Though she constantly receives a heavy dose of criticism, Ronda Rousey is largely credited with single-handedly forcing the women’s divisions of mixed martial arts into the brightest spotlight in the combat sports world.
It’s difficult to deny that fact, as UFC president Dana White has repeatedly said that he had zero interest in women fighting in the Octagon until he met Ronda Rousey. When she crashed the cage door open, it led to a flood of women making their way to the UFC. Now, women’s bouts are often the most popular on any given fight card.
But as much as Rousey meant to women’s MMA, particularly in the UFC, and how popular she became, there was a price to be paid and there was a time when she knew she was ready to move on, but didn’t feel like she could.
“Judo and MMA, there were times when the process was fun, and then there were times when it got to be where only the results were fun, and then there’s time when things just ran their course. You fall in love and you fall out of love and you find a new love,” Rousey told ESPN in a recent in-depth interview with veteran MMA reporter Brett Okamoto.
“There was a while when I was just looking for an honorable way out because I felt satisfied, like I proved everything that I needed to prove, but I didn’t feel like everybody else felt that way. I wasn’t sure if the women’s division could survive without me. So I felt obligated to do more than I actually wanted to.”
Rousey went undefeated in her first 12 mixed martial arts bouts, including a record six defenses of her women’s UFC bantamweight championship. Nine of those twelve victories came by way of an armbar, but as impressive as that might seem to some, others found it necessary to label her a one-trick pony, somehow downplaying what she had achieved in the Octagon.
Perhaps that is the type of pressure that Rousey felt when she thought she couldn’t prove to others what she felt she had already proven to herself.
When she got knocked out by Holly Holm in November of 2015 and then again a year later by Amanda Nunes, the critics’ voices only became amplified. The calls of “I told you so” came in hot and heavy. But at some point, Rousey decided she didn’t need to find a way out that made sense to everyone else, she just needed to find what made her happy, whether that was to come back and avenge her back-to-back defeats or to say enough is enough and walk away.
After more than a year away from the Octagon, Rousey resurfaced with her latest dream gig, becoming a WWE Superstar, likely leaving MMA in the rearview mirror for good. Though she’s already been participating in WWE events, her big reveal will be at WrestleMania 34 on April 8 in New Orleans.
Rousey now feels that she’s at a point that she can be content with her contribution to mixed martial arts and move on with her life on her own terms.
“I also feel that everything happens for a reason. I have no regrets and I’m still happy that I fulfilled those obligations (that she felt to MMA). I really do feel like the women’s division can hold its own now. And I’m proud of all the work that I did there and I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be proud of myself.”