MMA: UFC 168-Rousey vs Tate

(This story appears in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)

LAS VEGAS – For a breakout superstar, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey has had to get used to the sound of boos in a hurry. It probably helps that she’s getting a lot of practice these days and figures to get more in the future.

In Las Vegas for her title defense against rival Miesha Tate (13-5 MMA, 0-2 UFC) in UFC 168, Rousey (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) heard it from fight fans all week. The champ got booed at the weigh-ins, during her walk to the cage and through her prefight introduction. When she didn’t shake Tate’s hand after winning via third-round arm-bar submission, the din of the angry fans threatened to tear the roof off of MGM Grand Garden Arena.

If Rousey was bothered by the venom, she wouldn’t admit it. Maybe because she knows exactly what she’s doing and why she’s doing it.

“I wasn’t surprised, because I was aware of the role I was in,” she said of the fan reaction, before framing the situation in a comic-book analogy.

“Batman played the bad guy and let (Two-Face) look like the good guy because that’s what Gotham City needed at the time,” Rousey said. “For every fight, I approach it as what’s needed at the time.”

For a women’s division still in its infancy with the UFC, it seems what Rousey thought it really needed was a villain. She might be right.

Before Rousey burst onto the scene, the knock on women’s MMA was, while there appeared to be some talent, there were few stars who could push the sport to the next level. For a time it seemed like EliteXC 145-pounder Gina Carano could change that with her movie-star looks and girl-next-door charm, but one bad beating sent her running for the safety of a Hollywood movie set, never to be seen in the cage again.

Rousey brings to the table not only Olympic-caliber athletic ability but also a mean streak that forces fans to choose a side and stick with it. That’s how it worked in her rivalry with Tate, and it doesn’t figure to be much different in her recently announced follow-up fight against Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann (8-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC) in February in UFC 170.

Plenty of fans will probably never support Rousey, who remained as unapologetic as ever after defeating Tate and then snubbing her offer of a post-fight handshake. The vocal reaction, however, suggests there are very few who don’t at least feel something about her.

That might be the type of champion women’s MMA needs.

For complete coverage of UFC 168, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.

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