For anyone who didn’t watch Ronda Rousey’s fight career as it happened, it might be impossible to explain what a bolt of lightning she was. Crashing herself down with little forewarning, Rousey jolted heads with an arresting combination of fighting talent and loquaciousness, forced her way into a promotion that had previously held no place for women, and then seemed to disappear as quickly as she arrived.
On Thursday night in Las Vegas, she returned to the UFC — one night only — to accept her induction into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
Appearing happy and humbled, Rousey received her honor directing the entirety of her five-minute speech to the fans.
“You know I’m not a person who usually struggles to find words. From the bottom of my heart my soul, my toes, my entire being, I want to thank you,” she said. “For the first decade of my athletic career, I was at the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment and no one seemed to care. Nothing changed, and then you came along. The only reason why anything that I ever did had any effect on the world is because you took the time to let it affect you.
“Words will never express how humbled I am that you gave me the honor of being the person that made all this possible,” she continued. “I’m not the first person who had the ability to do this, but I am here because I’m the first person you took the time to watch.”
When the MMA world last saw Rousey, it could hardly draw a word out of her. In December 2016, a year moved from her crushing knockout loss to Holly Holm, she showed up to UFC 207 fight week in silence, went out of her way to avoid any camera or microphone pointed in her direction, and after a 48-second knockout loss to Amanda Nunes, left without offering a goodbye.
In some ways, her speech felt like that farewell.
Though she offered no specific thanks to anyone aside from the fans — not UFC president Dana White, who inducted her; not her husband Travis Browne; not any of her opponents — she offered a more universal message of fighting in the face of adversity.
“Because of you, I am the first woman standing up here accepting this incredible honor,” she said. “May I be the first of many. I look around and think, together we built this, this division, this sport, this revolution. Together we have redefined what it means to be strong, to be sexy. We have changed what it means to ‘fight like a girl.’”
Rousey’s entire MMA career lasted just over five years, yet it took her barely a year into the sport to make the impression that would change her life as well as the lives of female pro fighters. In March 2012, Rousey faced her most noted rival, Miesha Tate, in Strikeforce. Less than a year earlier, White had publicly declared that women would never compete in the UFC Octagon, but after watching the match and the excitement surrounding Rousey’s submission win, he became a convert.
“Doing this I’ve learned many valuable lessons. One is ‘never say never,’” White said, poking a bit of fun at himself while inducting Rousey.
His faith proved well-founded. For the next seven fights, including her Octagon debut against Liz Carmouche in the first-ever women’s UFC bout, Rousey tore through opposition with blinding speed. Aside from her second fight with Tate, who managed to get to the third round in the rematch, Rousey seemed to make it a personal challenge to humiliate her opponents inside of one round, and mostly with her signature armbar submission.
While many critics have been critical of her opponent strength of schedule through the benefit of hindsight, such reexaminations seem unfair. After all, during her run, Rousey defeated two former Strikeforce champions (Tate and Sarah Kaufman), an Olympian (2004 freestyle wrestling silver medalist Sara McMann), and longtime top contender Cat Zingano, among others.
She finished her career with a record of 12-2, and notched a series of notable UFC firsts, including: first female UFC fighter; first UFC bantamweight champion, first woman to headline a 1 million selling pay-per-view, which she did twice; and now, first female UFC Hall of Famer.
She enters the Hall as a member of the Modern Wing, joining Forrest Griffin, B.J. Penn and Urijah Faber. She was joined in the 2018 class by former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra, UFC creator and co-founder Art Davie, and television producer Bruce Connal, while the epic Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua UFC 139 match was added as a Hall of Fame fight.
In some ways, there was a theme running through the inductees of overcoming incredible odds. Davie helped create a lasting sport out of thin air and against conventional norms; Serra authored the most incredible upset in the sport’s history; and Rousey helped create opportunity where before there was none. Wins and losses aside, hers is an indelible legacy of shattering expectations, glass ceilings and arms.