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Strikeforce:

Ronda Rousey reaching new level of fame, could become first female fighter in UFC

Former Olympic bronze medalist makes first title defense against Sarah Kaufman

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COURTESY OF SHOWTIME/STRIKEFORCE

Ronda Rousey speaks at a press conference ahead of her fight against Sarah Kaufman on Aug. 18, 2012 in San Diego.

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Choices abound for the moment that best showcased Ronda Rousey’s sudden ascent to stardom in the last five months.

The 25-year-old Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion was on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue, appeared on Conan O’Brien’s show and made blistering comments about Kim Kardashian and Michael Phelps that went viral.

But one admission rings out above the rest above the rest in regards to the impact Rousey, who fought twice in local amateur promotion Tuff-N-Uff before turning professional, has made in mixed martial arts. It came from UFC President Dana White, on a Showtime series following Rousey nonetheless.

“In the next 10 years, if there’s going to be a woman in the octagon, it’s probably going to be Ronda Rousey,” White said.

Let’s back up a little while. Less than a year ago, seeing a gorilla play in the NFL sounded as likely as watching a woman fight in the UFC.

White had a roster of reasons for why females would “never” make it to the sport’s most notable promotion. Among the concerns were a lack depth in the divisions, no big fights to make and, frankly, not enough interest from the majority of fans.

“What changed me and what I think changed a lot of people about women’s MMA was Tate vs. Rousey,” White said.

In one of the most memorable MMA bouts of the year, Rousey submitted Miesha Tate at 4:27 of the first round on March 4 in Columbus, Ohio. It marked the Olympic judoka’s fifth first-round armbar victory in five professional outings and won her the belt.

Rousey defends the championship for the first time this weekend in a main event against Sarah Kaufman Saturday night — Showtime airs the fight via tape delay on the West Coast at 10 — in San Diego.

“If I get her arm,” Rousey said, “I’m going to try and rip it off and throw it at her corner.”

Yeah, it’s taken more than fighting ability and good looks to lead Rousey to this point. She’s got a form of confident charisma that most athletes emulate, but few possess.

Put everything together and Rousey has what White calls “the 'it' factor.” That’s a compliment sure to make her blush.

Rousey admittedly spazzes like a teenage girl seeing her favorite pop star whenever White lights up her phone.

“It wasn’t too long ago that he was telling TMZ women would never be in the UFC and he was very much against it,” Rousey explained. “And to see that he’s such a wise businessman that he did see potential in the women and is totally warming up to it, I’ve been very impressed.”

White has brought Rousey along for so many UFC marketing appearances that she’s lost track. She’s signed autographs at every major UFC event this summer, rallied the New York legislature to legalize MMA and rang the NASDAQ bell to open a day of stock trading.

Some fans have voiced a concern that the constant publicity tour has distracted the female arm collector away from her training. Lose once, after all, and much of the positive momentum for Rousey, and perhaps women’s MMA in general, withers away.

But Rousey cautions to not fret. She’s as high as a -700 (risking $7 to win $1) favorite to beat Kaufman and thinks she’s worth every cent of the astronomical price.

“Before, I was working three jobs and training full-time,” Rousey said. “If you think about it, I’m actually doing less work now. It’s just I have more work on the fighting side.”

Rousey has reaped several benefits beyond the obvious financial rewards. One rather simple amenity sticks out as her favorite.

“The coolest one, I think is just being able to have awesome seats to every single UFC event I go to,” Rousey said. “That’s my favorite thing.”

White may want to caution her against getting too comfortable in the expensive section. At this rate, it may not be long before Rousey is the one in the octagon.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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  1. Pure T&A. The girl is literally without talent but her competitors are even worse.