The scene at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for #UFC207 was unlike any that I’ve ever witnessed in my many years covering mixed martial arts. It wasn’t the usual grizzled roar of UFC fans. The pitch was higher. The atmosphere was more reminiscent of a Justin Bieber or One Direction concert where the voices of women squealed in delight as Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” pulsated through the arena. The screams were louder as #RondaRousey emerged from the tunnel and made her way to the Octagon for the first time since being brutally knocked out by #HollyHolm over a year ago.
But that was in Australia. This was on American soil and the illumination of Rousey’s star was blinding. The UFC’s biggest crossover star had returned to the spotlight. Her army of fans, both men and women, followed her. These fans didn’t pledge their allegiance to mixed martial arts, they pledged their allegiance to Ronda Rousey. They tied their hair up in knots trying to emulate her. They adopted her phrase of a "Do Nothing B-tch" and eschewed the phrase "fight like a girl." Ronda Rousey was a hero to many and her comeback was a chapter everyone wanted to be a part of.
The Rowdy One was back and everyone held his or her collective breath to see if the queen would regain her rightful place in the UFC kingdom. Only, this time there would be no overwhelming media obligations, red carpets or anything else that would distract her from her goal. Some questioned her mentality after losing to Holm, but as a consummate competitor, Rousey obsessed about winning. She’s not that much different than any other fighter who lost and questioned their existence as a competitor. Suicide sounds harsh, but she’s not the only one who has taken a loss hard. She just decided to hunker down and mute the noise.
She was granted a media blackout during fight week. And while some questioned the decision, it was what Ronda needed to focus. She had done so much for the sport that, at the very least, she earned a one-time pass.
None of it mattered. The aura of invincibility was broken and a number of punches from #AmandaNunes in a matter of seconds shattered any remnants of supremacy that Rousey had left. She was mentally undressed by Nunes’ striking and fell to the new champion in just 48 seconds.
Social media immediately relished in Rousey’s defeat. The memes came fast and furious while those who don’t watch MMA regularly questioned if she was merely a pretty face used as a marketing tool to make the UFC a lot of money.
Was she a fraud?
Absolutely not. And don’t let anybody suggest otherwise. Those who know nothing about MMA should not marginalize what Ronda Rousey accomplished in a few short years.
But the idea that Rousey was more than a judoka was the beginning of the end.
After knocking out Bethe Correia with a punch in 34 seconds at UFC 190 in August of 2015, the idea that Rousey had somehow become a striker was falsely embedded into her and her team’s psyche. For the first eight fights of her professional career, the cycle was the same: hip toss, armbar. Rinse and repeat. It was unstoppable. But that was in large part because of Rousey’s entire life being dedicated to judo. But she was never, ever a world-class striker. All she needed to do was become a serviceable stand-up fighter who used striking as a method of defense and a means to get close enough to takedown her opponent.
Her strengths in judo masked her weakness in striking. Anybody who watched her second fight with Miesha Tate realized that Rousey was entirely too easy to hit. But, for whatever reason, her coach Edmond Tarverdyan decided to focus on turning Rousey into a devastating striker. She slowly drifted away from her judoka foundation and began to open up. This worked against those who were also rudimentary strikers, but she’d have to put that toolbox back in the woodshed when facing a masterful striker. Fortunately, she hadn’t faced one yet. But that only reinforced the idea that she was now one of the best boxers in women’s MMA.
The hype train was already careening off the rails as the mainstream bought into the idea of Ronda Rousey being a boxer. Hell, there were those who openly questioned whether Rousey could give Floyd Mayweather a run for his money. It was utterly ridiculous but a point of conversation. Oscar De La Hoya stated that he wanted to promote Rousey as a boxer and then, coincidentally, Ring Magazine featured her on the cover.
The train had left the station and there was no turning back: Ronda Rousey was now a dangerous striker. The problem with this ideas was that Rousey abandoned what made her a superstar in the first place. Rather than use striking as a means of scoring a takedown and rounding our her mixed martial arts repertoire, it began to take precedence over everything else. And the Correia fight only exasperated this notion. With her star soaring to new heights, a fight with Holly Holm was scheduled on relatively short notice when Robbie Lawler had to pull out of the Australia card with an injury. Rousey could have said no, but she was swept in the midst of stardom and hype that she could beat anyone at anytime. Hell, we believed it to.
Except, those that watched MMA regularly knew that she’d have to go back to her roots to defeat a former boxing world champion and powerful kickboxer.
Only, she didn’t.
A scintillating knockout ended Rousey’s reign. But instead of truly going back to the drawing board and focusing on what got her to the promised land, she holed up and worked on her striking.
And in those opening minutes of the Nunes fight, the moment you see Ronda attempt to counter instead of clinch, it was evident that this wouldn’t last long. Nunes realized it too and spoke to the fact during the post-fight press conference.
But here's the kicker: Amanda Nunes admittedly wouldn't be here if it weren't for Ronda Rousey. Those who questioned why Rousey earned $3 million to Amanda's $200,000 (plus pay per view), fail to comprehend that Rousey's brief and devastating run opened the door for women in mixed martial arts to have a financially viable career.
For all of her technical striking deficiencies, Ronda Rousey was the master of mainstream. Her attitude and ability were undeniable. She was a popular culture phenomenon. To call her a fraud would be to ignore the fact that she finished 11 of 12 opponents inside of the first round and nine of them under a minute. And that includes three opponents that Amanda Nunes couldn't defeat (Alexis Davis, Sarah D'Alelio and Cat Zingano). Her run was remarkable and only magnified how brutal her losses were. Just about everybody loses a fight, but when the spotlight burns brightly as it does for Rousey, those moments aren't confined to the Octagon.
Ronda Rousey is still bigger than the UFC, even in defeat. Her legend has already been written. Although she is no longer the dominant force that she once was, we simply cannot ignore the attention she brought to the sport and how she gave women's mixed martial arts exposure that it had never seen.
But now everyone wants to question her after she loses. It's unfortunate that people enjoy to watch the downfall of high profile athletes than revel in their excellence. Ronda deserves better than that.