COMMENTARY | Despite an event that featured the confirmation of the UFC's new star middleweight, the end of an era and the establishment of a new heavyweight contender, much of the talk after last Saturday's UFC 168 revolved around a rejected handshake.
After UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey successfully defended her title against bitter rival Miesha Tate, the beaten challenger extended her hand to seemingly put the bad blood behind the two. Rousey was unwilling to return the sign of sportsmanship and walked away from Tate with a scowl on her face.
In that moment, the boos raining down from the sold-out crowd left little doubt that Rousey has arrived as the next great UFC fighter who fans love to hate. For anyone following "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show, this result should not have been all that surprising, since Rousey spent the greater part of the season as the "bad girl" foil to the extremely likable Tate.
At first glance, it might seem that Rousey's surliness and perceived bad attitude would be a problem big enough to dim her rising mainstream star. However, if past history is any indication, Rousey's drawing power may only grow along with her antics.
As you will see, the three biggest "heels" in UFC history are also the promotion's biggest draws of their respective eras:
3. Tank Abbott
It's safe to say that Abbott was the UFC's original bad boy. Making his debut at UFC 6, Abbott was matched up against a proclaimed Samoan bone-breaker named John Matua. In just 18 seconds, Abbott knocked Matua out, landed an excessive blow on Matua's downed body, and then openly mocked his unconscious opponent who was convulsing on the mat. Upon then being interviewed and shown a replay of what happened, Abbott suggested that watching the highlights aroused him.
As a result of his brute strength and heelish antics, Abbott instantly became one of the UFC's first can't-miss stars. Despite being thoroughly out-skilled by the vast majority of his opponents, Abbott remained a draw despite a mediocre record and long losing streaks. He even spent some time as a professional wrestler with World Championship Wrestling (a common theme with MMA heels).
Abbott remains proof that controversy and a bad attitude can earn attention, even when the results are not there.
2. Tito Ortiz
Although Ortiz never claimed to get aroused by injuring opponents with cheap shots, he earned his nickname as "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy" during his glory days with the UFC in the early -2000s. During his reign as the UFC light heavyweight champion, Ortiz became known for devastating ground and pound in the octagon, and an extreme sense of self confidence outside of it.
Ortiz really began to take on a heel persona, however, when he refused to defend his title against fan-favorite Chuck Liddell due to an apparent contract dispute with the UFC. Around that time, MMA fans as a whole seemed to turn on Ortiz, but, credit to Tito, he embraced the heelish persona and was able to use it to extend his time as a headlining draw in the sport.
Despite the fact that he won just one of his final nine fights, he continued to get top billing in shows due to his antics, which included frequent promises of new-found health, his rocky marriage to former porn star Jenna Jameson, and wearing a t-shirt that said "Dana is my (expletive)."
1. Brock Lesnar
No one in the history of the UFC, and maybe not in the history of unscripted sports, has earned more by being bad than former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. From the beginning of his unlikely transition into MMA, Lesnar maintained the persona that made him one of the greatest bad guys for World Wrestling Entertainment. Naturally, this rubbed many MMA fans the wrong way and led to him getting some of the strongest negative reactions that the octagon has ever seen.
At the same time, no one wanted to miss any of his antics, which lead to Lesnar becoming one of the greatest pay-per-view draws in combat sports history. Equal parts people wanting to see Lesnar lose and wanting to see what he would do next, the entire sports universe was interested in his every move inside the octagon.
Lesnar's heelish behavior culminated at UFC 100, which was also the biggest show in the promotion's history. After smashing Frank Mir to retain his title, Lesnar unleashed one of the most infamous bad-guy tirades in MMA history, degrading the UFC's main sponsor Bud Light and yelling about mounting his wife. That interview cemented Lesnar as the UFC's top draw of all time and is a great demonstration of the fact that the badder the fighter behaves, the more potential he or she has for extreme financial success.
Along these lines, if Rousey continues to win with the same attitude, there is little doubt that she will soon find herself in a prominent spot on this list. Likewise, she should also continue to amass pay-per-view buys at the same level as those heelish fighters who came before her.
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Del Pearson is a big MMA fan who has been to many live UFC events. His all-time favorite fighter is Randy Couture. Follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson44.
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts
- Ronda Rousey
- Brock Lesnar
- Tank Abbott