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Tracy Cortez reacts to recent negativity for women’s MMA: ‘Everyone’s waiting for the next Ronda Rousey’

Since Ronda Rousey first exploded onto the scene and helped usher women’s fighting into the UFC, there have been no shortage of marquee moments for women in the octagon.

Lately, however, there’s been a slightly different feeling as a cloud of negativity has seemed to surround the women’s divisions in the UFC. Perhaps part of that stems from inactivity, with the flyweight title sitting dormant for the better part of the past year and the bantamweight title seemingly not seeing action again until the final months of 2024.

The one constant has been the strawweight division, where Zhang Weili still rules with an iron fist, but even her five-round battle with Yan Xiaonan at the historic UFC 300 card was largely overshadowed after following Max Holloway’s victory over Justin Gaethje with one of the all-time great finishes in UFC history.

That same chatter lately regarding women’s MMA was much the same when the main event for UFC Denver was originally announced as Rose Namajunas vs. Maycee Barber. But the mood seemingly changed when Barber fell out and was replaced by Tracy Cortez, who comes into the matchup on an 11-fight win streak and undefeated in the UFC.

“I think it’s one of those things where everyone’s waiting for the next Ronda [Rousey], for the next Joanna [Jedzrejczyk], someone incredible like [Zhang] Weili to stay on top and prove themselves,” Cortez said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Someone like Rose to ride that the way Ronda did, or even myself now that I’m here.

“But I did see the shift [toward negativity] and I don’t know why. I don’t know why women’s MMA is getting bashed recently the way it is, but hopefully July 13 we put on a great show, an exciting show, and we give the crowd what they want. Get them excited again for women’s MMA.”

For her personally, Cortez believes part of the attraction she has with fans comes down to her own demeanor and the way she carries herself both inside and outside the cage. That authenticity seems to connect with people, and perhaps that led to some of the fanfare Cortez received after she got the main event slot against Namajunas on Saturday.

“I think the fans feel me, at least me personally as a fighter, as a person. The message I try to [get] across on my social media is there’s purpose behind what I do,” Cortez said. “I’m not just fighting to fight. There’s purpose. There’s meaning.

“I’m very, very intentional with the way my life is. I don’t know. I think it’s one of those things, because it even caught me by surprise.”

As far as becoming the next Rousey, who at her peak was right alongside Conor McGregor as the two biggest stars in the sport, Cortez had nothing but praise for the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion.

Since leaving UFC, Rousey has openly admitted a bit of a love-hate relationship with MMA. She went as far as saying she hasn’t attended any events because she knows she would get bombarded by boos from the fans.

Don’t expect Cortez to join in that chorus of jeers. She holds Rousey in very high regard, even if she hopes to one day surpass some of the records Rousey set in the UFC.

“I’m very grateful for the way Ronda paved the way for women’s MMA,” Cortez said. “No one has done it like she has.

“But I say this humbly, I hope to surpass that. She set a goal and I think us as competitors want to keep overstepping these goals and overdoing what our last heroes did. I saw the way she moved, and [I am] finessing and tweaking and making it my own, and hoping to surpass what she has done.”

Cortez knows those are lofty ambitions, but much like stepping into Saturday’s main event on short notice, the 30-year-old flyweight welcomes the challenge.

“I thrive off of pressure,” Cortez said. “I’ve always been judged and overlooked and I’m just a pretty face. I’m here now. The record speaks for itself. I thrive off of it. I love it. I genuinely love the pressure. I feel like I perform, I embrace it to the fullest.”

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