Ronda Rousey24 February 2015
This article was always going to be about the Spring Racing Carnival. What better way to conclude a column that chronicles the events which make up Melbourne’s claim to being the sport capital of the country? Better known for the drunken rabble it attracts and showcasing the high end of town’s extravagant fashion trends, the Carnival nonetheless culminates in the race that stops the nation. It’s a long and storied sporting tradition, a cultural emblem for the city of Melbourne, and a river of gold breaking its banks for betting agencies. As I sat down to commence the often rigorous and invariably bland process that ends in a Farrago column, I happened upon a different sporting event occurring around the same time. The temptation to change horse mid-race, and use the pun in the first half of this sentence, was too great.
On November 15 this year, Melbourne will host UFC 193 at Etihad Stadium. The main event? Ronda Rousey, the bantamweight champion who has enjoyed a sustained period of omnipresence since early August when she beat her opponent in 34 seconds in a much anticipated fight in Rio de Janeiro.
For those not in the know (i.e. Farrago readers) MMA stands for mixed martial arts. It’s a brutal blend of Karate, Boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai (among other things most likely), and bouts are fought inside a cage. Rousey, who made her name as an American Olympian when she won Bronze at Beijing in 2008, is now undefeated from 12 fights, having won 11 of them in the first round.
Rousey is the biggest thing in MMA right now, and she knows it. Her bravado gives the so-called fastest growing sport in the world a public face and an endearing identity. She says she could kick Floyd Mayweather Jr’s ass. Mike Tyson says she could kick his ass. And she could certainly kick your ass. At a press conference promoting her fight at Etihad Stadium she said, “After I beat Holly [Holm, her opponent] in Melbourne, it’s going to be the most surreal and overstimulating moment of my entire life”, as if the prospect she might lose is not a prospect at all. UFC pundits back her confidence, giving Holm – who is herself undefeated from nine fights – little chance.
Beyond Rousey’s dominance in the art of trash-talk, she is a shining example of a female athlete exceeding in a predominantly male domain. Rousey is the highest paid UFC fighter, male or female. She recently came first in Business Insider’s list of the 50 most dominant athletes alive 2015, and narrowly beat Serena Williams in an ESPN poll of the best female athletes of all time. And like many athletes who dominate their respective sports, she is transitioning into the realm of Hollywood. Her credits to date include Entourage (the film), Furious 7, and The Expendables 3.
Hosting UFC 193 in Melbourne is significant for a number of reasons. A ban on cage fighting in Victoria – which was ironically put in place by Labor last time they were in power – was only lifted by Sports Minister John Eren earlier this year. The Napthine Government had previously rejected attempts by the UFC to bring events to Melbourne, despite assurances from the UFC it could bring up to $50 million in tourism revenue. Lifting the ban prompted the UFC to reschedule Rousey v. Holm from its original location at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to Etihad Stadium, with the organisation’s president Dana White anticipating the fight will attract the largest crowd in UFC history. The current record stands at 55,724, and it is predicted that the crowd in Melbourne will surpass 60,000.
Regular readers of my column (and I’m fairly certain there are no regular readers of my column) might recall that this has been something of a special year for sporting spectacles in Melbourne. In March the city hosted the Cricket World Cup final, a few months later a State of Origin match broke attendance records at the MCG, and more recently the success of the International Champions Cup guaranteed Melbourne will receive annual visits from some of Europe’s best football teams for years to come. Each of these events saw attendance figures of over 90,000, as well as large numbers of spectators coming from outside Victoria. Melbourne is not only the nation’s sporting capital, it is basking in this reputation, actively courting major events from interstate and overseas with a high success rate, all while maintaining the abundance of traditional events that established its reputation in the first place. In doing so, Melbourne has bloomed into one of the world’s greatest sporting cities.