The modern era of mixed martial artists has stirred the emotions and conversation of fans more than ever before. The injection of polarizing figures like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor seamlessly instill in fans a heavy sense of hate or an overwhelming passion making the landscape transcend farther than its former boundaries. The sports expansion from the minds of MMA purists all the way into the hands of casual spectators is evidence of its growth and that fact alone is an achievement. But with this kind of inflation comes a greater fall from grace for those who stand at the summit.
It was recently; at UFC 207, where Rousey – the women who over a year ago was undoubtedly praised as the ‘baddest women on the planet’ – suffered her second consecutive loss in career crippling fashion to current 135-pound champion Amanda Nunes. The outcome of the bout for many was just a reflection of the former bantamweight champions ‘overrated’ acceleration to the top of women’s MMA. It was a reminder of her major technical flaws in a sport that asks for a bounty of skills for succession. And it was an excuse for the contingent of vehement naysayers to once again highlight the decimation of Rousey versus the excellent display set afoot by the Brazilian champion.
Yet, even after over a week of UFC 207 being finalized, a storm of criticism still brews. The tendency to question the former champion’s will, mindset and training is still as strong as it was when the fight was called. And it is fair to say that the outburst of criticism for Rousey and her camp is at a massive high; perhaps even more prominent than it was when she was equally exposed against Holly Holm at UFC 193. So, what fuel has kept the engine of this critical onslaught so dominant?
Outside of the fact that the 29-year-old is one of two of the promotion’s astronomical stars, she is arguably also one of the most criticized athletes on the UFC’s roster. There’s a variety of reasons behind Rousey’s constant backlash – whether it be her dominance in a division riddled with “shallow competition” or her dire need to finish fights in a matter of seconds, showcasing her Judoka skills rather than martial arts so often expected to be mastered in this ever evolving sport. Regardless of what it was, Rousey has always been a scapegoat and her decision to return was one that – under the massive weight of scrutiny – must not have come simply. And in that respect, she should be applauded for her effort to emerge from the fray.
Unfortunately, the outcome of her return performance only presented the former champion a necessary evil: assessing herself and her commitment to greatness. Rousey has spent the better part of her UFC career raving (in sometimes absurd tones – such as her exclamation of being able to beat Cain Velasquez and more) that she considers herself the greatest female fighter or generally fighter, of all time. On such a pedestal, that mentality can be ones strongest fortress to criticism and leeches that try to pull you from your throne. But at the same time, it is also this that perhaps clouds one from betterment. This is not to say Rousey’s work rate should be questioned in anyway. But what should be considered is how much the women’s division has finally caught up with her and how – judging by two similar losses – that wasn’t realized. Simply, the next era of intelligent and vicious female fighters are emerging at an alarming.
We see this in women like Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Valentina Shevchenko and even Amanda Nunes. The magnificent strawweight champion is a perfect example of self-betterment due to her decision to travel to American Top Team for her fourth consecutive title defense against Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205 rather than before that. And it seems that the only time major evolution occurs in a fighter’s career is in their embrace of change. This concept has been mulled over time and time again for Rousey while she floats in a sea of hate. But in that sea of hate, we are failing to realize our lack of faith in an athlete of her caliber. At a mere 29 years with a decorated competitive background, there’s no reason why the former champion cannot rebound from two consecutive losses. In fact, in the world of fighting, it is these years that the former Olympic medalist should be finding her fighting peak.
Considering the fact that Women’s MMA in general has developed hugely since 2011 alone in and out of the UFC, shouldn’t the elevated level of competition not excite a champion? Of course, it is impossible to know Rousey’s inner motivations, but MMA’s constant state of growth cannot be forgotten. And in actuality, it will just continue to be because of its uniqueness and its variety of competitors. Why does Rousey’s story have to end here? This is up to the former champion to decide, but if it is not realized the consistency of the Rousey debate, criticism and skepticism will continue and continue massively.