The game didn’t catch up to Ronda Rousey. For all her physical gifts, Rousey’s skill set did not evolve beyond that of a brutish bully that threw opponents to the mat, and arm-barred them into submission in a minute or less.
The Olympic judo medalist possessed – and likely still possesses – world-class athleticism. No one was immune to her bull rushes…until Holly Holm.
And now, Amanda Nunes.
Holm shattered that invincible aura with excellent footwork and counterpunching, but Nunes just picked Rousey apart from the first left jab. Let’s face it, Nunes did not piece up the same Rousey who seemed invincible just over a year ago.
That Rousey died with a swift kick to the head from Holm.
Other than Rousey’s one-punch knockout of an overmatched Bethe Correia and a well-placed knee to the gut that stopped Sarah McMann, Rousey was, and is, a glorified one-trick pony.
She didn’t have to learn serviceable boxing and striking because her one elite skill trumped the combined skills of a well-rounded opponent.
Sure, we all saw videos of Rousey pounding the mitts held by her trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan. Those mitts were not moving targets, though, and Rousey unleashed those powerful shots with impunity.
Ever known a trainer to punch back at a prized pupil?
Those two stoppage wins for Rousey were perhaps the worst outcomes of her career. The victories by strikes – not her patented armbar – launched a delusion that she could easily transition from MMA to boxing. If she so chose.
That delusion was relentlessly stroked by Tarverdyan, who often bragged of Rousey’s sparring achievements. Rousey was deftly derailed from the path that brought women’s mixed martial arts into the sports mainstream.
And it came from her own team.
Rousey abandoned her “X Factor” for boxing. In truth, the only boxing she has ever needed was to perfect tactical entries into close range in order to get her hands on her opponent.
Oh, and to maybe duck once in a while from an incoming punch.
Rousey didn’t really need to evolve much to beat 90 percent of the women in her division. She was the Ultimate Fight Championship’s ultimate specialist.
An athlete so good at her primary combat discipline, she didn’t need to be good at anything else. If Rousey does decide to continue her fighting career, she would be wise to emulate UFC welterweight contender Demian Maia.
Maia came to the UFC a decorated jiu-jitsu practitioner with multiple world titles. Like Rousey, Maia picked up some serviceable striking, but he got away from his dominant skill.
Maia went 4-4 over a 3-year stretch culminating in a decision loss to Chris Weidman. Since that time, he has returned to his jiu-jitsu roots picking up a number of submission wins. He makes no bones about it, either: His sole purpose is to bring the fight to the mat.
Maia bounced back into title contention by returning to his base. Rousey can do the same thing, although Nunes may be the one stylistic matchup she cannot overcome.
Many say Rousey deserved this steep fall from the top. She made millions in the sport, has made millions more outside the cage, but has not typically displayed the humility and graciousness in victory – and defeat – that we expect of our sports heroes.
Sure, Rousey lifted women’s mixed martial arts out of obscurity. She was that transcendent athlete who became a household name outside of sports circles.
But a lasting impression in my mind is the post-fight snub she gave to Miesha Tate 3 1/2 years ago. There was long-term animosity between the two fighters stemming from Rousey’s first title win over Tate several years ago.
The two waged a rematch, and that mutual dislike for one another reared itself in the promotional build-up. Rousey dominated the rematch winning by – yes, you guessed it – armbar in the third round.
Tate was ready to bury the hatchet right away, and extended a congratulatory hand, but Rousey walked away, mean mug and all, toward her corner.
Rousey cited some disrespect toward Tarverdyan and another of her trainers as the reason she eschewed Tate’s concession of defeat.
Really? Rousey’s own mother has made statements far more critical of Tarverdyan, and for the entire world’s consumption.
The old biblical verse, “you reap what you sow” is never more evident here. Even if it hurts to do so, the principle of sportsmanship should rise above the disappointment of failure.
No matter your athletic level, from rank amateur to professional athlete, one of the first things we learn from competition is respect for the sport and respect for the opponent.
Rousey was obliterated and embarrassed by Nunes due to an inability to adapt her fight skills, and from a monetary perspective, there is no reason to feel sorry for her. She has banked millions from fighting with a lucrative post-fight career in the offing.
Rousey knows those basic tenets of sportsmanship from her Olympic experience. We have seen her show sportsmanship from a front-runner’s role, but the truest test of character comes from how one handles adversity.
Rousey rose from living out of her car to a multinational sports star. Seems Rousey has also forgotten that person.
The Rousey who had to adapt, who had to persevere, and who had to overcome to survive, is now in the distant past. For that, she should never fight again.