Sitting at the top of MMA, it's Ronda Rousey against the world
With the speed in which Ronda Rousey’s life and career move it could be difficult to find balance. In March 2012 she was a highly touted up-and-coming talent eyeing her first major title opportunity under the Strikeforce banner, and just north of three years later she’s widely regarded as the biggest star in mixed martial arts.
How the former Olympic judoka made that happen has been no secret as her dominance inside the cage has been on full display every step of the way. The fever pitch that began with claiming the Strikeforce women’s 135-pound title in Columbus, Ohio, has been repeated with increased ferocity as she’s dispatched and smashed every opponent placed in her path. And where a consecutive string of wins would have been enough to bolster the hype surrounding her, Rousey has done so in fashions that have left even the most knowledgeable minds in combat sports wondering how far her talent ceiling extends.
Her consistency in the dominance department brought the spotlight and it has refused to leave her during her climb to reach icon status. Where that magnitude of attention can be fleeting and even destructive in certain cases, Rousey has used it to propel her to even greater heights that include movie roles, national ad campaigns and a stream of awards and acknowledgments typically reserved for athletes who don’t make a living punching one another in the face.
Through it all, she’s managed to do what the sport she loves has not and that’s break through into the mainstream of popular culture. And while that may seem a bit paradoxical, blazing her own trail is common fare for Rousey. That’s not to say the weight of expectation doesn’t weigh heavily on her shoulders because it does, and beneath the red carpets and glare of the limelight she’s an athlete who faces dangerous challenges every time the cage door closes behind her.
And that’s fine with Rousey. Elite-level competition is something she’s ready and willing to deal with, but being at the highest level of visibility an athlete can garner comes with plenty of pitfalls in tow. Rousey is as self-aware as they come in that realm, and she’s very much in tune to how popularity and celebrity can change in a heartbeat in the eyes of those who have built and boosted her profile.
“I feel like it’s me versus the world all the time in that everyone out there is just waiting for the first reason to believe all the worst things about me,” Rousey says. “It sucks and it’s a sh---y relationship. Any other relationship I have in my life isn’t like that. Anyone who says they love me and how all the things I’m doing are awesome wouldn’t jump to hate me over the first thing they could possibly hold against me, but sometimes I feel the entire world looks at me that way.
“That is why I try not to take anything too personal," says Rousey. "I don’t know them personally and they don’t know me personally so I shouldn’t take anything personal.”
While Rousey’s resume has diversified during her rise to stardom, the California native is still just a fighter at heart. She understands increased visibility will bring different labels and assumptions just as much as she knows celebrity is a slippery slope to travel. With Rousey being one of the premier female athletes in the world and competing in a sport dominated by her male counterparts it should come as no surprise she’s become a figure young women can look up to as a source of empowerment.
And even though Rousey finds pride in being someone others can look up to, she expresses caution when put into that mold.
“I don’t really like to accept the title of role model,” Rousey says. “I wouldn’t give that to myself. I wouldn’t walk around and say anyone should model their life after me. That seems a little narcissistic. If I can play that role, I’m happy to, but I’m not nearly infallible enough to be preaching to people they should be like me.”
The stakes increase with every fight for Rousey, and nowhere is that more apparent than her upcoming title defense against Holly Holm at UFC 193 this Saturday in Melbourne, Australia. The women’s bantamweight phenom will step into the Octagon to face a former multi-time women’s boxing champion turned undefeated mixed martial artist in Holm in a matchup that has been talked about long before the Albuquerque native ever found her way to the UFC.
If the intricacies of Holm’s skill set weren’t enough to hurdle, the lively 70,000 Australians who will be in attendance are certain to create an amplified environment to perform. Rousey is as game as they come in the world of fighting, but the setting of UFC 193 and the obligations required to promote such an event can be a difficult dance for even the most seasoned superstar.
“It’s a lot of pressure,” Rousey explains. “The stadium has the capacity for 70,000, but I still have to fill up 70,000. I’m doing all I can to try to meet that goal, but the ultimate goal is to beat Holly. If everything else falls into place that’s awesome, but if not I tried my best.
“I go on these runs and it’s just hard. This will be my third title fight in nine months and it’s exhausting. I kind of think of it more as how much I’ve done since the last time I got to rest. This fight with Holly is the last hurdle before the next time I get to rest and there is no way on earth this girl is taking my rest and happiness away from me. I need to earn that and how I’m going to do that is by beating her. She will be much better off for it in the end. She’s going to make a good amount of money and then go home and be happy with her family and friends. She’s going to be able to continue living her life as a fighter and that fits her much better. What I do is a lot of work and not everyone would like it.”
All promotional obligations aside, Rousey is looking forward to stepping into the Octagon to face Holm Saturday night. Holm left behind a lengthy track record of accomplishments in the boxing world and has been unbeaten in her efforts in the realm of MMA. Along the way, Holm was able to create enough buzz with fight fans that she was being paired up against Rousey long before she ever had a spot on the UFC roster.
Whether a matchup with Rousey was ever really Holm’s wish doesn’t exactly matter because “Rowdy” now has the Albuquerque native in her sights, and that has been a bad situation to be in for her opponents in the past. With Holm's boxing acumen and kicking game, most figure a rangy game plan to be the only way she dethrones Rousey, but the dominant champion isn’t buying into any of it.
She acknowledges her opponent’s skill set, but believes her determination and downright ferocity will be more than Holm can handle.
“My only fear is fear of failure,” Rousey says. “I want to win more than any of those other girls possibly could. I’m so afraid of failing that I go into the gym and work harder than them every single day. There is no way they could want to win as a contender as much as I want to win as champion and I feel that fear is actually an advantage I have.
“The thing that has always set me apart is that I want it more and I still think that’s true. Nobody needs me outside of there. That’s where I’m needed. People need me to win and be the champion, so therefore I need to win and be the champion. All those other girls who walk in and try to fight me are needed elsewhere and they don’t forget that. They walk in knowing they have to get out of there one way or another and I walk in there knowing I’m only walking out one way and that is the winner.”