LAS VEGAS – It's not unusual for there to be long lines outside the Apple Store on the lower level of Fashion Show Mall. Anytime a new iPhone, iPad or computer is released, it's shoulder to shoulder in the mall's Great Hall for hours.
There was no new iPhone or iPad on Wednesday, but the Great Hall outside of the Apple Store was overflowing with people once again.
This time, the star attraction was not a shiny new iPhone, but Ronda Rousey, the UFC women's bantamweight champion and burgeoning superstar. When Rousey has a fight scheduled, she's about as in demand as any iPhone.
Rousey defends her belt Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 175 when she faces Alexis Davis in her third bout in six months.
She's quickly becoming the face of the UFC, if she isn't already.
"People love Ronda," UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta said. "People ask all the time what it takes to become a star, but there isn't a list of points you could write on a sheet of paper and say, 'Well, do this, this, this and this, and you'll be a big star.' There are people who have all those things, and they don't have that kind of passionate fan base.
"Ronda is one of those people who draws others to her. People want to see her and hear what she has to say. She has that 'it' factor that it takes to cross over and become a star."
Rousey has been asked dozens, if not hundreds, of times about her stardom and her place in the UFC's pecking order. While UFC management, particularly president Dana White, is outspoken in its belief about her stardom, Rousey often seems embarrassed by the line of questioning.
If she believes she's the UFC's biggest star, she's not saying.
"How does someone say something like that about themselves," she said, laughing. "I mean, what kind of self-absorbed, egotist would you have to be to go around and say, 'Yeah, I'm the biggest star around here'? It's crazy. I worry about getting myself ready to fight and doing my job to help sell it and I let other people figure out who is or who isn't a star. It doesn't matter to me."
The one surprise this far into her career is that she has yet to land that major A-list sponsor. Rousey is among the most popular fighters in the world, as well as one of the most recognizable female athletes.
UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis just landed major sponsorship deals with Wheaties and Reebok.
But Rousey hasn't landed one of those deals yet, despite her fame as a fighter and her dual role as a movie star. She's made three movies and seems likely to end her MMA career sooner rather than later so she can make movies full-time.
She seems a perfect fit for many blue-chip companies, and hinted she has a big deal on the way. Most of the highest-paid athletes in the world make staggering amounts of money from sponsorships, frequently more than they earn from their sports salary.
Floyd Mayweather tops the 2014 Forbes list of the world's highest paid athletes, with earnings of $105 million. But Mayweather is the only athlete on the list to not earn endorsement income.
The next five highest-paid athletes – Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods – earned a combined $149.7 million in salary or winnings, Forbes reported, and made $190 million in endorsement money.
Mega-endorsement money is one of the few areas in which Rousey is far behind her competition in a career that has seen her go from a largely unknown Olympic athlete to one of the most known professional athletes in the world.
"I have one really cool [endorsement deal] being finalized, but I'm not supposed to say anything yet," she said. "But I try purposely to keep my fighting attire bare. I don't want to look like a NASCAR driver. Whatever sponsors I do have, I want them to be really prominent.
"I can't predict the future, obviously, but I could possibly get to a point where I make more in sponsorships than I do from fighting. But listen: The UFC is very good to me and they pay me well and they pay me fairly. Most of my income comes directly from fighting, not from products or movies, and I'm fine with that."
White said that few UFC fighters are making big money from endorsements at this point. He said middleweight contender Vitor Belfort is making $2.7 million a year in endorsement money, which, if true, puts him in line with athletes like the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera and the Los Angeles Angels' Albert Pujols ($2 million apiece) and Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton ($3 million).
White said ex-middleweight champion Anderson Silva also makes significant money from endorsements, but he didn't know how much.
But he said he has no doubt Rousey will one day have a slew of blue-chip companies wanting her to endorse them.
"She's just a baby in this business, and there aren't a lot of fighters who are making that much at this point," White said. "But it's coming. She's huge already and getting bigger every day. The good thing about Ronda is, she's smart, she understands what is important, and she's patient and is willing to wait for the right deals."
In the meantime, she'll continue her incredible run as the UFC's women's champion. She's already as high as a 19-1 favorite over a fighter she says poses a major challenge to her.
Davis is an excellent kickboxer who has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She's won eight of her last nine and is, along with Rousey, one of just two women who have won three UFC fights.
Rousey said she was surprised by the big odds in her favor, but said she doesn't put much stock in them.
"She's a well-rounded fighter and she has a great ability to give out and endure a lot of punishment," Rousey said. "And she's the first jiu-jitsu black belt I've fought."
Rousey, though, is full of confidence and is utterly convinced she'll win the fight and keep her belt.
It will be on to more movies and, hopefully, other challenges. White said he's moving in on a deal to bring highly regarded women's boxing champion Holly Holm to the UFC to potentially pair against Rousey. He also said he's continuing to talk with Gina Carano's representatives about getting her to return to the sport.
"A Ronda-Gina fight would be massive, man," White said.
Indeed it would. But these days, every Rousey fight is massive. Saturday's gate will be over $5 million, White said. There's no doubt Rousey's presence on the card accounted for a significant portion of that.
She's like the human version of the new iPhone. Trot her out every few months and watch the long lines of people hopeful to catch a glimpse of her.
And though she may never make the kind of endorsement money that some of her peers in the Forbes list are making, White had a message for anyone who may think that way.
"I put no limits on her, because she breaks records and set trends all the time," he said. "You'd have to be a fool to think she can't [become a leading product endorser]. If she sets her mind to doing something, she usually does it. That's not just me saying it. Look at what she's done. The thing that's most amazing is she's just scratching the surface now. It's only going to get bigger and bigger."