All week long, Ronda Rousey had nothing to say. Her UFC 207 fight week public hush followed a year of monastic silence in favor of time spent on a spirit quest. As best we can tell—and only she knows for sure—Rousey was broken by her loss to Holly Holm in November 2015, her confidence shattered into a million little pieces.
After putting herself back together—or at least trying to as best as she could—she reappeared, physically looking just as we remembered. Maybe better. But for once, it was not her athleticism that was in question as much as it was everything else that makes up a fighter. Her ability to control emotion. Her confidence. Her reaction to being hit.
Suddenly, the woman who was once looked at as one of the most dominant athletes in the world was a big question mark.
All week long, the UFC did what it could to put across the message that Rousey was home. Back in the job in which the world came to know her. Even in absentia—Rousey refused to do standard pre-fight media—the promotion plastered the message wherever and whenever it could.
"She's back," it said, often in a way that ignored or erased the actual women's bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes.
Take a look, for instance, at a tweet the UFC fired off to its 4.8 million followers about an hour before the UFC 207 pay-per-view began. If you just glance at it, it appears Rousey is fighting herself. To some degree, she was.
Rousey disappeared from public view after being knocked out by Holly Holm in November 2015 and mostly stayed ghost until materializing in Las Vegas for fight week 412 days later.
In the few times she had spoken, or that her words became public, it seemed as though the emotional effects of her devastating loss continued to haunt her. She told Ellen DeGeneres suicide had entered her mind. Dana White told Jay & Dan she felt betrayed by the media. A profile of her by ESPN's Ramona Shelburne suggested that Rousey had lost her motivation for fighting.
Until we could see her, "She's back" was only literal. Yes, we could prove she was physically there, but her performance? Her aura?
They are gone now.
Rousey might be too, after a crushing defeat, a beatdown that saw referee Herb Dean mercifully save her after 48 harrowing seconds.
All this time after her first loss, Rousey showed no improvements to the head movement issues that plagued her in her loss to Holly Holm. She was upright and available, almost inviting trouble, and Nunes obliged, battering Rousey first with a left hook that wobbled her, then with a series of powerful rights.
Rousey showed tremendous heart in her loss to Holm and did so this time as well. She simply didn't do enough to avoid the hammers heading her way. One shot after another landed, and Rousey managed to stay on her feet, teetering and defenseless until the end. Then she stood there in a mixture of confusion, shock and defeat.
"I knew I was gonna beat the s--t out of Ronda Rousey like that," Nunes said in her in-cage post-fight interview, ice cold like the performance that proceeded it.
It's hard to imagine Rousey coming back from that, a beating even faster and more lopsided than the one that sent her into a tailspin last time around. She has options in Hollywood, she has businesses outside the cage, and she has money in the bank—she earned a $3 million guaranteed purse plus pay-per-view points, according to MMA Fighting.
More importantly, peace is out there for her. She won't find it in the cage and in the eye of the storm that surrounds her.
It's clear Rousey can't stand the spotlight, that her skin is too thin for the criticism that comes with the fight game, even though the sport usually welcomes back the same vanquished fighters it once jeered.
It's a human response to hold disrespect close to the bone, but it's hardly ever productive. Still, that was what was supposedly fueling Rousey, who went so far as to trademark the acronym "FTA," (F--k them all, if you're wondering), a middle finger toward her critics.
Despite it all, the Las Vegas crowd was firmly in Rousey's corner at both the Thursday weigh-ins and Friday night's fight, trying to lift a rattled fighter to her former glory.
In contrast to Rousey, Nunes, once seen as a mercurial talent capable of far more than she had accomplished, came into the fight riding a wave of confidence. In succession, she had defeated four straight, with stoppages over Shayna Baszler, Sara McMann and Miesha Tate—the last winning her the title.
Armed with a powerful yet occasionally wild striking game and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Nunes brought the full complement of skills and physicality tailor-made to offer Rousey fits.
As the fight approached, Nunes voiced respect for her opponent for paving the road and for giving her the biggest platform of her career. But privately, she had watched enough Rousey video to see the holes in her standup, the confidence that chipped away with each blow landed.
It didn't take long for her to do the same.
All this time later, nothing had changed. Rousey still had the holes in her striking that could be exposed. Her head was still upright. Her confidence could be cracked. She was mortal.
And most likely, she will process defeat the same way too.
If she disappeared for over a year last time, maybe this time she never comes back. She has given plenty to the sport already. She broke the gender line and pulled three divisions of women into the UFC behind her. She built a small army of fans. For a time, she was dominant.
That time is over now.
"Forget about Ronda Rousey," Nunes said. "She's going to go do movies. ... That's it for her. For sure she's going to retire."
Rousey barely waited until the final result was read to leave the cage. She picked at her gloves, ignored the champion's parting words and walked down the steps, past the fans and media, and vanished.