Ronda Rousey's comeback couldn't have gone much worse at UFC 207 this past weekend. The former UFC Women's Bantamweight champion was destroyed in just 48 seconds by current titleholder Amanda Nunes, raising much doubt about her fighting future.
Rousey was utterly annihilated by Nunes in her first fight in 13 months. She took time away from the sport after experiencing the first loss of her career and dropping the title with a stunning knockout defeat to Holly Holm at UFC 193 in November 2015, but the break didn't appear to do her any favors.
The MMA superstar, who is personally responsible for convincing UFC President Dana White to bring female fighters into the organization in 2013, was completely mysterious heading into the fight. She imposed a media blackout prior to UFC 207, only conducting three interviews – none of which contained any meaningful substance – in the months prior to her comeback contest.
Rousey's decision to avoid the media was largely due to her desire to cut out all distractions and focus solely on the task at hand. There may be such a thing as overanalyzing, though, and it's arguable that Rousey got so deep inside her own head that she came out in the fight and was lost in her own approach. She psyched herself out.
It also had to do with Nunes being a fearsome competitor who hits like a truck and had the confidence she could finish Rousey quickly and violently.
That's essentially what happened, but Rousey expedited the result with a game plan that played right into the champion's greatest strength. Instead of going right to a grappling arsenal which won her an Olympic bronze medal in judo at the 2008 games and helped her open her career with eight consecutive submission wins, Rousey chose to box with Nunes.
That choice cost Rousey dearly. She was cracked hard by the very first punch Nunes threw and it was evident just seconds after the fight began that "Rowdy" was in trouble. Nunes came forward with more punches and that's when things started to snowball. Nunes attacked repeatedly with hard shots, most of which landed clean, while chasing a staggered Rousey around the Octagon. Rousey was out on her feet for a good portion of the 48-second affair before a final combination had her seriously hurt and forced the referee to jump in and wave off the action.
Although Rousey remained in the Octagon for the fight result announcement and shared a moment of respectful sportsmanship by hugging the victorious Nunes, she once again disappeared without a word, skipping the post-fight news conference with reporters. Only a minor update came from White, who appeared on ESPN's SportsCenter with information on Rousey's condition.
"I went backstage after and hung out with her for probably 40-45 minutes," White said. "I’ll tell you this: She's in better spirits this time than she was after the Holly fight. She's very competitive. She does not like to lose. She loves to win, and she loves to do what she sets out to do."
Once the dust settled on Rousey's second consecutive loss - both by knockout – after starting her career on a 12-fight winning streak, the outlying question couldn't be ignored: What now?
Rousey was paid a disclosed salary of $3 million to fight at UFC 207 (or $62,500 per second of cage time). That doesn't include sponsorships and her cut of the pay-per-view revenue, which is likely to add another couple million dollars to her bank account. That type of money is difficult to walk away from, but whether she feels its worth it is an entirely different question.
Combat sports is as unforgiving a career path as it gets. One day you're the best fighter in the world and a global icon that appears in commercials, television shows and on blockbuster movies. The next you're wondering if you can even hang with the best and are being used a launching pad for the career of the next big thing.
Rousey should by no means be written off yet. Fighting Nunes after a more than yearlong layoff would be difficult for anyone, but the most worrisome part was the absence of Rousey's confidence. On top of her ability to toss opponents on their head and lock up a submission from any number of angles, Rousey's unshakeable mental approach and self-belief was one of the traits that helped her be so remarkable.
That seems to be all gone now, and a serious change of scenery may be needed to get it back. And that's of course assuming she even wants to fight again. Rousey has been radio-silent since the loss, only releasing what was obviously a prepared statement to ESPN.com the day after UFC 207.
"I want to say thank you to all of my fans who have been there for me in not only the greatest moments but in the most difficult ones," Rousey stated. "Words cannot convey how much your love and support means to me. Returning to not just fighting, but winning, was my entire focus this past year. However, sometimes – even when you prepare and give everything you have and want something so badly – it doesn't work how you planned."
Rousey left her future plans unclear.
"I take pride in seeing how far the women's division has come in the UFC and commend all the other women who have been part of making this possible, including Amanda. I need to take some time to reflect and think about the future. Thank you for believing in me and understanding."
The most important question for Rousey going forward is this: What else does she want from the sport?
Aside from a few exceptions, prize fighting is an industry that chews its legends up and spits them out. Although her antics and decision-making have turned some people off, there's no doubt Rousey is a pioneer for women in not just fighting, but all sports. She helped bring MMA and the UFC to a new level during her dominant title reign and that accomplishment cannot be overstated.
There's still plenty of money to be made for Rousey if she wants to continue fighting. However, it's impossible to determine whether she wants to put forth the time and necessary effort to rebuild herself when there are much simpler avenues to fame and financial gain through Hollywood ventures.
One person who doesn't think Rousey will ever return to the Octagon is Nunes. The "Lioness" proved it's a new era in the women's 135-pound division at UFC 207, and she bluntly said after her fight that no matter what Rousey does, she's not going to regain her former glory as long as she holds UFC gold.
"That's it for her," Nunes told reporters post-fight. "For sure, she's going to retire. She can't take it any more. If she wanted the rematch I'm going to do the same thing. She can't take my punches."
Despite interacting with Rousey after the fight, White said he didn't know what the future holds for the former champion. But whether she attempts to fight again or vanishes from the sport permanently, White said Rousey's contributions will keep her legacy in a positive light forever.
“[It] wasn't her night, and none of this would be here without Ronda Rousey," White said. "Ronda Rousey built this. She talked me into letting women come into the UFC, and it was the smartest thing I've ever done. Regardless of whether she comes back, she doesn't come back – she's a winner. She built this whole thing."