Ronda Rousey looks more unbeatable each time she fights. She’s considered one of the most dominant athletes alive. Maybe it’s time for her to lose.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that a Rousey loss is in any way likely—especially not this weekend. Her opponent, Bethe Correia, is ranked seventh in the UFC women’s bantaweight division for a reason. She’s not hyper athletic, her punching technique can be sloppy, and she’s easily backed against the cage—an area where Rousey excels. Oh, and to top it all off, Correia’s said her gameplan against Rousey will involve getting up in her face and boxing with her—suffocating her with strikes, so to speak. This might seem like a solid idea, except for the part where it is the literal fucking opposite of that. Rousey fights like a charging bull, only she transforms into a goddamn kraken when she gets her hands on you. You don’t say, “I’m going to HELP the raging kraken bull devil tornado get close to me.” You keep her at arm’s length until she starts to tire out, make mistakes. Weather the early storm and then mount a counter-attack.
Nobody’s forced Rousey to try anything other than her one million horsepower charge. Since she’s gotten to the UFC, nobody’s really tested her, let alone put her in danger of losing. Her division is young, lacking in high-caliber athletes and sophisticated strategy. And while Rousey’s a media (and everything else) darling right now, the “most dominant anything ever” narrative is a double-edged sword. This is because it’s not really a narrative at all. There’s no suspense, no drama. The ending is writ large before the horrible (now remixed!) nu-metal opening theme even plays: Rousey is gonna win, probably in quick and devastating fashion. Right now people are eating it up. And that’s fantastic! By all means, keep enjoying Rousey’s fights. She’s incredible. In time, however, people will invariably get bored.
Don’t get me wrong: I think Rousey will always command an audience, especially if her opponents keep stepping it up in the trash talk department as gamely as Correia. She’s got personality in spades and one hell of a compelling story. But the baying crowd hungers for novelty. If a Rousey victory is a foregone conclusion, diehard fans will start snoozing, and the mainstream will go looking for the next shiny, exciting thing. I mean, look at interest in renowned douchefucker Floyd Mayweather at the height of his win streak versus when he was finally taking on Manny Pacquiao, someone people thought actually had a shot at beating him. There were, admittedly, other factors playing into that fight’s preposterous popularity, but you can only sell so much of a fight on personality. Eventually, you need suspense, an outcome that isn’t all but predetermined.
So there’s the obvious compelling argument in favor of a Rousey loss (or an opponent capable of beating her): it might dispel her aura of invincibility, but it would make people wildly interested in what she does next. It’d make her fights exciting again. We wouldn’t know what to expect. And boy do people ever love their stories of adversity faced and overcome. It’d be great, whether Rousey lost by lucky punch or got properly beaten, bell-to-bell.
There’d be so many questions. Having lost, can she improve and avenge her loss? And if she improves, what will she look like? Will she become less one-dimensional as a fighter? Will she tighten up her boxing so she’s harder to hit? Will she improve her footwork? Will she stop letting people take her back on the ground? Rousey is by no means a perfect fighter. Part of me worries that, at this rate, no one will push her in a way that forces her to realize her full potential. That would be a terrible shame.
A “tough” fight for Rousey is one that lasts 66 seconds instead of 14.
Speaking abstractly, it reminds me of when ex-UFC welterweight champ (and massively popular international sensation) Georges St-Pierre suffered his first loss. He took on veteran and multi-time champ Matt Hughes, and he looked sensational as ever—like an uncrowned king charging into battle. But he made one small mistake, and Hughes submitted him. He was heartbroken, shattered.
But when he fought Hughes a second time two years later? It was so thrilling and suspenseful that I thought I was gonna have a heart attack. GSP absolutely trucked Matt Hughes in their second go-’round—nearly kicked his head clean off his shoulders—and it was oh-so-satisfying. Witnessing a win like that, it feels personal. It makes you feel like you can overcome your own struggles too. It makes you want to whoop and shout and go laugh at a fucking mountain, just because you can.
That sort of thing, in turn, humanizes fighters. It reminds us that larger-than-life world-beaters are just like you and me. The fight game is weird in that we don’t want fighters to be unstoppable killing machines or fallible fuck-ups; we want them to be a perfect combination of both—to embody our greatest triumphs and our greatest vices.
But there’s also the case against the idea of a Rousey loss. Losses have a habit of changing fighters—not always for the better. To again return to the example of Georges St-Pierre, losing arguably made him boring. After capturing the belt and the hearts of fans the world over (but mostly in Canada), GSP underestimated a mid-level fighter by the name of Matt Sera and got knocked the end-times-ragnaork-see-the-face-of-god FUCK out. It was nasty stuff.
GSP came back and trucked that Matt too, but he fought differently. Instead of utilizing a blistering karate stand-up game, he started wrestling people incessantly, pathologically. People can’t knock you out, after all, if they’re immobilized on the ground. GSP went from justifying his nickname—“Rush”—with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it finishes to producing plodding, predictable decisions. He was still utterly dominant, but he was too cautious to look for a finish, especially on the feet. Adversity, too, can start a fighter down the path to boredom.
Granted, that’s just one example, and Rousey and GSP are obviously very different people. Still, I think it’s telling that on this, the eve of Rousey’s next big fight, I’m having trouble doing anything except pondering what would happen if she lost. The fight itself is so low-stakes in my mind that I’m having to make it exciting for myself with flights of fancy. Certainly, there is something to be said for witnessing brilliance—for marveling at Rousey’s brand of primal perfection for as long as it lasts. But eventually it will end, as all things do, and that’s when I think things will get truly interesting.