Analysts will tell you the previously-all-conquering Ronda Rousey suffered her first career defeat at the weekend because she got over-confident in the build-up, her training wasnt sharp enough, and opponent Holly Holm unleashed the fight of her life. And maybe theres a semblance of truth in that. Like, two per cent. But anyone whos paid attention to EAs American football series over the years knows the real reason Rousey suffered the biggest shock in MMA history: the Madden curse is spreading.
Last Friday, EA announced that Rousey is to be the cover star of its upcoming Octagon brawler, UFC 2. And just as happened to so many of those selected to front its NFL series over the last two decades and Rory McIlroy earlier this summer it wasnt long before fate booted her squarely on the chin. (Fate, in this instance, cunningly disguising itself as Holms left foot.) Coincidence, or black magic? Consider these other high-profile athletes cut down in their prime by this cover-star voodoo, and make your own decision
Garrison Hearst (Madden NFL 99)
Until 1998, John Madden himself had always been used to front the series bearing his name. That year, in an attempt to lend its NFL franchise a more contemporary feel, EA signed up San Francisco running back Hearst to appear on the box after a season in which he amassed 1570 yards and seven touchdowns. The regular season that followed was uneventful, but on the first play of a knockout tie with the Atlanta Falcons his ankle and the 49ers play-off hopes were shattered when his foot locked in the Georgia Dome turf. It would be two years, and a miraculous recovery from avascular necrosis, before hed play again.
Marshall Faulk (Madden NFL 03)
The thunder-thighed St Louis Rams legend had rushed for 1,300 yards four seasons in a row before clinching a deal to be the frontman for Madden NFL 03. Hed temporarily avoid the already-dreaded curse albeit with a dip in stats in the year of his likeness being on the cover, but like Lost's smoke monster (which was also definitely real, right?) couldnt outrun it for ever. In 2004, an ankle injury caused Faulk to miss five games, and in 2006 he chose to hang up his cleats and take a new role in the NFL Access TV studio after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.
Michael Vick (Madden NFL 04)
Then-Atlanta quarterback Vicks reward for many years of being considered the ultimate online cheat player was an appearance on the packaging of Madden NFL 2004. This time round, the games hoodoo smote its target in record time, with the once-impervious Falcon fracturing an ankle in a meaningless pre-season game before the campaign proper had even begun. Hed play just five more times that year, before losing form and eventually all credibility after being jailed in April 2007 for his involvement in an illegal interstate dog-fighting ring.
Donovan McNabb (Madden NFL 06)
NFC East Division Champion in 2001. NFC East Division Champion in 2002. NFC East Division Champion in 2003. NFC East Division Champion in 2004. Madden cover choice in 2005 and inevitably, there that glorious run ended. A pre-season fallout with top receiver Terrell Owens proved ominously prescient, as a sore thumb, sports hernia and finally serious groin injury put paid to McNabbs season by mid-November. Worse was to follow exactly a year later, when the Eagles star QB tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee while jumping out of bounds. Unlike most players on his list, hed taste glory again with a Pro Bowl appearance in 2009, before moving to the Redskins in 2010 (pictured).
Vince Young (Madden NFL 08)
The number three pick in 2006s NFL draft and rookie of the year in his debut season, Tennessees brightest hope of the noughties would be considered a lost cause by the time the tens rolled into view. And many pinpoint his appearance on the cover of Madden NFL 08 as the turning point. Young was benched for the first pre-season game after breaking a team rule, struggled with a recurring quad injury late in that same campaign, and lost his starters job at the next seasons outset thanks to a knee knack. Hes not featured in the NFL since a brief Eagles stint in 2011.
Peyton Hillis (Madden NFL 12)
After a miraculous 1,177-yard, 13-touchdown 2010 season in Cleveland, Browns fans campaigned long and loud for the Arkansas graduate to win the following summers public Madden 12 cover vote. They would quickly regret their wish. A bout of strep throat and two separate hamstring injuries disrupted his ensuing campaign and led to him departing Ohio at the seasons end. Brief stints with Kansas City, Tampa Bay and New York were no less underwhelming, and he played his final NFL game in August 2014 just three years after that fateful cover appearance.
Rory McIlroy (Rory McIlroy PGA Tour Golf)
Long-term PGA Golf frontman Tiger Woods evaded the infamous curse for years, until an astonishing domestic incident in 2009 where he crashed his car into a fire hydrant yards from his own home. This year, Northern Irishman McIlroy took over the mantle of EAs club-swinging posterboy and was swiftly struck down in the most bizarre of circumstances. Midway through a football kickabout with friends mere days before the games 14 July release date, he ruptured a ligament in his left ankle. The resulting lay-off caused him to be the first defending champion to miss the sports illustrious Open since 1954.
Ronda Rousey (EA Sports UFC 2)
Last Thursday, the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist was considered the best fighter in the world of either sex and greatest female box office draw of all time. By the end of Saturday, shed been on the wrong side of the most shocking upset (by Las Vegas betting odds) in history, and relegated to merely human status. The critical day in between: Friday, where Rousey was confirmed as cover athlete for EA UFC 2. (Friday the 13th no less, which really makes you wonder what the publisher was thinking.)
The game is out next summer, and if Rowdy Ronda steps back into the Octagon before that date, itll be considered a major surprise in the wake of her Holm hammering. And with the Madden curse clearly spreading to other sports, Wayne Rooney might want to have a serious rethink before he commits himself to the box art for FIFA 17