No Longer Invincible, But Ronda Rousey Is Hardly Finished

Former bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey will not finish her career in the Octagon undefeated, but it's how she continues to live her life and grow from her experience that will define her legacy as an icon to women across the world.

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MELBOURNE, Australia -- So much is said in the run-up to a big fight that looks silly in the aftermath. All the hype, the platitudes, the trash talk runs together in a mashed up soundtrack that quickly gets deleted as soon as everyone gets on the plane to fly home.

But something Ronda Rousey kept saying in the lead-up to her shocking knockout loss to Holly Holm at UFC 193 will resonate long after this night.

"I'm trying my best to deserve it," Rousey said over and over this week.

At the time, it sounded like an empty platitude. Deserve it? The woman has built everything she has from nothing. There was no women's division in the UFC until she kicked the door down. There was no money to be made until she created crossover opportunities for both herself and every other fighter in the UFC. Her fame is all self-made. The movie deals, the endorsements -- all from the force of her personality, persistence and passion. It was the rest of the sport that needed to prove it deserved her.

But deep down, Rousey seemed to know how fragile everything she'd built was. She had to keep winning. She had to keep being invincible. In the past few years, she's become something of a superhero inside and outside her sport. A feminist hero to women, an iconic athlete to men. It was an incredible standard to live up to. In retrospect, perhaps it was impossible.

"This is a fight. This is what happens," UFC president Dana White said. "All the greats eventually go down one day."

Nick Laham for ESPN

A stunned Ronda Rousey sit on a stool after being knocked out by Holly Holm in the second round.

White could barely hide his disappointment after the fight. He's ridden her popularity as hard as anyone these past few years as he's tried to transition the UFC into the mainstream. Until now, Rousey has answered the bell every time. She does more promotion than any superstar athlete in any sport. She fights whenever and wherever she's asked to. This fight was supposed to be in January, so she could rest a bit after fighting Bethe Correia in August. It was supposed to be in the States, not Australia. But that changed when Robbie Lawler suffered a thumb injury.

It was a lot to ask, but Rousey has been a superhero. She could handle it.

That was the thought. The belief. The hope.

All of it came crashing down in the time it took Rousey to hit the canvas after taking a vicious kick to the chin from Holm in the second round.

Her career isn't over. She's still going to film the "Road House" remake in February. The script for a movie based on her autobiography is still being written. Her next fight, particularly if it's a rematch with Holm, will be one of the most anticipated in UFC history. Her comeback will be a hell of a story.

But her aura of invincibility is gone now. Her legacy is different. During this training camp, she'd taken to writing "Retire Undefeated" on her hand wraps after workouts. That was important to her. Now it's gone.

In a way, it makes her more human. More real. But do people really want to see Wonder Woman without her cape?

That'll be the question for her and everyone else who has ridden on her meteoric rise these past few years.

After the fight, there wasn't much for those who cared about Rousey to do except be there for her. She was transported by ambulance to a hospital and admitted overnight. They were all supposed to be eating chicken wings and drinking cider beer with her, celebrating yet another larger-than-life moment in her white-hot career. Instead, the night ended in the hospital, just hoping she was OK.

All the greats eventually go down one day.
UFC president Dana White

"Certainly the girl needs rest. It's not easy to deal with everything she has been dealing with," said her longtime trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan. "She needs time to rest, and after she rests, we'll figure out what is best for her career."

Tarverdyan could barely get the words out. He sat for about 10 minutes on a wheelchair in the emergency room waiting room, just staring at the wall.

Was it too much? Could they have done something different?

"Ronda is a fighter. Ronda is born to fight. Again, it is too much sometimes with everything else that happens but -- three fights -- she is a fighter," he said. "They want her to fight that fight ... that's why the UFC is as exciting as it gets, because they're fighters and nobody is just fighting on the time they want to -- they have to be ready and that's about it."

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Ronda Rousey may be down after Saturday night's knockout from Holly Holm, but her trainer vows she'll "come back stronger."

Tarverdyan knows he will be squarely in the crosshairs of the fallout of this loss. Rousey's mother, AnneMaria DeMars, had publicly questioned his skills in the lead-up to this fight.

"I think she stays there because it's like somebody who pitches a no-hitter when they're wearing red underwear and then they wear that red underwear every day," DeMars said last month in an interview with LatiNation. "I think it's superstition. I would caution anybody from going there. I think it's bad he uses her to lure people in, and I told Ronda I'm not going to be quiet about this anymore."

DeMars did end up staying quiet on the subject after that interview. But don't expect that to continue after this loss. Holm didn't just catch Rousey with a kick to the head -- she beat her with superior boxing skills. That's not a surprise for a 19-time boxing world champion.

But anything other than total domination is a surprise when it comes to Ronda Rousey, which means Tarverdyan's game plan and preparation will be closely scrutinized. So, too, will Rousey's skills, focus and attitude. Was she looking past Holm? Why didn't she touch gloves before the fight? Why did she get into a scuffle at the weigh-in? Could she improve her boxing skills?

Were any of these clues that Holm was about to pull off one of the biggest upsets since Buster Douglas dropped Mike Tyson in 1991?

All of it hung in the air as Rousey lay in the hospital, waiting for a plastic surgeon to stitch up the shredded lip of her $100-million smile.

"There are no words I can say right now how I feel," Tarverdyan said. "I'm just staying strong now next to Ronda. ... I'm just heartbroken right now. Champ is the best. She is an amazing champion. She works hard, and what she has done is very difficult to explain unless you witness it. The things she has done -- no one can come close to them. She'll come back stronger."

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