For years Ronda Rousey has been an unbeatable fighter in the UFC. No one even came close and fighters had tried almost everything to beat her. What separated Holly Holm from the others is her confidence and ability to fight without fear. Ronda Rousey was MMA’s Mike Tyson, minus the legitimate clinical craziness, with her textbook technique, physical superiority, and confidence. She met her Buster Douglas in Holly Holm, which might be the best thing for women’s MMA.
I don’t think cockiness or a lack of humility is what did Ronda in. Through her experiences she was by far the best fighter in the world and in order to prove to the world that she was going to go down as the greatest fighter of all time she wanted to beat Holm at her own game. When your mindset goes from winning the fight to beating everyone at their own game to be the greatest of all time the strategy changes. Sun Tzu would say that she lost sense of her own talents and strengths while not recognizing the strengths and weaknesses in her opponent. Maybe she understood Holm’s talents because at the weigh-in Rousey looked more like Beth Correia than Ronda Rousey and Holm looked more the part of Rousey.
Tyson was a fighter who was so dominant that if he didn’t finish his opponent in three rounds he would lose it mentally. As Rousey took a left hand and stumbled before taking a left kick to the head I had flashes of Tyson getting knocked out by Buster Douglas and grabbing for his mouth piece. It’s like when a superhero becomes mortal or maybe an angel losing its wings.
For months in-between her last fights Rousey and the UFC went back and forth on social media with Floyd Mayweather about who was the most dominant fighter. Kevin Iole in his article in the aftermath of Rousey-Holm that Rousey’s knockout made Mayweather’s 49-0 run even that much more impressive. Mayweather never lost sense of who he was as a fighter and even with all the things that seemed like a distraction such as his money and cars he was still dedicated to his craft more than anyone else has ever been dedicated to something.
We’ll see Rousey back. And in the rematch I expect Rousey to win. She will fight the opponent in front of her instead of fighting to prove her own perfection. Holm’s strategy worked perfectly. She played to her strengths, used her length, used her cardio, and avoided everything she knew that Rousey was better at. When you get to such a high level of any sport it’s not how much of a bad-ass you are. It’s about how smart you are, not just in training but also in fighting. Holm was the smarter fighter that night.
What this means for the UFC and Rousey:
People might actually take the whole women’s divisions more seriously instead of viewing it as Rousey and everybody else. With Holm’s extensive boxing and competitive fighting experience she wasn’t getting the respect she deserved from fans and casual fans didn’t care who Rousey was fighting because they showed up to watch a demolition. Meisha Tate, Holly Holm, and the fighters in the 115-pound weight class might start getting the attention they deserve.
The UFC went all in on Ronda Rousey. She justifiably should have been the face of the UFC the last few years with her dominant wins, beauty (as much as I hate to say it that’s a significant part of marketing women), and being one of the few legitimate athletes who should be role models and that she was a role model for young women everywhere who are largely alienated from the sports world.
However, now the UFC needs to figure out how to better market Rousey. She is no longer the unbeatable titan. She no longer has the 0 on her record the same way Mayweather does. Marketing wins and losses is always a terrible idea in sports because once a loss occurs there’s really no way to save the person or team because winning was their whole brand. The UFC has to re-position Ronda Rousey differently in mainstream marketing since her greatest strength is in mainstream marketing.
Marketing the recovery of Rousey’s image and finding who she really is as a person and athlete would be fantastic. Honestly, I don’t find the marketing of an unbeatable athlete that cool. There are so many better stories to tell. I think this is a great opportunity for the UFC to really market who Rousey is. Rousey has been doing a great job telling her own story and with the UFC backing her on it the results could be much better. Marketing the rest of the women’s division would also greatly enhance all of the fighter’s brands, positioning in the market, and their individual fights.
I would love to see an interview with Ronda Rousey and Brene Brown. Rousey now has to come back from a loss that was viewed by millions. Fighters can often really struggle with a loss, especially after feeling invincible for so long as the “baddest on the planet.” Tyson reaching for his mouthpiece is the embodiment of feeling knocked off the perch of invincibility. Brene Brown’s most recent book, Rising Strong, is about the “people who whole-heartedly get back up and go another round after getting their asses handed to them in big and small ways.”
I view Rousey’s loss as an entry point into a brand new world of marketing. Maybe it’s one of the best things to happen to the sport and maybe it could be one of the best things to happen to Rousey. Fighters who take a loss come back better than ever and are pushed to new heights.