If you thought Ronda Rousey’s 2015 defeat to Holly Holmes signalled the end of her MMA career, the beating she took at the hands of Amanda Nunes in December would seem to be the final nail in the coffin.
The psychological toll of Rousey’s first professional loss over a year ago, which sent her into hiding for six months, has been compounded by the defeat to Nunes, who knocked out Rousey in less than a minute.
As a result, Rousey’s future in the octagon is in doubt, while some worry about her mental state.
Her recent Instagram post suggests the soon-to-be 30-year-old is at least beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Overconfidence, holding false beliefs of invincibility, and aggressive competitiveness motivated by unresolved anger are just some of the psychological traps athletes can fall into which can make overcoming major upsets especially difficult.
Despite the mounting odds against her successful return, elite-level sports psychologist Douglas Smith has faith that Rousey can get back on top of her game but says it will be impossible for her to do it without the right kind of help.
Prior to getting into mixed martial arts at age 21, Rousey had a long career in elite sport, competing in judo at two Olympic Games before retiring in 2008.
Based on how devastated she seemed after her MMA defeats, she may have had little sense of her identity outside of sport — something Smith says is “extremely common,” especially among athletes who become stars at a young age.
“When there’s isn’t the balance, there aren’t other areas where they can be a ‘star’ in the sense of self-esteem,” says Smith, who has worked with high-profile athletes from various sports. “It’s very understandable for someone to [mentally] crash when there’s an injury or there is a major defeat or loss.”
Smith says that, in order to be mentally heathy, athletes must have the tools to deal with all scenarios— wins, defeats and extreme injury.
‘Anything is possible’
A triumphant return to the octagon may seem unlikely at the moment for Rousey, but Smith believes it’s possible if she works at it.
“The whole mental side of sport is about resilience, and that doesn’t come because you are born with it,” Smith says. “It’s something that must be developed and trained. I know a lot of athletes don’t believe they can create miracles, but they can.
“There are countless examples of athletes that are able to achieve the seemingly impossible — Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile in 1954, or Gordie Howe playing processional hockey into his 50s. So anything is possible if you get the right kind of help.”
Whether or not she continues her MMA career, Rousey’s legion of fans certainly hope she gets whatever help she needs.