It was the kick heard around the world. On Saturday night in front of over 56,000 Australians and more viewers across the globe, huge underdog Holly Holm shocked everyone with her second round knockout of Ronda Rousey.
Rousey was the face of MMA, not just women’s MMA. She’s all but destroyed her competition and was appearing in talk shows, movies and countless ads. People loved the spectacle she created. They loved to see her win her fights in unbelievable fashion. She was royalty.
Holm was an 18-time boxing champion but had a relatively unproven ground game and her two UFC fights were lackluster. But it didn’t matter and neither did the Rousey fanfare. Holm and her team at Greg Jackson’s MMA crafted and executed the perfect gameplan to neutralize Rousey’s aggression, keep her on the outside and break away from clinches. The result was Holm constantly tagging Ronda with punches and wearing her out. Rousey and her team seemingly had no answers until the eventual head kick that finished her off quickly.
Rousey was transported to the hospital but outside a split lip, she was fine. She then took to social media to thank her fans and plans of taking a bit of time off. After the brutal loss and the fatigue of endless media obligations, the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion deserves it. Rousey’s loss and exit however means the UFC has yet again lost its superstar. In addition to the suspension of Anderson Silva for a PED scandal and the exile of Jon Jones from his reckless off-cage incidents, 2015 has been a rough year for UFC superstars as they were disgraced and out (momentarily) of the UFC.
The year to follow, however, promises the return of these superstars and regardless of how different the public will perceive them on their way back, they have a common theme: redemption. A cliché in sports but a classic one. The kings and queen of MMA have fallen on difficult times. They still have their loyal subjects, the fans who will take them back and cheer them back on but they also have the detractors. The naysayers. The fans who seemingly enjoyed their brief but brutal showings of humanity.
The once untouchable Anderson Silva reduced to a past-his-prime PED user. Jon Jones, the virtually unbeaten legend-in-the-making loses his belt and the spot to break UFC title defense records, another asterisk on his career. And Ronda Rousey, the “baddest woman on the planet” who mauled her opponents so badly she’s drawn comparison to “Iron” Mike Tyson himself, appearing very human and very vulnerable. The mystique of her invincibility was crushed. The perception around her will surely change as with Silva and Jones.
“My favorite Japanese proverb is fall down seven times, stand up eight” former UFC champion, Georges St-Pierre once said. Nearly every mighty fighter the likes of he, Fabricio Werdum and Robbie Lawler faced defeat. All three were in fact knocked out at some point in their careers. St-Pierre was on the wrong end of the UFC’s greatest championship upset. It is far from the end for Rousey and now she gets time off, the weight of championship pressure is off her shoulders and she gets to sort out her personal life and maybe finally get her privacy.
It is inevitable that she will return in 2016 along with Silva and Jones. And they will have to reclaim what was lost. In Silva’s case, it’ll be his dignity and shred of respect back. With Jones, it’ll be his title. Rousey, meanwhile, has to recapture her dominant aura. Rousey will be fighting for the belt again in an all-but-guaranteed immediate rematch. UFC 200, which is eight months from UFC 193 seems like a perfect return date from a business perspective. Likewise, there have been indications Jones is coming back. Silva’s suspension ends in February.
James Lynch from the Parting Shot Podcast mentioned the UFC’s new marketing slogan should be “The Comeback” and focused primarily on Rousey and Jones in their return fights. They could both either be pushed to the spotlight of UFC 200 and the event has a chance to be the company’s greatest and most lucrative event surpassing UFC 100. Or they could be their own separate headliners as their star power and history with Holm and Cormier, respectively, are its own long-drawn narrative.
Jones and Cormier previously fought in UFC 182 in the UFC’s first PPV this year. The two has a storied rivalry including a now-infamous brawl for UFC 178 in 2014. Jones soundly beat Cormier in a competitive fight. Following Jones’s suspension for a felony hit-and-run in April, Cormier defeated Anthony “Rumble” Johnson for the vacant title, a feat that was contentious in the eyes of many fans as Cormier now possessed the former belt of the fighter he last lost to. The rematch between Jones and Cormier sounds poetically just for Jones’ return fight as he gets to reclaim what was his from his most bitter rival.
Rousey may undergo changes for her next fight against Holm. It was apparent her striking skills and strategy were behind Holm’s. A switching of camps or seeking out additional training are all up to Rousey but should she do it and she adds new dimensions to her game, Rousey may be reborn as a new better version of herself. She can not only reassert her dominance but show her growth as a fighter. And on the mental aspect, the loss leads to a different side of Rousey.
Now the narrative quickly shifts to her vulnerability and ability to recover from her most crushing loss. But Rousey has dealt with adversity throughout her life and her fighting spirit is unquestionable.
As for Silva, his days as a title challenger may be a longshot but his name alone guarantees great novelty fights with other high-profile fighters, such as a rematch with Vitor Belfort or a fight with Michael Bisping. Or who knows? Maybe even Georges St-Pierre.
The year to come is ripe for the return of the sport’s biggest stars, on top of constant teases that even St-Pierre is gunning for a comeback. Other high-profile fighters such as Cain Velasquez and Anthony Pettis, who both lost their titles, and former bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz, who has constantly battled injuries are also ready to go. Velasquez, Pettis, Cruz, Silva, Jones and Rousey were once atop the UFC and were the unquestioned faces of the franchise and in 2016 they will all be looking for their return to glory.