UFC 207 spells the end of the Ronda Rousey era
Ronda Rousey stands in the cage after Amanda Nunes forced a stoppage in the first round of their women's bantamweight championship bout at UFC 207 in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016. (John Locher/AP Photo)
Ronda Rousey was never invincible, no matter what the UFC said.
On Friday night, though, the woman who reigned over mixed martial arts only 14 short months ago hit rock-bottom.
In only 48 seconds, Amanda Nunes answered any lingering questions about Rousey’s immortality with a devastating series of brutal punches.
When referee Herb Dean stepped in to mercifully stop the damage, it marked the end of an era.
One of the most important fighters in UFC history had been humbled, beaten and knocked off her perch, and it’s entirely possible that the biggest crossover star that mixed martial arts has ever produced was finished as a fighter.
Here’s five takeaways from Friday’s action at UFC 207:
No revisionist history
In the aftermath of Rousey’s loss last year to Holly Holm, there was a rush to undermine the accomplishments of the former women’s bantamweight champion.
Rousey may not be the dominant force she appeared to be for the two and a half years after she made her UFC debut in 2013, but she was undeniably one of the most thrilling fighters in the world during that period.
Without Rousey, UFC president Dana White might still be refusing to allow women to fight in his organization.
Even if he’d come around to the idea, it’s unlikely that the female divisions would be as universally accepted and adored on the same level as the male weight classes.
Rousey’s contributions to MMA are unparalleled and the entire fight game owes her a debt of gratitude.
Despite her importance to the sport and years of dominance, there’s no getting around the fact that Rousey was in over her head on Friday night and it sure looks as if women’s MMA has caught up to her.
There’s a comparison to be made between Rousey and Royce Gracie, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend who dominated the early years of the UFC.
Eventually, though, a new generation of fighters rose up through the ranks and by the time Gracie was losing to Matt Hughes in 2006, it was clear that he had been surpassed.
It’s possible that’s exactly what happened with Rousey and that her fall from the top of the MMA mountain is simply the result of better athletes and better strikers like Holm and Nunes rising.
That makes the future of the women’s bantamweight division really exciting, but Rousey will need to make major changes if she wants to keep up.
Time for change
If Rousey is going to have any chance of continuing with fighting at an elite level — and it’s unclear whether that’s something she’s at all interested in doing — she needs to leave the Glendale Fighting Club.
Audio of her much-maligned trainer Edmond Tarverdyan’s instructions during the fight leaked on Friday night and it painted an ugly picture. Tarverdyan essentially repeated “head movement” over and over again, even as Nunes was tagging Rousey with shot after shot.
Nunes criticized Tarverdyan after the fight, saying he had made Rousey think she was a boxer when judo is her strength and it’s hard to disagree.
It made no sense for Rousey to try to box with Holm last year and it made even less for her to try and stand with one of the most feared strikers in MMA on Friday night. And yet, that’s exactly what she did.
If she’s going to keep fighting, she needs to make a change.
With Miesha Tate retiring last month and Rousey’s future unclear, the women’s divisions may have lost their two biggest draws.
Now, the question is how many of the fans who started following MMA because of Rousey and Tate will stick around to watch a female fighting landscape that’s dominated by the likes of Nunes, Julianna Pena and Valentina Shevchenko.
There are dozens of thrilling female fighters on the MMA landscape right now, but it’s always hard to predict who will capture the public’s imagination.
Pena and Shevchenko are fighting in January, with the winner likely getting a shot at Nunes. It will be interesting to see how the UFC promotes that fight.
Nunes has loads of personality and headlined UFC 200 and UFC 207 this year so she’s had a lot of exposure. Now, it’s up to her bosses to turn her into a star.
A star is born
A quick note on the men’s side of things.
Cody Garbrandt beat Dominick Cruz for the men’s bantamweight belt in the UFC 207 co-main event and the kid has superstar written all over him.
Cruz is the greatest 135-pound fighter of all time, but he was thoroughly out-classed by Garbrandt.
Former teammate T.J. Dillashaw absolutely must be next for Garbandt and a rematch with Cruz is basically guaranteed.
Either way, expect to be seeing a lot of Garbrandt in the year ahead.