As Ronda Rousey makes her official exit from the MMA world, where will the next female superstar emerge from to take the mantle?
It’s easy to see why Ronda Rousey skyrocketed to the top of the MMA world when she burst onto the scene in 2012. She was bold and brash, unafraid to play the heel and unapologetically confident in the face of any foe. She also wasn’t shy about using her sex appeal, posing for Maxim and the ESPN Body Issue. She was a new kind of star and the public ate it up as they made her one of the most famous celebrities in the world during her run.
It’s no secret why women’s MMA became popular quickly. The women bring the same skills to the table that the men do, with a sex appeal to their counterparts can’t match. But times are changing, where women competing are not the novelty they once were when they emerged in the UFC. In a sport where nearly all fighters push their individuality, having the skills, looks, and personality are not enough to complete the recipe for that coveted “x-factor.”
The fact that creating a superstar is difficult doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Several women show the promise of stardom and have connected well with the fanbase. o begin, there are several stars now who simply have room to grow. Cris “Cyborg” Justino carries a decade of dominance with her as she has cut a path of destruction at 145. Former strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk also came close to tying Ronda Rousey’s record for title defenses until recently. But until they find a new level of momentum, they currently lie just short of the mark of blockbuster pay-per-view star.
The current frontrunner for “the next big thing” is Rose Namajunas. “Thug Rose” was one of the youngest challengers for the world title when she made the finals of The Ultimate Fighter at just 22 years old. While she didn’t win the gold years ago, she did score a historic upset in shocking dominant striker Jędrzejczyk in the first round to win gold in 2017. Even Namajunas’ most ardent fans will say they didn’t expect her to take out the Polish champion so convincingly so early.
The excitement for Namajunas comes down to style. She combines an exciting blend of striking and grappling, cutting superb angles on the feet and a willingness to take risks in going after submissions. However, it’s her attitude outside the cage that won her a legion of fans. Her composure in the face of Jędrzejczyk’s intimidation attempts gained her notoriety, but her message of using her platform as champion to spread positivity made her one of the most popular fighters of 2017. Next on tap is a rematch with Jędrzejczyk. If victorious, she has a long list of contenders eager to take her throne. A daunting task, but one every star has to accomplish to reach rarefied air.
There are other fan-favorites that also continue to make waves with skills and personality. Former Invicta FC featherweight champion and expected UFC prospect Megan Anderson is expected to lead the women’s 145 weight class in the near future. At 28 years old, she has impressed with her powerful striking. Most importantly, she is one of the few athletes that can match up with the physicality of long-time champion Cyborg. Outside of the cage, she also has the popular YouTube show The Aussie and the Fancy where she breaks down upcoming UFC cards with fellow Invicta veteran Laura Sanko. Anderson has yet to make her UFC debut, but that has not changed the expectations that she will be game-changer upon her arrival.
UFC newcomer Mackenzie Dern has only one victory inside the Octagon, and it was a razor close decision at that. However, she enters the Octagon as easily one of the most hyped female fighters to enter the organization in years. The daughter of accomplished grappler Wellington “Megaton” Dias, Dern was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu prodigy from a young age. In 2015, she had a career year by winning a gold medal at Worlds, Abu Dhabi, and the Pan-Am tournaments. At just 25 years old, her blend of skills and demeanor have has her pegged as a potential superstar down the road.
Of course, the unpredictability of the sport makes it very likely that the next star can come out of nowhere seemingly overnight. The women compete on the same stage and on the same night as the men under the same rules. So the arrival of a star who emerges that takes the world by storm is not a matter of if, but when.
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