Heading in to UFC 207, we knew we were going to witness one of Ronda Rousey’s last walks to the Octagon. Whether it was just one of her last fights or the very last one seemed to depend on the outcome. The outcome turned out to be a brutal 48-second TKO loss at the hands of UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes, Rousey’s second consecutive lopsided defeat. With her retirement seeming imminent, the question now is what sort of legacy she’ll leave behind in the sport.
There’s no question that she’s an important figure in women’s sports, a pioneer of women’s MMA, and one of the more dominant champions in UFC history. However, the other part of her legacy is being the single biggest beneficiary of sycophancy and favorable coverage ever in MMA.
It’s been said many times, but Ronda Rousey represents the social media era of sports unlike anyone else. Many of her fights can be shown in their entirety through Instagram or animated GIF. Because of this, tons of people who weren’t necessarily MMA fans got exposed to “the most dangerous unarmed woman in the world.”
To be fair, for a few years she proved to be exactly that. But, on the other hand, because she was getting so popular and crossing so many barriers, much of the MMA world seemed content to go along for the ride instead of providing the proper context to her dominance. The fact that women’s MMA was just developing and many of her opponents were flying right into the teeth of Rousey’s offense was apparent to long-time observers of the sport.
But why sprinkle cold water on the nascent flames of casual fandom? Why tell someone who doesn’t know any better that their idol is more Royce Gracie than Georges St-Pierre, when you can instead convince them that Ronda Rousey would smoke T.J. Dillashaw or Dominick Cruz? It’s makes for more fun conversation. But it also set her up for a big fall.
The hazing Rousey received from hardcore fans when her hype train finally met the left shin of Holly Holm at UFC 193 was the result of years of being lied to despite knowing better. In hindsight it sounds ridiculous for phrases like “world-class kickboxing” to be used to describe Ronda Rousey’s striking without irony, but we heard it.
We heard she was dropping boxing world champions with body shots. We heard undefeated boxing champion Gennady Golovkin, who has trained with Rousey in the past, praise her “great technical skills.” We heard Rousey herself talk about heading into professional boxing and beating Laila Ali.
So what are fans to do now that fantasy has met reality and Rousey’s striking ability has twice been exposed for what it really is? A lot of the negativity has gone a bit far, there’s no question about that. But all talk of fans needing to take this time to recognize her contributions to the sport and praise her needs to stop.
The whole world praised Ronda Rousey and her contributions to the sport for years and, in doing so, built her up to be something she could never live up to. Rousey is a world class judoka who was good enough at closing the distance with punches that she was able to enter the clinch and overwhelm fighters with that skillset. That’s who Rousey is and, if we only celebrated her for that during her rise, her fall wouldn’t have been nearly as humiliating in the eyes of the public.
Fans were sold a bill of goods on much of Ronda Rousey’s game and are now looking back and coming to their own conclusions as to what they saw. A lot of it is foolishness with casual fans and media lashing out like jilted lovers, but that’s to be expected when so much of a relationship is built on lies.
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