A fighter’s heart and mental fortitude can be just about as important as any technique or skill learned in the gym. It has been said on many occasions in many different ways that if you can break your opponent’s mind, their body will soon follow.
Last month fight fans were finally given some closure on the future of megastar Ronda Rousey, with the formerly dominant 135lb champion set to make her long-awaited return to competitive MMA; facing Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 in December.
The fight will mark Ronda’s first bout since her shock KO loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193 almost one year ago and for many, it will answer a lot of questions about the mental fitness of the Olympic judoka.
When Rousey stepped into the octagon to face Holm that night she boasted a perfect 12-0 record, with her previous four bouts not even lasting two minutes between them. It had seemed as though she had effectively cleared out the women’s bantamweight division and no new challenges remained except for those outside of the realm of MMA.
Rousey was a bona fide star. Her name had been catapulted into the A-list and with that she had opened the floodgates for numerous endorsements, movie deals, modelling contracts and more. The one problem, however, was that all of these things provided her not only with distractions that would impair her training, but they would also subconsciously plant the idea of an exit strategy in her mind.
If we take it from Rousey’s perspective, it becomes clearer to see where it all went wrong. Her life as a fighter is no doubt a life that she holds dear and loves but indeed one that she could walk away from and go down as a legend of the sport. At 12-0 she had taken on all-comers and dispatched each and every one of them with relative ease. She had taken minimal damage and financially was in a very strong position.
In the space of time between her debut in the UFC and her bout with Holly Holm, Ronda’s star power had only grown and with an increase in exposure of that magnitude there are certain pressures that follow. You can’t adequately prepare for a high-level mixed martial arts contest when your life is filled with so many distractions.
So when Rousey stepped in to face Holm on that faithful night, she went in with a huge weight of expectation on her shoulders that was only made more difficult by a deficit in preparation. Of course she lost the fight in stunning fashion, being completely outclassed on the feet before getting a head kick as brutal as any we’ve seen in the past few years but despite the technical mastery of Holm in that bout, I still believe a lot of the fault was in the mental attitude of Rousey and her preparation for the fight.
Take a look at the mentality of featherweight champion Conor McGregor for his rematch with Nate Diaz. McGregor is the only active UFC fighter who can be used as a suitable comparison in terms of the level of public exposure he faces on a day-to-day basis and, for the sake of this article, he proves an interesting point of reference.
McGregor, after succumbing to a shock defeat of nearly-equal proportions at UFC 196, learned from the mistakes of Rousey and barricaded himself from the glitz and glamour of the life his personality had gained him; in his own words ‘going back to the life that got him this life’.
McGregor prioritised his identity as a fighter, and because of that not only reaped the rewards of a victory in the second bout, but also gained a greater understanding of what it means to be a fighter.
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Rousey, after her loss, sunk deep into her shell, making few public appearances and raising serious questions about her well-being with any of the few insights she gave her fans. She has now been absent from competition for over a year but what surprised me most about her return was the immediate side note given by her stating that she would in fact only be fighting a few more times before calling it quits.
That is not the mindset of a high-level fighter.
Rousey’s flirtation with the Hollywood high life is all well and good but I would raise questions about her dedication to this return. She may be doing it out of a need to regain lost pride, but if regaining that pride is one step in the direction of getting out of the sport, her focus might not be exactly where it needs to be.
In her path stands Amanda Nunes, a black-belt in BJJ who holds some of the most devastating knockout power at 135lbs. She recently stole the belt away from the hard-as-nails former champ Miesha Tate, catching her with several vicious shots before submitting her all in the space of one round.
What Rousey needs to be aware of is that she does not hold anything near the same level of invincibility she did before her last fight and I don’t feel like she can ever recapture that fear factor that was so prevalent in her early career.
Comparing her loss to another that shook the foundations of the MMA world, I suggest a look back at welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre’s shocking KO defeat to Matt Serra back in 2007. St. Pierre was caught with a shot in the first round and as a result was on the receiving end of one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
According to the man himself, his preparation for the rematch bordered on obsession. GSP went on to maul Serra in the rematch, besting him in every aspect of the fight and, just like McGregor, the humiliation forged the fighter in this case, with both of their growth mindsets providing a perfect example of how to properly handle a loss.
It will be interesting to see Rousey in action again but, according to her recent interview on Ellen, she has only been training since August, something that maybe hints that her return to MMA was one she was perhaps mulling over rather than fixated on.
I’m not saying she won’t beat Nunes, and to be honest if I were a betting man I’d still probably put my money on the 29-year-old just based on her skill set alone, but when you consider her year long absence, her reaction to her loss and most recently her plans for an escape route, I just feel like something is a bit off in the mind of the Rowdy One.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena