There’s a great deal of mystery surrounding Ronda Rousey as the days wind down to Friday’s highly anticipated return to the Octagon at UFC 207.
It’s been 13 months since Rousey experienced one of the most stunning upset losses in UFC history. Holly Holm knocked her out cold at UFC 193 in November 2015 in what ranks among the most memorable finishing sequences in the brief history of the sport. Since then, “Rowdy” has chosen to remain almost completely silent and hidden from the public eye.
That choice has extended into fight week, because for the first time ever, a UFC headliner has been allowed to impose a media blackout. Aside from mandatory pre-fight weigh-ins, Rousey and her team will not participate in any fight week media activities ahead of her opportunity to regain the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title from Amanda Nunes, which takes place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Rousey was everywhere prior to her loss against Holm. She was among the most active champions in the organization, defending her title six times in less than three years since her UFC debut in February 2013. She appeared on television shows, in blockbuster films and would regularly conduct interviews for radio, print and television.
It was clear Rousey was becoming burnt out ahead of the encounter with Holm. She told Rolling Stone prior to UFC 193 that she would like nothing more than to “disappear” from the spotlight, and although that’s exactly what ended up happening, it certainly wasn’t under the terms she anticipated.
Rousey was one of the most dominant forces in MMA history before crossing paths with Holm. She opened her career with 12 consecutive victories, all of which happened in a combined 25 minutes and 36 seconds of cage time. Rousey would either put the judo skills that won her an Olympic bronze medal at the 2008 games to use by tossing opponents to the ground and using her patented armbar, or stand and deliver a knockout with punches or knees.
But then she ran into a fighter that had her game perfectly scouted. Holm simply outclassed Rousey at UFC 193, avoiding all her best tricks before ending the fight with a violent and perfectly placed head kick for the shocking knockout finish.
Just like that the aura of invincibility was shattered, but instead of facing the loss head-on, Rousey vanished.
“She has to understand we [are] in the hurt business,” boxing legend Mike Tyson said during an appearance on Conan following Rousey’s loss. “I don’t care if you’re the king of the hurt business, we’re in the business where we get hurt. She’s got to be seen. Come out of the house. Show your face. You’re human.”
That didn’t happen until months later, though. Rousey finally resurfaced in February – nearly three months after losing her title – for an emotional interview with Ellen DeGeneres. She revealed a brief struggle with suicidal thoughts and the extreme disappointment that came with her dream of retiring undefeated with the UFC belt around her waist being crushed in one night.
It was clearly a difficult time for Rousey, but then she began to show glimmers of hope for her future by adjusting to a different perspective on her position in the sport.
“Maybe just winning all the time isn’t what’s best for everybody,” Rousey said. “Everyone has their moment of picking themselves off the floor and I’ve had several of mine but nobody had actually seen me go through it. Maybe I just had to be that example of picking myself off the floor for everyone. Maybe that’s what I’m meant for. I really do believe I’m still undefeated because being defeated is a choice. Everyone has losses in their life but I chose to always be undefeated.”
The way Rousey handled her loss was of great contrast to MMA’s other transcendent superstar Conor McGregor. “The Notorious” was soundly beaten by Nate Diaz at UFC 196 in March, but instead of dwelling on the outcome, McGregor showed up at the post-fight news conference, answered every question asked of him in a humble manner, and vowed to return a stronger and more dangerous fighter.
Ironically, McGregor attempted to also avoid media obligations ahead of scheduled rematch with Diaz at UFC 200 in July, but was pulled from the fight for missing a pre-fight news conference. He then got the rematch at UFC 202 in August and avenged the defeat by majority decision.
Although every athlete handles losing in a different way, McGregor’s approach caused his popularity to explode while Rousey’s seems to have caused some dissension within her followers. That doesn’t appear to matter to her, though, because it’s all about getting back in the Octagon and taking back the gold belt that was once hers.
Rousey’s media blackout may add intriguing and curiosity to her comeback, but there’s no telling if the decision was imposed as a means to avoid distraction and stay focused, or because she’s too mentally fragile to face the difficult questions about all that’s happened since she fell victim to Holm.
Aside for intermediate appearances on the UFC’s social media platforms, Rousey briefly appeared on the “Countdown to UFC 207” preview show that airs ahead of all UFC pay-per-view events and provided a mix of comments. She said she’s been criticized in the worst of ways since her loss and that she’s still “grieving the person that could have won it all.” However, she claims a ray of light has emerged from the darkness, and that light is what she’s following in hopes of reclaiming her position atop the sport even as rumors swirl that she plans to walk away from MMA in near future one way or another.
“I’m coming back to win this title for the people that believed in me,” Rousey said. “Everything in my whole life that I’ve always worked for. Everything depends on it. Everything is at stake. Fighting is my life and I need to do it again.”
For Rousey, UFC 207 is all about her; not the opponent across the Octagon. The 135-pound title has changed hands from Holm to Miesha Tate to Nunes during her 13-month absence, but she still feels like the belt still rightfully belongs to her. And she intends on proving as much on Friday night.
“After going through all of that I have a much bigger point to make this time,” Rousey said. “I have more experience (than Nunes) being under the most pressure possible, and the pressure’s different. I’m still the greatest fighter in the world.”