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It wasn’t the losses — in 2016, Ronda Rousey just wasn’t easy to root for

UFC 207 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

In retrospect, UFC 207 was all about granting them wishes. TJ Dillashaw wanted another crack at the bantamweight belt, and he will likely get it after his performance against John Lineker. Cody Garbrandt wanted to fulfill a promise to his young friend Maddux Maple, who overcame Leukemia as Garbrandt overcame his own personal demons, and he was able to wrap the belt around the little boy’s waist after schooling Dominick Cruz.

And Ronda Rousey wanted to be left alone, now she can be left alone.

Rousey is free to head off to her own private Idaho, or to far off Alaska, and stop thinking about the mixed martial arts, which took her to unprecedented heights, and left her dizzy with existential vertigo. How mental is the fight game? Rousey’s career is testament to just how mental. She validates the old cliché that it’s a mental game more than anything else. One loss was all it took. After becoming a global icon with eight-figure earning power, she sealed off her existence like an exclusive club of one after the Holly Holm loss, sequestering herself from the ominous thrum of outside noise. Travis Browne, her boyfriend, went clannish with her, like a heavyweight Yoko Ono. Edmond Tarverdyan, her coach out in Glendale, oozed from those shadows like a toxic gas.

Those were unlovable terms, for sure. But they were also intriguing terms heading into UFC 207, in that the broken fighter was dealing in a public psychological battle that everyone knew about — and yet, almost as an asides, she was also dealing with Amanda Nunes. It was fascinating to the invested onlooker to find out if all that roping off and soundproofing was headed towards some glorious revival, or if we would zero in on the jagged individual shards of a broken fighter.

Forty-eight seconds was all it took to get an answer.

Nunes tore through Rousey, pieced her up, made some people at the T-Mobile Arena cry (according to Dana White), possibly from busted parlays. It was the saddest display possible. Rousey, dressed in blue, took one shot, then another. Then a series of shots. Nunes never blinked as she laid into the target. Nunes was the blood-dimmed tide. She feasted on that unmoving head, which took on a look of increasing bewilderment with each shot that landed. Tarverdyan screamed for her to move, or to clinch, as Rousey slipped into hibernation while still on her feet. He eventually screamed “noooo,” like somebody might who can’t immediately process the unfolding of a traumatic event.

What happened to the adjustments? What was the game plan? What was the mindset of the trailblazer, the idol, the inspiration of so many, the parable, the anti-DNB, the “not once in a lifetime” fighter that Joe Rogan talked about, but the “once ever” fighter, the one that changed the game?

It was all postcards from the quarantine.

Rousey wanted to be left alone, and her fight with Nunes all about granted the wish. People won’t be pining for another Rousey fight, at least not in the way they were, and not anytime soon. The “pioneer of the sport” talk will mature as we go along, and that is what she is. Rousey changed a lot of lives — a lot of lives — in how she stormed onto the scene. She also changed a lot of views each time she’d storm off. The pioneer talk faded against her petulance. All that competitive inwardness couldn’t help but feel more like a teenager slamming doors.

How dare Holm? How dare the media? How dare the UFC?

On cue, Rousey left the cage Friday night without a word, too. She didn’t appear at the press conference. Other than a stock statement issued to her personal reporter, she was as mute coming out as she was heading in. In a sport built on hype and character — and the bigness of those ideas, the limitless nature of those ideas — her message continues to be the same: “Leave me alone.” If the hate poured in after her loss against Holm, which prompted the ideas of Idaho and seclusion and babies with Travis Browne, her handling of the situation only served to justify the barrage.

No, Ronda Rousey won’t be winning any Sportsman of the Year awards. She didn’t win gracefully, and she didn’t lose gracefully. Whatever she was dishing that made her a transcendent figure in the sport she’s not built to take. By now it’s an old glow. Nunes is the new bright center of the action. In some ways, Nunes is the new Rousey in how quickly she dispatches opponents, but she can’t be because Rousey is still Rousey, the spearhead that broke into new media, the kind that “nobody else could get.” The Ellens. the Good Morning Americas. The good milquetoast platforms.

Will Nunes ever get that? Probably not. She punches hard, perhaps harder than anybody in the division, but she’ll never be able to punch through Rousey’s originality.

At least equal to her judo pedigree, Rousey’s greatest merit in this sport was that she was the first. The game caught up to her, people figured out how to beat her, but she was first. You can take her belt, you can hate on her all you want, but that’s the one thing nobody can take from her.

Not long after her loss to Nunes, Chael Sonnen appeared on ESPN and was asked if Rousey would return again at some point. Sonnen said that it’s a funny thing, that when people are on top they flirt with the idea of walking away, “but what they really want is for people to beg them to stay.” But that once you go on a losing streak, and people stop begging you to stick around, the competitor begins to hunger for the attention again.

We’re a long way from Rousey wanting the attention at the moment. For the last year, she’s wanted nothing more than to be left alone. But what Sonnen is getting at is true. People aren’t going to be begging Rousey to come back. Not like they were. And it’s not just that she lost the way she did against Nunes.

It’s that in 2016 she just wasn’t likeable. The competitor that got all the special treatment and leeway wasn’t somebody that was easy to root for. She made it very hard to be in her corner. Even for those that wanted to share in her plight, she refused. She lost in so many ways that didn’t involve punches.

And in 2017, if Ronda Rousey wants to be left alone, she’s damn close to achieving her new goal.

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