Monday morning quarterbacks may be annoying, but pugilistic pundits are downright nasty.
Over the past week, there have been countless articles about the fall of Ronda Rousey. The bantamweight mixed-martial-arts champion was undefeated and seemingly unstoppable until last Saturday, when former boxer Holly Holm knocked the UFC crown from Rousey’s head with a brutal kick to the jaw.
Leading up to the fight, Rousey was considered the best female athlete ever, according to an ESPN poll. The first American woman to win an Olympic medal in judo, she remains among the highest-paid UFC fighters in history, male or female. She is a star out of the ring, with a bestselling Electronic Arts video game UFC 2, a best-selling autobiography, and a budding career as an action hero in blockbusters such as Furious 7, The Expendables and Entourage.
Known for a personality as strong as her kicks, her fame grew with each successive victory, earning her a 12-0 record and legions of adoring fans who declared her unbeatable and utterly invincible.
Musicians, celebrities and even political candidates piled on, saying Rousey finally got a taste of humility to mix with the copper taste of blood in her mouth.
GIFs showing the knockout kick to her head became memes that echoed across the web like righteous shouts of glee at a public stoning.
Social media did what social media does best, generating an endless torrent of bile, directed at a woman revered just the day before as the mixed martial arts messiah. In any fight it’s bad form to kick your opponent when they’re down, but even the octagon of an ultimate fighting match isn’t as savage a place as the internet.
Her defense came from other fighters. Like combative champions before her, Rousey talked smack to her opponents, including Holly Holm before their bout, even refusing to tap gloves before the bell. But it was Holm, the daughter of a Church of Christ pastor, who put the haters back in their corner. Speaking to TMZ Sports after the fight, she summed up why Ronda Rousey’s real victory has little to do with whoever holds the UFC crown. “Ronda’s been a very dominant champ and she’s taken the sport to new levels. This fight wouldn’t’ve happened if she hadn’t accomplished what she’s accomplished, so I have a lot of respect for her. “
And then former world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather chimed in, telling FightHype.com: “I don’t think it’s cool how everyone is trolling her on social media.”
This solidarity is particularly striking because Rousey once bragged she could beat Mayweather in the ring. The news that Ronda Rousey is a mere mortal isn’t that interesting, beyond the betting tables and sports pages. What’s extraordinary is that we even know who she is in the first place. And what her fellow athletes understand is Rousey has singlehandedly turned a fringe sport into a cultural phenomenon.Only a rabid fan could’ve named a single fighter before Rousey entered the ring. Outside the NFL or NBA there are very few household names in sports anymore, and far fewer who have become cultural icons.
Not only that, Rousey has obliterated gender lines in three of the most traditionally male-dominated arenas of all time — sports, fighting and video games. Sports Illustrated called her the most dominant athlete alive. You may not like her, but you have to admit she’s a badass.
As further evidence that Rousey has already entered the pantheon of legends, former heavyweight champ George Forman tweeted:
How, and when, is the interesting question. Because as we know from the gospel of Taylor Swift — another once-mythic figure now as polarizing as she is popular — haters gonna hate. Every great drama has three acts. Act one is the hero’s rise, act two is their crisis or fall, and act three is their redemption and resurrection.
Rousey has been put on mandatory medical suspension for six months, until her injuries are assessed, but she already told fans before the fight she was going to take a break. Her face was pummeled by Holm, an experienced boxer with fists like hammers, and the kick that knocked Rousey out cold delivered over fifty pounds of force to her neck.
In the world of ultimate fighting, it could cost you everything anytime you get hit, but to hit send on a tweet costs you…nothing.
Rousey posted an expression of gratitude to her fans on Instagram with a simple promise, reminiscent of one of her fellow action heroes:
But before we schedule any rematch with Holly Holm, I think we should find the internet troll willing to get in the ring with Rousey. That would be the fight to convince almost everyone to sign up for pay-per-view.
Tim Maleeny is a bestselling author and Chief Strategy Officer for Havas Worldwide.