I don’t know if you heard, but Ronda Rousey lost.
If you did hear, then you must have also heard from all the people who knew she would lose, who say she was overrated the whole time, and who believe that her lack of humility led to her fall from grace (as opposed to a well-prepared opponent who created matchup problems).
This shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. It’s the way humans think. The fact is, though, it did surprise me to see the narrative snap back so fast from “Ronda will just armbar her, obviously” to “I knew Ronda was overrated, and she got a big head from becoming a big star, and her moral failings led to her doom.”
There is a pithy modern reaction to this, which is: haters have a job, and that job is to hate.
There is also a deeper, less modern reaction, one that I think about often.
We love a hero. We also love it when a hero falls. When I say “we,” I mean “most human societies in recorded history.”
When you think about the haters posting about Ronda Rousey (or, when Holly Holm loses, Holly Holm), think about Sir James George Frazer’s book The Golden Bough.
Frazer studied old religions throughout the world, arguing that most centered around a God-king who would be worshipped — and periodically sacrificed. In many societies there were stories of gods who died at the harvest and were reincarnated in the spring. Legends like this, of divine death and rebirth, can be found in myths throughout the world.
What does this have to do with Ronda Rousey? With MMA? With anything? Patience, grasshopper, we’re talking about human ritual and myth here.
Check out this passage from The Golden Bough, talking about ancient African and Cambodian God-kings. Tell me it reminds you of anything.
“The danger is a formidable one; for if the course of nature is dependent on the man-god’s life, what catastrophes may not be expected from the gradual enfeeblement of his powers and their final extinction in death? There is only one way of averting these dangers. The man-god must be killed as soon as he shows symptoms that his powers are beginning to fail, and his soul must be transferred to a vigorous successor before it has been seriously impaired by the threatened decay.”
I knew that king wasn’t the true God. Or at the very least, I knew that the true God had deserted the king’s body to occupy someone else due to the current king’s moral failures. This someone else is the true God for sure. Now, to kill the king.
I knew Ronda Rousey was overrated. Or at the very least, I knew that her lack of humility and presence of moral failings would doom her. All hail Holly Holm: now, here’s a Photoshop of unconscious Ronda.
Is this an overblown comparison? Sure, in the sense that no one is literally going to kill a fallen undefeated fighter. But you see this nonsense being spouted whenever a high-profile person previously though untouchable falls. It happened with GSP. It happened with Anderson Silva. It happened throughout history, too, with higher consequences.
People need to seek meaning. Because we have the Internet now, we can see peoples’ exposition about What This Means in real-time, in a constant stream. This is a mixed blessing.
The people whose opinions I respect see a fight as a fight. One fighter appeared better prepared, with a well-defined game plan that she executed well. As a consequence, one fighter lost.
More of this, please. Technical analysis of why something happened can feel more bloodless than high-minded pronouncements about a person’s character, but it also has a lot more likelihood of being true.
The man-God doesn’t have to die. Neither does the woman-God. And frankly, we should stop treating flawed human beings — even majestically skilled athletes — as deities anyway.
Everyone loses. Let’s acknowledge what that means, and not lose sight of what it doesn’t mean.