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Ronda Rousey looks to silence doubters at UFC 207

Former UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey managed to make headlines all week without saying one word.

After taking more than a year off following the first loss of her historic career, the mystery surrounding Rousey’s mentality leading into her return against Amanda Nunes in the main event of UFC 207 on Friday at T-Mobile Arena only intensified with her refusal to take questions about the fight or even address the media at all.

She finally broke the silence Wednesday night in a brief video that aired on Fox Sports 1’s “UFC Tonight” show.

“I don’t care how this pay per view does,” she said. “I don’t care how much money I make. I don’t care about interviews, and I don’t care how I look. All I care about is winning my belt back on Friday night, and that’s it.”

Rousey has built her profile to the point in which such an approach to promoting a fight is possible.

The only question she really has to answer won’t happen until the bell rings and Nunes’ powerful fists start flying in her direction. How Rousey responds is the most talked about storyline.

“I honestly don’t know,” Nunes said of how Rousey will perform. “I’m ready for everything. I just want to step in and see what she’s going to bring.”

BEST AT HER GAME

At her best, Rousey was untouchable. The Olympic bronze medalist in judo began her professional mixed martial arts career 12-0 with nine submissions and three knockouts. Only one fight got out of the first round.

Her lethal skills combined with Hollywood looks and a legendary work ethic as a promotional machine made her one of the biggest stars the sport has produced. Rousey, 29, paved the way for female fighters in the UFC and broke down barriers with every victory, every commercial and every movie offer.

Then came Nov. 15, 2015.

Rousey, more than a minus-1,500 favorite, suffered a stunning second-round knockout at the hand — and left foot — of Holly Holm in Melbourne, Australia.

While it was once impossible to turn on a TV or pick up a magazine without seeing her face, Rousey went into seclusion. She emerged periodically, like when she hosted “Saturday Night Live,” or tearfully told Ellen DeGeneres about experiencing suicidal thoughts after her loss, but she mostly stayed out of the public eye.

When she decided to return to the cage, she had one request for UFC president Dana White. Rousey wanted to eschew the typical media obligations to promote fights. White has removed superstars from fights for similar requests, but Rousey is different.

“We’re in a crazy position, but she’s one of the greatest to ever do it,” White said. “She’s done a lot for the company, she’s done a lot for the sport and for women in the sport, and she’s never asked for much. She asked for this, and we said yes.

“It’s definitely not ideal. It’s what she asked for. Back in the day, she would literally do anything we asked her to do. For her to ask for something like this, how can I say no? She’s done a lot.”

While amateur sports psychologists have tried to analyze what Rousey’s shunning of the spotlight means about her mindset returning from such a crushing defeat, White has no doubt that she’s ready.

“I think everybody knows Ronda is psychotically competitive,” he said. “I don’t know why she’s handling everything like this, but this is what she wanted to do.

“She’s as good as I’ve ever seen her. You’ve seen pictures of her. She’s in amazing shape. She’s in great spirits. She’s fired up, and she’s like the old Ronda again. She just had to deal with this thing the way she wanted to deal with it.”

OPPONENT’S VIEW

Holm is more unsure of how Rousey will handle Friday’s fight. The champion knows exactly what her former opponent is facing as she prepares to return from a knockout loss.

As a world champion boxer, Holm was knocked cold by Anne Sophie Mathis in 2011. She said she couldn’t wait to get back into the ring, but remembers the doubts that crept into her mind when she came back six months later.

“Those first punches in a fight you kind of check yourself like, ‘Am I OK? Am I OK? Yeah, I’m OK. Now let’s go,’” Holm said. “I think that’s a make-or-break moment. Ronda’s never been there in a fight before, so I don’t think there’s any way to tell how she’s going to be in those first exchanges until it happens.”

Holm acknowledged each situation is unique.

“She’s been an Olympic athlete. She’s been at the top of the MMA world. She didn’t get there without having a competitive spirit, but you never what’s going to happen. It’s a wild card,” Holm said. “Everybody deals with it different, and maybe time away is just what she needed.

“For me, the only thing that’s ever worked for me is to be completely honest with myself, and I figure the sooner I deal with it, the sooner I can get past it.”

It’s all part of what makes the fight game a dangerous business.

“All the greats throughout history have all lost,” White said. “(Muhammad) Ali lost. (Mike) Tyson lost. You go through the list of all the greatest fighters who have ever lived, and they’ve all lost. It’s always interesting and exciting to see if they can overcome it and come back from a devastating loss like hers was.”

Rousey will get to answer that question in the headliner of a pay-per-view card that airs at 7 p.m.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @adamhilllvrj on Twitter.

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