Ronda Rousey’s complaints about Conor McGregor notwithstanding, UFC 229 looks like the future

UFC president Dana White (L) greets Ronda Rousey onstage as she becomes the first female inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame at The Pearl concert theater at Palms Casino Resort on July 5, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Getty Images)

Ronda Rousey sure picked an interesting way to jump back into the conversation in the mixed martial arts space.

The pioneering former UFC and Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion has little to do with the sport that made her famous these days. Rousey’s making big bucks as a headliner in World Wrestling Entertainment, and her only appearance back in the world of real sports in recent times was a well-deserved induction into the UFC Hall of Fame in July.

But Rousey recently launched her revamped website, and soon thereafter found herself in front of those TMZ cameras that always seem to somehow magically find celebrities at the exact moment they’re looking for a bit of publicity.

And the former champ, who’s been mum on all things MMA over the past couple years, just happened to tell TMZ a thing or two about the near-riot at UFC 229 on Oct. 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s fourth-round submission victory over Conor McGregor.

“When it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, when it comes to felonies, when it comes to hit and runs or anything like that,” Rousey told TMZ. “I think there’s too much preferential treatment given to high-profile fighters. I think there needs to be equal discipline across the board.”

Rousey also feels that McGregor’s April assault on a bus containing Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn merits a bigger punishment than what Nurmagomedov deserves for kicking off the brawl in Las Vegas, hinting the UFC is giving McGregor special treatment.

“I think that Khabib jumping out of the Octagon was not as bad as throwing objects at a bus … ” said Rousey. “So I just feel like there has to be equal treatment all the way across the board. I don’t think that anyone should get special treatment because they’re a bigger draw.”

Well isn’t that something. Putting aside for a moment that McGregor has never spoken an ill word about Rousey, his former co-star among UFC pay-per-view draws, there’s irony in Rousey accusing others of special treatment.

It was Rousey, after all, who received special treatment in the run-up to her UFC 207 fight with Amanda Nunes, making next-to-no public appearances and hamstringing a fight which was big but should have been massive. Rousey’s petulance minimized the shine Nunes got in winning the fight, and the bantamweight belt has never recovered as a draw from its heyday of Rousey, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm. Not even McGregor, who was pulled from UFC 200 after trying to get out of promoting the event, got away with such a stunt.

From there, Rousey was whisked right into the prime position of the entire pro wrestling business: A co-headlining spot at WrestleMania, the industry’s Super Bowl.

Rousey wasn’t there because she has the wrestling talent of a Ric Flair or Shawn Michaels or an entire roster of men and women who have put in their ring time and developed fan followings. She was there because she can draw money.

In other words, stars get special treatment in the entertainment business.

In fairness to Rousey, while she may have a bit of a blind eye about double standards, she’s never had a whiff of a scandal around her and never been in any legal trouble. From that sense, she has the moral high ground when she says McGregor should be punished.

But the UFC is, indeed, an entertainment business. The WWE’s Vince McMahon coined the phrase “sports entertainment,” but we’ve never had anything on the sports end of the equation that’s melded the two quite like having William Morris Endeavor (WME), a titan among Hollywood agencies, run a major sports promotion.

UFC 229, headlined by Khabib Nurmagomedov and Conor McGregor’s lightweight title fight, earned a reported 2.4 million buys on pay-per-view. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Perhaps the drama we’ve seen between McGregor and Nurmagomedov this year is simply the end result of having a Hollywood agency get into the fight business. How much has gotten swept under the rug in Tinseltown over the years? How many actors, actresses, directors and producers have been able to get away with shameful behavior because they bring in the bucks? The UFC of 2018 is hardly unique when viewed through this prism.

UFC 229 was the equivalent of Hollywood’s blockbuster film of the year. Early reports on pay-per-view was a whopping 2.4 million buys, which would make it the UFC record by a wide margin, putting it just below Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao; Mayweather vs. McGregor and Mayweather vs. Oscar De La Hoya on the all-time combat sports list.

These numbers came in part because the return of McGregor after a nearly two-year absence from the cage was going to be a draw regardless, but in bigger part because WME specifically marketed the fight around the grudge between McGregor and Nurmagomedov, incorporating footage of McGregor’s criminal attack into the hype.

And controversy rarely hurts the fight business. Consider that Mayweather vs. Pacquiao did 4.6 million pay-per-view buys in 2015 after he was jailed for violence against women. Mike Tyson’s biggest events came after he served time for rape, and he cracked nearly 2 million sales for his fight with Lennox Lewis years after he bit Evander Holyfield’s ear in the ring.

With the heat between Nurmagomedov and McGregor seeming to reach the Biggie vs. Tupac stratosphere, it would seem wise for WME to let things cool off awhile.

And yet, WME only needs one or two equivalents of a Hollywood blockbuster film per year to keep this machine moving. So, regardless of the protestations of a former special-treatment UFC star, it almost seems inevitable that as long as the general public continues to devour all things Nurmagomedov and McGregor, somewhere down the road, we’re going to get the sequel, and it’s going to incorporate the footage from UFC 229.

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