Stick around MMA long enough, and you’ll probably notice the word “weird” becomes less applicable for most things. Still, when it comes to the notable Ronda Rousey story arc in the sport’s history, it seems somewhat fitting.
First, let’s get one main thing out of the way: Walking away from a sport that involves deliberately depriving your body of water and occasionally stopping high-speed human shins and fists with your own face is not the type of decision that should upset or even surprise us.
Especially when said sport has not only given its practitioner a ton of money, but opened several avenues in which to earn more of it.
By the time Rousey (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) went M.I.A. – we’re not using the R-word here, given she hasn’t used it herself – she’d already accomplished a ton. So much that, in the grand scheme of things, having been the first woman to hold a UFC belt seems secondary.
A technicality, even.
Ask any of her fellow female fighters and, even among those who aren’t exactly fans, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that questions Rousey’s legacy. Granted, the infamous “never” that UFC President Dana White uttered when asked about the possibility of women ever fighting in the UFC may have been proven wrong eventually, had Rousey shown up or not. But it would have certainly taken slowly prying open a door that Rousey basically tore down.
Most importantly, as she blow-torched the prickly road ahead of her, Rousey left reasonably softer ground for others to follow.
Exactly five years after Rousey stood opposite Liz Carmouche to change the course of women’s MMA forever, we don’t see a barren landscape. Not only have there been other women’s champions, there have been other stars, too, spread throughout four different divisions, no less. As new records are set and broken, as other women claim pieces of history of their own, Rousey’s once-inescapable presence in the conversation seems to grow fainter and fainter.
Although Rousey refrained from definitely shutting the door on an MMA return when she announced her move to WWE, most of us came to the same conclusion. Still, that didn’t send shockwaves through the MMA community. It seemed logical. Smooth, even. Almost like a tormented spirit that had been stuck in our plane being set free from its unfinished business.
In February 2018, 216 female UFC fights later, Rousey is nowhere to be found. And while that’s not wrong, unjustified or even all that surprising, it’s still just … a little weird.
Maybe it’s weird because of the terms of it. Unlike arch-nemesis and fellow ex-champ Miesha Tate, who’s remained an active part of the MMA community since retiring, Rousey doesn’t seem to want to touch us with a 10-foot pole. On the few occasions she actually concedes interviews, her 14-fight cage stint seems downright off-limits. Like trauma so awful that it would take a tearful, hour-long sit-down with Oprah to even be worth unearthing. And, like desperate exes, we still read into every little word, said and not said, to somehow bring Rousey into our headlines again.
Maybe it’s weird because it’s a process that has managed to be both gradual and sudden. One day, unless you were the one fighting Rousey, being anyone else on a card that featured her made it all but guaranteed that your name wouldn’t make that many headlines. Media days, open workouts, whatever it was, the majority of cameras were facing the same way. Rousey would play the part, too, giving us anything from heartfelt quotes and snappy one-liners to I-will-eat-your-soul staredowns, all within a one-hour span.
And then one day, she wanted nothing to do with us.
The truth is that Rousey excelled at many things, but there was one thing she sucked at: losing.
That’s not a diss, by the way – the Olympic medalist has said that herself, though maybe in more eloquent terms. But then we got a front-row seat to it. As the meeting with Amanda Nunes approached, following Rousey’s shocking title-costing loss to Holly Holm, the only times we’d hear from her would be via mainstream media. Then, on fight week, we got it: full-on silent treatment.
What followed was a 48-second knockout loss. And, with it, what most of us expected. And can you really blame her?
There’s no way of knowing what those losses must have felt like for Rousey. Sure, we all fail at things, but how many of us get to do it in a brightly lit cage, in the center of a packed arena, on pay-per-view? How many of us have to wear covers over our faces afterward, because we’re awaited by a pack of cameras eager for visual confirmation of just how badly it was that we failed?
How many of us get those failures turned into Instagram memes, salt publicly rubbed in our emotional wounds even as our physical ones still heal? With people we don’t even know celebrating our pain, claiming it was somehow warranted, based on personality collages they put together from snippets of our public life?
It makes sense that Rousey, after a lifetime of dedication to athletic achievements, doesn’t really want to be around anymore. And we’re doing OK without her. But, as we celebrate five years of women being in the UFC because of her, it feels a little bit like throwing a birthday party and not having the birthday girl join us for cake.
It seems almost gluttonous to ask for more from someone who already gave us so much. As she (most likely) walks away from the sport, I just truly believe we’re better served remembering Rousey for how she exceeded our expectations than in the ways she failed to live up to them.
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