“This is without a doubt, the most media attention we've ever had leading up to a fight. And when I talk about media attention, I'm talking about big time media.”
Those were the words of UFC president Dana White, referring to Ronda Rousey, as he opened the UFC 157 pre-fight press conference in Anaheim, Calif., on Thursday. That’s no minor statement considering the kind of attention that welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and middleweight champion Anderson Silva attract, not to mention the splash that WWE crossover star Brock Lesnar made when he jumped to the UFC.
“She blows (Brock Lesnar) out of the water,” said White. “No fighter has ever fought in the UFC that has had more attention than she has. It's a fact.”
Even before she was donned the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Rousey was garnering media attention that evades most fighters. She made an appearance on the Conan O’Brien show while she was still the Strikeforce champ.
Once Rousey was named UFC women’s bantamweight champion and the UFC 157 headlining bout with Liz Carmouche was set, the media came out of the woodwork to cover the former Olympic medalist.
Even White, who has been accused of conducting the Ronda Rousey hype train, says he was surprised by the amount and type of attention that Rousey has drawn.
“I didn't think that HBO and Time Magazine and all these other outlets that never cover us would. And if they did, I didn't think it was gonna be positive,” White commented. “I thought it was gonna be freak show. Nobody pulled the freak show card. Nobody has really smashed the main event on this card. It's been pretty cool.”
That type of attention usually translates into financial rewards as well, and White says that it is translating. UFC 157 has yet to sell out, but he stated that most of the available tickets are in the cheap seats and declared “this is gonna sell out.”
“This gate beat the last gate when we were here (at the Honda Center),” said White, “which was the heavyweight championship between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos.”
Velasquez vs. dos Santos headlined UFC on Fox 1 in November of 2011, drawing an attendance of 11,607 for a live gate of $1.1 million. That of course, was an event televised on free TV, but it’s not insignificant that Rousey vs. Carmouche has already surpassed a $1.1 million gate, especially considering the skepticism of many critics.
A strong live gate, in turn, is usually indicative of solid pay-per-view numbers as well. The UFC doesn’t release those numbers; so it’s a little more difficult to gauge success on that front, although White insists the pay-per-view numbers are “trending very well.”
The one absolute to take away for now, however, is that without ever setting foot in the Octagon, Ronda Rousey is already one of the UFC’s brightest stars.
“I think Lucia Rijker said it best. In any sport, there's a couple people that really stand out and become big stars,” said White. “And that's true in this sport or any other sport, and (Ronda) has definitely been that person.”