If there’s one criticism that always seems to follow Ronda Rousey, it’s that she’s simply a blunt instrument—just a fighter, just a brawler—and that she’s only worthy of public adoration when she’s winning. Of course, ever her since her stunning loss to Holly Holm, critics will point out that she’s no longer the top dog, and therefore unworthy of her outsized spotlight, movie deals, and ESPN hosting gigs. So goes the theory.
But in her first Saturday Night Live hosting appearance, Rousey proved exactly why she is UFC’s first true megastar: She faced up to that criticism the hard way and crushed it with charm, stage presence, and (as usual) a little bit of muscle.
“I’m so excited to be here, because this is the first time I’ll be on live TV without getting punched in the face,” Rousey joked in her opening monologue Saturday night. (See? she seemed to be saying. At least the blunt instrument is self-aware.)
Then, less than a minute in to the monologue, came the gut punch: “It’s also the first time I’m talking to my fans since my loss to Holly Holm in November—which, by the way, was a fight that Holly deserved to win,” Rousey said, knitting her hands together as her voice dropped. “And I just wanted to take a minute to sincerely congratulate her.”
Right there, in one moment: Confession, catharsis, contrition. (She even brushed aside rumors that she’d sustained brain damage, although she noted that “everything’s on cue cards anyway.”)
And if we wanna get grad-school about it, the monologue itself was a meta-commentary on Life As Ronda: Two ringside commentators (Beck Bennett and Taran Killam) graded Rousey’s routine in real time, noting every joke’s success or failure, as her corner coach (Kenan Thompson) talked her through laugh lines and unnecessary introductions of Kate-McKinnon-as-Justin-Beiber.
The underlying joke was clear: To be Ronda Rousey is to live with criticism, and to confront it by being herself, and to know that the criticism will keep coming anyway. No, she’s no Steve Martin—but then again, Steve Martin never got kicked in the head by Holly Holm.
Three other sketches that showcased a little Rousey charm:
In which Ronda responds to bullying like any picked-on kid who knows martial arts would: Physical violence. (Props to Vanessa Bayer, who utterly nails the ‘Evil Popular Girl’ schtick.)
The SNL writers did a nice job of building Rousey around some of the show’s stronger comedic talents. Case in point: The designated Bachelor sketch, in which Taran Killam manages to do the heavy lifting and Rousey can focus on her bit.
“AT THE CLUB”
Ain’t no scowl like a Ronda scowl.
PLUS: “TWO-WAY Q&A”
Cecily Strong—who raised eyebrows at the most recent White House Correspondents Dinner—dishes with Ronda on fame, nerves, and pre-performance naps.