There seems to be an increasing acceptance that Ronda Rousey's days as a professional MMA fighter could be over. However, Holly Holm, the person responsible for the beginning of Rousey's downfall from the top of UFC, isn't buying into it.
Prior to her November 2015 encounter with Holm at UFC 193, Rousey was on top of the world. She started her career with 12 consecutive wins, including six-straight UFC Women's Bantamweight title defenses, and carried an untouchable aura into the Octagon. Rousey ripped through opponent after opponent in a matter of seconds, winning eight of her fights in less than 60 seconds.
Rousey was on top of the world. She appeared in commercials, in blockbuster Hollywood films and was as ambitious outside the cage as she was in it. But then she crossed paths with Holm, and everything changed.
Holm put a thorough beating on Rousey at UFC 193. The former boxing champion turned MMA fighter outclassed "Rowdy" on her feet before a shocking head-kick knockout that will live on highlight reels for years to come ended the contest in the second round and earned Holm UFC gold.
Since the moment that kick landed it's been a firm downhill slide for Rousey. She stayed away from the spotlight for the 13 months before returning from the shadows in December to challenge Amanda Nunes, the current champion following a number of title changes after Holm's win, at UFC 207.
Rousey's comeback was filled with mystery after she imposed a complete media blackout in the lead up to the fight with Nunes. Public appearances were rare in the more than year between fights, but that appeared to do her no favors. Nunes crushed Rousey by knockout in just 48 seconds, handing the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo her second loss in a row and furthering her fall from grace.
Although Rousey's been silent regarding her future outside of a short post-fight statement UFC President Dana White recently revealed he has reason to believe the world will never see another Rousey fight Holm is much more optimistic, though, because given her nearly two decades of combat sports experience, she's realized retirements are fickle.
"I can never say I think a fighter should retire," Holm tells Rolling Stone. "I have a friend of mine that fought professionally in boxing and in MMA and she's retired three times, and only then did it stick. Ronda might be done, but she really accomplished a lot. She might feel like, 'You know what: I did a lot in the sport, I'm a legend in the sport. I can hang up my gloves.' She might think that and say she's retired, but then in two years she might think, 'I've had enough of this other life. Fighting is what I want to do again.' It's a thin line. I've seen fighters retire multiple times. It's not really a retirement. It's just time off."
The real question regarding Rousey and whether she will fight again centers on her mental capacity for competition after being on the receiving end of back-to-back knockout losses. Her fights with Holm and Nunes were non-competitive with violent endings, and more fights could mean more damage.
By all indications Rousey doesn't need to fight. She's made a healthy dose of money, including a disclosed $3 million purse for the UFC 207 loss to Nunes. The opportunity to earn more of those paydays may lure her back, but unless she's 100 percent physically and mentally committed to recapturing her former glory, there's a great risk of more punishment to her well-being.
Holm's longtime striking coach Mike Winkeljohn doubts Rousey is capable of regaining what she once had. He believes Holm's knockout at UFC 193 changed Rousey's mentality toward the fight game forever, and no matter what happens, there's no turning back.
"I think Holly broke her," Winkeljohn told Submission Radio. “I think Ronda was on top of the world and Holly broke her, because when she came out for Amanda she just wasn't the same fighter. Not taking anything away from Amanda, but Ronda, she didn’t have anything, she just wasn’t there. She was just basically waiting for the end."
The always-humble Holm doesn't necessarily agree with Winkeljohn's perspective. Holm has come back from a brutal knockout in her own career, albeit in the sport of boxing. She was knocked out cold in a December 2011 match with Anne Sophie Mathis, but instead of sulking, opted to rebuild herself and come back stronger. She did so successfully, avenging the loss to Mathis in her very next fight.
Although Holm admits she likely laid the groundwork for Nunes to steamroll Rousey at UFC 207, she still carries the belief Rousey has more fight to give. If Rousey can accept the results and properly internalize her situation, Holm said the former champion could be back.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I broke her," Holm says. "I've seen fighters get knocked out and come back. You have a lot of doubt in your mind. A lot of it is getting in there and facing the questions about the loss. It's a make-or-break moment. But coming off my knockout there was already damage done. That's just how it goes. It's a natural thing. I think if Nunes and Ronda had fought before our fight happened, the fight would have gone different and it wouldn't have been one minute long."