Ronda Rousey’s long and twisting path back to the Octagon

(Photo by Scott Barbour /Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

(Ronda Rousey returns to the Octagon on Friday in Las Vegas against Amanda Nunes. Here’s a look at what the former champ’s world has been like since her crushing defeat at the hands — and legs — of Holly Holm.)

Nov. 14, 2015

Ronda Rousey walked into Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, as a near 12-to-1 favorite over Holly Holm in what was her seventh title defense of the UFC women’s bantamweight championship.

In the weeks leading up to the title fight, Rousey had talked non-stop about retiring from the sport undefeated and leaving a legacy that would count her as the greatest fighter of all time. Rousey also planned to take some much needed time off following a busy 2015, which included three title fights as well as filming two movies that opened nationwide.

Beating Holm was supposed to be a foregone conclusion as Rousey approached the new year with plans for the lead role in the “Road House” remake as well as a film project called “Mile 22,” where she would star alongside Mark Wahlberg.

Fifty-nine seconds into the second round of the fight, Rousey’s world turned upside down.

(Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images/Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

It was clear after the first five minutes spent in the cage with Holm that Rousey was outgunned when taking on the former boxing champion on their feet and her takedowns to change up the strategy weren’t working.

Rousey’s head coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, didn’t offer much advice between rounds and that told her the brutal truth about what had transpired — for the first time in her career, she had lost a round in a fight.

Instead, Tarverdyan said that Rousey’s performance was “beautiful” and only addressed Holm’s left hand and hook, while not mentioning her kicks at all during that one-minute rest session.

When the second round started, Rousey was still somewhat dazed. She came after Holm with the same kind of aggression that kept her undefeated through her first 12 fights. Unfortunately this time, Rousey’s pursuit played right into the hands of Holm, who constantly battered her with counter left hands until she tagged her with a hard shot that staggered the former Olympic bronze medalist.

Rousey stumbled for a moment and when she stood up and turned around, Holm met her with a kick that absolutely bludgeoned her in the head and neck before she fell like a statue that had been toppled, crashing to the ground.

The fight was over. Rousey had been defeated. And it wasn’t close.

Later that night, while Holm answered questions about her upset victory, Rousey was nowhere to be found. She didn’t stick around for the customary post-fight interview with Joe Rogan and she didn’t appear at the post-fight press conference, either.

Rousey had a good excuse, as she was on her way to a local hospital for treatment after the head-rattling knockout. Rumors abounded that Rousey suffered a broken jaw and that explained why she wasn’t doing any interviews. It turns out, Rousey had to get her lip stitched up and she definitely suffered some damage to her mouth.

The only message Rousey passed along was a post on Instagram, where she thanked everyone for the love and support while stating that she was “fine” physically. Other than that post, Rousey left Australia without saying another word.

(Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images/Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Nov. 17, 2015

Three days after the loss to Holm, Rousey flew home to Los Angeles and there’s little doubt it was a long and painful flight. As soon as she landed, Rousey was bombarded by the paparazzi, who were awaiting her arrival after word leaked that she would be flying home that day.

When Rousey finally exited the terminal, she was flanked by her boyfriend — UFC heavyweight Travis Browne — while she walked through the airport with a hood over her head and a pillow covering her face. Like most fighters, Rousey undoubtedly was showing the aftereffects of the battle, but it was clear she didn’t want to make eye contact with anybody.

Dec. 8, 2015

About three weeks after her loss to Holm, Rousey gave her first interview, speaking with ESPN about the events that unfolded in the first defeat of her professional fighting career.

Rousey admitted she shut herself off from the world in the aftermath of the fight and went on a secluded trip with Browne to get away from the spotlight for a few days. It was supposed to be a celebratory vacation. Instead, it became Rousey’s way of dealing with the pain of defeat.

“I’m just really (expletive) sad,” Rousey said. “I need to come back. I need to beat this chick. Who knows if I’m going to pop my teeth out or break my jaw or rip my lip open. I have to (expletive) do it.”

Rousey also explained how things went so wrong in the fight with Holm long before the head kick landed that knocked her out cold.

According to Rousey, she wast hit in the first round and that left her dazed and confused and she never recovered. When Holm blasted her with the head kick, Rousey was already close to being finished.

(Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
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“I got hit in that first round, I cut my lip open and knocked a couple of my teeth loose. I was out on my feet from the very beginning,” Rousey explained.

“It was like a dumbed-down dreamy version of yourself making decisions. I was just trying to shake myself out of it. I kept saying to myself, ‘You’re OK, keep fighting. You’re OK, keep fighting.’ I just feel so embarrassed. How I fought after that is such an embarrassing representation of myself. I wasn’t even (expletive) there.”

Rousey also said that it would probably be at least three to six months before she could really take an impact again, which only fueled speculation about when she would actually be able to fight.

Almost immediately after the fight with Holm, UFC president Dana White had started teasing a rematch, but Rousey’s injuries seemed to prevent that from happening any time soon. For now, Rousey was just focused on recovery and getting her head right.

Jan. 23, 2016

In early January, Rousey was announced as the first MMA fighter who would host an episode of “Saturday Night Live.” While her loss was still fresh in everybody’s mind, Rousey was still the focus of several upcoming films and ongoing projects that kept her name in the spotlight for her budding acting career.

Rousey appeared on the show, and during her opening monologue she congratulated Holm on her victory for the first time.

Rousey had taken a lot of flack for not addressing Holm’s win in either of her initial statements, either through social media or in her interview, but she finally took the time to speak directly to Holm while appearing on the late-night show.

“This is the first time I’m talking to my fans since I lost to Holly Holm in November, which, by the way, was a fight Holly deserved to win,” Rousey said. “And I just wanted to take a minute to sincerely congratulate her.”

Rousey went on to perform in several sketches on “Saturday Night Live,’’ her first real public appearance since the loss at UFC 193.

Feb. 16, 2016

Rousey made an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” During the conversation, Rousey struggled to fight back tears and admitted to having suicidal thoughts in the first seconds after waking up from the knockout and realizing that she was not going to retire undefeated and that everything she worked so hard to achieve had come crashing down.

“I was sitting in the corner and I was like, ‘What am I anymore if I’m not this?’ I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself in that exact second,” Rousey revealed. “I’m like, ‘I’m nothing.’ I’m like, ‘What do I do anymore? And no one gives a (expletive) about me anymore without this.’”

According to Rousey, spotting Browne snapped her out of that state of mind, but it certainly described the depths she traveled to in those waning seconds after suffering the knockout loss.

“To be honest, I looked up and I saw my man Travis was standing there and I looked up at him and I was like I need to have his babies, I need to stay alive. Really that was it,” Rousey said.

“I think I’ve only told him that, but that’s what I was thinking. I was meant to have him when I was at my lowest. I don’t know if I would have made it without him.”

While the interview mostly addressed what happened in that fight, Rousey still had her sights set on avenging the loss to Holm and hopefully reclaiming the belt she defended six times previously.

“Of course I want to fight Holly, I want to beat her and make everything right again,” Rousey said. “I want to be the one to beat her.”

March 5, 2016

As much as the UFC wanted to book the rematch between Rousey and Holm, the fight just wasn’t going to come together as planned. White had announced in January that Rousey was taking an extended break from action and would not be returning at UFC 200 in July, which was the targeted date he wanted for the fight with Holm.

At the time, Rousey was also planning on filming the “Road House” remake and another film project that would keep her busy away from the Octagon.

So Holm decided to keep busy and booked a title fight with Miesha Tate at UFC 196.

Tate had already been declared the No. 1 contender in the women’s division before Holm was even set to fight Rousey, but because she had already lost to the former champion on two occasions, the UFC opted to go with the new matchup instead.

(Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images/Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

Tate walked into the fight with Holm as an underdog but quickly showcased why she had been a stalwart near the top of the rankings throughout her entire career as she gave the new champion everything she could handle.

Still after four rounds it appeared Holm would survive to defend her title while preserving the rematch with Rousey later in the year.

Unfortunately, Holm made a critical error when Tate got her to the ground and quickly took her back before fishing for a submission. It didn’t take Tate long to find a grip on a rear naked choke as she squeezed with everything left in her arms until Holm finally went limp.

The referee stopped the bout as Tate ripped up in celebration, finally realizing her dream to become UFC women’s bantamweight champion.

The loss not only cost Holm the title but likely a rematch with Rousey when she finally decided to make her return to action.

Aug. 23, 2016

At UFC 200, with Rousey still on hiatus, Tate ended up fighting and falling to Amanda Nunes in a stunning first-round upset in the main event. Tate ultimately only held the women’s title for four months before a new champion was crowned, but there was still no sign of Rousey returning to reclaim her throne.

In April, Rousey had appeared in New York after the state officially legalized mixed martial arts and she stood by while Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law. Rousey’s appearance had many believing that she would be the star who would headline the UFC’s first show in New York City at historic Madison Square Garden that November.

Sadly, White dashed everybody’s hopes when he announced on an episode of “UFC Unfiltered” that Rousey was still not ready to return and she wasn’t going to fight on the card on Nov. 12.

“She’s definitely not fighting in New York,” White revealed.

At the time, White could only say that “nothing” was set in stone for Rousey’s return, but he hoped she would make an appearance by the end of the year or in early 2017.

While she clearly wasn’t ready to fight, Rousey was also dealing with delays in her film career after both projects she had planned to work on in 2016 had suddenly stalled. The “Road House” remake never went into production and “Mile 22” with Mark Wahlberg seemingly sputtered out in development.

Oct. 12, 2016

The UFC still hadn’t declared a date for Rousey’s return, but in late September, FOX Sports learned through sources that she had been offered a fight with new champion Amanda Nunes on Dec. 30 at UFC 207 in Las Vegas.

Nunes had already verbally accepted the matchup, but she was waiting on Rousey to officially declare whether she was going to take the fight.

Finally, White appeared on “The Herd” with Colin Cowherd where he revealed that Rousey was ready to stage her comeback against Nunes on the final card of 2016.

Rousey would get the chance to take back the title while also looking to prove that she was truly back from the loss suffered to Holm nearly a year earlier.

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Nov. 1, 2016

For the first time since the fight was announced, Rousey appeared — alongside Ellen DeGeneres for the second time, where she addressed the matchup with Nunes.

While Rousey didn’t have much to say about the current women’s bantamweight champion, she did address her future with the sport. Rousey said that her matchup with Nunes would be one of the final times she would step foot in the Octagon. She couldn’t speculate on how many fights she had left, but the number was quickly dwindling toward zero.

“Not that long. I’m wrapping it up,” Rousey responded when asked how much time she had left in mixed martial arts.

“This is definitely one of my last fights. Everybody better watch because the show isn’t going to be around forever.”

With Rousey’s financial success both inside and outside the UFC it was easy to believe that she was thinking about calling it a career, but now she confirmed that her retirement from fighting was looming overhead going into her fight on Dec. 30.

Rousey has never stated the number of fights she has left in her before retiring, but it’s clear the clock is already ticking to count down to the end.

Nov. 11, 2016

With all eyes on the historic UFC 205 event at Madison Square Garden, the promotion surprised everybody by introducing Rousey and Nunes after the official weigh-ins for a faceoff for the first time since their fight had been announced.

Rousey looked just as focused and determined as always as she stared down Nunes for a few moments while photographers snapped pictures. Afterward, Joe Rogan quickly interviewed Nunes while White did his best to hold onto Rousey before she pulled her arm away and stormed off stage.

It was only revealed later Rousey didn’t leave the stage because she didn’t want to be interviewed — it was because she was never supposed to talk in the first place.

“She was never supposed to speak and neither was Amanda,” White explained at the UFC 205 post-fight press conference. “My production guys screwed that thing up. It made Ronda look bad again like she just stormed off.

“They’re not supposed to do an interview. They were supposed to go up there, square off, and they’re both supposed to walk away.”

One thing was for certain with that face off — Rousey was definitely full of fire while looking at her first opponent since the stunning knockout almost exactly one year earlier.

Dec. 30, 2016

It all comes down to this day. Rousey will finally step back into the Octagon to compete as a challenger for the UFC women’s bantamweight title for the first time.

Rousey entered the UFC as champion after winning and defending the Strikeforce belt but now she’ll be the first fighter to enter the Octagon, not wearing championship colors as she prepares to face Nunes.

Oddsmakers have installed Rousey as the favorite, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions about where her head is at.

It also appears Rousey will avoid almost all media leading up to her bout with Nunes, instead favoring only a couple of outlets and interviews like the one she did with Conan O’Brien recently. Rousey has stated that rather than put her energy into promotion or outside distractions, she’s going to stay focused on the task at hand, and that’s defeating Nunes.

In one of the only other interviews Rousey has granted in the weeks leading up to this fight, she certainly sounds determined to get back to where she was before that fateful night in November 2015 when she was toppled by Holm.

“This is a time for redemption and revenge,” Rousey said. “All I care about is winning this (expletive) fight.”

(Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Zuffa LLC via Getty Images/Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC