COMMENTARY| 2015 has really been the year for women in sports. This year has seen a female coach win the NBA Summer League title (Becky Hammon), the first female coach in the NFL (Dr. Jen Walters), the first full-time female official in the NFL (Sarah Thomas), Lisa Leslie being inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and Nancy Lieberman being named assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings (second in league history). But no two women have been more dominant in their respective sports, nor have dominated the headlines this year like Ronda Rousey and Serena Williams.
It is natural that when two people achieve the level of success that these two women have, the comparison conversations begin. It happened with Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. It happened with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. And it’s still happening with Bryant, Jordan and LeBron. But after Rousey won an ESPY a few weeks ago for Best Female Athlete and her win Saturday over Bethe Correia at UFC 190, where she defeated Correia by knockout in 34 seconds, the chatter among social media was that Rousey had become the most dominant female athlete of our most recent times.
Things are now getting out of hand with the comparisons. Somewhere, a line has to be drawn.
Although both women are elite athletes and Rousey is having an amazing year, there are three specific reasons that deter her from taking the crown as the most dominant female athlete from Williams.
#1. Level of Competition
Rousey’s 12 career matches total a fight time a little over 25 and a half minutes. UFC President Dana White created the women’s division because of Rousey; therefore, she is certainly a pioneer for women in mixed martial arts (MMA). But she has yet to face a legitimate threat to her reign. She fights in the bantamweight division where there are only 26 other fighters in her class, some of which are Olympic medalist (as she is also an Olympic medalist) and some are former champions. But most of the fighters in her class have not had the same level of success before turning pro as Rousey had. The talent surrounding her doesn’t truly test her. She may be undefeated, but records can be deceiving. Let’s not forget at one point in time, Boise State was undefeated in college football but were they the best team in the country? Could that undefeated Boise State team compare to a one loss Alabama? Same rule applies. Her biggest threat thus far was Miesha Tate, an opponent she may see for the third time later this year. Tate took her three rounds in their first matchup, but was destroyed in seconds in their second bout. Rousey is developing into a mature fighter, but it will be hard for her to grow until the level of her competition grows.
However, Williams has faced off against some of the best the world has seen. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is not just a few women competing but hundreds. Yet Williams ranks No.1 among all of them by a large margin.
Like Rousey, Williams is an Olympic medalist (all gold medals) and also like Rousey, she has faced her fair share of other medalist and champions. But the players that Williams faces are not unknown and unproven. They are the elite of the WTA. True heavy hitters. Ask Russia’s Maria Sharapova how it feels to be ranked No.2 in the world but suffer 17 straight losses at the hands of the tennis phenom. Williams isn’t playing scrubs, she just makes it looks like she is.
One of the main reasons Williams surpasses Rousey in the best conversation is simply because she’s been doing it longer. Williams reached the top spot in 2002, the first time she was ever ranked No.1 in the world and that was well over a decade ago. Her name is prevalent all over the world, as she has established herself as not simply one of the best in women’s tennis, but one of the best in tennis period. Just this year alone, she completed her second self-proclaimed “Serena Slam” (winning four majors in a row) and if she repeats as U.S. Open champion, she will have completed her first calendar slam, a feat that has not been accomplished since the 1980’s. Williams has 21 major titles in singles alone, but totes 36 titles total (which include doubles and mixed doubles… yes Serena has played with men and have been successful in doing so).
Williams entered the professional scene at 16 years old and now at the age of 33 she is still controlling her opponents and winning majors. She is currently the oldest player- male or female- to win a Grand Slam.
On the other hand, Rousey may be the undisputed UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, but the division itself just came into existence in 2012, which means her career is still fairly new (even though she began wrestling since the early age of 11). It is virtually impossible to compare a 17 year career to a champion of a sport that isn’t even 17 years old.
#3. Untested/Overcoming Adversities
One major characteristic of being the best is being able to prevail when the odds are stacked against you. Every great athlete has done it: Jordan, Bryant, Muhammad Ali, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, LeBron James. Whether it was battling injuries, being down in a series or a game, or defeating an extremely tough opponent, overcoming a challenge shows the ability to handle anything.
Williams has been thrown hardship on various levels. She’s been the butt of racial slurs and discrimination (i.e. Indian Wells). She’s dealt with shots at her femininity and physical appearance. She’s been plagued by knee and elbow injuries that at one point knocked her out of the top rankings and currently has her sidelined (she withdrew from her last two tournaments). She’s been down in some tough matches that has left some wondering “how in the hell is she going to get herself out of this one, “yet somehow, someway Williams manages to pull it together.
We have yet to see Rousey deal with the chips being down. We’ve yet to see her respond to a vulnerable situation in the ring. We’ve yet to see her fall to see if she can rise. We’ve yet to see Rousey overcome adversity. No one has yet to challenge her or put her in that position, which actually reverts back to reason number one. She needs more competition to help grow her sport.
This isn’t a bash on Rousey. She’s a champion. She’s damn good. She deserves all the respect and accolades that she receives and she certainly has seat at the table as one of the best athletes of 2015 and one of the most dominant female athletes in the world. But her seat is behind Serena. Williams is queen. And there are no signs of her being dethroned anytime soon.