The Many Faces of Rowdy
Very seldom does an athlete ascend beyond their sport, transcending it. When it does, the story of who they are within the public sphere begins to crystallize. These public constructs then take on a life of their own. Michael Jordan was a gambler or a business maven, a cultural icon or an inept executive, depending on who you ask.
As the sports iris narrows on 'Rowdy' Ronda Rousey’s title defence this weekend, let us explore the five public constructs of Rousey.
This is the truest Rousey. As is the sport of MMA, it’s the most real. It’s the one we see in action with our eyes and can’t deny.
Some would say Athlete Rousey’s competition has been lesser compared to other dominant champions such as Jose Aldo or Jon Jones. This is true, but also largely irrelevant. This ignores the superior aesthetic of her dominance. She fights the way Wayne Gretzky scored in the 1980's, netting two-to-three goals a game. Rousey is fighting under the same rules, in the same cage (she puts her pants on one leg at a time…), and accomplishes things our eyes see that translate in our brains as, ‘Holy sh*t.’
Athlete Rousey is dominant. Even if she was living in her car or getting out of a limousine dressed like a model, she paces to the Octagon to Joan Jett with a deadeye stare and crushes her competition no different. She is remarkably, terrifyingly efficient. As with any of the greatest, there is no denying her talent. It is on full display every time she steps inside the cage.
If this is the construct of Rousey you see, it is the truest.
Of all the public constructs there are of Ronda Rousey, perhaps the most nauseating version is the one the UFC has created. The #RouseyRevolution and all the marketing material surrounding her is the stuff of hyperbole. When Joe Rogan tells you Rousey is a ‘once ever’ athlete, you know this construct exists in eyebrow-raising territory.
To be fair, much of what the UFC says is true at its base. Yes, Rousey is a culture-changing athlete in the sport of MMA. Yes, Rousey is as unique an athlete there has been in sport. Her total dominance in the Octagon rightfully earns her plaudits that only an ignoramus would try to argue.
The grandiosity of these claims are built on the good old dollar. The UFC’s competition model is not a meritocracy; the model is capitalist. For instance, if promoting CM Punk can make them more money than Chris Weidman, the UFC would be remiss not to give Punk as much a promotional push as Weidman.
There is no doubt that Rousey sells. If the UFC can market Rousey across the spectrum of how she appeals to the public — her athletics and cultural footprint blown into the stratosphere — what you get is more PPV buys, more eyeballs, more social media mentions, more money. You draw in people who have zero interest in MMA— let alone sports — paying their money to see what this Rousey is all about (example: my 60-year old mother plans to buy the PPV. She couldn’t remember what position I played in football as a kid, let alone follow the games).
If you pay attention to Rousey pushed through UFC marketing material, you’re looking squarely at UFC Rousey. She sells, but she’s not entirely the real Rousey; she's not a construct of Rousey herself.
Role Model Rousey
We need more people like this Rousey. Simply put, we have had decade’s worth of male athletes who have put the ‘role model’ label to good use and others to great shame.
Let’s not forget that Rousey has come a long way in a short period of time. She’s the face of an entire sport barely four years after living in her car and later a bungalow that had more in common with a university student campus house than an elite professional athlete.
Wouldn’t you want the same messages her mother imbued in her — the soundbite guru, Ann Marie Demars — imbued in your daughter? Hell, even in your son for that matter? Rousey is an example: set your mind to a goal and work your ass off to get it.
Furthermore, Rousey is steadfast in speaking her mind and not backing down from them in the face of pressure. This may get her into trouble but it isn’t a terrible message to send to kids. If Role Model Rousey is the construct you see most, you’re in a good place.
If the UFC Rousey is a bizzarro planet, Hollywood Rousey is a parallel universe. Both of these versions of Rousey are meant to push a certain ‘image’ or ‘idea’ of who Rousey is, to place her on a pedestal.
In Hollywood, actresses lose roles as they age and their looks fade. I once had a Hollywood publicist tell me a 110-pound actress needed to ‘lose that arm fat’ or she wouldn’t make it. Actresses routinely compete with each other for the few great leading roles that exist (Emily Blunt and Jennifer Lawrence currently being the titleholders).
Hollywood’s pursuit of Rousey is a reflection of the times we live in. As with UFC Rousey, she sells because of her strong, athletic and sexy image. Hollywood Rousey is a construct meant to capitalize financially on the spate of female empowerment (which at the moment is still not entirely being realized as a viable business model in Hollywood).
This construct places Rousey into a category. This category prizes her based on superficial commodities: her looks, her body and what those represent to the paying public. She certainly could ascend in the industry as like Dwayne Johnson did. However, Hollywood treats men far more kindly as they age. The same way an athlete is marginalized and undermined as they decline physically, this category will do the same to Rousey.
If Hollywood Rousey is the construct you see the most, you’re seeing the most theatrical version (no pun intended) and, unfortunately, the most tenuous.
This Rousey is the construct that gets constant attention. This is the Rousey for the haters.
Role Model Rousey claims to be against domestic violence. Hypocrite Rousey admits in her book to striking an ex-boyfriend multiple times. She is also dating a fighter, Travis Browne, who has been accused of domestic violence by his wife from whom he is separated but not divorced.
Criticism of Hypocrite Rousey extend now to her head coach, Edmond Tarverdyan. Ronda’s mother hates the guy. Furthermore, he has filed for bankruptcy claiming no personal income, no stake in Glendale Fighting Club (where Rousey trains) and over $700,000 in debts.
Hypocrite Rousey though is easy to dismiss. If we go by the letter of the law, her relationship to Browne links her only to accusations and not formal charges of violence against women. If we go by moral law, her claims of striking her ex were because he took naked pictures of her without consent and then wouldn’t let her leave when she confronted him. As for some form of vicarious law regarding her coach, his issues aren’t Rousey’s.
If this is the construct of Rousey you see the most, pay attention to the other Rousey’s.
Athletes evolve over time in the public sphere. Jordan was just a basketball player until he partnered with Nike and became an icon. So it will be with Ronda Rousey. Years from now, we may look back to this as the year that made Rousey. But which public construct will dominate? Will it be her gender, her filmography or her dating history that we all come to identify with her? Doubtful. Whatever we think of Rousey years from now will be the first construct of Rousey that we discovered: the athlete.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb @NPBroadcaster