Ronda Rousey is living the dream
BURBANK, Calif. -- You can't blame Ronda Rousey for feeling she's leading a charmed life at the moment.
The way the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship women's bantamweight titleholder sees it, the past couple years of her life have unfolded as if she created a checklist of things she wanted to accomplish, then watched them come true in rapid order.
"It serendipitous that everything happened like it did," said the 25-year-old native of Santa Monica, Calif. "I've told my managers, if you could do everything you want in exact order, this way, write it down, 'OK, I want to win all my fights in the first round, and then I'd go to UFC and headline a show and it had to be a PPV, and then have it at home, then have the most kickass undercard ever,' that's how I'd do it if I was being a smartass about it. And now its actually happened. It's sounds like a dream, but it's the real world. I guess the real world can be like a dream as well."
By now, you've likely heard Rousey's story. The 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist has torn through the competition in her mixed martial arts career, winning all six of her fights via first-round armbar. And her willingness to leverage her looks, brains and attitude has both put a rocket boost on her career and also brought an unprecedented level of attention to the women's side of mixed martial arts.
Rousey's story caught the notice of UFC president Dana White to the degree he's done a 180-degree turn on the women's fight game. After resisting adding women's fighters to the company for more than a decade, White is not just embracing the concept, but will put Rousey in the headline position for one his company's bread-and-butter pay-per-view events. Rousey will fight in the main event UFC 157 on Feb. 23 at the Honda Center in Anaheim against former Marine Corps sergeant and openly gay fighter Liz Carmouche.
"She told me the first time we met that she was coming to the UFC," White said. "She told me she envisioned in her mind that she was going to make it so that I could not deny women, that I could not not bring her into the UFC and all this. She said there was no way I'd be able to not do it, and she was right."
Indeed, White has attached himself to Rousey in a way he hasn't with a fighter since his early days running the UFC. Back then, he'd show up with Chuck Liddell anywhere a media outlet would deign to give the then-shunned sport the time of day. Wednesday, it meant holding court with Los Angeles media in a jam-packed private dining room at Morton's the Steakhouse, giving the UFC 157's approaching ticket on-sale date a full-court press.
"The way I look at this, I had a conversation with the media a couple weeks ago where it was like 'sounds like it's the Ronda Rousey show' and I said 'you're damn right it is.' I started watching her fights, I started watching her in the news ... obviously I think that she can do it. It takes a certain type of person, not just personality, but a certain type of fighter to get people interested and get people excited about women's fighting, period. Or women's sports in general. Women's basketball, women's soccer, women's whatever it is, it takes a certain type of person to appeal to everyone, to make them all come and watch, and she's got it."
Of course, simple human nature dictates that you can't take a fighter who has never before fought on a UFC card, place them in the main event, and do so without ruffling feathers. Rousey has been on the wrong end of jealousy from other women's fighters (though notably not from her opponent, Carmouche, who has been effusive in her praise of Rousey for the opportunity). Men's fighters haven't been immune, either. The camp of veteran Dan Henderson has complained about the fact his bout with Lyoto Machida has been relegated to co-feature status on Feb. 23, underneath Rousey-Carmouche.
Rousey is simply using the hate as motivation.
"I love proving people wrong," she said. "Proving people right doesn't do anything for me. It motivates me a whole lot, I felt, once I do one thing at one level. If I repeat that, I'm not going to get the same amount of rush out of it the second time. I want to do more and more and more and more, and I'm glad people are doubting me because that gets me pissed off and gives me more I have to do."
White, as is often his way, was a bit less diplomatic about it.
"She's the champion, you'll never see a situation, whether its men or women, when you'll see a champion fighting on the undercard. And I think it's ignorant that anyone would even imply that because she's a woman, she shouldn't be on the main event. She's the champ, she's badass. She's not just one of these, everybody was saying 'he's bringing her in because he's got a crush on her' and this and that and everything else. Gina Carano was hot, too, and you didn't see me trying to get into women's MMA then."
Carano was the first face of women's MMA, who became a star through fights aired in 2008-09 on Showtime and CBS, bolstered in part through favorable matchmaking. Carano bolted as soon as Hollywood came calling. Unlike Carano, White sees in Rousey a fighter at heart.
"The difference between her and any other female fighter I've ever met is, she's cute, she's out there and interacting with people, but when she goes out there and fights," White said. "She's mean, she's nasty, and she goes out there and finishes people, and that's what I like in a fighter whether she's a man or a woman."
It's been a whirlwind year for Rousey, who started 2012 driving a 2005 Honda Accord and purchased a brand-new BMW before the year was out. Moving from Strikeforce, her previous promotion, to the UFC, is the equivalent of trading up in cars, and Rousey understands the ride is just kicking into the next gear.
"Its a good problem to have," Rousey said of all the media attention. "It's similar to bartending in that I had to have similar conversations over and over and over and be as genuine as possible. I'm selling myself. I've kind of used to it already. Sometimes its a lot and its tiring, but sometimes, that's just the way it is. This is what I chose and I'm not going to complain about it."