Nunes bursts the Rousey bubble ― for good

The UFC’s marketing in the build-up for UFC 207 was focused entirely on the return of Ronda Rousey, forgetting entirely that the bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes is as well-rounded as she is dominant. It seems now an embarrassing mistake on the part of the UFC, as Ronda Rousey’s cult of personality has come crashing down once again. Only this time, there will be no reviving it.

When Ronda Rousey lost the belt to Holly Holm back in November 2015, the World was shocked. She was a huge favourite going into the fight, and the odds massively backed Ronda. We’d had no reason to doubt her. She’d finished every opponent in basically the same way, and no-one had the answer for her elite-level judo.

I’d always said, though, that it was a bit weird that there wasn’t a single female fighter with good enough take-down defence to keep a bout with Rousey on the feet. We really had no idea if she could box. She KO’d Bethe Correia of course, but Bethe was a truly a masterful piece of work by the UFC to create a fighter with a winning record who was basically terrible at fighting – and massively undersized to boot. Finally when Holly Holm proved to the World what I had suspected – that Rousey is pretty awful at striking, the UFC lost their only mainstream superstar.

Fortunately for the UFC, Conor McGregor has given them a new mainstream star with which to market. But the way they built up Ronda’s return, it was clear that they wouldn’t mind having two big guns. It was obvious to me though that they were barking up the wrong tree. Everything about this match-up spelt major danger for Rousey.

Nunes is a beast on the feet. She throws heavy leather, and Rousey’s head movement is non-existent. In the fight Rousey reacted badly to being hit (i.e. she didn’t react at all) and didn’t once move her head off the centre line. She was an open and stationary target, and Nunes took full advantage. In terms of Rousey’s striking offense, it just doesn’t have the power to make someone like Nunes think twice about coming forward. Nunes was supremely confident throughout, knowing that she wasn’t in any danger on the feet.

One of the most embarrassing aspects of the fight was Rousey trying to throw front push-kicks. They can be an effective defensive move designed to keep your opponent out of punching range. In training Rousey has obviously been trying to diversify her skill-set, but they were utterly ineffective. She didn’t extend fully and as such they had no power. Each time Rousey threw one, Nunes would respond by cracking her jaw.

It summed up the difference between the two fighters. Rousey thinks she can become a striker in a matter of months, whereas Nunes knows she has dedicated her entire life to the art. Rousey is so good at judo because her mother started training her when she was a child – she should know better than anyone that you can’t master an element of MMA in a short period of time.

It was well documented after the Holm fight that Rousey suffered from depression. She took the loss badly. Given how she’s shown to handle defeat, she’s surely now going to retire. The division has become so much stronger than when she was in her prime, I can’t see any way back for her. I wish the best to Ronda, but I hope to never see her in the octagon again, where only defeat and anguish await her. We’ll always remember her for pioneering women’s MMA and being one of the best women fighters ever, but she absolutely should never compete again.

As for Amanda Nunes, she has a long and bright career ahead of her. Truly a well-rounded and explosive athlete, I expect that she can dominate the division for some time. She can see 2017 and beyond as being her era, and I’d hope that we might even get a cross-divisional fight fairly soon. Once we have a 145lb champion on February 11th, we can start talking about that for real.

As for fight fans, we can only hope that more casual mainstream fans understand that personality is irrelevant once fighters step in the ring. Nunes is a great fighter, and as such should be a big star. That’s all that matters in the end. Let’s hope the UFC give her the respect, and the marketing, that she deserves.

Laurie Williams

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