Regardless of future, Ronda Rousey will be remembered as pioneer

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UFC 207 shows Rousey is officially history (1:01)

Israel Gutierrez talks about the rise and fall of former champion Ronda Rousey. (1:01)

What if this really is the end of Ronda Rousey's career?

Amanda Nunes beat Rousey at UFC 207, and it wasn't close. Nunes defended her title in 48 seconds, winning by TKO and hardly breaking a sweat before referee Herb Dean stepped in to rescue the former champion.

Rousey told Ramona Shelburne in a statement Saturday, "I need to take some time to reflect and think about the future." Dana White went on SportsCenter after the fight and expressed uncertainty over whether Rousey would fight again.

So what does that mean if she doesn't?

It means we've seen the last of Rousey's chilling, zoned-into-the-middle-distance death stare, power walking to the Octagon to Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation." It means for the final time we've seen her predictable yet unstoppable Harai Goshi judo throw. It also means we've seen her last armbar, a finish more synonymous with Rousey than any other strike or submission with any other fighter.

If this was the end of the road, the last time Rousey's hand was raised and a belt was slipped around her waist wasn't in her finale. It wasn't even in the fight before that. If this is it, she lost her last two bouts. Her last win came almost 17 months ago, at UFC 190, when Rousey folded Bethe Correia with a ruthless right hook.

Examining legacy is an annoying reflex of columnists in the immediacy of departure. But for an athlete of Rousey's stature with an impact like hers, the consideration is apt.

So how will Rousey be remembered? Thankfully for her, history has proven kind to pioneers.

Take Royce Gracie, for example. He's as a living legend, on the short list of the greatest fighters from the pre-Zuffa era. It's all but forgotten his reign didn't even last two years. Gracie went 2-2-3 in seven fights after winning a tournament at UFC 4. After a draw to Ken Shamrock in their infamous UFC 5 "superfight" and a five-year hiatus, the rest of the world caught up to his one-dimensional attack. But Gracie is so revered that even that previous sentence felt blasphemous to type.

Time won't remember Rousey's bloodied mouth and confused gaze in Melbourne at UFC 193, nor should it return to Friday night, when "The Lioness" stormed through Rousey with relentless flurries and fluid combinations. Nunes' 27-7 advantage in significant strikes, a margin that felt wider than it was, will be a footnote.

Instead, Rousey will forever be seen as a trailblazer.

She is single-handedly responsible for women competing at the highest level of MMA. Rousey had both the skill and marketability to shoulder an entire division, and UFC president Dana White knew it. That's what prompted his now infamous 180-degree turn on promoting female weight classes. In January 2011, White told TMZ that women would "never" fight in the UFC. Barely two years later at UFC 157, Rousey headlined a pay-per-view.

White called it the smartest decision he ever made, but it wasn't benevolence that prompted his change of heart. Rousey was a certified star, one of the biggest in the sport's history.

She had instantaneous celebrity and carried women's MMA into the mainstream. Rousey demolished a carousel of title challengers in seconds, not rounds. It didn't matter if it was on home soil in Southern California or against a Brazilian in Rio de Janeiro, arenas erupted at every stage of her fight weekend.

Rousey shattered MMA's glass ceiling and is ultimately responsible for moments like Paige VanZant being invited to compete on "Dancing With The Stars" and Nunes headlining UFC 200 in the promotion's biggest Las Vegas gate to date. Rousey is why we know how to spell UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk's last name.

The opportunities for Rousey outside the Octagon are still lucrative. She has a standing demand as the badass woman in movies and commercials. If Rousey ever wants the spotlight again, in or out of the cage, it's there -- with all of its perks and its thorns.

Rousey has given mixed martial arts -- and not just the women's side -- more than enough to walk away or change course without explanation. She has paid her dues and earned that right.

How will Rousey be remembered? Maybe it doesn't matter.

Her impact is undeniable. And like Joan Jett famously sang, she doesn't give a damn about her reputation.