As a prelude to this post, let me state from the start, that Ronda Rousey had a huge impact on the UFC and paved the way for women to compete in the UFC. An enormous inspiration to countless girls and women, she was a true pioneer. Unfortunately, she has suffered a spectacular fall.
As most of you know, Amanda Nunes knocked out Ronda Rousey in devastating fashion on Friday night. Following her stunning loss to Holly Holm in November 2015, Ronda went into seclusion. Most fans thought that she would absorb the lesson of that shocking loss. Holm had exposed Ronda’s lack of head movement, lackluster boxing footwork, absent defensive maneuvers and a non-existent counter-striking game. Holm showed that the formula to beating Ronda was through boxing/striking. Many fans hoped to witness Ronda’s triumphant return. Alas, the fight ended horribly for Ronda.
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In hindsight, Ronda and her trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan, had at least two opportunities to correct the deficiencies in her skill set.
First, she and her camp knew Holly Holm’s game plan in that first loss. Holm came from a professional boxing background before transitioning into MMA. Indeed, Ronda forecast Holm’s probable strategy on a late night appearance as I discussed in this post. Yet despite knowing this, she did not have a game plan to defend against Holm’s boxing skills. We all know the result. Holm’s punching tactics, superior footwork, and great use of angles dictated the outcome.
One would think, in the 13 months since that loss, she and Tarverdyan would have undertaken a crash course in boxing, footwork, and head movement in order to avoid a repeat loss. After all, she needed a way to bridge the gap and close the distance. Without effective boxing skills, she would otherwise eat punches as she tried to close the gap. Above all, she needed to eliminate the telegraphic bull rush.
An ESPN article, written two weeks before the bout with Nunes, indicates that Ronda and her camp arranged for training in boxing. In relevant part, the article says:
Last month, he flew in Olympic boxer Mikaela Mayer for a week of sparring. Just boxing — no judo or grappling or jiujitsu. It looked exactly like their backgrounds suggested: Mayer stayed outside, trying to run up points without getting caught. Rousey tried to get inside, where she’s strongest, then had to turn off her instinct to take Mayer down to the ground.
Granted, we don’t know how much Ronda boxed during her training camp or the quality of boxing instruction. Judging by the results, the training did not pay off. Either the training did not take or the quality of instruction was poor.
Judging by comments on Facebook and elsewhere, Tarverdyan has come under withering criticism after Nunes’ beatdown of Ronda. Some point to the fact that his stable of fighters has not done well recently. Others have pointed out that Ronda appeared to be poorly prepared for both losses. Other have cited other trainers as having the ability to bring out the best in their fighters. All fair criticisms.
However, I have the following thoughts:
(1) I think that while the criticism of Tarverdyan is fair, Ronda bears responsibility for both losses as well. Despite her Mom’s strong opinion, Ronda refused to ditch Tarverdyan in favor of another trainer/coach who might have saved her career. Whether she stuck with Tarverdyan out of misplaced loyalty is anyone’s guess. Bottom line, her decision to stick with Taverdyan may have ruined her career.
(2) Tarverdyan may well have done a crappy job of teaching Ronda basic boxing skills. On the other hand, could she have been unwilling to learn? Who knows? She would not be the first one to tune out her coach. Did she model herself after Georges St. Pierre, who was well known for his willingness to travel anywhere and seek out the best instruction available? From what I see, Ronda does not have that mindset. That’s on her.
(3) Is she a one trick pony? Perhaps her judo background had become a crutch to the exclusion of other needed skill sets. Some argue that she needed to upgrade her striking skills in order to close the gap for her Judo takedowns.
Others argue that Tarverdyan should have played to her strength and focused more on mobility and agility in order to set up her takedowns. Perhaps some bobbing and weaving like the early Tyson with angling footwork would have worked for her. This argument has some merit.
However, on the whole, I am not persuaded by this argument. I think that upgraded striking skills combined with more mobility would have helped. After all, the next generation of fighters, like Nunes, is going to be more well-rounded strikers, kickers, and grapplers.
A great coach might have demanded more of Ronda and forced her to diversify her skill set. That, however, presupposes that the student will listen and is willing to be pushed out of their comfort zone.
(4) Some have suggested that Ronda allowed herself to get distracted by the trappings of fame and a promising career in Hollywood. One cannot blame Tarverdyan for this. In all fairness to Ronda, fame is often a crushing burden. Fame has often distorted reality for those caught in its trappings. Again, a great coach might have intervened and put a stop to all this Hollywood nonsense. Who knows?
(5) A potentially valid criticism of Taverdyan concerns his handling of Ronda’s mental state. Ronda admitted that she contemplated suicide after the Holm fight. This indicates that her psyche was quite fragile. If her psyche was still shaky prior to entering the Octagon on Friday night, she then had no business being there. Tarverdyan and her camp should have been looking out for her…..or were they looking for a payday?
Not all athletes’ psyches are created equal. Some display more resiliency than others. Sugar Ray Leonard bounced back from a tough loss to Roberto Duran to defeat him in a rematch several months later. Some others never recover from a devastating loss and are haunted for the rest of their lives. Ronda may have never gotten over the loss to Holm and was, therefore, not in the right frame of mind for the recent bout with Nunes.
Bottom line, I think that Ronda’s destiny mostly was in her hands. Her state of mind should have been at DEFCON 1 after the Holm fight. The dismantling by Holm should have sounded the klaxons and spurred Ronda to make massive changes. Clearly, her mother, AnnaMaria De Mars, a world class judoka in her own right, sensed this and urged Ronda to dump Tarverdyan. Unfortunately, Ronda did not heed her mother’s advice. Her admitted despondency may have unfortunately prevented her from making the necessary changes.
I see several life lessons in Ronda’s saga.
First, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (i.e, relying almost exclusively on Judo/grappling). Second, getting out of your comfort zone, while painful, will benefit you. Thirdly, and this is easier said than done, have the courage to look in the mirror after a devastating setback and make the necessary changes. I acknowledge that this presupposes a clear state of mind and resiliency. As I said, her despondency may have prevented her from making the right decision. Who knows?
As I stated at the beginning, many owe a debt of gratitude to Ronda for her pioneering ways and opening the door for many female MMA fighters to pursue their dream. Her downfall is an all too human story of coping with the crushing burden of fame, the devastating consequences of hubris, poor coaching, and her poor decisions. I am concerned, in light of her suicide ideations after the Holm loss, about her mental state. I hope that she recovers from this loss and moves forward in some fashion.