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Things will never quite be the same for Ronda Rousey after loss to Holly Holm

There’s a difference, of course, with this latest redirect in fighting history.

The thing about Georges St-Pierre’s loss to Matt Serra back in the day was that he didn’t appear on Good Morning America to announce the fight to begin with. Nor was he the first male to hold a UFC title, nor the catalyst for the very existence of the 170-pound division. It wasn’t him who gave Serra the platform. He wasn’t undefeated, nor considered by the wider world at large as novelistic and invincible. He didn’t have Beyoncé quoting his inspirational utterances during concerts, or host SportsCenter. There was no Jimmy Kimmel, or WWE cameos, or New York Times best-selling books. His words didn’t send a ripple effect through pop culture. He didn’t alter thinking on body image and sexuality, nor did he crash through gender barriers. He wasn’t a pioneer or a savior of the sport. People (outside of Canada) didn’t cry in hysteria when he entered a room.

No, when Matt Serra caught him, it just went to show that anything is possible in a fight.

When Ronda Rousey got knocked out by Holly Holm on Saturday night in Melbourne, it was possibility itself that took the blow. This was the brightest star in the game being dimmed before our very eyes. It was profoundly different. All the falsehoods of immortality came crashing back down not just on Rousey as she fell to the canvas, but on the mesmerized public. The collective shock was not just in the historical aspect of what was playing out, but in the sheer gullibility of having let ourselves get so carried away. Greatness will never stand for long in perfect conditions. We know this. Yet it was fun to ignore!

And of course, sports are at their best when they reach such levels. When the narratives bend reality, and people share in an illusion for as long as it lasts. Everybody knows there’s no such thing as invincibility — especially in prize fighting — but with Ronda we were willing to play dumb. This was a different kind of star, leagues ahead of her contemporaries. She’s been nothing other than intoxicating since she inherited the UFC title after the Strikeforce buy out. Joe Rogan said she wasn’t a once in a generation fighter, but once in an ever fighter. He almost cried when she appeared on his podcast when he got to actualizing her historical value.

The spell extended to his partner, Mike Goldberg, who right in the middle of Holm’s dismantling of Rousey, cried out awkwardly, "it takes a lot of energy to be a rock star!" Such was the blissful oblivion of those six minutes before Rousey fell. It must have been a long, long flight back to the States for UFC executives and staff. You have to suspect the profound nature of all that was lost was a slow dawning, showing up in nauseating wave upon wave. There goes this, there goes that. Holy sh*t. Rousey is no longer the perfect storm. She can never be marketed the same way again.

A perfectly executed game plan was all it took to humanize Rousey, who was on the cusp of entering the pantheon of all-time sports greats. If she has already crossed over, time will tell. But Holm now holds the belt, which was an idea that was unthinkable in the lead up. She stayed mobile and punished Rousey’s aggression, of which there was plenty. When the time came to unload, she did. Holm was brilliant. She was everything people thought she was not — poised, opportunistic, superior. That head kick will last forever.

And the devastation of that head kick changed everything. The women’s bantamweight division is now open for business again. The warden is out. There was rejoicing from everybody from Cristiane Justino to Miesha Tate to Amanda Nunes afterwards. The small picture took on a bunch of color.

UFC 200, a foregone conclusion for Rousey’s next title defense in July, is now hanging out there as her date of redemption. Even when she gets her next crack at it, the life-blood of her transcendence  — that she is the fight game’s nonpareil — is no longer in play. How does she respond? That’s the new drama, but it’s going to be different. The diehards will care more about her response than the casuals, who’ve now seen the unthinkable become thinkable. The essence of her big picture allure now belongs to Melbourne. It can’t be the same again. Things will narrow.

Not that there wasn’t plenty of poetry at UFC 193. There is inspiration in seeing an underdog like Holm show up in her best form at the exact moment when everything is heightened beyond measure. If Rousey inspires young girls to be like her, Holm inspires the ones who’ve been daydreaming of beating her.

And it’s hard not to appreciate the UFC’s matchmaking model in all of this. Sean Shelby and Joe Silva book challengers that they believe can beat the champion. They don’t protect anybody, at least not for long. This isn’t boxing. The UFC makes its champions vulnerable at all times. It’s in that gamble that the essence of those letters stands out. The UFC sells vulnerability as much as it does invincibility. Holm was booked to face Rousey.

Holm beat Rousey.

Like it or not, those three sober words change everything.

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