What’s next for Ronda Rousey?
Friday night in Las Vegas, the UFC’s best-known fighter—not long ago an undefeated knockout machine—suffered her second consecutive brutal defeat. This one was worse than the first loss, as Brazilian bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes barraged an overmatched Rousey with head shots until referee Herb Dean mercifully stopped the fight 48 seconds in.
It was a stunning display, of both Nunes’s relentlessness, and the 29-year-old Rousey’s struggle to compete. Rousey, a former Olympic judoka, had herself become famous for overwhelming her opponents, winning some fights in a handful of seconds. But at no point did the former UFC champion have control of this bout. This was over as soon as it began.
For Nunes, the victory at UFC 207 is a defining moment that will catapult her profile in mixed-martial arts.
For Rousey…the future is less clear.
Rousey’s ascension in UFC had been one of the better and more improbable stories in sports this decade. Barely a half-decade ago, the organization had no plans to admit women into its fights. But Rousey persisted, and became not only a UFC titleholder, but the sport’s greatest economic force, a sensation who headlined major events featuring men.
Charismatic and wryly funny, Rousey was the sport’s first bona fide mainstream celebrity. She capitalized with a best-selling book, movie roles and an invitation to host “Saturday Night Live.”
A surprise loss to challenger Holly Holm in November 2015 upended Rousey’s dominant image. She took more than a year off from the sport, an unusually long layoff in a sport where fighters will compete several times a year.
It was a different approach than the one taken in 2016 by another high-profile UFC champion, Connor McGregor, who within a few months fought and avenged a loss to Nate Diaz. McGregor went on to fight a third match in November, winning in New York City and likely supplanting Rousey as the face of the sport.
Before Rousey’s fight against Nunes, UFC boss Dana White said he preferred it when fighters got back in the Octagon quickly. “I’ve always been a believer in ring rust,” White said. “Ronda taking a year off isn’t very normal, but nothing about Ronda Rousey is normal.”
White has been a vociferous advocate for Rousey throughout her UFC career. Once opposed to women in the organization, White routinely called Rousey the sport’s biggest and most important star. Heading into Friday night’s event, he gave her an unusual reprieve from routine pre-fight media obligations, saying it was a favor for the relentless promotion Rousey had done in the past.
Rousey clearly wanted her return performance to speak for itself. But Nunes never gave her a chance. The 28-year-old Nunes staggered Rousey with a head shot in the opening seconds, and Rousey was immediately on the defensive.
It was hard to watch.
After the loss, Rousey quickly exited the ring on her own power, without comment. This was not the night she imagined. Her future in the UFC —a sport she helped define—has never been less certain.