NEW ORLEANS -- It has taken Ronda Rousey a long time to make sense of the way her UFC career ended, much less talk openly about it.
Two months ago, when she signed with the WWE at the Royal Rumble, she teared up when the subject was even broached.
"It was me versus the world in an individual sport," Rousey said. "I thought I would never say this, but I'm so happy I lost those fights [to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes] because it led me here. This is so worth it.
"Everything really does happen for a reason. I'm just so grateful. I thought I never would be [grateful] for [the losses], but time is a great teacher. I'm just really, really glad I gave it time instead of giving up and feeling it was the end of the world. There's so many people who encounter tragedies who feel like the world and time won't heal it. But all I can say to those people is: Just give it time, even if you think time can't heal it. You never know what will happen and where it will lead you. Every missed opportunity is a blessing in disguise. I really believe it now."
For years, Rousey and Conor McGregor were the headliners in the UFC, pushing and carrying the sport to unprecedented levels of fame and success. It was exhilarating and overwhelming, rocketing to the top of the world to the point where a fall from grace was almost predictable for both of them -- especially in a sport as volatile and vicious as mixed martial arts.
Rousey's came via a kick to the face from Holm at UFC 193 in Australia in November 2015. McGregor's might have come this weekend in Brooklyn when he was arrested and charged with three counts of misdemeanor assault and one felony count of criminal mischief for throwing a hand dolly through the window of a bus at UFC 223.
But in a way, both events were set up long in advance as the demands of white-hot superstardom and the responsibilities of headlining and keeping the UFC in the headlines began to crack each of their seemingly invincible veneers.
The metabolism of the modern media-and-fame cycle doesn't allow for long reigns atop the celebrity or sports universes. To sustain interest, a star must be built up, torn down, grovel for forgiveness and triumphantly return a humbled, wiser person.
For Rousey, that time might finally be here.
"I owe the WWE universe an apology, because I thought they were going to boo me out of the building from day one," she said. "They really accepted me from day one. Hopefully, I satisfied a lot of skeptics tonight.
"I underestimated how kind the WWE universe would be. I thought any outsiders would be shunned. I was expecting to get shunned and to have to battle to be accepted. I worked my ass off to pay respect to what's so important to them, and hopefully they saw that tonight. I'm just so grateful, man. I'm trying my best to deserve it."
The MMA universe might take longer to come around. There's still a sense that she left the sport as a sore loser and without saying goodbye. But talking about and acknowledging the losses to Holm and Nunes, as she did Sunday night, is a good start.
"Oh my god, I'm so proud of them. They're such great representatives of the sport. They're what that sport really needs -- women like them. It's just like a great sign for the future," Rousey said Sunday. "Every sport has its peaks and valleys, but I think they're a real testament to the staying power of the UFC.
"If anything, it was like a blessing sending me on my way. They had this amazing match, everyone's super stoked for them and the women's division. It was just like their way of telling me, 'Don't worry, go handle your thing and do what you're meant to do.'"
Rousey celebrated Sunday night the same way she used to celebrate wins as a UFC fighter -- with a huge plate of hot wings.
"The tradition continues," she said. "But only after pay-per-views. I gotta wrestle so often I can't have wings every night."
After she had a few, her new colleagues were offered some. After years of standing alone in the Octagon, it felt good to be part of a team, on which the responsibility to entertain and succeed is shared among many.
"It feels good," she said. "You ever go somewhere for the first time and it's like coming home or somewhere you've been before? It feels more familiar than it should."