It wasn’t supposed to go like this. After a year of near total seclusion, Ronda Rousey’s 2017 was supposed to start in triumphant fashion, with the UFC superstar back on top of the mixed martial arts world with the women’s bantamweight title — her former title — back around her waist where it belonged.
But instead, Rousey suffered the kind of fast and destructive defeat she used to deal out so readily to her own opponents. Current 135 pound champion Amanda Nunes put on a 48 second striking clinic, hitting Ronda with a hard straight right that left her stunned and then following up with a barrage of head shots and body blows that had the face of women’s MMA literally reeling across the Octagon. The referee ended up stepping in to save her, and Ronda was left bloody and wondering how things went so wrong.
The loss to Amanda Nunes is a bigger deal to Ronda than losses are for most other fighters. The repercussions are much larger in this case. This fight was supposed to be the start of a big push for the dominating Olympic medalist. Her second act. Her epic comeback. While Rousey and her team refused to share her plans with anyone, past comments before she became so media shy pointed towards big ambitions in Hollywood and beyond, ambitions that could only be realized if she recreated that aura of ass kicking invincibility she channeled during her run as the first UFC women’s champion.
With this second stunning and definitive loss, many of the doors she hoped to pass through are now closing. It’s so bad that even the WWE, who have aggressively courted Ronda since her Slammy-winning Moment of the Year at Wrestlemania 31, may not be willing to take her in should she decide to step away from cage fighting.
“Sorry, no chance,” former WWE employee Jonathan Coachman opined. “You can’t bring in her at any point. Perception matters. That performance mattered. … They are not in the business of bringing in a broken star and rebuilding her.”
You can also count out a move to boxing for a big money fight after UFC 207 confirmed striking is Ronda Rousey’s Achilles heel. It’s somewhat shocking in retrospect to remember that Ronda Rousey was actually featured on the cover of Ring Magazine, boxing’s holiest publication. She was the first woman to ever receive that honor, over former multi-title champion Holly Holm and other standouts like Christy Martin, Ann Wolfe, or Laila Ali. Golden Boy owner and boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya regularly made overtures in the media on how he’d love to promote a fight with Rousey.
But then Holly Holm used her boxing fundamentals to solve the puzzle that was Ronda Rousey, and Amanda Nunes proved the holes in Rousey’s stand-up were a lot more fundamental than we thought. Through those 48 seconds leading up to New Year’s, Ronda Rousey showed a complete lack of head movement, an inability to take a hard shot, and a hesitation that we had never seen in her past 12 victories. At this point, few would pick her to win in a boxing match against any moderately talented student of the sweet science.
Hollywood seemed like Ronda Rousey’s eventual destination once fighting in a cage made her famous enough to pull it off. And she had the love of enough agents and stars during her rise to fame to pull off the transition. As the top star of the UFC, Ronda Rousey was featured in several major movies including The Expendables 3, Entourage, and Furious 7. But Tinseltown is notoriously fickle and many of the roles being thrown at Ronda went away the second she lost to Holly Holm in November of 2015. A starring role in the Mark Wahlberg action flick Mile 22 turned into a “reduced role,” followed by the movie getting delayed indefinitely.
Her other projects have fared similarly. All news of a gender-swapped Road House remake also dried up after Ronda’s loss to Holm. The hatred directed at last summer’s all-female Ghostbusters movie probably didn’t help things either, and at this point the film is considered dead to everyone but Ronda herself. And we’re not sure how a biopic on Rousey starring Rousey can be made with the current ending real life has cooked up.
The simple truth is if Ronda Rousey wants to pivot from mixed martial arts into another sector of the entertainment industry, she needs to rebuild her reputation inside the cage first. She needs to completely wipe this botched comeback at UFC 207 from her memory and try again. And while she doesn’t have to let the entire world in while she does it, she needs to abandon the standoffish public appearance blackout she put in place leading up to this fight.
The bad news is the women’s bantamweight division is no longer a bucket of chum for Rousey to rip through like she used to. The good news is Ronda doesn’t have to go back to dominating everyone in order to walk away from the sport with her head held high. A few high profile wins in the face of mounting challenged and a willingness to face the music following any subsequent losses would be enough to endear her to a world that currently perceives her as someone unable to deal with adversity.
The book isn’t written on Ronda Rousey, even if she does walk away from the sport following this second loss. Time heals all wounds and the old adage of no second acts has been proven to be very wrong these days. Five years from now, people will be more willing to overlook Ronda’s losses in the face of whatever she’s up to then, more willing to champion her accomplishments than parade her failures. At that point, it may not be as impossible for her to kick down those doors closed to her at this moment. And based on her tenacity, we don’t doubt she could turn things around and accomplish a great deal in whatever task she puts her mind to.
But the only immediate road to redemption leads her back into the Octagon for another fight. Whether she decides to take it is a question even Ronda may not have the answer to right now.