The ESPY awards are always full of fun, excitement and emotion.
This year’s ceremony is going to be comprised of heart-touching speeches – it’s been seven months since Stuart Scott’s death and I’m getting emotional thinking about his 2014 speech – and honors will be bestowed upon numerous athletes, including the deceased Lauren Hill.
But MMA fans can also enjoy the event, especially since one of the sports biggest starts came away with a great honor.
UFC women’s champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey received the “Best Fighter” ESPY for 2015, becoming the first MMA competitor to do so. She beat out fellow mixed martial artist Donald Cerrone, as well as boxers Terrance Crawford, Gennady Govolkin and Floyd Mayweather Jr. She also won her second “Female Athlete of the Year Award.”
After she accepted the award, Rousey took a verbal jab at Mayweather, asking him “how it felt to be beaten by a woman for once?” – a reference to Mayweather’s connection to domestic violence.
But what does Rousey’s ESPY win mean for mixed martial arts? This isn’t her first time being up for the award – she was nominated in 2014 – nor is she the first MMA competitor in this category. Since its inception in 2007, MMA legends such as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Randy Couture, Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones were past nominees. UFC fighter Holly Holm was nominated for the award at the peak of her boxing run. However only two athletes have won the award – Mayweather and Manny Pacqiuao.
Some MMA fans may hate the idea of Mayweather and Pac-Man being the only two fighters to win the award – especially after their lackluster fight in May – but these are two athletes that have transcended their sport, much like Rousey has done in the last couple of years.
Critics complain that Rousey doesn’t do enough for MMA, particularity women’s mixed martial arts. One blogger noted her lack of appearances at Invicta Fighting Championships events. Maybe they have a point. After all, what has Rousey has done for the women’s division – besides being the person who paved the way for women to fight in the UFC.
Snarky comment aside, Rousey has a schedule unlike any other fighter. Training, movies, commercials, press events, interviews, game testing for her mother’s company and helping teach an after-school judo program. It’s a hefty schedule and she hustles through it. She’s also put the time and dedication in building her own brand.
And fans aren’t the only ones who notice. ESPN noticed and nominated her for award. Critics can’t get too angry at ESPN because it was the fans who voted for her to win.
Rousey winning the award shows what MMA fighters can achieve if they put that extra effort into getting out names out there and building themselves as a brand. Many fighters like to sick to just being athletes without going that extra mile for publicity but – and I’ve said this before – competitors who complain about not getting exposure and blaming the promotion for its lack of effort on their part. Sure much of their time goes into training but you can accomplish a lot outside of the gym and do more promotion besides engaging in Twitter fights with rivals and fans.
It also shows how far MMA has come in the last few years. Mixed martial arts has been around for over 20 years but compared to other sports, it’s still in its infancy. It’s fighters like Rousey who catch the eyes and imagination of casual fans.
We’re in 2015 and Rousey was named Best Fighter. Next year it could be Conor McGregor, if the new interim featherweight champion continues on this incredible roll he’s been on lately.
Rousey winning her ESPYs does more than just add a couple of awards to her trophy case and accolades to her list of accomplishments. It’s another sign of a bright future ahead for mixed martial arts.