Success is cruel. When you are great, people want to see you fail. And the greater you are, the greater that desire to see you fail becomes. Ronda Rousey’s career has been built upon great expectations, both internal and external. Since birth, she has confounded the odds. After choking on her umbilical cord, Rousey would suffer with major developmental issues as an infant. As she got older, things didn’t get easier as her father would commit suicide when she was only eight years old. Before her teenage years, Rousey would face adversity which would limit most people from having a successful life. But she would use these struggles as motivation to propel her to great heights.
Sport is solace for the downbeat and broken-hearted. Many of the world’s greatest athletes enter sport as a means to quell their inner turmoil. Rousey is no different. Following in the footsteps of her World Champion judoka mother, she would step onto the mats. From an early age, her talent for grappling was readily apparent. And as she competed on an international level as a youth, it was obvious that her skills would take her far. At the age of 17, she became the youngest judoka at the 2004 Olympics. At 21, she became America’s first judo Olympic medalist. After reaching the pinnacle of judo, Rousey made the decision to leave the sport just as she would be entering her athletic peak.
When you spend your formative years being forged in the fires of competition, it is hard to return to civilian life. After the Olympics, Rousey spent time working in a cocktail bar. Her athletic career over, she would linger on the periphery of combat sports, working for minimum wage while watching friends from her judo days compete in MMA. The finale of Season 5 of The Ultimate Fighter turned the competitive embers inside her into a fire. Watching her friend Manny Gamburyan face Nathan Diaz excited Rousey like never before.
Rousey’s exposure to the UFC was the beginning of a journey of stardom and heartbreak. After debuting in 2011, she soon began developing a following. Her exciting style and looks would lead to comparisons to Gina Carano. But soon, Rousey would even eclipse the stardom Carano had garnered.
After two professional victories, Rousey found herself signed to Scott Coker’s Strikeforce. It took her just 25 seconds to score an armbar in her debut. And when she did, she immediately set her eyes on bantamweight champion, Miesha Tate. Constant call outs would make her title shot an inevitability. And after snapping Julia Budd’s arm in under a minute, Rich Chou and Scott Coker were forced to make the fight that fans were clamoring for.
It is often said that Forrest Griffin versus Stephan Bonnar made the UFC what it is today. But for Women’s MMA, Rousey versus Tate is the seminal moment the sport’s success can be traced back to. Without their entertaining verbal jousting and their ridiculous marketability, it isn’t unfathomable that WMMA would still be a sport resigned to the fringes, its champions unknown to all but the most hardcore of fans. When Rousey submitted Miesha Tate, she caught the attention of the world. And most importantly, UFC president Dana White.
Dana White had long been against adding women to the UFC, but Rousey changed all that. Without her there is no Joanna JA�drzejczyk in the UFC. No Paige VanZant. No Amanda Nunes. Her success would bring eyes to the sport. But, that success would also breed haters. From her debut against Liz Carmouche onward, her mystique would continue to grow. Gradually, her finishes became faster. Over the course of a year, she became a bona fide legend of combat sports. Just as it seemed that she was about to reach the greatest heights of any martial artist arguably ever, Rousey was brought back down to earth with a thud.
UFC 193 was meant to be a celebration of Rousey, with the sport’s biggest star heading a card in a sold-out soccer stadium in Australia. Her fight with Holm was going to show the world how the champion had transcended the traditional MMA bubble and brought the sport into the mainstream. Most expected an easy night for Rousey. Holm had looked mostly unimpressive in her UFC berth and the champion was coming off her most spectacular victory to date. As the opening bell sounded, the crowd in the Etihad Stadium were primed for a vintage Rousey performance. But within seconds, it was clear that the champion was about to fall.
In the opening exchanges, Holm would land crisp and clean strikes, avoiding all of Rousey’s attempts to initiate grappling. And, she would make the champion miss with her labored strikes. By the second round, she was already on the verge of defeat. With one heavy kick to the head, the champion would crumble. Holly Holm systematically dominated Ronda Rousey and became the new champion of the world.
Her defeat would shock the world. Fight fans and celebrities alike mourned Rousey’s loss. Many would even hope for an immediate rematch. But she would step away from the limelight in the weeks following her defeat. Out of the public domain, a new narrative of revisionist history would be written. Since her defeat, many have come out of the woodwork to criticize the former champion. To call her a�?sloppya�?, a�?flawed technicallya�? and a�?overrateda�?. In her absence, fans have forgotten just how special the pioneer of WMMA really is.
When Rousey makes her return on December 30th, she will do so with many expecting her to fail. Not to mention, some hoping that she will. Now, Amanda Nunes is an undeniable talent. But it is a fair assessment to say that Nunes has never faced anyone on Rousey’s level. The fact that the betting odds for this fight are so close is really surprising. Rousey is normally a massive favorite. And Nunes, while talented, is not unbeatable. In fact, three of Rousey’s former foes have already defeated her.
Rousey is to WMMA what Tony Hawk is to Skateboarding. Without her, few would care about WMMA. Sure being the star of a sport has put a target on her back, but it is time to remember that she is one of the best fighters in the world. And as she makes her comeback to the cage, we should all give the former champion the respect she deserves. Win, lose, or draw, the MMA community at large owes Rousey praise for her immense contribution to the sport.