“Forget about Ronda Rousey!”-UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, Amanda Nunes
There has been a ton of piling on Ronda Rousey following her rather embarrassing loss to bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 on December 30th. She was destroyed by Nunes in 48 seconds of the 1st round, showing no defense and getting TKO’ed on her feet after a series of brutal strikes to face and head. The funny memes, GIFS, and social media take downs that followed are part of the job description when one is a famous high paid athlete, not withstanding being a woman in a traditionally male dominated sport. I’m not here to state the case to feel sorry for Rousey, her attitude and personality was polarizing for many. Her mean mugging and overall distain for past opponents she dominated can be seen as a reason for people laughing at her rapid downfall. She has fallen from her position as one the UFC’s top three draws, to possibly retired and done with MMA entirely. Instead of adding on more criticism like every other article written this week, let’s take a look at her lasting legacy in the sport. The UFC, women’s MMA, and sports media may wish that her star had shined brighter for longer. No Ronda in the UFC is bad business for everyone involved.
A New Breed of MMA Star
Ronda Rousey came along at the right time and in the right place. Her rapid rise to stardom and prominence in the UFC came at a time when the company needed it. Riding high off of the Ultimate Fighter TV show in the mid 2000’s, the UFC was becoming stale. After multiple seasons of the Ultimate Fighter, the company was looking for ways to continue to grow. UFC President Dana White was on the record for years saying women would never fight in the UFC, even though other companies such as Strikeforce and Elite XC were coming along with the times and promoting women’s fighting as a compliment to the men. The main knock against the idea of women fighters in the UFC is that the competition wasn’t there (more on this later) and that they weren’t going to promote women’s fighting as a way to add more sex appeal to their shows. At the time Gina Carano was the world’s most well known women’s MMA star, mostly due to the fact she was super sexy and could fight a little. Rousey was an Olympic Judo Bronze medalist in 2008, and quickly began training to make her MMA debut in 2010. She was signed by Strikeforce after a series of independent fight wins. The company already had Carano, “Cyborg” Santos and other women under contract. When UFC bought Strikeforce in 2011, White began to plant the seeds for women in the UFC. While Strikeforce was still its own separate company under Zuffa control, on March 3, 2012 Rousey defeated Miesha Tate to become the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight champion. With the biggest women’s star now under UFC control, as recently as August of 2012 White was quoted as saying “if there is a woman in the UFC octagon in the next ten years, it will be Ronda Rousey.” Something that seemed impossible just a few years earlier was now becoming a reality because of Rousey’s skill and toughness.
Rousey Dominates the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Division
Rousey made her UFC debut on February 23, 2012 defeating Liz Carmouche with what would become her signature move in the octagon, arm bar submission. Rousey came in as UFC Bantamweight Champion, grandfathered in from her title in Strikeforce that she never lost. Rousey brought with her from the Judo world amazing grappling and submission skills that other women fighters were unable to solve. Simply put, if Ronda got a hold of you she was going to grab your arm and you will tap. The strength and leverage used in judo throws and technique made her unique compared to the women using a generic stand up game or boxing/jiu-jitsu/fighting style of choice. She went on to win six straight fights in the UFC against the likes of Tate, Sara McMann, Alexis Davis, and Bethe Corrieia. A majority of her fights ended quickly in the 1st round by submission, and a new MMA/sports crossover star was born. People couldn’t get enough of Ronda, and she was at the forefront of the women in sports movement that was and had been increasing over the years. People said she was unbeatable, and ideas were floated for her to fight men (which she shot down immediately). It was even suggested that she could beat Floyd Mayweather in some sort of MMA/boxing hybrid, as crazy as that sounds. Rousey was all over mainstream TV hosting Saturday Night Live and appearing at Wrestlemania with the Rock. Right when it seemed like nothing could stop the Rowdy One, it all came crashing down as fast as her star quickly rose.
On November 15, 2015 at UFC 193 in Australia, Rousey defended the Women’s Bantamweight title against former boxing champ Holly Holm. Most expected this fight to be similar to every other Rousey fight, her opponent was tough and had a lethal striking skill set, but no one expected anything else but for Ronda to grab her arm and tap her out. Similar to Mike Tyson losing half way across the world in Japan to no name Buster Douglas in 1990, Rousey was shocked by Holm and knocked out by a crushing head kick that broke her jaw. The Rousey mystique was destroyed, and the MMA world was stunned. Even more disturbing was that Holm then went on to lose her newly won title to former Ronda nemesis Miesha Tate in her first title defense. It looked like Holm wasn’t the next dominate fighter in the women’s division, just a fighter with the right technique to solve the Rousey problem. Holm stayed away from her with kicks and strikes and make Ronda chase, which opened up her for the shot that dropped her in Australia. All of a sudden, there was a game plan to beat Rousey. She looked fundamentally poor in her response to Holm’s game plan, and many wondered if she was done as a dominate performer. Following the fight, Rousey added to this speculation by remaining quiet and mum about a rematch and return to the octagon. When her star rose, Hollywood and media were clamoring for her. She was up for movie roles and has a long standing offer to join the WWE, which she is a lifelong fan of. People started to question if she was mentally broken, and after months of silence she actually reinforced those concerns by an appearance on Ellen where she appeared to be very emotionally unstable and still shaken by the loss. There seemed to be little reason to come back to the UFC for her, other than fighter pride and a desire to avenge her loss and prove haters wrong. It would be over a year before she would finally be slated to return to the UFC, against the now current champ Amanda Nunes at UFC 207, the company’s final event of 2016. Nunes soundly defeated Rousey, who was paid $3 million in the loss ($62,500 per second! of the fight), where the champ Nunes netted around $200,000 winning. Nunes may have had the belt, but Rousey still had the name to generate PPV buys and get people interested in what she had left. As it turns out, she had nothing left to give. Amanda should have been thanking Rousey for the fact her asking price and bank account as champ will increase wildly because of and by beating Ronda. She looked scared and seemed to have a bad fighter flashback to the Holm fight once she took one jab from Nunes. The best description of what happened that I heard was that she borrowed her defense and head movement from Rocky vs. Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Her hands were down, and she took brutal shots to the face until the ref had to stop the fight after 48 seconds in the 1st round. Unfortunately for Rousey, this was no movie and there would be no miracle Rocky comeback. Ronda looked embarrassed and humiliated as Nunes screamed to “forget about Ronda Rousey” immediately post fight.
The End? Rousey’s Legacy
From all accounts, UFC 207 will be the end of her MMA career. There has been heavy criticism against her often shady head trainer Edmond Tarverdyan. The main criticism is that he didn’t help her evolve as a fighter and she became stagnant against improving completion. Her own mother questioned her coaching over a year ago and had reservations about Tarverdyan even before the Holm fight. In the unlikely event she decides to come back, it has to be with a new training camp and coaches that will challenge her to improve on her game and evolve from a one trick grappling/arm bar specialist. She seems to have lost the confidence and mean streak that caused Dana White to open up the UFC to women’s fighting.
I disagree with Nunes that we should forget about Ronda Rousey because of what she has done for women’s fighting and being a positive role model for young girls everywhere. I assume there are plenty of young girls that have decided to try MMA style training specifically because of Rousey. Not only that, but she was a huge part of Zuffa being able to sell the company for over 4 billion dollars this past summer to WME-IMG. Without Ronda helping expand the company, it might have not sold for such a high price. Ronda will end up fine too, most likely appearing at this year’s Wrestlemania, setting her up for a Brock Lesnar-type run in professional wrestling. She also might find her niche in Hollywood and become an accomplished action movie actress. No matter what she does post MMA, she will always be remembered as a trailblazer for a sport that had no real history or reason to expand. That is her legacy, leaving more money and more opportunities for those still in the game and those young girls and women dreaming of becoming a UFC champion. We shouldn’t forget about Ronda Rousey based upon all the good she has brought MMA, the UFC, and women’s sports as a whole.