Ronda Rousey- Her Legacy and Future
48 seconds. In a career defined by lightning quick finishes that could easily be posted as a Instagram video or a Vine, that particular time might define her career. I don't believe it should. In a time where her future is uncertain, I am going to use this blog to look back on Ronda Rousey's career and the significance it had for MMA, women's MMA, and women in general.
First of all, the pitchforks are out for Ronda, just as they were following her loss to Holly Holm in Melbourne at UFC 193. A lot of what I would term "revisionist history". I was at UFC 193 in Etihad Stadium, and the atmosphere was amazing. Ronda was on top of the world. Undefeated, various movie roles, Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazine covers, and a Wrestlemania appearance with The Rock. Due to all those outside factors, talk was already brewing about Rousey retiring from MMA and pursuing any number of outside ventures.
And then it happened. The head kick heard around the world. Holly Holm was the new, and second ever, UFC women's bantamweight champion. The world was in shock. My friends and I were watching on from the nosebleed, and as the first round unfolded- with a failed armbar attempt and wild, undisciplined striking to follow- we could all feel something was off. Nevertheless, the stunning KO was something beyond anything we could have expected. The entire section I was sitting in were looking at each other screaming, "Holy shit! What the fuck just happened!"
The funny thing is, to someone who watches MMA closely, the result wasn't something as unpredictable as it seemed in the heat of the moment. The finish certainly was- Holly Holm's previous UFC fights had gone to methodical, technically sound split decisions. Holm seemed to be only getting the shot due to Rousey mowing through just about everyone else in the top 10. But, with a decorated boxing and kickboxing background, Holly Holm was by far the best striker Ronda Rousey had ever faced. And in Rousey's previous fight, UFC 190 against Bethe Correia, she showed holes in her striking and mental game. She was pissed off pre-fight due to Correia beating her friends Shayna Baszler and Jessamyn Duke, members of Ronda's Ric Flair-inspired clique, The Four Horsewomen. Correia also made comments about suicide that would not have helped Correia's case, since Rousey's father committed suicide. So, in the fight, Ronda came out like a bull, swinging like it was a pub fight, zero thoughts of defense or tactics. It worked on that night- Correia was KOed in roughly half a minute- but all it would have taken was a better fighter, with one good counter punch, to take advantage of Ronda's hot-headedness and striking deficiencies.
The issue I have is with the hate Rousey has received post fight, both in the wake of the Holm loss and now the Nunes defeat. I mean, Ronda hasn't always conducted herself in a classy way- she tried to bully Holm at the weigh ins and then refused to touch gloves, and then never congratulated Holm on the victory. Then her decision to do a media blackout- after Conor McGregor was pulled from UFC 200 due to wanting to miss one press conference- probably didn't gain her any good will either. Then there's the fact that she pretty much went into hiding after her first MMA loss, while UFC's other main attraction, McGregor, was calling for a rematch with Nate Diaz immediately and trained like a maniac. So you can understand people disliking Ronda and taking jabs. I still think it's a bit excessive, when she's hardly the first MMA fighter to suffer devastating losses, but you can see the reasoning behind it.
It's not the fact that Ronda's being criticised, or even the amount of memes and photoshopping. It's the fact that a large portion of people are acting like she was never any good in the first place. Even Amanda Nunes commented this morning that "she didn't know how Ronda went so far in the division". And this is where we need to look at Rousey's legacy as a fighter. I believe she will go down as one of MMA's greats. I can already hear people laughing at that statement, but think about Rousey when she was on top of the mountain. You wouldn't compare her fighting skills to a Georges St. Pierre or an Anderson Silva, but more to Royce Gracie. Gracie was the first star of the UFC way back in 1993. It was before UFC was as regulated as it is today, before weight classes and all that jazz. Royce Gracie tore through people. It didn't matter how big or strong you were, how hard you would hit or how good you would wrestle, Gracie would make you tap out. Sound familiar? Gracie was a Braziliian jujitsu black belt, and in the infancy of MMA as a sport, fighters had no idea how to defend submissions. Eventually, Royce Gracie ran into Ken Shamrock, an adept submission grappler, and he was taken to a 36 minute draw in the longest fight in UFC history. He then went to the Japanese MMA promotion PRIDE, where he had a 60 minute classic and ultimately lost by corner stoppage. He was later given another shot in a drastically different UFC, in 2006, where the majority of fighters were well rounded in all disciplines. He lost by TKO in the first round to fellow UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes. Gracie was a true pioneer, and a legend of the sport of MMA, but the game had passed him by.
Ronda Rousey's path was similar. While Gracie excelled in the discipline of Brazilian jujitsu, or BJJ, Rousey's game was Olympic caliber judo, combined with the deadly armbar submission. Women's MMA was still in its infancy, and women had no answer for Rousey's style of attack. Fast forward 5 or 6 years later, and women are becoming more well rounded. In the early days of women's MMA, the top fighters excelled in wrestling or jujitsu. Now, more strikers are coming out of the woodwork. Ronda Rousey apparently never picked up the skills of elite striking in a real fight situation. Perhaps she performs well in the gym- given her coach Edmond Tarverdyan's track record, I'd say he didn't really push her with full contact sparring sessions. It was apparent with the first punch Amanda Nunes landed at UFC 207, Ronda does not deal well with a skilled striker punching her in the face. Ronda Rousey looked like a punching bag last week in Vegas, but like Gracie in the past, her game had been figured out and the holes in her game exposed. Armbars have been defended. Takedowns and clinch attempts have been defended. Punches have been landed. Now, the crushing defeats have occurred, the game has passed her by. Rousey's legacy is that of a pioneer. She is responsible for Dana White changing his mind and allowing women to fight in the UFC. She was great and dominant, a polarizing figure, but popular and broke into the mainstream, breaking barriers for many other women. At one time, she served as a role model. Now? Perhaps not. But her place in MMA history cannot be denied.
So, that's Ronda Rousey's legacy, but what of her future? As you might have gathered, I've written this piece like a career retrospective, I don't expect her to fight in the Octagon again. If she does, I think it's ill-advised. She had 13 months to try and improve in the areas she was lacking. She chose to hang onto to her useless coach and not take the advice and offers of help from great boxers and MMA fighters. She might do a bit of movie work, but the losses combined with her attitude towards the mainstream media have probably harmed her opportunities. Plus, she hasn't shown any particular acting range. So there might be some action movie cameos here and there.
I think her next step is WWE. She's a massive fan, and even after UFC 207, Stephanie McMahon said, "we'd love to have her". Ronda strongly alluded to returning to WWE following her Wrestlemania appearance with The Rock, so you'd think she'd be open to the idea. Plus, WWE is a form of entertainment that can play to her strengths. I'm sure Dana White would have loved to script Rousey returning and reclaiming the title in a Rocky-esque comeback. Also, a star of Ronda Rousey's calibre wouldn't be on the road for a full time schedule. Maybe she appears for a single Wrestlemania feud ala Floyd Mayweather? Or maybe she dips her toes into it a bit more and signs a part time limited dates deal ala Brock Lesnar.
Only Rousey knows what's next. At 29, she's a millionaire, set for life, she won't need to work for the money ever again. In my mind, she's a star and a MMA pioneer, but as for what's next- we'll just have to wait and see.