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Looking at the Career of Ronda Rousey

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Ronda Rousey, former UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion, resurfaced last week after an extended absence following her 48-second KO defeat when she challenged Amanda Nunes for the belt last November. The bronze medalist in Judo appeared on the “Live with Kelly” show to discuss her engagement to UFC heavyweight, Travis Browne and the recent attempted robbery of her California home. Thankfully, the thief was caught minutes later and nobody was hurt during the incident.

While the engagement is nice news for Rousey, it essentially confirms the end of his mixed martial arts career since she made no mention of a return, and Dana White speculated earlier this year that she retired. So, what is the totality of Ronda’s career?

Growing up on the west coast, Ronda endured a turbulent childhood, overcoming very serious speech problems as a result of a birth disorder. In her autobiography, “My Fight, Your Fight,” a New York Times best seller, she detailed the tragic suicide of her father when she was young. Sports were an outlet for her, as she began to train in Judo with her mom before she reached her teenage years. Always unconventional, Rousey dropped out of high school and later earned a GED when she wasn’t winning Judo championships. Her grappling career culminated with the previously mentioned bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic games in China.

Reaching the pinnacle of Judo, she turned to mixed martial arts, a concept that was still relatively new for female athletes at the time. In the United States, women’s MMA was a fringe concept that didn’t receive any major marketing until Gina Carano made a splash in Strike Force in the mid-2000s. In 2010, Ronda fought in the amateur ranks on three occasions within the span of six months, winning each bout via arm bar in the first round. By that time, Carano was beaten out of the sport by Cyborg Santos, and it appeared Carano was content to attempt to use her fighting career to spring-board to film.

Just months after Ronda turned pro in 2011, Cyborg Santos tested positive for steroids during a post-fight drug test and was stripped of the Strike Force Women’s Featherweight belt, leaving female combat sports without a top contender. “Rowdy” Ronda began a meteoric rise, winning the Strike Force 135 LBS title after just five professional fights, and gained tremendous popularity for stoppages within the first round. She had such a fan following that Dana White, the UFC kingpin that once vowed he would never promote women’s MMA, introduced the female division to the UFC after Zuffa bought Strike Force. Her UFC debut took less than a round, and she ranked up more victories with a combination of aggressive striking and submission skills.

When Rousey sent Bethe Correia face-first to the mat in just 34 seconds in August of 2015, she was still undefeated and one of the most recognizable athletes in the world. Her beautiful face transformed into a bitter scowl when the cage door shut. Her brash style and dominating performances made her one of the most marketable athletes in mixed martial arts. The progress she made for female sports allowed an entirely new demographic to tune into UFC events.

Her accomplishments inside the octagon brought many opportunities outside of the sport. Movies, television, a Wrestlemania appearance, and the previously mentioned book were all added to her resume during the run as the UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion.

Just three months after she pummeled Correia, the undefeated champion was either overconfident or unprepared when she stepped into the cage in front of a record-setting crowd in Melbourne, Australia. Holly Holm, a multiple-time boxing champion in three different weight classes, provided the opposition and ultimately changed the course of women’s MMA. Despite her lengthy grappling experience, Ronda attempted a series of wild punches, which Holm dodged and countered. After the opening round, Rousey looked as though she didn’t know what to do next. Less than a minute into the second round, Holly stunned her opponent with a punch and then landed a highlight reel head kick, as Rousey collapsed to the canvas.

Ronda was distraught and made few public comments for nearly a year before her return to octagon, opting not to participant in the media week before her fight with Amanda Nunes in December of 2016. Nunes, a well-rounded competitor, submitted Miesha Tate at UFC 200 to win the championship. However, all the promotional advertisements were based around Ronda’s return. Questions surrounding the former champion’s mindset swirled ahead of the fight. It took just 48 seconds for all the questions to be answered when Rousey took nearly a dozen unanswered punches as she stumbled around the cage before the referee stopped the bout to avoid any further damage.

It’s often said that the measure of a champion is how they response to adversity.

Clearly, Rousey didn’t response well to either loss, in fact it could be argued that she couldn’t handle a loss on such a major stage. The combination of women’s MMA still evolving and that Ronda’s popularity might skew perception, it might be a few years until her career can be put into the proper context. Make no mistake about it. Ronda took women’s MMA to a completely different level that many didn’t think was possible, but her peak as a combat fighter was relatively brief. Does that mean she was a flash in the pan? No, but it says much about her skills and the mindset that she brought to the cage after fame became a priority.

As female MMA evolved, more well rounded women entered the sport, and that exposed Ronda’s lack of technical striking. For example, Holly Holm carefully dodged her wild flurries, and Rousey didn’t know what to do next. “Rowdy” Ronda seemed to assume that her success would automatically continue, as she talked often in her book and interviews about retiring undefeated. It wasn’t just the hype around Ronda that led to her fall from grace, but also how she set the standard to retire undefeated, and then how she handled the defeat.

If someone proclaims they are going to retire undefeated, it almost sets up for a let down because the expectation was made public. It also created the impression that Rousey looked passed her opponents toward her post-fight Hollywood career. Refusing to discuss the title loss prior to her return also made it appear that she was a fragile fighter and thus gave the impression her peak had passed after the Holm fight. On the flip side, when the brash Conor McGregor was submitted, he said he would continue to train and return stronger. He won the Diaz rematch and the submission loss isn’t a focal point of his career, especially when you consider that he will make a record paycheck to fight Floyd Mayweather next month.

The point being, after the two KO losses, Ronda Rousey appeared to be damaged goods. She couldn’t handle the adversity and much of the mystic around her diminished. That is why a fighter must maintain a focus of their primary sport because the outside distracts of a potential movie career can lead to a harsh reality check about the evolution of the level of competition in the UFC. She had a dozen wins against mostly one-dimensional fighters, it’s not as though she had a lengthy championship run comparable to Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to take anything away from her tremendous ability or career, but the total collapse of her career should be considered as well.

On the flip side, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, the current 115 LBS champion is undefeated, already has more career wins than Rousey, and arguably fought tougher competition. Does that automatically mean that Joanna is a better fighter? No, but it certainly proves that Rousey can’t definitively be called the greatest female fighter of all time either. It also underscores the fact that if a champion wants to maintain their status, they must stay focused on their opponents. I could be wrong, but I would guess that Joanna will generate an Anderson Silva type of title run before she concludes her career.

When Ronda lost, the movie offers, including a remake of “Road House” were quietly “delayed.” Again, Ronda did herself no favors when she emphasized an undefeated retirement, which essentially directly linked her success in the cage to her film career outside of it. That said, Ronda should be proud of her accomplishments, and she undoubtedly brought women’s MMA to a new platform. It’s disappointing that her career abruptly halted after such an accelerated rise to fame. While it’s not exactly fair to automatically assume she’s the greatest female fighter of all time, Ronda Rousey certainly has an undeniable role in the history of mixed martial arts.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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