The UFC usually researches the potential pay-per-view drawing power of its headliners.
But for Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche, the promotion appears to be taking a gamble.
"I don't know how the whole women's thing is going to go, how it's going to go over, or what it's going to do," UFC President Dana White told MMAjunkie.com (MMAjunkie.com
). "She's the only title fight on that card, but that card is going to be stacked."
The bantamweight bout, which headlines UFC 157 on Feb. 23 in Anaheim, Calif., is not only the first women's bout in UFC history, but the first women's bout to headline a UFC pay-per-view. Several established stars, including ex-champs Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida, play second fiddle on the event's PPV main card.
White has issued predictions on past PPV events citing his promotion's research. Prior to a grudge match between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans at UFC 114, he estimated 850,000 "buys." A reported number came in higher at more than 1 million, though it was not independently verifiable.
After signing with the promotion this past month, Rousey, a former Strikeforce champ and Olympic bronze medalist, accepted the UFC women's bantamweight title at this past week's UFC on FOX 5 pre-event press conference. Her presence created a stir among the media in attendance, with one reporter asking if she had a boyfriend.
"First time I've heard that question asked at a press conference," White said as the champ fielded questions.
Several minutes later, the UFC executive was candid about his investment in Rousey, who's defeated nine consecutive opponents (amateur and pro) by first-round armbar. He said the 25-year-old fighter is the reason women will soon grace the octagon. She's signed to an eight-fight deal, which is double the number of many first-time male fighters.
Rousey has also attracted attention from media outlets previously unreachable, White said. Her comments to popular sports pundit Jim Rome about having as much sex as possible before fights, which she said was simply a less-edited answer from an interview with late-night talk-show host Conan O'Brien, generated countless columns online.
White said he'd seen both attractive and tough female fighters, but none with the all-around appeal of Rousey.
"Everybody is thinking it's because she's attractive," he said. "That's all great. You hear the way this girl talks – she is a Diaz brother inside. She's like, 'Well, after I beat [Carmouche's] ass, I'll take her out surfing.' She's the real deal. She's a fighter. She likes to finish people."
"Gina Carano's beautiful too. But none of them have what this one has."
Carano is widely acknowledged to be the first breakout female MMA superstar. The former "American Gladiators" cast member won four high-profile bouts in the now-defunct EliteXC organization before she and Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos became the first women to headline a major Strikeforce event. After Santos badly battered her via first-round TKO, Carano transitioned to a film career and is not expected to return to the fighting.
Initial betting lines cast Rousey (6-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) as a 15-to-1 favorite against Carmouche (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC), who's also a grappling specialist. But in a potential fight with Santos (10-1), which shadowed her coronation at the press conference, the odds would be even.
In the event that Rousey loses, it would not only tarnish her value as a fighter, but appear to jeopardize the future of women's MMA in the UFC. White, however, said that isn't the case.
If Carmouche pulled off the upset, he said, "then she's the champ, just like the guys. It's the same thing. She's the camp, and who's next for her."
The deference given to Rousey during the UFC on FOX 5 press conference suggest that the promotion would prefer the belt stay around her waist. But White said he'd long ago given up trying to predict outcomes.
"This girl that she's fighting, she's got some nasty ground and pound," he said. "She's got heavy hands, and that's where the fight is going to go.
"The fight's going to end up on the ground, that girl will probably end up on top, and she drops bombs. Ronda pulls off armbars, but if you don't pull it off quick enough, you start getting hit with some bombs."