MMA headliners Rousey and Holm enter UFC pay per views as challengers

As the year in mixed martial arts culminates with the destined to be classic UFC 207 event, the women’s division consists of the most intriguing storylines. With the bantamweight title being contested, and the inaugural featherweight title to be fought for in February 2017, the challengers for both of these prestigious titles see their legendary careers possibly being on the line as well.

With batnamweight champion Amanda Nunes making her first title defense, she does so against the trailblazing Ronda Rousey, who helped elevate the importance and eventual main event status for women in UFC. Not only was Rousey the first women’s champion in UFC history, but she enters the match with the undertones of being an underdog.

After suffering the devastating upset to Holly Holm, Rousey has not entered the octagon. Although Holm should have defended her title first against Rousey in a rematch, she opted for Miesha Tate, losing the title, altering the balance of power once again in the women’s division. As promoter Dana White stated, “it cost him a big payday”. Coincidentally, Miesha Tate would lose the title in her first defense.

While Rousey’s first match fittingly puts her in a position to fit for the title, there are many doubts as to whether she still has the killer instinct that made her such a feared opponent. After Holm exposed some weaknesses against her, many fight pundits feel that Rousey may not be as intense, somewhat declawed, so to speak. Adding to this insinuation that Rousey may no longer be the dominant fighter that she used to be are the claims that Nunes is now the fighter to beat and should be poised to hold the same vice-like grip on the title that Rousey used to have.

Amanda Nunes (left) faces off against Ronda Rousey during weigh ins for UFC 207 at T Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Image obtained from: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/12/ronda-rousey-ufc-207-amanda-nunes-instagram-fans-prove-you-right-message

Amanda Nunes (left) faces off against Ronda Rousey during weigh ins for UFC 207 at T Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Image obtained from: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/12/ronda-rousey-ufc-207-amanda-nunes-instagram-fans-prove-you-right-message

One could compare Rousey vs. Nunes to the iconic match that took place between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, which was Ali’s big comeback, placing him back in the stratosphere of the elites. Doubts about Ali were evident before the match, claims that he may have been washed up. Although he beat Foreman, he did so because he made adjustments and did not rely on his former fight style, employing the “rope a dope” to reclaim the title he brought unprecedented prestige to.

Suddenly, Rousey is in the same position as Ali, who passed away earlier this year. If she loses this match to Nunes, her career will lose the luster it once had, no longer holding her in the conversation for the title. Should she manage to defeat Nunes (which will mean not panicking if things do not go her way in the first round), she will make history as the first woman to capture the UFC Bantamweight title twice.

Adding a tinge of irony to Rousey’s predicament is the fact that Holm, the woman who beat her for the title, is in a similar situation, as she enters UFC 207 with her career in the balance. Since Holly Holm defeated Ronda Rousey to capture the bantamweight women’s championship, the division has experienced a carousel of champions, with the title changing hands four times.

After losing to Tate, Holm suffered a second straight loss, bested by Russian fighter Valentina Shevchenko, which was the main event of UFC on Fox 20. With Holm entering UFC 207 with two straight losses, the baseball analogy of three strikes and you’re out may hold tremendous meaning. If she has any hopes of reviving her career, her fight against Germaine de Randamie for the women’s Featherweight championship is a must-win situation.

In addition, there is the potential element of unprecedented achievement for Holm, who could make mixed martial arts history with a win against Germaine de Randamie. Of note, there has never been a woman in the history of UFC to hold titles in two different weight classes, which would place Holm in rarified air, adding to her amazing legacy that also consists of several boxing titles.

Rousey, Ledecky and Mirza named to Time’s Most 100 Influential in 2016

Having released its list of the top 100 most influential people, three female athletes were among the honored list. Featuring seven athletes overall, the likes of swimming sensation Katie Ledecky, tennis champion Sania Mirza and mixed martial arts pioneer Ronda Rousey were bestowed such an honor.

Compared to 2015, when Abby Wambach was the only female athlete on the list, the increase in 2016 may hopefully lead to an even stronger showing in 2017. Surprisingly, Serena Williams, who was recognized by Time’s sister publication Sports Illustrated as the Sportsperson of the Year for 2015, and Dr. Jen Welter, who made history as the first female assistant coach in NFL history were not part of the 2016 list.

Among the criterion employed by Time to shape its list included those that embody a breakthrough and/or have the power to make one think. In addition, each honored member of the top 100 was featured in a profile composed by a guest writer, either a fellow peer or a celebrity.

Of the three honored women, it may have come as the biggest surprise to see Tina Fey honor Rousey with her words. Although Fey is not famous for sport, she is currently part of Rousey’s ambitions to branch out into acting. Both are starring in a Paula Pell produced film titled “Do Nothing Bitches,” to be distributed by Universal.

Rousey has made an impression on both the big and small screen. From hosting ‘Saturday Night Live’ in January 2016, to roles in big budget films such as “The Expendables 3”, “Entourage: The Movie” and “Furious 7”, she is also pegged to be in the remake of “Road House” while a biopic about her career is in the works. It may be highly possible that Rousey will do like football legend Jim Brown, walking away from sport in their prime to pursue acting full-time.

Based on rumors circulating online, the plot of the film centers around rich wives who attend a camp in which Rousey is a military-like instructor. Considering that Pell and Rousey are both represented by WME, the film was actually based on an interview where Rousey spoke about female empowerment.

As Fey recalls her first fascination with Rousey, courtesy of the interview which gathered three million views on YouTube, it becomes clear that she is becoming her biggest fan. Encouraging Rousey’s candor, Fey hopes that her powerful message can serve as the catalyst to help women become comfortable with their body image and self-esteem.

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar takes pen to paper to express his views on Sania Mirza. Both hailing from growing global power India, each has made an invaluable contribution to sport, subsequently becoming legends. Like so many, Tendulkar first heard of Mirza in 2005, when she made history as the first player from India to capture a Women’s Tennis Association event. Admiring her ability to bounce back from a serious injury, Tendulkar is quick to point out in his commentary that Sania means brilliant.

From a tennis perspective, Sania is living up to such billing. Teaming up with Martina Hingis, who was a promising phenom in the late 1990s as a teenager, the two have become an unlikely duo, rising to become the top-ranked doubles team in the world.

After a singles career that quickly fizzled for Hingis, unable to live up to a combination of expectation and image as a sex symbol, continuously placing her in comparison to Anna Kournikova (the two were once doubles partners), the Swiss Miss seemed doomed to be another tennis prodigy poised to burn out. Instead, Mirza has helped Hingis rediscover her greatness, simultaneously reinventing herself as an elite doubles competitor, with the last three Grand Slam titles to show for it.

The presence of Hingis has certainly been reciprocated, as Sania bounced back from a potentially career threatening wrist injury, forcing her to abandon singles competition. From Tendulkar’s perspective, her confidence, strength and resilience are remarkable qualities, which he believes shall help inspire a new generation of promising athletes in India to pursue their own sporting dreams.

Recognizing the growing greatness of Katie Ledecky, swimming legend Janet Evans emphasizes that she is in a class of her own, oblivious to the seven other swimmers occupying the other lanes. Having captured four gold medals in the Summer Games, Evans carved a legacy that Ledecky not only emulated, but managed to exceed.

At one point, Evans held the world records in the 400-m, 800-m and 1,500-m freestyle events. Ledecky would eclipse all three records and make waves by capturing five gold medals at the 2015 World Championships. Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the fact that she was only 18 years old when these records fell.

Having first met Ledecky in November 2015, when Ledecky captured the Golden Goggles award for Female Athlete of the Year, Evans is definitely in awe. She points out how Ledecky became the first female swimmer to earn a first place finish in the 200-m, 400-m, 800-m and 1,500-m freestyle in the same World Championships. Yet, the quality that Evans admires the most is Ledecky’s maturity, a focus that results in resetting what she can achieve.

Coincidentally, Evans and Ledecky once swam in the same meet. The two would take the plunge in 2012 for the US Summer Games Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. It was actually Evans first Trials since 1996, before Ledecky was even born.
While Ledecky enjoyed a first place finish in the 800-m freestyles at the Trials, it was a moment of redemption. Evans had noticed that the product of Bethesda, Maryland experienced heartbreak earlier at the Trials, placing third in the 400-m freestyle. As a side note, Evans held the world record in the 400-m from 1987 to 2006. Considering that only the winner qualifies for the Summer Games in an individual event, such frustration was compounded as the 400-m came before the 800-m.

Heading into the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Ledecky is poised to build on the momentum of her world record haul and become the next swimming superstar from the United States, possibly capturing the imagination of fans the way Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps once did. Having won a gold medal in the 800-m freestyle at the 2012 London Summer Games at the tender age of 15, she looks destined to win much more in Rio. Undoubtedly, the first gold in London definitely brought back memories of when Amanda Beard won her first Summer Games gold as a teen phenom at Atlanta 1996. Of note, 15 was also the age that Evans set her first world record.

Holly Holm humbles Ronda Rousey in upset of the decade

In an upset reminiscent to James “Buster” Douglas defeating Mike Tyson for the heavyweight championship 25 years ago, history saw a new chapter composed as a pair of female fighters in UFC engaged in the biggest upset the promotion has ever seen. UFC women’s champion Ronda Rousey, who seemed indestructible in a remarkable rout of the women’s division, faced the biggest loss of her career at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia as Holly Holm, a former champion in the Legacy FC Women’s Bantamweight Division, upset and humbled her en route to staking her claim as the world’s finest.

With experience as a boxer, Holm presented a different type of opponent to what Rousey was accustomed to. In past matches, Rousey always aimed for the arm of her opponent, attempting to win via armbar submission. Holm’s boxing acumen, which has seen her win two WBF Women’s World titles (Welterweight and Light Welterweight) was a key factor towards victory as she employed a fighting strategy which saw her refuse to let Rousey fight the type of match she was used to.

Instead, Holm showed no fear, leaving her arm exposed for such an attempt. The result was a punishing punch to Rousey’s face, unsuccessful in her seventh title defense, which instantly set the tone. Just 59 seconds in the second round, Holm connected with a kick, exploiting an opening, and prompting to deliver several blows to the head.

Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Matt Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Ironically, the victory is not the first in which Holm has been considered to pull off an upset. A September 16, 2005 boxing win against Christy Martin was considered the Upset of the Year by Women Boxing Archive Network.

From the outset, Rousey refused to tap gloves with Holm at the beginning, displaying arrogance and a lack of sportsmanship. It definitely contributed to an element of karmic payback in the aftermath of the match as Rousey realized she is vulnerable.
Seeking treatment at a local hospital for concussion and facial cuts, she has stated on social media that she will come back.

At 34 years of age, Holm is a highly experienced fighter with a breadth of accomplishments ranging from boxing to kickboxing along with muy thai and MMA. While she has been fighting for over a decade, the win over Rousey has definitely served as a coming-out party, with fight fans finally recognizing her greatness.

Her boxing knockout of Alanna Jones in 2013 was considered the knockout of the year among several sites. That year, she earned several other accolades including the Lady Violence Award from FightBooth.com and the Rising Star of the Year Award from Inside MMA. She certainly lived up to her potential with an iconic second round knockout of Rousey.

As a side note, another women’s match was on the card, as Joanna Jedrzejczyk defeated Valerie Letourneau to retain her straw-weight title in five grueling rounds. With the win, she extends her MMA record to an impressive 11-0.

For Rousey’s critics, it is very hard to have any empathy for her in the aftermath of such an epic loss. Her brash and occasionally abrasive personality definitely makes her a target for criticism.

When she once guest hosted on the popular television program TMZ, she talked about what it was like to break someone’s arm. One may feel that she almost took sadistic pleasure in such an event. Having criticized other women for appearing in a state of undress in magazines, she has graced the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue, Maxim and Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue.

Taking into account that Rousey once lost in judo at the Summer Games, she bounced back to become one of the world’s most formidable fighters. This loss must serve as a wake-up call. Suffering said loss in front of a UFC-record 56,214 fans, not only will she be forced to focus even more on her fighting skills, she will need to remain humble, understanding that no opponent can be taken for granted.

Although a rematch is definitely a guarantee, likely generating unprecedented revenues for UFC and more attention towards its rapidly expanding women’s division, Holm will be hoping not to repeat in the footsteps of Douglas by losing in her debut as champion. Regardless of the future, Holm, whose MMA career record improves to a sterling 10-0 mark, has definitely established herself as a household name and claims a unique place in popular culture.

UFC icon Ronda Rousey lands on the cover of Sports Illustrated

As the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey has not only risen to global superstar, but has emerged as the face of mixed martial arts. Landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated, the popular weekly dubbed her “the world’s most dominant athlete”

Receiving an outpouring of support on social media, it marked another remarkable milestone in her career. Of note, she became the first-ever female fighter from UFC to be featured on the cover. Roger Huerta was on the cover in 2007, but he was not the cover model as he was just in an action shot.

Rousey becomes the first female athlete in any sport this year to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated. Earlier this year, Rousey was featured in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, working with photographer Walter Iooss, Jr.

Her appearance on said cover is akin to when wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan graced the cover in 1984. Hogan’s appearance signified the popular impact of professional wrestling, signifying a golden era to come. As such, Rousey creates the same impact, showing that UFC is here to stay, definitely a landmark moment in the history of Mixed Martial Arts.

Among the diverse number of topics discussed in the piece, including time spent with her dog, along with her status as a single person, Rousey speaks about how she felt guilty at first about defeating her friend, Cat Zingano in 14 seconds. A collage of frame-by-frame shots from the 14 second match adorn the top of one of the pages, re-telling the fastest match in UFC women’s bantamweight history.

Of note, Rousey received compensation of only $130,000 for the fight. In the article, she also mentioned how she tries to keep her fights short, reducing the wear and tear on her body, while hoping to benefit by extending her MMA career. Also showing some brashness, Rousey claims to have challenged adults to fights during her teenage years.

A future UFC Hall of Famer, Rousey’s next fight shall take place on August 1. Defending her title against the undefeated Bethe Correia, she is ranked seventh among bantamweights.

Ronda Rousey’s star shines even brighter in 2015

After a meteoric rise in 2014, the popularity of Ronda Rousey shows no signs of slowing down. The first three months of 2015 have resulted in her making an ever deeper impact in popular culture.

Appearing in the iconic Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Rousey showed a soft yet sexy side. One photo was stunning yet tasteful, as she was shown lying down topless with a side view of her breast, certainly making hearts pound. Working with iconic photographer Walter Iooss, Jr., she was one of two female athletes featured in the 2015 edition. Joined by Caroline Wozniacki (also photographed by Iooss), both were worthy of consideration for the cover.

Despite the release of the sensational swimsuit photos, Rousey was not showing her soft side in UFC circles. Following the release of the Swimsuit Issue, she was scheduled to fight Cat Zingano at UFC 184 on February 28.

Photo by Walter Iooss, Jr.

Photo by Walter Iooss, Jr.

Any speculation that the publicity over said issue may have altered her focus was poorly perceived. It only took her an astounding 14 seconds to defeat Zingano, the fastest time in UFC championship history. With her next match scheduled for UFC 190 on August 1 against Beth Correia, one cannot help but feel that Correia is nothing more than a sacrificial lamb in Rousey’s championship dominance.

Her in-ring success only complemented the momentum as a pop culture icon. March 2015 saw Rousey’s star shine in two unique very popular entertainment genres. Portraying the role of Kara in The Fast and Furious 7, her acting career is white hot. As the film (released in March) set box office records for the franchise, Rousey may quickly be considered among Hollywood power players as a bankable film star.

Before the month would expire, Rousey would also make an appearance in the squared circle of World Wrestling Entertainment. With a front row seat at Wrestle Mania 31, the annual signature event in sports-entertainment, Rousey would steal the show.

Wrestling icon and film star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was in the ring engaging in a verbal battle with third-generation wrestling promoter Stephanie McMahon. Stating that he would not hit a woman after she ordered him out of the ring, The Rock summoned Rousey to come into the ring.

Entering to an approving roar of applause, Rousey hiptossed Triple H, also McMahon’s husband, out of the ring. She would attempt to place McMahon into her trademark armbar but she quickly escaped out of the ring. Specualtion is now running rampant that Rousey and The Rock shall headline Wrestle Mania 32 in an intergender tag team match with McMahon and Triple H. Considering that WWE has always enjoyed the use of celebrities in its Wrestle Mania events (past matches included Lawrence Taylor and Snooki from MTV fame), there is no question that Rousey would generate remarkable interest. For the next nine months, such an interest in all things related to Rousey is bound to only increase.

Female fighters prominent in Topps latest UFC trading card release

In the last year, Topps has made a significant breakthrough with the increasing number of female athletes featured on its trading card products. Starting in autumn 2013 with its card set commemorating the American contingent competing at the Sochi Winter Games; other female athletes were given the trading card treatment in 2014, as part of Topps annual Allen and Ginter plus World Wrestling Entertainment card releases.

With autumn marking hockey card season, Topps counters with its newest offering featuring the heroes from Ultimate Fighting Championship. A 200-card base set, UFC Champions consists of the most competitors from the women’s division in any one set.

The first card in the set featuring a member of the women’s division is number 9 as Jessica Andrade is featured. Following her at number 10 is Julianna Pena. Part of Team Rousey during the 18 season of The Ultimate Fighter, she would defeat Jessica Rakoczy in the season finale. Currently suffering from an injury to her right knee, her presence in the set can only help build the momentum for her comeback.

Gold variation on Ronda Rousey's trading card (Obtained from http://www.cardboardconnection.com/)

Gold variation on Ronda Rousey’s trading card (Obtained from http://www.cardboardconnection.com/)

Two other fighters from season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter are part of the set. Peggy Morgan, another member of Team Rousey, is known as the Daywalker. Featured on card number 57, Morgan lost to Jessamyn Duke in the season finale of Ultimate Fighter 18. Raquel Pennington, whose nickname is Rocky, graces card number 179. A member of Team Tate during the season, she defeated Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision in the season finale. Her first UFC fight after said finale came on March 15, 2014, suffering a loss to Jessica Andrade.

Women’s champion Ronda Rousey, quite possibly the most popular competitor in UFC can be found on card number 76. Only three of the four competitors that Rousey has defeated in UFC have also been given the cardboard treatment.

Liz Carmouche, the first-ever opponent of Rousey in the UFC can be found on card 119. One of Rousey’s biggest rivals, Miesha Tate, who was defeated by armbar submission on December 28, 2013, is on card 42. Of note, card 116 features Sara McMann, facing defeat in the first round on February 22, 2014. Canadian Alexis Davis, which elevated Rousey’s career MMA record to 10-0, was not featured

Rousey’s next opponent, Cat Zingano is on card 97. Ranked as one of the top five female MMA Fighters in the world, Zingano will challenge Rousey at UFC 182 on January 3, 2015. Another top ranked fighter in the set is Bethe Correia. Hailing from Brazil, she holds a 9-0 record in MMA. Card number 91 is where collectors can find her. Another Brazilian featured in the set is Amanda Nunes. On card 35, the Lioness of the Ring holds a 2-1 career mark in UFC. Her loss came to Cat Zingano at UFC 178 on September 27, 2014.

The fighters involved in one of the more controversial UFC women’s matches are both part of the set. Jessica Eye, whose October 19, 2013 victory over Sarah Kaufman was overturned due to testing positive for marijuana can be found on cards 106 and 133. Of note, Eye is looking for her first-ever UFC win, and is hoping to obtain it after a November 15, 2014 match against Leslie Smith.

Kaufman, the first Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Champion also earned the first-ever Hardcore Championship Fighting Women’s Bantamweight Champion. Having lost to Rousey in Strikeforce competitions, she has a 17-2 career mark.

Of note, the female fighters even make their way into the various insert sets. Of note, Rousey leads the way as she can be found in 9 different insert sets. Such sets include Autographs, Autographed Relics, Autographed Jumbo Fight Mats, Champions Single Belt, Champions Full Belt, Fight Night Highlights, Octagon Greats, Octagon Greats Autographed and Mat Relics.

Jessica Eye and Julianna Pena join Rousey in the Autographed insert cards. Part of the Autographed Relic inserts includes the likes of Amanda Nunes and Miesha Tate. Of note, Pena is also part of the Autographed Jumbo Fight Mat Relics set.

Considering that in years past, the only women of the UFC that were featured on trading cards were the ring girls, the inclusion of so many fighters (especially with the insert sets) in its base set is an encouraging sign that the women’s division is a substantial part of UFC.

Ronda Rousey rocks the red carpet as her career expands into Hollywood

While mixed martial arts are accustomed to Ronda Rousey establishing herself as a pioneer in the female aspect of the sport, she is quickly emerging as a pop culture icon. Such a status will mean that non-sports fans will have to get used to seeing her on the red carpet.

After portraying the character “Luna” in the box-office disappointment “The Expendables 3”, Rousey made the rounds on the red carpet, helping to promote the film. While the “Rowdy” one has certainly established as an MMA fighter that people love to hate, there is no question that her red carpet presence and appreciation for fashion shows a softer side. While Rousey has appeared in ESPN’s Body Issue, showing an appeal that was not common with female MMA fighters, her foray into Hollywood may establish her as a possible future female action hero superstar.

Her next film roles include the seventh installment of The Fast and the Furious film franchise, along with Entourage, based on the popular HBO sitcom produced by Mark Wahlberg. Although Rousey does not have top billing in either film (similar to Expendables 3), there is no question that entertainment reporters will be keen to see how she rocks the red carpet.

Reviews on her performance in Expendables 3 ranged from really well to horrible. The 27 year-old certainly has the potential to be an icon in film, as very few women have pulled off the role of action hero. One exception would have to be Milla Jovovich with her strong performances in the Resident Evil franchise. As a side note, Expendables 3 star and producer Sylvester Stallone did consider Jovovich.

There is no question that Rousey is not afraid to be outspoken in Hollywood, having criticized the portrayals of female comic-book superheroes in the big screen adaptations. Feeling that the woman’s superpower is dumbed down (e.g. invisibility, telepathy), Rousey tried to make a bold statement in Expendables 3.

If any comic book role would be ideal for Rousey, it would have to be the Black Cat, a long-time character in the Spider-Man mythos. Part villain and part hero, the Black Cat is equal parts dangerous and sexy, akin to Rousey.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Photo credit: Getty Images

Some critics wrote her off as just the token female in the film, as she had significantly less screen time than male counterparts such as Stallone, Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Considering the level of star power involved, it was still a remarkable way to break into the movies.

While the first time she saw the film, she did so while covering her face with her hands as it proved to be a nerve wracking experience as she was self-conscious. Acknowledging that acting is her toughest challenge, critics recognized that she was underused in the film. Nerves aside, she did get one scene-stealing role in the film. Engaging in a fight scene in a night club, Rousey is in a slinky red dress with stiletto heels as she smashes an individual with a beer bottle.

While being made to look hot may be a stereotypical part of movies, one of Rousey’s upcoming projects may help shatter such stereotypes. The popular book “The Athena Project” is being adapted into a film for Rousey.

Although MMA fans would like to see her engage in some smashing in the octagon, balancing MMA, acting and the demands of being a celebrity shall be a way of life for the foreseeable future.

Women’s sports has proud presence at 2014 ESPY Awards

One of the greatest forums to recognize female sports excellence, the 2014 edition of the ESPY Awards delivered again. With the red carpet filled with some of the biggest (and most beautiful) names in female sport, such as Danica Patrick and Hilary Knight, it had all the elegance and allure of the Academy Awards in an evening that celebrated some remarkable women.

Danica Patrick stuns in white at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Danica Patrick stuns in white at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Fan favorite Maria Sharapova may have been the most notable female athlete to gain an award, earning Best Female Tennis Player honors. Jamie Anderson, who also appears in the 2014 ESPN Body Issue took home the Female Action Sports Athlete Award. Of note, Anderson would emerge as the only female athlete to win two ESPY Awards. Beating out Maddie Bowman, Kelly Clark, Vicki Golden and Carissa Moore for the Best Female Action Sports Athlete award, she was also the winner of the Best Female US Olympic Athlete.

Maria Sharapova at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova at the ESPYs Red Carpet (Photo credit: Getty Images)

After winning the 2014 US Women’s Open at Pinehurst, her first major, Michelle Wie built on the momentum by earning earned Best Female Golfer, beating out Stacy Lewis, Inbee Park (who was also nominated for Best International Athlete) and Suzann Petersen.

An aspect of sport that does not always gain recognition, athletes with disabilities were acknowledged. In the Best Female Athlete with a Disability category, Jamie Whitmore was named the recipient. Fellow nominees included the likes of Minda Dentler, Oksana Masters, Tatyana McFadden and Laurie Stephens.

After leading the Minnesota Lynx to their second straight WNBA title, Maya Moore added to her growing collection of awards and honors by earning the ESPY for Best WNBA Player. In a field that included Elena Delle Donne, Angel McCoughtry and Candace Parker, any of the nominees would have been a worthy selection.

Of note, Moore was also nominated for the Best Female Athlete award. She would not get the opportunity to join Anderson as a two-time award winner this evening. The award would go to Ronda Rousey, who has dominated the UFC female division, having gone undefeated in her last four appearances. Mikaela Shiffrin and Breanna Stewart were among the other nominees for the honor.

Stewart would not leave the 2014 ESPY Awards empty handed. Having emerged as the greatest female college basketball player in America, she would earn the nod for Best Female Collegiate Athlete. Having led the UConn Huskies to a second consecutive national title, she follows in the proud footsteps of Huskies alumnae such as Moore, Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.

The field for Best Female Collegiate Athlete was nothing short of impressive. Morgan Brian, a soccer player at Virginia, Taylor Cummings, who competes in lacrosse with Maryland, Micah Hancock, who rewrote the record books at Penn State Volleyball and Hannah Rogers, a softball player from Florida were all in contention for the award.

Alexis Davis looking to end Ronda Rousey’s reign as UFC champion

As Ronda Rousey looks to successfully defend her UFC Bantamweight Women’s Title for the third consecutive time, Alexis Davis is looking to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of mixed martial arts. Boasting a 16-5 career mark, Davis has truly flown under the radar in MMA circles.

Heading into the July 5 bout at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Rousey vs. Davis (the only females to go 3-0 in UFC) is the co-main event of UFC 175. Sharing the spotlight will be middleweight title-holder Chris Weidman battling Lyoto Machida, a former light-heavyweight champion.

Hailing from Port Colborne, Ontario, Davis is now based out of San Jose, California. Known affectionately as Ally Gator, she has a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and has also practiced Muay thai.

Of note, she owned a 9-4 record when Rousey made her MMA debut in March 2011. Davis has certainly paid her dues in MMA. From earning the Raging Wolf Women’s Flyweight Championship in 2009, to competing at the Strikeforce and Invicta promotions, she is currently as the number 3 pound-for-pound MMA female fighter in the world.

The proud owner of an undefeated 9-0 mark, Rousey is a 10-1 favorite according to the UFC, while Vegas oddmakers have varied with 9-1 to 14-1 odds. With an average fight time of two minutes and 44 seconds, Rousey also possesses a takedown rate of 70.6 per cent.

After Davis suffered a loss to Sarah Kaufman (another Canadian) at a Strikeforce Event in March 2012, she has accumulated five consecutive wins. Of note, her three career UFC fights have all resulted in victories. Beginning on June 15, 2013, she defeated Rosi Sexton at an event in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Less than five months later, she bested Liz Carmouche in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Competing at UFC 170 on February 22, 2014, she won the decision over Jessica Eye. Ironically, all three victories came in the third round.

With Rousey’s signature move being her armbar, it is of the utmost importance that Davis prepares for it. Except for when her victory over Sarah McMann, Rousey has employed it in order to defeat every other opponent. Taking into account that Davis has never submitted in any of her 21 career matches, she may prove to be Rousey’s biggest challenge yet.

Keeping in mind that Rousey has engaged in several movie roles and a growing celebrity status, it would come as no surprise to MMA fans if she was not fully prepared or took Davis for granted. Quite possibly Rousey’s toughest opponent to date, she could end up being the only fighter to take Rousey the distance. Should she manage the upset and defeat Rousey, it would also mark her the third Canadian fighter (and first female) to hold the distinction of being a UFC champion, following Carlos Newton and Georges St. Pierre.

Ronda Rousey has emerged as the most popular fighter in the entire UFC

While some of the words that could describe Ronda “Rowdy” Rousey include abrasive, polarizing and provocative, there is no denying her popularity. Although her bad girl persona is revolutionizing the perception of women in sport, she has risen as the premier name in the UFC empire.

On the cover of the September 2013 edition of Maxim Magazine

On the cover of the September 2013 edition of Maxim Magazine

Considering the absence of once bankable stars such as Tito Ortiz and Georges St. Pierre, Rousey has become the selling point for the promotion, including the headlining of pay-per-views. In the 2014 edition of the official UFC calendar, Rousey gained the coveted January slot, testament to her already remarkable popularity.

The highly anticipated yet historic UFC fight in Seattle last March between lesbian fighters Jessica Andrade and Liz Carmouche gained traction as the presence of Rousey propelled a need to establish rivals in a rapidly expanding women’s division. It came as no surprise when the most recent season of The Ultimate Fighter series featured Rousey and her arch-rival Miesha Tate as trainers.

Of note, Rousey’s December 28, 2013 tussle with Miesha Tate for the women’s bantamweight title was the main event at UFC 168. Although many experts believed the match could have resulted in an upset, they were proven wrong when Rousey gained another victory by submission. As a side note, Rousey’s trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan actually placed a photo of Tate on his body protector so that Rousey could strike it during warm-ups.

While Rousey entered the octagon to a chorus of boos, she did not endear herself to the haters after the match. Although bad blood existed between the two fighters, issues over who paid their dues and overt sexuality, Tate offered Rousey a hand shake to which Rousey walked away. Some sporting purists may say that it was poor sportsmanship on her part but the true reality is that she has established herself as a lightning rod for controversy.

Despite the controversies in her career, her impact in popular culture is indisputable. From making Jim Rome blush in a TV interview about her approach towards intimacy before a fight to guest hosting on TMZ, Rousey’s star has also caught the eye of Hollywood. Having inked film appearances for the next installment in The Fast and Furious film franchise along with The Expendables 3, Rousey is breaking ground for female athletes.

While her bravura could easily be translated into cockiness, the combination of her bad girl persona, sex appeal and rough and tumble demeanor has captured the imagination of sports fans. From her appearance in 2012’s ESPN Body Issue to gracing the cover of Maxim Magazine in spring 2013, the editions quickly flew off the newsstands, becoming collector’s items.

Having emerged as a household name in a sport where brutality and aggressive behavior is the norm, it may be seen as ironic for the hardcore fans of the Mixed Martial Arts brand that a female fighter has emerged as the flagship. It harkens back memories of professional female wrestler Mildred Burke.

During the Great Depression and the early years of the post-World War II era, Burke was the biggest star in professional wrestling. At a time when the male grapplers endured difficult selling their sport, Burke’s personality and enthusiasm shone as women broke barriers in the traditionally male-dominated domain. It was not uncommon that matches Burke main-evented drew five to ten thousand paying customers. Today, Rousey is following in her footsteps and emulating her impact.

Her next test shall come at UFC 170 against fellow Summer Games competitor Sara McMann. With a background in wrestling, there is certainly no bad blood between these two. Having started wrestling at the age of 14 in North Carolina, she gained a silver at the 2003 World Championships. Of note, she would follow it up with bronze medal performances in 2005 and 2007. In typical Rousey style, she did state to reporters that she did not mind if she was seen as the bad girl compared to McMann’s cheery image.

Aficionados of the sport believe the Rousey is not as good on her feet and that her strategy favors getting opponents off their feet so she can place them in her patented arm bar. Even a loss to Rousey would do nothing to tarnish her image. All of the greats eventually lose. Considering she earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, she can be beaten.

Of note, legendary boxers Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson ruled their generations with an in-ring presence that was undisputed. Despite the eventuality that their careers would peak and losses were inevitable, their legends were firmly entrenched. Rousey has established the same type of legacy as she has helped to not only challenge the cultural norm but provide women with the opportunity to main event on the biggest stage in MMA.