Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The UFC’s Sara McMann was toiling on regional fight cards trying to forge a career as a professional athlete when fellow Olympian Ronda Rousey rose to prominence.
Rousey, in a way, rescued talented female fighters such as McMann by persuading the UFC to spurn its insistence that women would never compete in the octagon.
“We needed a catalyst,” McMann said of Rousey. “We needed someone to catch the UFC’s eye to let us do it on that stage, and she was it. We owe her a thank you.”
Sadly, McMann — who challenges Rousey for the women’s UFC 170 bantamweight title Saturday, Feb. 22, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center — is among the few with that level of appreciation for Rousey.
Rousey has gone from pioneer to pariah in less than a year in the eyes of many fans and fellow fighters.
For what? The gravest of Rousey’s offenses was leaving archrival Miesha Tate hanging on a handshake after defeating her by a third-round submission at UFC 168 in December.
Oh, the horror.
Speakers at UFC events are set to eardrum-shattering levels, yet Rousey couldn’t hear herself over the boos as she spoke into commentator Joe Rogan’s microphone during the post-fight interview. No one else in the building could make out anything, either.
The crowd’s objection sounded so out of place. A large part of sports’ appeal is witnessing extraordinary athletic feats and the ensuing emotion. Rousey delivered a masterpiece in both respects but got jeered.
Sportsmanship is commendable, a virtue worth teaching. But it shouldn’t get in the way of sincerity, a trait as important to Rousey as the arm bar she has used to defeat all eight of her opponents.
The scowl with which she greeted Tate as the challenger extended her arm was, to use one of the UFC’s hackneyed catchphrases, as real as it gets.
“She wouldn’t have done that if it was just us in the gym alone,” Rousey later told reporters. “That was an action that was influenced by being watched. Me not shaking her hand was an action despite being watched.”
When she entered the UFC, Rousey’s brashness was celebrated. Most lauded her for having a demeanor as intimidating as her fighting style leading into the UFC’s inaugural women’s bout, which ended predictably for Rousey with a first-round submission victory over Liz Carmouche.
But Rousey, by all accounts, was fond of Carmouche, therefore minimizing the brazenness of her persona. On the contrary, Tate and Rousey had clashed since before McMann had ever fought in front of more than a couple hundred people.
Criticizing Rousey for showing an attitude that always played into her appeal was shortsighted, hypocritical and incalculable. Here’s a fighter whose March 2012 victory over Tate was called beautiful — even though it ended with Tate’s left arm bent back at a sickening angle. Yet when she moderately hurts feelings, it was decried as horrendous.
If there’s one guarantee for what will happen in the UFC 170 main event, it’s that Rousey will exude genuineness in the aftermath. She’ll give an honest assessment, win or lose, flattering or unflattering, of how her Olympic-level judo held up against McMann’s Olympic-level wrestling.
Rousey will spare everyone the clichéd responses and shoot straight with her comments, which should be celebrated. It would be a perfect place to start getting back to treating Rousey for what she is: one of the most compelling athletes and personalities in the UFC.