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If there’s one thing that appeals to us, it’s a comeback story. As much as we like to tear down fame and accomplishment in some bizarre effort to cover up our own inadequacies, we love when someone that’s knocked down gets back up and rages against the dying of the light.
On this Sunday, there’s no better case for The Great American Comeback Story than with former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
Let’s hang on that word: former. We now live in a world where the unthinkable is now reality: Rousey has a loss and a bad one at that. In front of a record 56,214 in Melbourne, Australia, what was hailed as the world’s most dangerous woman got her comeuppance against a woman in Holly Holm that is six years her elder and much less her level of fame. As crisp as Holm looked, Rousey looked as stale. While everything during fight week appeared as normal (even with that odd forced/farced pull-apart at the weigh-ins) something or someone put sugar in the machine’s gas tank.
In retrospect, we should have expected this at some point. With Rousey’s increased level of celebrity in 2015 came more opportunities for the outside world to creep in through the cracks of what was previously an impenetrable exterior.
Just look at the level of distraction this year alone: a) a book release, b) appearances in several movies, c) a whole lot of ESPN attention and awards, d) being asked about fighting Floyd Mayweather 10,000 times, e) getting cited by mainstream female stars like Beyonce, f) an appearance on Ellen and other mainstream talk shows, g) her head coach filed for bankruptcy, h) her mother did interviews ripping said coach where she mentioned running over him with a car, i) her relationship with Travis Browne went public, j) she had to defend her name against domestic violence from a past relationship and k) the bulk of the promotional load for three main event PPVs. Looking at all of that, it’s clear that it became too much to bear.
The Rousey that was knocked silly Saturday wasn’t the Rousey that started off 2015 and, as a result, she is now without a giant piece of metal and leather. Just as she was about to nearly fully escape the MMA bubble most of us exist in, the cold hand of reality grabbed her ankle and pulled her back down with the rest of us. She’s still a professional fighter -- even if her agents and PR people are likely hoping for otherwise.
So, now what?
The prevailing thought is Rousey disappears for months and we get an early springtime announcement of a rematch with Holm at July’s UFC 200. While she will have shed off many of the fringe fans who like their stars perfect and without tarnish, the thought of Rousey coming back with something to prove has got to be tantalizing for Dana White & crew.
Depending on where we’re at when/if that fight gets announced, she should be favored. However, while we can expect that Rousey will be as motivated to get her title back as we think she should be, eight months is a long time away. A second loss would be devastating and a major setback to any Hollywood hopes. Her handlers have no doubt done a risk assessment, and perhaps they are saying, “Enough’s enough. If we’re going to do this movie thing, now’s the time.” They also might suggest that a big win in a Holm rematch would make her an even bigger star.
That’s the risk with athletes who want to go outside their lane and be known for more than what brought them to the dance to begin with. Dwight Howard famously wanted to go to the L.A. Lakers so he could branch into movies and entertainment. One less-than-thrilling season later, he found himself in Houston far away from the bright lights. It’s tough to be truly great at one thing, much less two. Look at today’s top tier athletes and compare their level of focus for their primary sport and what else they could be doing. There’s a big difference between building a brand vs. being a champion, and doing both extremely well.
If Rousey truly wants to be known as an all-time great fighter, she’s got to focus on doing just that and reclaim all that was lost in Australia. UFC legend Georges St. Pierre provided the blueprint as he won 12 straight over six years with nine title defenses to close out his career (we think) after being embarrassed in a TKO loss to Matt Serra in 2007. But GSP didn’t have machinations at being a pop culture icon as he was doing it. He simply wanted to win fights, and to be the best. Does Rousey still want that?
Especially in Hollywood, there’s nothing better than a comeback story. Rousey can literally write her’s in the blood of her opponents, but only if she truly is motivated to pick up the pen.