.

"She's got everything. She's incredibly talented."

How many fighters ever appear on Jim Rome's show without a fight to sell?  Her notoriety will only grow with the pulpit the UFC provides.

She may develop into the company's top attraction before long. She has all the elements required for stardom. She's already a superstar in the cage and in just over two years, she's become the dominant fighter in her division.

She still hasn't had to go past the first round and she's already beaten the best the division has to offer.

[Slideshow: Ronda Rousey in and out of the cage]

In addition, she's attractive and has a quick wit and an acerbic tongue. She has a sixth sense for making headlines; she said she'd like to beat up Kim Kardashian and told Rome on his Showtime show that she likes to have as much sex as possible before a fight.

Do you think that last revelation might leave some of her fans panting as they watch the clip of the interview again (and again and again)?

Rousey told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday that she was pleased to be able to finally talk openly. Since the rumors began a month ago about her move to the UFC, the normally blunt judoka had to tap dance around questions.

"I hated to have to offend a lot of people in the media," Rousey said of the calls and texts she received. "I hate to be a jerk, but I was kind of forced to be a jerk for a while. I'm glad I can talk about it."

[Also: Rory MacDonald hurting himself with loyal philosophy]

The UFC chose Carmouche as her opponent after several other fighters declined a shot. One of those, according to White, was Cris "Cyborg" Santos, the former Strikeforce featherweight champion.

Santos said she won't be able to make the cut to 135 pounds safely by February, so she declined the offer.

Rousey had called Santos out after her last successful title defense – in the first round, by arm bar, of course – in August against Sarah Kaufman.

Dana White and Ronda Rousey pose during a UFC event. (Getty)

Dana White and Ronda Rousey pose during a UFC event. (Getty)

On Thursday, Rousey was philosophical. She heaped praise on Carmouche as an opponent while admitting she had wanted to fight Santos.

"I'm happy to be fighting Liz because when she was given a chance to step up and fight for the UFC title, she said yes," Rousey said. "She's going to fight with no fear, with nothing to lose, and I like that. She's going to be more of a grappling opponent and I'll have to be prepared for that because she's a tough, tough chick.

"Maybe it's for the best that it works out this way. We can still fight down the road, and that will be a big fight when it happens."

[Also: Nate Diaz emerged from rough upbringing to contend for a UFC title]

Though White loves to refer to first-time UFC fighters as having to overcome the UFC jitters, Rousey insisted it won't be an issue.

She won a bronze medal in judo in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and said nothing could compare to that.

"It's one day that you've put in four years of work, a lifetime of work, actually, for that moment," she said. "To me, that's always going to be the ultimate."

For the UFC, though, having Rousey in the fold is the ultimate. Her signing will broaden the sport's fan base and introduce it to new fans.

Nothing is more important to a fight promotion than that.

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