Ronda Rousey deserves respect for finding meaning in her losses, and having the courage to move on

Ronda Rousey

“Every single loss feels like a piece of my soul has died. I’m never the same after a loss. For me, losing is second only to having a loved one die,” Ronda Rousey says in her memoir My Fight / Your Fight.

Former UFC bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey, continues to be criticized by many within the MMA community following her unofficial retirement from the fight game on foot of back to back defeats within The Octagon.

The International Sports Hall of Fame entrant has been labelled a ‘bad loser’ for her noticeable absence at both the Holm and Nunes post fight press conferences. Despite being recently promoted to a 6th degree black belt in Judo (along with her Mother AnnMaria De Mars who became a 7th), the validity of her skillset has also been questioned, along with the fighting IQ of her past opponents.

I’ll show my hand before Bruce Buffer calls time and admit that I am, and always will be, a Ronda Rousey fan.

While this admission will undoubtedly be met with derision by some, and cause my credibility as a female MMA scribe to be questioned (I’ve learnt that this comes with the territory), I’m here to talk about how this athlete, woman, sister, daughter and wife is someone I will forever look up to, even though we’re the same age.

Ronda Rousey has inspired and connected with young women around the world like no other female fighter before her.

She is an empowering figure, one that has been vocal when it comes to championing positive body image and equality for women in sport.

Many who have followed the ‘Rowdy’ one will also be aware that she has had to adapt to, face and overcome many challenges throughout her thirty years.

It would somehow feel inappropriate if not insensitive to list each one here, in black and white, for the sole purpose of this piece, but as anyone who is aware of her story knows, Rousey has had to deal with loss before she ever entered The Octagon. And while the former bantamweight champ has been criticized for her ‘arrogant’ attitude towards her opponents in the past, she shouldn’t be so harshly judged for her innate desire to be the best in the world, or the way she dealt with the eventual realisation that she no longer was.

In fact, upon listening to Rousey speak candidly on The Ellen Show in February 2016 about the suicidal thoughts that occupied her mind following her KO loss to Holm, it is plain to see that these aren’t the post loss musings of someone who is simply (to quote Miesha Tate), “awfully pouty”, nor merely bitter over a defeat.

No, the intensity of the Olympic medalists reaction to being beaten is affirmation of how much she cared about winning – and not from an egotistical or shallow standpoint. But because she simply had to be the best. Nothing else would do.

Ultimately however, tying in your identity with that of being a World Champ is a risky position to take. In that respect, Rousey erred – in the way in which we are all capable of doing.

Be it a job or a romantic relationship, most us will have experienced that sense of disorientation and loss of identity upon having something taken away – in particular if we allowed that thing to become a large part of who we are. Yet on the other hand, Rousey’s iron-clad winning mentality stemmed from an innate self–belief. One that drove her to compete on the world stage in both Judo and MMA. Since when do we discourage such confidence from within?

While many MMA fighters and pundits have both questioned and chided the strength of her reaction to both losses, I commend her for speaking out about the suffering that she faced following her first defeat in the UFC.

“I was sitting in the corner and was like ‘What am I anymore if I’m not this?’” She explained to DeGeneres, visibly upset.  “I’m literally sitting there thinking about killing myself. In that exact second, I’m like, “I’m nothing.” What do I do anymore? No one gives a shit about me anymore without this.”

By revealing the hopelessness that she experienced following the Holm fight, Rousey did a great thing for anyone who has ever suffered with their mental health. If someone as beautiful, confident, rich and talented as Ronda Rousey could feel like her life was not worth living, then why would anyone feel shamed or stigmatized?

Looking once again at the criticism aimed in her direction following her yet unofficial decision to step away from the sport of MMA, I challenge somebody to name a dominant female champion in the UFC who has suffered back to back defeats in the violent and one-sided fashion that Rousey endured, and returned to be victorious.

I think Miesha Tate is an awesome fighter, and an excellent MMA analyst, but when the tide began to turn on her in the cage, and she found herself getting lit up by both Nunes and Pennington, she also walked away.

If Joanna Jedrzejczyk decides against returning to the strawweight division following a potential second hammering from Rose Namajunas, will MMA fans view Rousey’s decision differently?

I have a sneaky suspicion that they might.

There is a Ted X talk, presented by Andrew Solomon entitled, ‘How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are.’

“After you’ve forged meaning, you need to incorporate that meaning into a new identity,” Solomon states. “You need to take the traumas and make them part of who you’ve come to be… and you need to fold the worst events of your life into a narrative of triumph, evincing a better self in response to things that hurt.”

Rousey’s brutally raw (no pun intended) interview with Ellen reveals that she did just that. That takes strength.

“I did a lot of thinking and I’m like… why did this happen?” Rousey confided. “I do believe that all the best things come from the worst things…. maybe just winning all the time wasn’t what was best for everybody…everyone has their moment of picking themselves off the floor and I’d gone through several of mine but no one had seen me go through them…maybe I just had to be that example of picking myself off the floor for everyone…maybe that’s what I’m meant for.”

Having recently fulfilled a childhood dream by signing with the WWE, Rousey is slowly coming around to speaking about her losses in the cage.

In fact, in an insightful interview, she recently drew a parallel between her transition from Judo to MMA and her move from MMA to wrestling.

“Winning the Olympics was the only thing I cared about as a kid. I devoted my whole life to it and I tried and I tried…winning the World Championships like my Mom did…I got to the final…and I lost…and I went to two Olympics and I lost..it’s still hard to realise your childhood dreams are not coming true…I think the only thing that really helped was finding something else to devote myself to and be successful at….I think I was only able to get past the Olympics when I started doing MMA…I do believe that there is a parallel there…”

In preparation for writing this piece, I came across another interview Rousey did since joining WWE.

The following explains even better than I can why Ronda Rousey is one of the GOATs in women’s MMA, and an athlete that I will always admire.

And it goes a little something like this…

“My dad, he made me believe that if I want to do anything, I’m going to be the best in the world at it. I went and won my Olympic medal, and everyone was happy with me and then… I ended up living in my car. Nobody else would give me the respect that I felt I deserved. So, then I decided. I’m gonna talk a lot of shit, break a bunch of arms and then at the end of the day, I can at least feed my dog.”

This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 3/27/2018.