In the midst of what is regularly the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s biggest week of the year, one the greatest stars in the organization’s chronicle took her rightful place.
More than 18 months removed from what stands as her final mixed martial arts fight and years removed from forging a path as a dominant and transcendent trailblazer who crossed over into the mainstream, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, the first UFC women’s champion, became the first female UFC Hall of Famer.
Accepting the honor and speaking in front of a cheerful and emotional audience on Thursday night at the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas as part of the UFC’s International Fight Week, Rousey’s speech was very much a heartfelt thank you to her fans.
After drinking in the applause following her introduction by UFC President Dana White, her words of thanks came from the onset and endured throughout her speech.
“From the bottom of, just not the bottom of my heart, but my soul, my toes, my being, I want to thank you,” she said. “The only reason why anything that I ever did had any effect on the world was because you took the time and 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 of this possible. I’m not the first person who had the ability to do this, but I am here because I am the first person you took the time to watch — that you put the energy into supporting. Because of you I am the first woman standing up here accepting this incredible honor. May I be the first of many.”
Rousey was the first woman signed to a UFC contract, was the first UFC women’s champion after the organization bought out Strikeforce of which she was the reigning bantamweight (135 pounds) titlist and was the first woman to prevail in a UFC bout when she defeated Liz Carmouche with her signature armbar in the first round of their historic main event at UFC 157 in Anaheim on Feb. 23, 2013.
“We changed what it means to fight like a girl,” Rousey said Thursday.
For the duration of her career, Rousey trained at the Glendale Fighting Club under coach Edmond Tarverdyan, who was seen in the audience on camera during the ceremony, which was streamed live on UFC Fight Pass.
Rousey, who’s currently a member of the World Wrestling Entertainment roster, built a 12-2 career record, claiming all of her victories via stoppage with nine via armbar, and became a true crossover star as the Strikeforce and UFC women’s bantamweight champion showed up in major motion pictures such as “Entourage” and “The Expendables 3”.
Her laundry list of firsts was myriad and included becoming the first MMA fighter to win the “Best Fighter” ESPY in 2015 and on two occasions won the ESPY for “Best Female Athlete.”
She has appeared on myriad television shows, in multiple movies, released her autobiography “My Fight/Your Fight” and has plenty of projects on the horizon.
It all came to be thanks to her dominance in MMA, but also her ability to convince White to bring women’s fighting into the UFC octagon.
Just more than five years after she won the first women’s fight in the UFC, White, a close friend of Rousey’s, inducted the former champion.
“When I famously said women would never fight in the UFC, I had never met Ronda Rousey,” White said Thursday. “I had never met the woman who would change everything. She started by changing my mind; she ended up changing the world.
“She broke barriers, smashed records and put together the most dominant run by any athlete that anybody had ever seen in combat sports at the time.”
Thursday marked Rousey’s first time taking center stage for the UFC in Las Vegas since Dec. 30, 2016 in a title defeat to Amanda Nunes via knockout in just 48 seconds.
Though the loss cluttered the view of many of just what Rousey had accomplished previously, she recorded six of her professional wins — amazingly — in quicker fashion.
She defended her UFC title six times, with wins against Bethe Correia, Cat Zingano and Alexis Davis coming in less than 40 seconds.
A two-time Olympic judoka for the United States, she was the first US woman to win a medal when she took home bronze in 2008.
From the start, she blew through three amateur bouts in a span of six months with a trio of armbar submissions, with each one less than a minute.
Rousey’s professional career followed dominant suit as she went 4-0 with armbar submissions coming inside a minute in all of them.
She then challenged Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce championship — then the most highly recognized women’s title in the sport. Rousey bested Tate, who would become a career rival, in 4:27 of the first round on March 3, 2012 to claim the championship.
She would enjoy a run of 12 straight victories to begin her career and storm to worldwide notoriety.
“Ronda put women’s fighting on the map and she blazed a trail for the next generation to follow. Outside the octagon, she was a breakout star like we’d never seen before,” White said. “For millions of young women, Ronda Rousey launched a revolution.”
Joining Rousey in the UFC Hall of Fame class was Matt Serra, who famously defeated Georges St. Pierre in a UFC welterweight title upset seen by many as the biggest of all-time.
That was challenged when Rousey was finally dethroned.
She was upset by Holly Holm on Nov. 14, 2015 in front of the UFC’s largest live crowd ever at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia as a reported 56,214 fans saw Rousey’s reign conclude via head-kick knockout in her second-to-last bout.
She returned Thursday as she was joined in the class of 2018 by Serra, Art Davie, Bruce Connal and the classic first fight between Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
She returned and was bestowed thanks by White and a welcoming crowd.
“She inspired [women] to believe in themselves and to dream bigger than they ever had before. She empowered them to fight for what they want in life and refuse to take never for an answer,” he said. “In the history of the UFC, only Ronda transcended the sport and became a cultural icon. …She’s beautiful, she’s brilliant, she’s bad-ass, she’s an Olympian, she’s a UFC game-changer, she’s a UFC Hall of Famer.”
But as Rousey made UFC history once more and was adorned by her former boss with praise and accomplishment, her words were those of thanks to the people who paid to watch her change the world.
“When someone tells you that something cannot be done, I want you to prove them wrong,” she said. “We have had this incredible journey and it really was an honor to be able to live it with you.
“The only reason any of this mattered was because you were watching.”