(This story first appeared at USAToday.com.)
LAS VEGAS — A women’s fight is headlining the UFC’s summer showcase this week, and Ronda Rousey has no part in it.
That in itself is no surprise, given that the last time Rousey stepped into the octagon here she made it just 48 seconds. Her conqueror on that late December night, Amanda Nunes, will top the bill at UFC 213 on Saturday, defending her bantamweight title against Valentina Shevchenko in the main event.
However, in one of the most empowering weeks for female fighting that the UFC has ever had, Rousey isn’t just absent from the cage, but seems to be completely out of the sight and minds of the MMA community.
On Wednesday, the organization hosted a “Women of UFC” discussion panel as part of its “International Fight Week” series of events designed to bring fans into Las Vegas for several days, rather than just fight night.
Over the course of an hour and in front of several hundred fans, four prominent women’s UFC fighters and moderator Megan Olivi spoke about how far the sport has evolved, where it might be headed next and its position in providing role models to young girls and women.
And not once was Rousey’s name mentioned.
Popular fighter Paige VanZant said women “are here and we are taking this stage by storm.” Cristiane Justino, who will fight for the women’s featherweight title at UFC 214 later this month, lauded the way women now “have this opportunity to show we can fight like the men — and put on exciting fights.”
“We are not female fighters, we are just fighters,” said Michelle Waterson, who is on one of the covers of ESPN The Magazine’s latest “Body Issue” on newsstands Friday. Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk remembered a time when a UFC career was not even a dream for female athletes because the organization was steadfast in its refusal to add women’s divisions.
That was before UFC President Dana White changed his mind, which is to say that Rousey changed it for him. Virtually single-handedly, she convinced White to implement a women’s division, and he built it around her. With six crushing victories in two and a half years, she put women’s MMA on the map, gave female fighting both credibility and a superstar face and gained an army of worldwide fans.
MMA arguably is the toughest sport in the world, and it moves with remarkable haste. Champions become chumps at warp speed. Former superstars become quickly forgotten once their skills wane and their ranking dips.
Yet you never thought it would go like that for Rousey, at least not this quickly. As recently as November 2015, she was still seen as unbeatable, an all-conquering superwoman that the public couldn’t get enough of. A stunning defeat to Holly Holm followed and Rousey became a virtual recluse, before reappearing in December to be demolished by Nunes.
And just like that, the juggernaut was over. Rousey is now something else. No longer a fighter even perhaps, at least according to White, who thinks she will retire.
For now, she is a coach on ABC’s “Battle of the Network Stars” athletics competition, which is why she was on the “Live With Kelly and Ryan” couch on Wednesday. A couple of hours before the female UFC fighters spoke in Las Vegas, she regaled the talk show hosts with a few tidbits about her now ultra-secretive life.
Such controlled occasions are the only snippets she has shared with the public since the Holm defeat that left her kicked into unconsciousness and sent her career hurtling downhill.
In that sense, she doesn’t have to look far to find sympathy. On Saturday, Rousey is expected at the arena to support fiancé Travis Browne as he struggles to save his career against little-known heavyweight Aleksei Oleinik.
Browne has lost three straight, giving he and Rousey a combined 2-6 record since their relationship began.
One more defeat and he could be out of the organization and into obscurity. For an average men’s heavyweight, such things are not so unexpected. Rousey’s fall, and fade, has been far more surprising.
For more on UFC 213, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.