One is a bearded brawler with a beer gut. The other is a brash blonde with a bronze medal. But Tank Abbott and Ronda Rousey might have more in common than you think, according to UFC co-creator Campbell McLaren.
McLaren, who started the UFC with Rorion Gracie and Art Davie in 1993, actually calls Rousey the "new Tank Abbott," because she has been able to draw a completely different cross-section of culture to MMA, the same way Abbott did in the 1990s.
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"She’s the first fighter to open up a new audience to the UFC and MMA," McLaren told FOX Sports. "She’s smart, she can talk, she’s tough. She has real fight credentials. She’s got it all."
Abbott is completely different, McLaren said, but did for the early days of the UFC what Rousey is doing now. Back then, long before Zuffa bought the organization, UFC marketed itself mainly as martial arts. It was all about whose style was the best — could Gracie jiu-jitsu defeat kickboxing and so on.
The bruising Abbott didn’t look like a "martial artist" at all. He was out of shape, had a ratty beard and just looked all kinds of unkempt. In other words, he was "every man." Abbott looked like your next-door neighbor with a mean streak. And he would knock people out. Picture Roy Nelson with even less discipline.
"He made it look like he just walked in off the street or from the bar," McLaren said. "That wasn’t the case, but it was a great way to promote him."
In reality, Abbott wasn’t just a natural bad ass. He trained with the BYU wrestling team, had a boxing background and was extremely strong due to his powerlifting background. Much like Rousey, it was his look (for far different reasons) and the things he said that made him a box-office goliath.
McLaren recalls Abbott saying one time that he gets "sexually excited" when he’s beating somebody up. He compares that to Rousey running down her rivals like Miesha Tate and Cris Cyborg. Rousey recently called Cyborg "an it." Comments like that incite anger and McLaren believes that’s kind of the point, at least from a marketing point of view.
"The stuff Ronda says is amazing," McLaren said.
The former UFC boss loves the story aspect of MMA. He believes people want to see athletes fight more if they care about them and itâs a theory that holds water. It’s that formula he’s trying to put forth in his new venture Combate Americas, a Latin American MMA reality series/promotion that will begin holding live events in September.
Combate Americas airs on bilingual cable network Mun2 and features Latin recording artist Daddy Yankee prominently. McLaren is hoping to announce a second season soon and he’s also targeting a move to pay-per-view, perhaps as early as 2015. His goal is to build Latino MMA stars in a culture that is steeped in boxing tradition.
There are no female fighters yet in Combate Americas yet, but McLaren loves women’s MMA and Rousey. He said he interested in women fighting in the beginning stages of the UFC and thinks what all-female Invicta FC does is excellent.
"John McCain wanted to put me in jail for having men fight, what if I had women fight?" McLaren said. "I was afraid to find out."
He never had a Rousey, but he was lucky enough to have Abbott.
"They’re nothing alike," McLaren said. "Their personas are nothing alike. She’s a world-class athlete. Tank is not a world-class athlete. He just showed up, would fight anybody and was super tough. They just did the same kind of thing for MMA."