UFC 207 is over, and Ronda Rousey lost badly: a TKO being called in a mere forty-eight seconds. Rousey was mauled by the Lioness, and all credit goes to Amanda Nunes.
But whose fault was Rousey’s spectacular loss?
Right now, a lot of people – including Amanda Nunes – are pointing fingers at Rousey’s coach, Edmond Tarverdyan. Nunes said, “She thinks she is a boxer. [Edmond Tarverdyan] like put this thing in her head, and make the girl believe in that.” It’s hard to dispute. The only person from Tarverdyan’s gym to succeed in MMA was Rousey. You look at the list of high-level people who went to his gym (primarily because Rousey was there), and it is a list of growing failure – not just people like Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler, but also Ronda’s boyfriend, Travis Browne, who is 2-3 since going to Tarverdyan’s gym. The place is, objectively, poisonous.
Specifically, not only did it look like Ronda Rousey failed to mount a defense against Nunes hard, straight punches, it looked like Rousey didn’t understand that she should mount a defense against Nunes’s punches. Or an offense. Just as in Rousey’s fight with Holly Holm, Rousey looked totally unprepared for the kind of fighter that Nunes is – a good boxer with long, straight, hard punches who used side motion to deny Rousey the clinch. It didn’t look like Rousey tried to do something and merely failed against a superior fighter, it was like Rousey had no idea what kind of fighter Nunes is.
And that’s on Tarverdyan.
But I want to call out someone else, here, too, and that’s the UFC.
In the first fucking place, there’s absolutely no reason Rousey should have gotten an immediate title shot. In her fight against Holly Holm, Rousey looked, well, incompetent. She had nothing for Holm, and by the end of the first round Rousey was tired, clumsy, bloodied, with her entire strategy a childish rush forward in the desperate, pathetic attempt to take down Holm. Not only did Rousey lose, but she also lost very badly, with the fight lasting precisely long enough to show that Holm’s dominance was not a fluke before a dramatic finish.
Sure, I get it, Rousey had destroyed everyone up to then. But Holm destroyed Rousey, and not in championship style. Rousey looked bad, unprepared, out of shape, and incompetent.
With fighters, there is this concept “exposed.” Many professional fighters fight the same fight again and again. So every time, say, Nate Diaz gets into the ring, you know the fight he’s going to fight. If you’re really good at that fight, you can go very far – people have won championships fighting the same fight. But sometimes, unknown to the high-level fighter, inside their fight is a fatal flaw – and once that flaw becomes known, the fighter is “exposed.” In MMA, I think the classic example of this is Lyoto Machida. No one knew how to beat him until Shogun Rua did it, and then everyone knew how to beat him. Since Machida is a great fighter, he still wins a lot, but his magic is gone because the weaknesses in his fighting style of been exposed.
This happened to Rousey after her Holm fight and a particularly bad case of it. Good straight punches and lateral motion are Rousey’s kryptonite. She was exposed.
The dilemma for high-level fighters is that even when they understand what they need to do after being exposed, the UFC doesn’t let them develop those skills in a reasonable way – even when it would be easy to rationalize. Athletically, why not give Rousey a rematch against, say, Sara McMann? This would allow Rousey to practice her boxing to close distance to the clinch against a fighter without the high level of striking skill of, say, Amanda Nunes, and McMann won her last fight and is a high-level fighter. It’s a good, competitive booking, has the rematch angle for Sara, and would allow Rousey the chance to develop her skills without the pressure of a title fight.
Instead, even after Rousey was exposed, they decided to put her into the cage against a punching machine like the Lioness! Even before Holm beat Rousey, I thought that Nunes had a very favorable style to fight Rousey – that she could hit hard enough to put Rousey on her back foot while having the upper body strength to toss off Rousey’s takedown attempts! Even I knew that it would be a tough stylistic fight for Rousey! It was not the place for Rousey to develop boxing skills; to beat Nunes, she needed them already in place. Rousey needed a couple of fights against less accomplished strikers to hone her boxing abilities to face someone like Nunes.
The UFC didn’t give her a chance.
Lately, they’ve been doing this a great deal with champions. They seem to reason that even when a champion has been destroyed that they’re somehow “owed” an immediate rematch like we’re operating under WWE rules and every contract includes a rematch clause. Anderson Silva, after being knocked cold by Weidman, nevertheless got an immediate rematch. Though he fucked up the weight cut, Renan Barao got an immediate rematch after being destroyed by TJ Dillashaw. And, again, though Cain Velasquez got injured, he got an immediate rematch after being choked out by Fabricio Werdum. The ur-example of this is probably Frankie Edgar beating BJ Penn. It was like the UFC couldn’t grasp that Penn lost, clearly, definitively lost. So they gave him a chance to lose all over, again! I could go on in this vein for quite some time.
It’s bad for the sport and the fighters. Losing the belt is hard. Many fighters never recover from it. But it has increasingly become UFC practice to give the losers in title fights another crack at the belt immediately, even when they lose dramatically – often meaning that they will have to face the very person who destroyed them before under immense pressure.
This compounds the difficulty of losing the belt in the first place, should the fighter lose, again (which they usually do). With their confidence already reeling from losing the belt in dramatic fashion, their confidence is crushed, again, after their second championship loss in two fights.
I think we must acknowledge that the UFC, itself, is partially but substantially to blame for Rousey’s loss. Rather than giving her a fight or two to develop the skills she’d need to win back the championship, after a hard loss, they gave her a fighter genetically engineered to kick her ass. Rather than let her fight down the totem pole, a bit, to give her the chance to develop her boxing skills – which would have been athletically justified considering the magnitude of her loss to Holm – and get a win or two under her belt to develop her confidence, they instead tossed her into the lion’s den.