We are all only as good as our last fight, be it in the ring or the boardroom!
You’re only as good as your last fight.
In the topsy turvy world of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, there are hard truths buried in the notion that, regardless of what a fighter’s résumé looks like, the only thing that matters is their most recent trip into the octagon.
When the result fails to meet the reputation, well, even the so-called most dominant athlete on the planet can, in mere minutes, appear exposed as an overhyped, under-skilled bully. In sports, especially one-on-one disciplines that involve harming another person, the cloak of invincibility has long been a powerful yet fleeting tool.
For the first 12 fights of Ronda Rousey’s mixed martial arts career, she was as good as it got. Not just now. Of all time. That’s how many people viewed the scope of Rousey’s success since she joined the UFC as the promotion’s first female champion in 2012.
She was pushed past the first round only once prior to losing the title to Holly Holm in Australia over the weekend. Rousey’s three contests coming into the bout lasted a total of 64 seconds. Rousey left a massive impression over her first eight contests by winning with the same move each time: an armbar submission ingrained in Rousey by her mom, AnnMaria DeMars, the first American woman to win a world judo championship in 1984.
So it’s no surprise that a mythology built up around Rousey, especially after she landed in the UFC and was crowned champion. She gave no quarter. She plundered and pillaged after declaring her intention to do so. And she did all this without a hint of remorse. Unbeaten. Unbroken. Unrelenting. Until Holm ensured that the ‘0’ in Rousey’s loss column went away for good, Rousey had marched a path towards becoming a transcendent athlete. Everything started around the idea that, above all else, Rousey was a winner. More than any other reason, this is why she blossomed into the first mixed martial artist capable of growing beyond the UFC brand. She was mainstream. A budding movie star predicated on being a bona fide ass kicker.
Then Holm’s seamlessly engineered knockout, the culmination of one of the most shocking upsets in combat sports history – for now chalk that designation up to the idea that Holm was underrated and Rousey could not possibly live up to the hype that was created around her – left a battered Rousey exposed for the world to gawk at.
This was not the first time a champion went down to defeat. Nor was Rousey the first champion to lose in an upset few people had predicted. Yet overnight Rousey went from invincible to being in a position where Lady Gaga and Donald Trump could lob Twitter grenades in her direction.
Sport is merciless territory. Pro fighting even more so, not that the competitive streak of someone like Rousey is more pronounced than that of, say, LeBron James. But when James misses a shot to win, he gets to walk off the court under his own power. When someone like Rousey meets her match or has an off night, there’s a good chance she’s not walking anywhere for a while.
Not all sports upsets and failures are built the same. There are freaky ones, such as the defeat of Serena Williams at this year’s US Open against the unseeded Roberta Vinci. Or the great racehorse, Man o’ War, which lost once in 21 races. He didn’t stumble against an equal. He fell short to a 100-1 long shot named Upset. These are results that are easy to brush off as flukes.
As painful as these down moments were for the likes of Williams, they don’t register quite in the same way as shockers in the combat sports. Losing hurts no matter what. But it’s an easier thing to cope with in sports when the concept of living to fight another day is rooted more in what’s next on the calendar than the reality of a post-match visit to the hospital, which Rousey experienced after Holm slammed a shin into the vanquished champion’s neck. The combination of events in the combat sports world, where stinging defeats are considerably more severe due to the emotional and physical shock that comes with needing to accept a compromised reality, makes the kind of loss Rousey suffered worse than most.
Athletes in team sports are able to rally around one another, draw energy from one another, and, if needed, share despair in the worst moments. Though there are strong support systems in disciplines such as MMA and boxing, in the end all that matters is the starkness of one fighter tangling with another. Of one fighter falling to the other. And the subsequent mixing of joy and pain. For most competitors, especially someone like Rousey whose expectations were so high as to legitimately imagine a career and a legacy of perfection, there’s no hiding.
Rousey has said any nerves she feels in fighting are a direct result of the exposure. There is no higher risk in sport than stepping into a competitive fighting scenario with another trained athlete. An unblemished career record is extremely rare. Now Rousey, like so many others, knows this to be true.
Incidentally, with the win Holm improved her MMA record to 10-0.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010