Ronda Rousey, The Martyr

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At this point in 2017, it is no secret that 2016 did not end well for Ronda Rousey.  One of the most dominate women sports has ever seen stepped into the octagon for UFC 207 on December 30, 2016, and (in less than one minute) she faced a violent, jarring defeat at the hands of Amanda Nunes.

Sure champions get knocked down and out, but what made Nunes’ crushing victory so different, so gut-wrenching was that this fight was supposed to be Rousey’s grand comeback.  We had waited over a year to see the once undefeated, undisputed UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion return to greatness.  We anxiously hoped that after Rousey’s devastating 2015 loss to Holly Holm, she would show us that, like a phoenix arising from the ashes, she still had more greatness in her yet to come.

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But that’s not what happened.  Since the fight social media has falsely killed Ronda Rousey off and made her the latest meme sensation and no one is certain whether we’ll ever see her in the octagon again.  The champ’s future is in question.

But as I sat contemplating the disappointment I felt for Rousey and the excitement I felt for Nunes, I realized something.  I wasn’t the only one mulling over the fight.  As I scrolled through my group chats and social media and as I listened to the chatter at home, I noticed that lots and lots of people were talking, especially men.  And it wasn’t the typical, “women shouldn’t be fighting anyway,” garbage.  No, men had actually been excited for the bout.  They tuned in intently to watch two women fight…as the main event.  After the fight, they had meaningful things to say.  Men (and women) were analyzing how and why Rousey loss, Rousey’s weaknesses, Nunes dominance, the womens’ training regimens and coaching staffs.  They talked about Rousey’s former fights, her focus and her heart.  They talked about Nunes’ fierceness, strength and relentlessness.  Famous men even taunted Rousey just like they would have done to a man who had suffered an embarrassing loss:

The same conversations that have happened countless times before, during and after men’s bouts were happening for two women, and that felt good.  This epiphany put a smile on my face because it meant that in a number of ways, women’s sports had arrived at a new level.  Women as fighters, as athletes, have gained a new level of respect and attention and none of this would have been possible had Ronda Rousey not made herself a martyr for the sport.

For years she trained tirelessly, promoted the sport and bore her championship belts with pride.  She did this when no one believed in female fighters.  She got women and men interested in the UFC brand and watching female warriors.  She did this while sacrificing relationships, time with family and general fun.  And when she she suffered her first loss and had the opportunity to walk away, she chose to come back.  The choice to get back in the octagon after her initial embarrassing defeat was likely about proving something to herself, but it was also very likely about keeping the sport going and about giving people the storylines they really want to tune in for.  She sacrificed her time (again), her pride and her brand for the sake of women in sports.  Beyond the belts, the titles and the fame, those admirable, selfless sacrifices were indeed worth it.  In her defeat, we all owe her a thank you for growing a sport at her own expense.  She is a true GladiatHer®.

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