Ronda Rousey was a game-changer.
After a decorated career as an amateur judoka, Rousey made the transition to mixed martial arts, put together a successful run in Strikeforce and blazed a trail to the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where she helped tear down the last remaining barriers for women in MMA. Few have enjoyed such a dominant run at the top, short-lived though it might have been. Rousey stopped her first 11 opponents, 10 of them inside one round. Included among those were finishes of 14, 16, 25 (twice), 34, 39, 49, 54 and 66 seconds. In time, she was the most marketable fighter in the sport, parlaying her rise into crossover stardom. Rousey hit the cover the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition, hosted “Saturday Night Live” and landed movie roles in “The Expendables” series, “Entourage,” “Furious 7” and the soon-to-be-released “Roadhouse” remake. Unprecedented prosperity inside the cage was followed by a precipitous fall from grace, as back-to-back losses placed her MMA pursuits in limbo at age 30 and left many to wonder whether or not she will ever compete again.
In a landmark career overflowing with defining moments, here are five that stand out:
Rousey started judo training under her mother, AnnMaria De Mars, a gold medalist at the 1984 World Judo Championships who later went on to earn a PhD at the University of California, Riverside. De Mars soon brought her daughter’s talents to a boil. Rousey struck gold at the 2007 Pan American Games and won silver at the 2007 World Judo Championships. She then competed at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where she lost in the quarterfinals to former world champion Edith Bosch before qualifying for the bronze medal match through the repechage bracket. Rousey defeated Annett Boehm for the bronze, becoming the first American women to medal at the Olympics.
2. Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy
After a 4-0 start to her career saw her win those first four fights in 2:18 combined, Rousey challenged Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight championship. She submitted Tate with a first-round armbar to capture the title in the Strikeforce “Tate vs. Rousey” main event on March 3, 2012 at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The reluctant tapout came 4:36 into Round 1, with Tate’s left arm grotesquely hyperextended between Rousey’s legs. Tate held nothing back, came out firing and tagged Rousey with a stout right hand during their opening exchange. The Olympian responded with the first of her two takedowns and transitioned immediately to an armbar. Tate freed herself and initiated a scramble that result in her taking the decorated judoka’s back. Eventually, they returned to their feet, and Rousey scored with a beautiful judo throw. She then moved to mount, punched Tate into surrendering her back and latched onto the arm again. This time, there was no escape.
3. A First for Women
Liz Carmouche very nearly shocked the world. Carmouche put Rousey in serious trouble for the first time in her career before succumbing to what most viewed as inevitable: a first-round armbar in the historic UFC 157 headliner on Feb. 23, 2013 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. Rousey elicited the tapout 4:49 into Round 1, bringing a decisive close to the first women’s bout in UFC history. Carmouche capitalized on the judoka’s trademark aggression, moved to her back a little more than a minute into the fight and went to work on a submission of her own, first a standing rear-naked choke and then a neck crank. Rousey was in visible distress but fought through the pain and panic to free herself from Carmouche’s clutches. She powered into top position and methodically softened Carmouche for her patented maneuver. The challenger tried desperately to escape, but Rousey was relentless in her pursuit of the finish and finally isolated the arm after an extended struggle.
4. Target Practice
Rousey holstered her trademark armbar in favor of a new weapon against Sara McMann. The “Rowdy” one retained the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight crown with a first-round technical knockout over McMann in the UFC 170 headliner on Feb. 22, 2014 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. A knee strike to the liver folded McMann 66 seconds into Round 1, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist beaten for the first time as a professional. McMann tagged the champion with power punches during their initial exchange, but Rousey closed the distance and trapped her along the cage. Standing elbows and knees opened up the challenger for the fight-ending blow. McMann collapsed to her knees upon absorbing the liver shot, leading referee Herb Dean to intervene on her behalf. She did not dispute the stoppage.
5. Kick Heard ’Round the World
Holly Holm fought the perfect fight. Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey with a second-round head kick and follow-up punches, as she captured the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight crown in the UFC 193 main event on Nov. 15, 2015 at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. The shocking end came 59 seconds into Round 2, with Rousey supine on the canvas. The tone was set early. Holm circled away from the champion throughout the first round, countering with accuracy and power. She tipped her spear with a surgical left cross but also mixed in a beautiful stepping standing elbow and a surprising takedown. Rousey returned to her corner after the first five minutes with a bloody lip and reddening around the nose and mouth, a look of bewilderment on her face. Early in the second round, Holm clipped the judoka with another straight left. Rousey briefly turned her back and let down her guard. A kick to the neck came next and put Rousey on the canvas in a semi-conscious state. Holm pounced with punches and hammerfists, forcing Dean to step in to prevent further damage.