What's it like to be Ronda Rousey? Inside the life of MMA's top fighter
To spend a day with Ronda Rousey is to hear about underendowed ex-boyfriends and the myth of the brontosaurus—“They mixed up the brachiosaurus and stegosaurus skeletal remains”—and the pros and cons of various hair-removal methods. Go to an L.A. dive bar with Rousey and, soon, she’s behind the bar itself, preparing her specialty drink, some crazy concoction of raspberry vodka, lemon vodka, simple syrup and Chambord. She is NHB.
Here are some out-takes from her recent one-on-one session with Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated’s executive editor.
What is it like to be you these days?
Rousey: What's it like to be me? Well, I don't have experience being anyone else besides myself. So when people think like, Oh, your life must be like so weird. I'm like, Well, I haven't had much of a taste for normal, so...
I don't know. I guess every day's different, every day's chaotic a little bit. But I don't like anything to be overall predictable. I really couldn't function well in that 9-to-5 kind of life. And there needs to be some sort of semblance of routine. But, yeah, I probably have two free days a month, and then I fill those days with, like, Oh, my God, I haven't seen this person in forever, I haven't seen that person forever. I feel like I'm kind of always working and I don't really have enough time to spend with people I really care about in my life.
That's the one thing I'm really working so hard for now, is so that I don't have to work and take time away from the people I really care about for the next several decades. I want to be able to have the option to spend as much time with my friends and family as I can, like even in my 30s, so...
I guess I'm addicted to delayed gratification. I don't know when I will reach that point or I'll allow myself to sit down and gratify.
It seems like there are a lot of people invested emotionally in your success, right? You've become this headliner for the UFC. There's a gender issue. Everybody loves the underdog, and you're the overdog. Where do you see the pressure points for yourself?
I mean, I really don't spend the days counting the ways of how much pressure is on me, but I purposely seek it out. I don't ever give myself a way out. One of the reasons why I talk so confidently before every fight isn't out of a lack of humility, it's out of a need to make it so there's no other way but for me to prove myself right.
And I've always fought above myself under pressure. I'm like a pressure fighter. That's what I always called myself, is a pressure fighter. You could apply pressure when you're under pressure.
And I'm constantly pressuring the other person. There's no, like, breaks in the fight. And the more weight I put on myself, like, the better I do. And I don't know why exactly that is, but I know it has to do with my mom (laughter). I know it has something to do with my mom.
I was always that kid in class. If they were like tests, I would, like, kill it on tests. I'm one of those people where I do well in the gym. But you put me under pressure and I unfold. I really show what I can do. That's one of the reasons why we have these short fights. I just make up flying arm bars and things like that that I've never done before because in that moment, I'm the absolute best that is possible, and a lot of people can only last a few seconds against that, unless I'm feeling particularly mean.
The thing is, when I finish the fights quickly, that's me at my most merciful. If I drag it out to beat you in every single area, that means I'm trying to traumatize you. If I'm trying to make sure that you don't walk out the same way that you walked in: it's not that you're a better fighter, it's that I'm trying to savor and take my time and swish the wine and smell it, sip it, not just chug the whole thing down.
Give me the oral history, give me your history of you and the arm bar.
Well, in judo, you're not really supposed to do arm bars until you're in the senior division, right? So when you turn 13, you're allowed to do chokes. When you're like older than 21 or whatever, something like that, that's when you're supposed to do arm bars—not 21, 17. When you turn 18, you're allowed to start doing arm bars.
In the high school nationals, you can do arm bars. So at about 12 or 13 years old, my mom started choking me at 12—in a good way (laughter). She started working on me with chokes like at 12 and started working with me on arm bars at 13 so that I would be ready when I turned 14 for, you know, the high school nationals.
And then by the time I was 16, I tore out my knee, and I worked only on groundwork that whole summer. So I tore my knee out. I got surgery April 1st, 2003. And I was—I mean, that was the year that I was supposed to—I was supposed to go win the senior nationals. That was supposed to be my breakout year where I moved from juniors to seniors.
And then I had to go and watch the senior nationals on crutches and watch all these other girls win and beat each other when I thought I should have been in there. But I was just some kid. I really thought that even though I was only 16, I was meant to shock the world, the Judo world, win the senior nationals when I was so young.
But, um, I couldn't compete. And I spent the whole year doing only Newaza. In judo, that's groundwork, typically what people think of as jujitsu. Judo and jujitsu are basically the same thing but with different emphasis. Judo is 80% standing and 20% on the ground. Jujitsu is 80% on the ground and 20% standing.
That knee injury really forced me to be a 50/50 fighter where I was 50% standing and 50% on the ground, my focus.
So mom called it Ronda's happy corner of groundwork. I'd sit down in the corner.…So it took four months for my surgery when I competed the first time afterward. When I came back, I competed at the senior level for the first time ever. August I fought my first tournament. And by October I was number one in the country and most of my wins were by arm bars.
Then I think it was that winter I went to the Korean World Cup. I ended up getting like fifth or something like that. But most of my wins were from arm bars.
My mom was the original arm bar chick because she tore her knee out at 17. That's one of the reasons why I feel every injury has done nothing but improve me because it forced me to focus on everything else. I'm extremely grateful that I tore my knee out at 16 because I've been benefitting from it ever since.
How do you describe your relationship with losing?
Fear of failure is the one fear that I have. I like snakes and bugs and heights. But fear of failure—losing literally feels like dying to me. I'm literally mourning the death of myself when I lose.
And I remember every single loss from when I was 11 years old on. I forget wins all the time. But, you know, I was lucky enough in that I learned the lessons that I needed to learn from losing in judo. I've already learned them. I don't need to lose in order to grow anymore.
My mom said this very well: It's much better to learn from a win than a loss, so you better learn as much as you can from every one of these wins.
So I go through every single one of these fights frame by frame with a fine-tooth comb. I study myself more than my opponents. I try to dissect myself, like if I was fighting, what would I do? How would I solve this problem of me from the outside? I try to learn as much as I can, even when I succeed.
I'm interested in these short fights, where you train and you learn technique, kicking, jujitsu. The fights haven't lasted long and haven't allowed you to sort of explore this battery of skills. Is there any part of you that wishes that the test was done differently?
Here's the thing. The shorter my fights are, the longer I can fight. So would I want to have more fights or few fights but have them be longer? And if I want to keep up this lifestyle as long as possible, and not wear my body down, I mean, I've had arthritis since I was 19 years old, I've had four knee surgeries, it's not like I can do this forever.
And if people want to see a couple five-round wars out of me, well, there's not going to be that many of them because honestly I don't even know how many miles I have left.
Every single fight I reassess over and over again. And if I keep coming out unscathed I feel like I can fight forever. But, you know, if they start to wear on you, that's one of the things that's the downfall for a lot of fighters, is they can't leave that high. They stay in a little bit too long.
It's like—it's like you're a rock that got thrown into a river. They'll be able to enjoy that nice clean, cool, amazing water for a long time, but after a while it's going to start to erode away all your edges.
There's a lot of fighters out there, their faces just look like eroded rocks. And I don't want to—I want to stop before it really erodes me.
What gives you the most pride?
What gives me the most pride? What gives me the most pride is Pierce Jones. Pierce Jones was this just adorable sweet little black kid from the South Side of Chicago who was like the superstar of the Little League World Series. And under their little thing, like when they go up to bat or whatever, Pierce Jones, this little thing, goes up to bat. He says his age, his height, all this stuff. It says favorite athlete: Ronda Rousey.
This kid, he could have picked LeBron James, he could have picked like anybody in the world. You know, he could have picked—oh, man, I'm like blanking out on every athlete ever. He could have picked Michael Jordan. He could have picked, like, Babe Ruth. He could have picked Anderson Silva. He could have picked Floyd Mayweather. He could have picked Tyson or Ali. But this kid, he picked me. He didn't say in parentheses because I think she's hot. It says favorite athlete.
And that's a kid who's like, you could tell, if you're in the Little League World Series, you win the Little League World Series, you get the MVP, sport is your life, it's your religion. Who your favorite athlete is means something to you. The fact that he said it was me, it touched my heart in a way that I never thought it could really be touched. I don't know.
There's another thing. Like I just got back from Armenia. I was at the memorial for the genocide. I met a few of like the generals for the Army. And I'm standing in front of, like, you know, all these different military people. All the women police are there. The generals came up and they shook my hand. And all the women police saw that. And I was so proud to shake the general's hand in front of the women police because, I don't know, I just felt like that meant something, that they felt like it was important for them to come up and shake a woman's hand.
Little things like that. Little things, like I can't stand it if I'm with a group of guys, and another guy comes over and shakes everyone's hand but mine. It drives me fucking insane. I'm like, What the f--- am I, chopped liver? Why don't you shake my hand?
And that was the kind of thing where, like, you know, the generals came and shook my hand. I was like, I don't know. I don't know. Things like that. Little things. I mean, winning fights and things like that, it's awesome. But little things like after I won [my] first title the first time, I came and I hugged my mom. She told me she was proud of me. She's not the type of person to throw out flattery like confetti. And that really meant something to me, that my mom actually said she was proud of me.
GALLERY: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH RONDA ROUSEY