The Return of Rowdy Rousey: Why We Need Ronda Back Now

The UFC—and the fans—need Ronda Rousey to return, so that some sort of excitement and intrigue can be reinjected into the sport’s women’s bantamweight division.

To say that the dominant reign of the women’s bantamweight division, at the hands of Ronda Rousey, was entirely enjoyable at the time—or immediately afterwards—would be a stretch by every definition. While the brief moments when she demonstrated her skills inside the cage were awesome, it’s the baggage that came with her fighting achievements that turned many fans off.

Anyone who watched live-and-free UFC shows—as well as preliminary portions of pay-per-view cards—can likely recite Rousey’s Metro PCS commercial by heart. In between entire fights and individual rounds alike, Rowdy extensively told viewers of the wireless service’s benefits—sometimes more than ten times per night! Following her impressive, but not groundbreaking, win over Bethe Correia, Rousey was lauded as a hero of sorts. Joe Rogan cried and proclaimed her to be a “once in a lifetime person”. Nobody seemed to remember that she was a fifteen-to-one favorite, or that a woman who started training just a few years prior only to unsuccessfully challenge for a world title had feelings too.

Then came the constant proclamations that Rousey could defeat male MMA fighters. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant because, to be sure, we’ll never, ever, ever, know the definitive answer. However, the claim, as well as the aforementioned examples, in coordination with an abundance of popular-culture, film, and television appearances, as well as a book, made one thing clear: Ronda Rousey was a star, and like the physical constellations which populate the sky, everyone would be forced to look at her repeatedly if they wanted to enjoy the view of the MMA world.

All the hype came crashing down at UFC 193, just as Rousey hit the canvas following a gorgeous head kick from the elite professional boxer, martial artist, and Jackson-Wink product Holly Holm.

Even afterwards, though, the admittedly frustrating march of Rousey’s popular-culture spectacle proceeded. In a televised interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Rousey mentioned she considered suicide after the loss, tearfully answering her interviewer’s questions—an interviewer who, admittedly, was very pro-Rousey.

Sure, a loss like this would be incredibly tough to deal with, but the response issued by Ronda was excruciating—the cherry on top of an aggravation sundae. The only way she wouldn’t have been sitting on that couch tearfully recalling what went wrong is if she hurt Holm inside the cage—something onlookers seemed to endorse. Tragically, Rousey was depicted as some sort of victim. In addition to forgetting that Holly Holm was an actual person (not just a name) who worked incredibly hard for the victory, many forgot about Bethe Correia, Cat Zingano, Sara McMann and Alexis Davis, to name just a few—women who lost in seconds to Rousey and weren’t given the time of day, let alone massive interview platforms to discuss their feelings. Everyone likes a winner, but in Rousey’s case, everyone unapologetically felt bad for a loser.

Fast forward to September 2016. The ever-approaching anniversary of UFC 193 hasn’t forced Rousey’s next fight to be announced, although rumors of a late-2016 or early-2017 return are brewing. Holly Holm has now lost two straight contests, to Miesha Tate by submission and Valentina Shevchenko via decision. Miesha Tate herself dropped the bantamweight crown to Amanda Nunes via submission at UFC 200. The last ten UFC shows—from UFN Hamburg to UFN Ottawa—have contained just six women’s bantamweight fights, despite having boasted sixteen female fights overall. For additional reference, eight of these sixteen women’s fights took place during the prelims.

While strawweight is beginning to thrive and become more interesting to follow, bantamweight is seeing the opposite effect set-in. As a matter of fact, there has been solid 135 lbs. action—see Shevchenko-Holm, Zingano-Pena—inside the Octagon as of late. Even so, the women’s bantamweight landscape of today simply isn’t as intriguing as it was one year ago, with Rousey leading the charge. More than that, though, it’s become something of a chore—for UFC matchmakers, for athletes, and many fans. The odds of the division holding up the established interest levels of Rousey following her exit were slim. In a broader sense, the class is collapsing without Rousey. And in a way, this collapse is straining the entire female MMA landscape.

Many will claim that this analysis is the product of the UFC’s “hype train”, or promotional efforts and push of Rousey. To refute this, I will draw additional attention to the fact that this piece began with a disparaging recollection of these promotional efforts and hype.

A precise reasoning for this general lack of real excitement is difficult to determine. However, we can be fairly certain of elements which aren’t its source. Dominance isn’t the issue—Joanna Champion has excitedly dispatched each challenger to her title. Results aren’t the issue—spectacular submissions and knockouts are popping up regularly. Excitement isn’t the problem—few predicted Amanda Nunes’s destruction of Miesha Tate. More broadly, every single title fight at 135 has ended in a finish!

The problem is that, amidst all of the other things that Ronda Rousey does—kind-of write books, act in film and television, and model—we forgot to appreciate what she did as a fighter. Not all of the blame is ours, as the factors which contributed to this lack of appreciation were, at least in part, beyond our control. But still, we should have been more aware.

We’re currently stuck with a division that has no obvious path to follow—no clear-cut means to progressing in a thrilling fashion. Valentina Shevchenko just lost to Amanda Nunes earlier this year, and it’s too early to rebook them. With that in mind, the only other viable contender for the belt at this moment is Juliana Pena. But, one cannot help but feel as though this too would be premature; she’s only fought once this year, having been forced to push through legal issues during the latter portion of 2015 and over half of 2016.

Perhaps this isn’t much different than the days of Rousey. After all, competitors who probably wouldn’t have fought for the belt had the division been equipped with more depth did so. The big difference, of course, is Ronda.

Whether she contends or even fights for the belt again is irrelevant. We need Ronda Rousey to return to action soon, because as it stands, the division that she conquered—barring one loss—has proven itself unable to accelerate without her guidance. Take a second to, hypothetically speaking, book a title fight that is both viable and appealing.

It can’t be done unless one half of its equation is Ronda.

It turns out the emotional nonsense and Metro PCS commercials that accompanied her competition days were a reasonable price to pay for the provided action.

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Max King