Ronda Rousey deserves credit, even if the sport she built has left her in the dust – Yahoo Sports

The lazy thing to do is call Ronda Rousey nothing but a fraud, nothing but a marketing creation, nothing but a Dana White illusion to sell pay-per-views.

She is none of those things. Never was. Never will be. To say otherwise is ridiculous.

Rousey’s career may indeed be over after Amanda Nunes bludgeoned her Friday night in a 48-second stoppage to defend the bantamweight belt that Rousey once owned. There is no understating the devastation of that beatdown, nor the one Holly Holm handed out in November 2015.

Rousey is no long capable of competing against the best mixed martial artists in the world. She can’t strike with physical powerhouses such as Nunes and Holm. The fact that her strategy Friday was apparently to even attempt it suggests her coaching and corner is even worse than many thought.

She’s a pioneer though, and like any great pioneer, what she created was eventually flooded with competition that swamped over her. The explosive growth in talent and training that followed her success changed women’s mixed martial arts overnight.

It’s not that Rousey wasn’t a great and dominant fighter when she won her first 12 bouts. She was. Those victories were real.

She was so overwhelming that White backed off his longstanding opposition to women’s fighting and created divisions. During a 30-month run, Rousey burst onto the scene and won six UFC fights, only one lasting past the first round.

Rousey fought the best opposition available – contract and weight-class hurdles aside. Whoever was placed in front of her wound up tapping out via armbar. She was the best of her era. It wasn’t even close.

It’s just that the sensation she created in getting women’s mixed martial arts going meant her era was on a hyper spin, exponentially improving by the day. As with anything that new, the eras are quick.

Winning made her a media darling – complete with magazine covers and movie roles. The money was big. Everyone noticed.

And here came the rest of them, not just better athletes but athletes who had been around and now saw a reason, if not the reward, to train full-time at the highest level. Before Rousey, women’s MMA was a hobby, some fringe part of a sport that itself was just moving off the fringes. Try affording gym time. Try getting a great trainer to spend time with you.

Rousey made it big business and people began treating it that way.

Will Ronda Rousey retire after a second straight devastating knockout loss? (Getty)Will Ronda Rousey retire after a second straight devastating knockout loss? (Getty)

Holm, for instance, first fought MMA in 2011, but she continued to dabble in boxing too. She was a former soccer player who happened to get into MMA after taking an aerobics class.

Holm had just seven bouts though over a four-year period, but as Rousey ramped up she said she doubled down on her training with Mike Winklejohn and Greg Jackson, two of the sport’s elite coaches. Her development over 2015 made her a completely different fighter. She once looked average. Suddenly she was way too good for Rousey; yet Holm herself is now 0-2 since beating her.

Nunes followed a similar path. She’s been in MMA since 2008, but almost exclusively small-time, low-pay promotions. The Brazilian couldn’t devote herself to the craft. She’s lost four times, including as recently as Sept. 27, 2014, to Cat Zingano. Five months later, Rousey annihilated Zingano in 14 seconds flat. Nunes just wasn’t that good. As recently as last March, she looked promising but hardly complete.

She kept training harder and smarter though in Florida with the excellent American Top Team, where premier female fighters such as featherweight champion Joanna Jedrzejzyk reside.

The growth of women’s MMA has been sudden but expected. It is similar to the early days of men’s cagefighting, where a curiosity that felt like a tough-man contest quickly morphed into something bigger and better, over and over. Many of the guys that won at early UFC events found themselves outclassed by their 30s. And the days of Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz felt quaint once an athlete like Jon Jones showed up.

It takes nothing away from the early accomplishments. It was one generation standing on the other’s shoulders, taking a sport to new heights. You can be obsolete and important at the same time. This is a young sport. Innovation is everywhere.

That’s where Ronda Rousey finds herself now, a stranger in a world she created. She may have been distracted by acting and commercials, but you could never question her heart. Even as Holm pummeled her, she kept pushing forward. Even as Nunes pounded her, she stood her ground and swung back, never hitting the ground or giving in under a barrage of punches.

The UFC was built on the premise of finding out which fighting style was best – at UFC 1 a guy arrived to fight wearing one boxing glove. Even to this day fighters are introduced as “a wrestler” or a “Muay Thai specialist,” but that’s become dated.

At this point, you may have a base but almost everyone is just a mixed martial artist.

That’s the beauty of the sport. You can watch it evolve in front of your very eyes, sometimes overnight. What worked in 2016 won’t in 2017.

Rousey didn’t keep up or couldn’t keep up, but to dismiss what she did or what she meant is to view the sport through the wrong framework.

She was the best. Now she isn’t. That’s MMA.

There is nothing fraudulent about that truth.

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