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Ronda Rousey’s UFC return resulted in another crushing defeat. One that, surely, marks the end of the career that turned MMA into the top female sport on the planet.
Rousey’s first fight since her shocking and comprehensive women’s bantamweight title loss to Holly Holm just over a year ago was even more one-sided and devastating for the Olympian judoka, as current champion Amanda Nunes brutalised the once-unstoppable former titlist in just 48 seconds with a barrage of strikes.
Upon sealing victory in the UFC 207 main event, the Brazilian walked around the Octagon with a ‘shushing’ taunt. She had silenced those who felt Rousey would simply walk back into the top spot she had essentially created. She was perhaps also mocking Ronda’s refusal to participate in media promotion of the bout.
And she had almost definitely put Rousey’s time as a fighter down for good.
Quite frankly, it was the best possible outcome all around.
Nobody can deny the sheer volume of the contribution Rousey has made to UFC. As the face of Dana White’s introduction of female fighters, her skills, looks, marketability and deadly 12-0 record over four years made her, for a period, the company’s top star. Including the far more-established male competitors.
Without her, women’s MMA and women’s sport as a whole would be in a less healthy position than it is now. And yet, it was absolutely time for the game to move on without her.
Alongside all of Rousey’s credentials comes a fair amount of baggage. Ronda was already moving into the world of TV and movies, having made appearances in The Expendables 3 and Fast and Furious 7, as well as at WWE’s showcase Wrestlemania event in 2015.
She had also started to display quite a degree of disdain for her opponents and peers during media obligations. While her drawing power was unaffected, it was putting her image as a hero and role model to girls worldwide at risk, and earning her no brownie points with the diehard fight fans.
Before her title loss to Holm last year, Rousey was quoted as saying: “She’s the kind of person where after I beat her and she makes a lot of money, I’m like, ‘Good for her. Buy yourself a Albuquerque house with that.’
“The last chick (Bethe Correia) it was like, she’s a big old b**ch, I kicked her ass, she made a lot of money and I’m like, ‘Oh well, whatever. Have fun with that.’ With Holly, I’ll genuinely be happy for her and hope that she accepts her loss in a healthy way and enjoys all the benefits that she got from this fight.”
It was Rousey, however, who lost. And she certainly didn’t accept her loss in a healthy way. Those close to her confirmed she was ‘devastated’ by the surprise end to her unbeaten record. She had clearly never expected second best to be a scenario she would ever have to deal with.
The problem Ronda encountered was that, while she enjoyed the fruits of being UFC’s undisputed female star (as well as across the entire roster), those beneath her on the pecking order were all-too-aware of the doors Rousey was opening for them, in turn. Across every weight class, female fighters were stepping up their game and making the most of the spotlight and the money that Rousey’s rise had helped create.
And when the time came that the queen bee showed signs of arrogance and complacency, they were more than ready to teach her the simple laws of evolution.
Competitors like Holm and Nunes have a lot to thank Rousey for, but they aren’t there to make her look good inside the cage. This isn’t professional wrestling – where Rousey may ironically end up after UFC – where pre-determined contests ensure that everyone and everything revolves around Hulk Hogan or John Cena.
It’d be fair to say Rousey had outgrown MMA. It’d also be fair to say that MMA had outgrown her.
Now, Rousey will dust herself off and choose her next path – and I cannot see it being a return to the Octagon.
She has plenty of lucrative options out there. As a personality, she is well and truly made. She doesn’t turn 30 until February 1, either.
Meanwhile, the bantamweights and other top female fighters such as Joanna Jędrzejczyk will look to carry the baton of women’s MMA onto the next level.
Rousey will be hard to replace as a figurehead, but the truth is that she has long been succeeded as the best fighter in her genre.