DECEMBER 31 is already a special day on the calendar. For Australian UFC fans, there’s extra reason to celebrate the final day of 2016.
The date marks Ronda Rousey’s return to the Octagon at UFC 207, where her bout with reigning bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes will headline the card.
Rousey hasn’t fought since she lost her bantamweight crown to Holly Holm at UFC 193 in Melbourne in November, 2015. Holm stunned the UFC’s biggest drawcard with a barrage of punches before ending the fight with a vicious head kick to knock her out.
The Olympic medallist withdrew from the spotlight after that loss. There were question marks over whether she’d fight again, and since then there have been no shortage of haters taking cracks at the 29-year-old for seemingly prioritising her Hollywood career over her fighting.
She’s appeared in blockbuster films like Furious 7, Entourage and was reportedly slated to appear in a remake of 1980s classic Road House.
But some of those questions will be answered at UFC 207. Does the woman who was once the most feared competitor in the sport still have it? Nunes will find out one way or another.
However, whereas headline bouts often draw as much attention for their pre-fight hype as the Octagon action itself, that hasn’t been the case this time around.
A Conor McGregor fight, for example, would feature trash talk galore in the lead-up to a fight, not to mention the possibility of water bottle throwing or threats involving chairs.
Opponents would trade barbs to each other’s faces at pre-arranged media appearances and in phone interviews with the press. We’ve seen none of that so far, and UFC 207 is just over a week away.
The silence that started after UFC 193 has continued. There have been no interviews, no press conferences, no statements. Sure, she’s gone on talk shows with Conan O’Brien and Ellen DeGeneres — where discussion has rarely been UFC-centric — and has sent the occasional tweet featuring the hashtag #FearTheReturn.
But Rousey’s made no real attempt to leave the masses frothing at the mouth over what awaits when she turns up to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The queen of MMA did make an appearance at the UFC 205 weigh-ins, walking on stage to square off briefly with Nunes before walking straight off. It was strange to say the least.
Some of the more prominent voices in MMA can’t understand what’s going on. Commentator Joe Rogan was baffled as to why Nunes, after submitting Miesha Tate — the bantamweight champion before her — in the first round of their fight at UFC 200 in July, isn’t drawing any attention.
Of course, if Rousey wants to keep her mouth shut and let her fists do the talking because she thinks that’s the best chance she has of winning her return fight, then fair enough. It’s just odd an organisation like the UFC — whose success relies as much on its PR as it does on its fighters — would allow a banner fight to arrive without using the biggest asset at its disposal to generate hype.
It makes you think about the Conor McGregor debacle that was UFC 200. His rematch with Nate Diaz was supposed to headline the event but the Irishman pulled out after declaring he was “retiring” from the sport. It was later revealed he and the UFC clashed when it came to his media responsibilities.
McGregor wasn’t keen on heading to the US to take part in all the pre-fight interviews and press conferences the UFC wanted, preferring instead to stay in Europe and train. He argued the amount of money he’d made for the promotion should have earnt him some leeway when it came to activities like this, especially considering the fight was three months away.
Rousey has openly said she doesn’t want to fill her time talking to journalists. “I don’t really have to,” Rousey told Conan O’Brien of her media commitments. “I’ve done a lot of learning in this last year and I’ve learned that the views I get or the money I make really doesn’t mean anything for me or my happiness. Now that I know the women’s division is secure, I don’t have to do that anymore. I choose not to.
“It’s not really something that I get a kick off of. Like, ‘Ooh, I went to spend 12 hours at ESPN and talk s*** all day.’ That’s not really what I want to do. I want to play World of Warcraft.”
In a piece by ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne last year, she talked about her dislike of giving interviews.
“I hate giving stock answers, it makes me nuts. I hate repeating myself,” Rousey said. “That’s a good thing bartending taught me.”
The same author wrote a piece this month about how Rousey was preparing for her fight with Nunes, where Rousey talked about her appearance on Ellen DeGeneres’ show.
“I get anxiety after doing stuff like that, even with someone as sweet as Ellen,” Rousey said.
“I get a little nervous. Not like before a fight or anything. I was more nervous that my heels were way too big and I didn’t want to look like I was dragging my feet when I was walking. Then I was nervous that my nipples were showing through my dress.”
One MMA pundit called the fact Rousey was talking to people like DeGeneres instead of journalists “a joke”.
So is Rousey getting treated differently because of her pulling power? After all, when asked earlier this year if Rousey is the biggest star in UFC history, UFC president Dana White didn’t hesitate.
“By far. Not even close. By far the biggest star,” he told New York hip hop radio station Hot 97.
“Ronda Rousey is such a big star. When you go down to Brazil, they don’t care who you are. They want the Brazilian to whup your a**.
“When Ronda went down there, they cheered for Ronda over the Brazilian. (I’ve) never seen that before in my life, and will probably never see it again. That’s how big Ronda Rousey is.”
Again, that question is yet to be answered. But come the end of the fifth round — or however many rounds the fight between her and Nunes lasts — at least we’ll know one thing. We’ll know whether the wait was worth it.