Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Identity crisis

I don't pretend to be qualified to psychoanalyze anyone, let alone someone far more accomplished in her field than I will ever be in mine. All I can do, listening to Ronda Rousey's searing soul-search with Ellen Degeneres the other day, is feel a profound sadness.

That's because, amid tears and the shocking admission that she had briefly thought about suicide after losing to Holly Holm last November, she uttered perhaps the saddest line any of us will ever hear: “I was sitting in the corner and I was like what am I anymore if I am not this?"

Meaning, of course, that she was no longer the invincible warrior woman that was her public image, and one she embraced wholeheartedly. Seldom is existence so single-minded and passionate as it is in the combat sports, and Rousey was the uber-example of that: So seemingly unbeatable that even she
bought into her own invincibility, to the extent that she was trash-talking the world's greatest pound-for-pound boxer, Floyd Mayweather, and hinting that she could take him out.

It was, of course, absurd on its face, but perhaps a window into how completely Rousey's image had become self-image. And then Holm utterly destroyed her in a matter of minutes -- Rousey told egeneres she was basically out on her feet from the moment Holm landed the first punch -- and suddenly she was no longer the woman who would hand Mayweather his lunch. Suddenly she was, well, nothing, at least in her own mind.

That, too, is absurd, and any number of people who care about her no doubt have been telling her that since that night. And they're right. She remains one of the greatest champions MMA has ever seen, and she remains an engaging and saleable public figure besides.

What she is not, and never was, is invincible. No one ever has been in the history of sport.

But when it seems so, losing becomes not just losing -- you fall, you rise and you turn the loss into fuel -- but something irreversible. When your entire identity is that you're unbeatable, and then you get beat, you can't go back to being unbeatable again. And there goes your identity.

And so: "What am I anymore if I am not this?"

The best answer is, "Someone who fell, got up and kicked Holly Holm's ass in the rematch."  Which is exactly what Rousey should do, and (it says here) likely will once she has regained her emotional footing.

See, she may not be the invincible warrior anymore, but she's still a warrior. And if a rematch with Holm carries an enormous psychological risk -- what happens if she loses again? -- it's also what she needs to do, because it's who she is.

What is she anymore, if not this?

Still this.

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