Holding court on Saturday nights is nothing new for Ronda Rousey, but this weekend, it will be a little different for the former UFC bantamweight champion.
Rousey will perform at a different type of live event from her usual bouts in the Octagon, hosting NBC's venerable Saturday Night Live. While SNL isn't new to letting sports figures try their hand at sketch comedy, Rousey will be just the third female athlete to do so and the first in 22 years.
For Rousey, hosting SNL further cements her as the UFC's biggest and brightest star. "It's a big crossover move," said Dom Curran, U.S. CEO of sports marketing at sponsorship agency Synergy.
Rousey has already been making a name for herself outside of MMA circles with roles in films The Expendables 3, Furious 7 and Entourage (in which she played herself). She will also star in a reboot of Road House and co-star with Tina Fey in the comedy Do Nothing Bitches. Rousey's also quickly becoming a brand ambassador, starring in this spot for Carl's Jr.:
"She's already pretty mainstream," said Curran.
But hosting SNL—now in its 41st season—still has cultural significance. "You only have to look at the names that have done it over the last 40 years," said Curran. "It's still a very big deal."
And you could make the argument that Rousey's hosting stint is an even bigger deal for the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts, which has tried to position itself as the successor to boxing. While the UFC has a very engaged and—more importantly—young core audience, it remains very much a niche sport.
"This will only take it into a broader audience outside that core," said Curran. And for the UFC, a combat sport dominated by men, having its first breakout star be a woman puts it in a unique position. "That really helps them be different than every sport out there," Curran said.
Much of Rousey's appeal was based on her Herculean status, having gone 12-0 over two years. Her first and only UFC loss came in November, but Curran argues that knockout loss to Holly Holm only made her more attractive to marketers and fans. "Everyone loves a redemptive story," said Curran. "Muhammad Ali lost a number of times."