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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Champion Fighter, the Loss and Life Worth Living...

Down and out...
In many ways, Ronda Rousey was to Women's Mixed Martial Arts Fighting what Clubber Lang was to movie boxing in Rocky III ; a ferocious competitor, who beat most of her opponents in the first round and was so dominant that ESPN once called her the "Best Female Athlete EVER."

At the ripe old age of 29, she was on top of her sport, having been crowned the Ultimate Fighting Championship's Bantamweight Champion in 2012, appearing on magazine covers, starring in Hollywood movies and TV shows, and becoming UFC's highest paid fighter (and that includes men!).

She had looks.  She had success.  She had fame. She had fortune. She had respect.

Then came Holly Holm; a preacher's daughter, who was more experienced but much less touted, despite having been a boxing and kickboxing champion.  Holm was a consensus underdog in the bout and the only question was whether she would make it past the first round.

Clubber was one mean dude...
As it turns out, Holm did get past the first and, in the second round, she pulled a Clubber Lane versus Rocky (first movie fight) herself, knocking out the heavily favored Rousey.  It was like Buster Douglas (the man who first defeated Mike Tyson) all over again.

While doctors and trainers attended to the battered, bloodied, toothless (she lost a tooth!) and confused Rousey on the mat on that November night in Melbourne, Australia, Holm raised her arms in victory. She had stunned the MMA boxing world and become the unlikely UFC Bantamweight Champion. Who'd have thunk it?  (In fact, it was so improbable that Holm lost the title a few months later!)

Rousey, meanwhile, was left despondent and broken.  Her rising star coming to a crashing halt almost as fast as Rick Perry's 2016 presidential aspirations.  And, as she sat in the corner of the medical room she was taken, she admitted to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, last month, that she considered ending her life.

"What am I any more if I’m not this?  And I was literally sitting there and thinking about killing myself and that exact second I’m like, ‘I’m nothing, what do I do any more and no one gives a [expletive] about me any more without this."

It was a somber and earnest admission that sadly, reflects the thinking of many people in our society; who define themselves by what they do.

Short lived  champ Holly Holm...
As I read about Rousey's comments several days later, I was dismayed.  How could someone so young, attractive and successful think about ending her life, because, she lost a fight?  Really?  Is that what her life was relegated to?  

The more I pondered the question, the more I thought that it all comes down to a lack of fulfillment, regardless of her many accomplishments.

It reminded me of St. Thomas Aquinas' four substitutes for God; money, power, pleasure and fame, all of which Rousey apparently had (at least from the outside looking in).  But, there had to be something missing.

I don't know about Rousey, but, as I reflected on my own life, what was missing for a good part of it, and no matter how much I tried, I could never fill it, was God.

Several weeks ago, our parish men's group held a discussion on the topic, "Who am I" and I couldn't help but think of Rousey.

We are not defined by what we do professionally, how many awards, titles or accolades we earn, or how much money we have in the bank.  We are not defined by our looks, our possessions, our sexual orientation, or how much power we wield.  We are defined by who we are; children of God, made in His image and likeness, and as such, endowed with a God-given dignity that can never be erased by any failure, no matter how great (even losing a Championship fight), or sin.  And, that, to me at least, is reassuring and gives my life meaning and purpose.

I may never achieve what Rousey has accomplished (although my wife and I are working hard on getting me to my ultimate fighting weight!), or having as much success or notoriety (Not that I would look good on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit issue but, you never know).  Nevertheless, I have something that maybe Rousey lacks, at least according to what she conveyed.  I have a sense of happiness and fulfillment that can only be filled by God.  I know that God loves me for who I am, no matter what I do or fail to do.  Hence, I have nothing to prove except to myself.

The eye of the tiger...
In the interview with Ellen, Rousey went on about that fateful loss, and the thought that made her come to her senses, "I looked up and I saw my man Travis [Browne] was standing up there and I looked up at him and I was like, ‘I need to have his babies. I need to stay alive.’ I was like — really, that was it."

She continued, "I did a lot of thinking and I was like, why did this happen?  Why did it have to happen like this?  I do believe all the best things happen from the worst things."

We only have to look at a Crucifix to see how insightful that last statement is.  To paraphrase Bishop Robert Barron, "From the most grotesque instrument of torture ever conceived by man comes greatest joy ever known to humanity."

Now, four months later, as she recovers and looks forward to her rematch with Holm (Or Miesha Tate, who defeated Holm), where she will surely try to channel the Clubber Lang from within, it is evident that, after all the anguish and pain, Rousey once again seeing that, as the old Fulton Sheen show was named, 'life is worth living.'...

Check out the interview with Ellen...

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