LAS VEGAS – Ronda Rousey rode off into the sunset on Friday, a loser by knockout yet again, her future as a fighter clearly in doubt.
She was no match for Amanda Nunes, blown out in 48 seconds by the powerful punches of the women’s bantamweight champion in the main event of UFC 207 in front of a standing-room only crowd of 18,533 at T-Mobile Arena.
Rousey had made herself into mixed martial arts’ biggest star with a string of 12 sensational victories in a row, each seemingly more one-sided and dominant than the previous one.
Before losing her title by knockout to Holly Holm last year, she had won her prior three title defenses in 16, 14 and 34 seconds to Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano and Bethe Correia.
She was the belle of the ball, a great interview, always in demand and willing to satisfy every fan, media member, and the many who wanted something from her.
Her success as a fighter landed her exceptional opportunities outside the cage. She’s become an in-demand product endorser. She wrote a best-selling book and appeared in several major movies.
But after Holm knocked her out with a head kick at UFC 193 in Australia on Nov. 14, 2015, things changed dramatically for Rousey.
She went into seclusion, and outside of a few hand-picked appearances, she avoided the media.
When she was offered the title fight with Nunes, one of the conditions she gave to UFC president Dana White before agreeing to come back was that she would not have to do any media.
It didn’t appear to hurt the promotion much. The sell-out crowd paid a gate of $4.75 million and the pay-per-view seems to be tracking to exceed 1 million sales.
That was the old Rousey from a business standpoint, but unfortunately for her, it seemed that her boxing skills hadn’t evolved and she was no different than she was against Holm.
Nunes landed a hard right and a left just seconds into the fight, rocking Rousey. Nunes easily picked her apart the rest of the way, hitting her repeatedly with powerful shots until it was stopped.
Rousey, though, didn’t go out with dignity.
Her pre-fight media blackout was one thing, but her failure to speak for the second fight in a row after losing made her look small. She was willing to accept the glory and the adulation when she won, but continues to look like a sore loser in defeat.
She was guaranteed $3 million Friday and undoubtedly will make many multiples more of that, and couldn’t even release a statement, let alone face the media.
Nunes essentially announced Rousey’s retirement for her.
“Yeah that’s it for her,” Nunes said of Rousey. “She can’t take it any more. If she wanted a rematch, it would be the same thing. She can’t take my punches.”
Dominick Cruz showed how a champion should handle defeat. He lost his bantamweight belt to Cody Garbrandt after Garbrandt put on a masterful performance in the co-main event to win a unanimous decision.
Cruz, who lost for the first since 2007, showed up at the post-fight news conference, sunglasses on, and oozed class for the 15 minutes he spoke about the fight.
“Loss is a part of life,” Cruz said. “If you don’t have loss, you don’t grow. This isn’t tough. This is life. I got caught in a couple transitions and that’s how it goes in this game. When you’re swinging four-ounce gloves, you get caught sometimes. What else can you really say?
“I have to go back and watch the fight, obviously. But after feeling it, after getting through it, after seeing the look in his eyes a couple of times when I punched him, when I kicked him, when I fought him, I’m not disappointed in myself at all. They say I lost and I will take my loss like a man.”
It was a triumphant night for Nunes, who put herself in contention for Fighter of the Year after scoring wins over Valentina Shevchenko, Miesha Tate and Rousey.
Nunes said she fully expected Rousey to try to strike with her rather than to try to get into the clinch as soon as possible and use her judo.
Nunes put much of the blame on Rousey’s coach, Edmond Tarverdyan.
“She thinks she’s a boxer,” Nunes said of Rousey. “He [Edmond] put that in her head and he has her believing that. I don’t know why he did that. She has great judo. She could go further in this division, but he put some crazy thing about boxing [in her head] and then her career started going down. I’m the real striker here.”
Rousey, though, never got a chance to use her vaunted judo. She seemed willing to stand with Nunes, a powerful puncher with both hands who battered Tate into submission en route to winning the title in the same arena at UFC 200 in July.
The win over Rousey will be the highlight of her career, given Rousey’s stature in the sport.
Nunes beamed when asked about her financial haul from the fighter. She was guaranteed $100,000 to show and $100,000 additional for the win, plus a cut of the pay-per-view.
“I think I’ll make a lot of money,” she said, grinning.
But she added, “I’m a simple girl and I like to keep it like that.”
She’s eager to simply fight often and try to continue to improve.
For Rousey, if it indeed is the end of the line, it was a remarkable run. She turned pro in 2011 after winning a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and quickly became the hottest property in the sport.
Within a year, she won the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title and within 18 months, she was the UFC champion.
She won her first six UFC title defenses by finish, five of the six in the first round.
It’s hard to say if her movie career will move forward, given the change in her status as the now former baddest woman in the world in the fight game.
But she made many millions of dollars in the cage and more outside of it, all because of that one skill she learned from her mother as a child, the arm bar.
Rousey was great for the sport and is solely responsible for women having the opportunity to fight on MMA’s biggest stage.
Nunes embraced Rousey in the corner after the fight, giving her thanks for what she’d done for the sport.
“I told her, ‘You did a lot for this sport. Thank you so much,’ ” Nunes said. “I said, ‘Now, take some time to rest and maybe do something else.’ Why should she keep doing this? She’s a millionaire already. Why would she want to keep doing this? She’ll hurt herself.”
She was hurt plenty on Friday. And more than from the punches, no doubt it was her pride that was bruised.
Rousey was the supernova that streaked through the sky and helped lift MMA to the next level, but her story doesn’t figure to end as badly as it does with so many fighters.
She has plenty of money and other options.
But the thing she wants most – that UFC belt – seems further from her grasp now than ever before.