Hubris, Thy Name Rousey
Hubris, thy name is Rousey.
While the reverberations of Ronda Rousey’s loss at UFC 207 are still being felt – and talked about – one conversation few seem to be having is one of melancholy. Underneath the cheer is a tinge of sadness. We just lost greatness.
This is Ronda Rousey, after all. The Babe Ruth of her time. The woman who put the 'W' in 'WMMA'. The biggest crossover star the sport has ever had. To see her defeat at the hands of Holly Holm just over a year ago meant one thing, but her loss to Amanda Nunes on Friday holds with it something else entirely. This was not a significant sports moment because of triumph – it was significant because of tragedy.
Like all great tragedy’s, Rousey was undone by an element of a most subversive nature. It wasn't Nunes' fists or Hollm's shin. It was something inside her. Her nemesis was that great corruptor of talent: hubris.
Like all instances of hubris, the public wanted to see the perpetrator punished. And so came the cheers.
Overconfident pride and arrogance
While her mother can laud her daughter’s finer qualities, the qualities which truly framed her oublic image were those most on display in the public eye.
In the MMA sphere, qualities like attitude, aggression, and ice-cold determination are sought in a fighter, it was Rousey's severe lack of redeeming qualities that sunk her in public. You had to squint to see signs of sportsmanship, forgiveness, or appreciation (ironically, the kind of qualities most pushed to build a strong public image for a celebrity, the kind of career Rousey was trying to forge) . No Pantene commercial could restore the image of a woman who oftentimes wouldn’t touch gloves before a fight, refuse to shake hands, or taunt a defeated opponent.
Rousey made herself the villain. There was her ‘Do Nothing Bitches’ period which saw her hypocritically coin a catchphrase of female empowerment that simultaneously characterized so many women as useless idiots. She once quipped she felt she could beat then-Heavyweight champion Cain Velesquez in a fight, both disregarding an obvious size difference and conversely undercutting Valasequez’s great accomplishments.
Rousey’s mindset was hubris.
Act in foolish ways that belie common sense
Rousey turned down virtually all her media obligations for UFC 207. This storyline gathered a lot of steam during fight week because it seemed at once arrogant and pointless. In large part we can speculate her media blackout had its origins in her extended media blackout during that year after her loss to Holm. One media tour boycott naturally segued into another. It was often referenced that during her hiatus, Rousey felt the MMA media betrayed her.
But how could Rousey not see that the media is what made her? We are currently in a state of distrusting our media, for good reason in most cases, but it has become chic to say one doesn’t trust it. But the media still holds a crucial function in the creation of stars like Rousey. Whether you trust the media or not, without them Rousey would never have existed in the form she did.
Was this strategy to focus purely on traning? Was it to avoid adding pressure on herself? Was it to keep the public from getting a look inside her mind? We can only speculate - but it certainly did not prevent her from doing specific media obligations of her choosing. Rousey’s PR team did what good PR teams do when their clients don’t want to talk, they chose the opportunities that would draw the largest audience for her message. This was done to insulate Rousey, to protect her, while still furthering her agenda of keeping her Q rating pulsing.
Rousey’s stance against the media was hubris.
A lack of humility
If you want to know what the main impetus for the cheers and jeers she received after her 207 loss, this is it.
Rousey’s wins often coincided with a focus on her accomplishments while her losses revealed Rousey has little care for doing things that don’t mesh with her self-image. Contrast that with the actions of Dominick Cruz and Cody Garbrandt who, despite trash talk that bordered on and/or crossed into personal territory, spent a moment in the cage after the fight exchanging respectful words in the cage.
Rousey refused to show her face at LAX after her loss to Holm. She didn’t even bother to show up for the post fight presser for UFC 207. All one has to do is watch Dominick Cruz’s post-fight presser from the same card to see how little one has to do and say to turn a sporting loss into a PR victory. Rousey's loss to Holm should have built character, like Cruz's numerous knee injuries. Instead, it crystallized her lack of humility.
Rousey’s inability to be humble was hubris.
A lack of knowledge
In this specific case, the thing that sunk her most was in who she trusted. Following her loss to Holm, it was clear to virtually every observer in the MMA sphere that, while dominant, she had failed to evolve or improve. Her obsession with being the greatest boxer ever or being a world champion BJJ grappler, led her down a path that did not allow her professional growth. At UFC 207, it was obvious whoever was in charge of that effort had failed. That falls on her as much as it falls on her coach, Edmond Tarverdyan.
During her dominant run in the UFC, Rousey’s Olympic-level judo background made her primed and ready for the conditions under which success in MMA is achieved. She was strong physically, had a tremendous ability to focus and train, and had the technical skills to exploit the inefficiencies in the metagame of the women’s side. A complete dearth of quality striking defence and offence allowed Rousey’s greatest strength, the clinch and ground control, to make wins come easy. Working in straight lines, Rousey would use rudimentary boxing to close the distance and grab her opponent, after which the fight was almost always a done deal. Her opponents tended to stand there and allow her to do so. Or do it for her.
What we saw against Holly Holm was an opponent who did not stand to trade. We saw a fighter who moved laterally, being the matador to Rousey’s bull. It was clear that if Nunes employed the same strategy as Holm or if Rousey employed the same strategy as always, there was virtually no hope for Rousey. This responsibility lay on her coaches, but also on her for not realizing it.
None of them did. Rousey had her worst performance by a mile. She didn’t move her head, didn’t step off-line, and didn’t attempt to parry Nunes punches. Even more disappointing, she didn’t resort to evasion when those shots landed (granted, who knows how there she was after such flush shots). After a certain point, it felt like a sacrifice.
Rousey’s inability to self-diagnose or have other diagnose her technical failures was hubris.
Hubris’ place in a sport like MMA is almost poetic. In the accusation of hubris there is the implication that suffering or punishment will follow for the accused. In Rousey’s case, this was the only outcome. Her collapse had no other place to manifest itself than in the cage, in the setting that made her.
As she dominated MMA, Rousey’s greatness was agreed upon by nearly every fan, hardcore, casual, or otherwise. It was only fitting that her collapse was displayed for those same millions to see. It felt inevitable - and that's why it was so sad. She wasn't torn down by the fists of Amanda Nunes. Tragically, it felt like fate was throwing the shots.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys has worked six years in the public relations industry rubbing shoulders with movie stars (who ignored him) to athletes (who tolerated him). He likes tiki-taka football, jelly beans, and arguing with Bruce about everything.