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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Mike Straka
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2015 Triumph Books LLC
All rights reserved.
The Champ Is Here
"I'm not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you're not in this world to live up to mine.
— Bruce Lee
Ronda Rousey is an undefeated mixed martial arts fighter competing in the UFC women's bantamweight division and a former Olympic judoka, taking home bronze for the United States in 2008 at the Beijing Games.
By the time Rousey got to the UFC, she was already the Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion, and her reputation for incredible athleticism and quick stoppages of opponents preceded her.
Mixed martial arts fans don't watch to see how Ronda will win, they watch to see how fast she will win.
As of this writing, Rousey had 12 professional fights and has only gone past the first round once, in a rematch with Miesha Tate in December of 2013. She won that fight via armbar submission at 54 seconds of the third round. Rousey's last three title defenses are the most impressive times in UFC title fight history, clocking in at 14 seconds (Alexis Davis), 16 seconds (Cat Zingano), and 34 seconds (Bethe Correia) respectively.
A devastating submission specialist, Rousey has a patented armbar that she has perfected after more than two decades of elite judo training. "The Arm Collector" is another popular nickname for the professional MMA fighter, but she co-opted her "Rowdy" nickname from the late professional wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. She even dedicated her 12th win and sixth title defense to Piper, who died suddenly one day before her title fight against Bethe Correia in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
In 2014, she won the ESPY for Best Female Athlete and in 2015 received the ESPY for Best Fighter, beating out the vaunted Floyd Mayweather, Jr. for the honor. Sports Illustrated has named her Most Dominant Athlete, New Yorker magazine calls her the "most bankable star in MMA," and even rapper Eminem is a fan, calling her "slaughterhouse in a blouse" in his song "Shady XV."
She has been featured on the cover of ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue and in Maxim, with the caption "Badass & Blonde." She's also appeared in The Expendables 3, Furious 7, and the Entourage movie.
There are only a handful of successful MMA crossover stars, and for the majority of them, it took several more years to cross over than it did Rousey. Fighters who have starred in movies or episodic television, like Chuck Liddell, Gina Carano, Randy Couture, Cung Le, and recently Josh Thomson, have all been around the professional fight game a lot longer than Rousey, but none of them would begrudge her quick ascent to mainstream stardom.
She's earned it.
In 2012, the celebrity news website TMZ caught up with UFC president Dana White outside the famous Mr. Chow's restaurant in Beverly Hills. TMZ asked White when he would have women fighting in the UFC, and he responded, "Never."
White never said that women were not worthy or good enough to compete in the UFC — instead, his position was that there wasn't enough depth in the women's divisions to sustain fan interest.
And then Ronda won the belt, and White had little choice but to recant his stance. It was as if Rousey willed him to do it all on her own, and to hear him tell it, she did.
"Ronda Rousey converted me," White told Breitbart Sports. "In the beginning I was trying to sell men fighting on TV, which was tough. Now we're going to try to sell women?" It's an understandable dilemma to be sure. After all, New York still hasn't sanctioned professional MMA, the lone holdout state in the country. Imagine that! Madison Square Garden is the most famous fighting arena in the world, and Ronda Rousey can't fight there. That's got to be the saddest line in sports journalism ever written.
Luckily for White, Rousey does a pretty good job of not only selling herself, but selling women's fighting, period. While being called the "most dominant athlete in any sport" is nice and all, leaving a legacy, and literally building an industry for women competitors in mixed martial arts, is something Rousey has set her mind to as she looks to her future after fighting.
That's not to say there's no place for women fighters outside of the UFC. World Series of Fighting, Bellator, and Invicta FC are all viable options for professional women's MMA — if not feeder leagues for the UFC — but what Rousey has done for women fighters goes well beyond livelihoods. More importantly, when girls look at their parents and say they want to be a mixed martial arts competitor, they may find them not so steadfast against the notion.
Rousey has made fighting acceptable for women.
She has proved to the most ardent critics of MMA (not even just women's MMA) that fighting is a technical skill acquired only after years of rigorous training.
On August 6, 2010, Ronda tried mixed martial arts for the first time.
It was an amateur event in Oxnard, California, in Combat Fight League's Ground Zero event. Rousey wasn't too sure what to expect, or even if her judo training would help in the fight, but she was determined to win. Little did she know she had zero cause to doubt herself. In just 23 seconds, Ronda had her answer. Her opponent Hayden Munoz threw a left kick to Ronda's right thigh. Ronda caught the kick, and attacked for a takedown. She quickly got on top of Munoz and maneuvered for an armbar. Munoz tapped (a tap is a signal that the fighter concedes victory to one's opponent), and that was that.
Rousey began training her striking (stand-up fighting) under renowned coach Edmond Tarverdyan at Glendale Fighting Club shortly before turning professional, and in her first pro bout her coach told her to use her judo to win. It wasn't that Edmond wasn't confident in Ronda's striking, it was more a lesson in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
That fight took place in the King of the Cage promotion on March 27, 2011, in Tarzana, California. Ronda submitted her opponent in 25 seconds this time, with another armbar. In her first 11 fights as an amateur and a pro, Rousey used an armbar to submit all of her opponents, all in the first round, eight of them in under a minute.
Word of Rousey's dominance spread like wildfire among MMA fans.
Mixed martial arts is the first international sport born in the Internet era, and it was the Internet that kept it alive, even as legislators had it banned in the 1990s. That story has been well documented, but when Zuffa (Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, Dana White) bought the UFC, the sport was pretty much an underground obsession. It took tens of millions of dollars and then, even after being $40 million in the red, they still funded The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV, which was a time buy (meaning Zuffa not only paid for the production but also the air time). It was a fight between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, live on Spike TV in 2006, that is widely credited for saving the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts, as millions of people watched the fight, with more and more tuning in as the two went to war on national television. People were calling their friends, imploring them to tune into Spike TV to watch something incredible happening.
Little did they know that less than 10 years later, another fighter — and a woman at that — would be the one to usher the sport into the pop culture zeitgeist.CHAPTER 2
"The easiest thing to do in the world is pull the covers up over your head and go back to sleep."
— Dan Gable
Ronda began training judo under her mother, Dr. AnnMaria De Mars at age 11. In 1984, De Mars became the first American (man or woman) to win a world championship in judo. (Ronda would take silver in the 2007 World Judo Championships.)
There were several nights during Ronda's childhood when she would be awoken to an ambush from her mother, forcing her to execute an armbar out of a deep sleep.
It's no wonder that today, Rowdy Ronda can find her way to a fight-ending armbar in every situation inside the Octagon.
In 2003 during a practice, Ronda tore her ACL and required surgery a few months before the judo Senior Open, an important tournament being held in Las Vegas that year. It was supposed to be Ronda's debutante party in the judo community. Rousey — being a teenager — moped around for about a week before her mother had had enough of watching her spawn sitting on the couch watching TV, feeling sorry for herself.
"It's been a week," Ronda wrote her mom saying in her best-selling autobiography My Fight/Your Fight (Regan Arts, 2015). Ronda protested that the surgeon told her not to train too soon after surgery. "What about your other leg?" said De Mars. "What about your abs? Last time I checked sit-ups didn't involve knees."
Ronda's mother is tough as nails. The apple didn't fall too far from that tree, but no matter how tough Ronda is, her mother is and always will be the alpha.
For example, when Ronda took offense to Brazilian fighter Bethe Correia's poorly worded trash talk leading up to their UFC 190 title fight, saying she hoped "Ronda doesn't kill herself" after Correia beats her, Ronda said she would prolong the fight in order to punish her. Dr. De Mars told Ronda that was one of the stupidest things she's ever heard.
Ronda won that fight by way of knockout in just 34 seconds.
From the very start of her judo career, Rousey was determined to be accepted into a world dominated by dominant men. Most of her early training partners were men. Her coaches were men. Her mother was preparing her for a tough road.
When she turned 16, Ronda's mother sent her to renowned judo coach "Big Jim" Pedro's academy in Massachusetts, so that she could train with some of the world's best players, including his son, Jimmy Pedro, Jr., a multiple world champion and US Olympic team captain and two-time bronze medalist.
It was a lonely time for Rousey. She stayed in rural Massachusetts for much of her tenure there, living in a spare bedroom in Big Jim's isolated house. Her coach was also a firefighter, and he was rarely there. Also during this time, Rousey began a grueling international tournament schedule that saw her travel the world over the next five years.
Anyone who travels a lot for a living knows how grueling it can be. Sure, you're visiting new cities and getting to experience parts of the world that you would probably never get to see, but try doing it while cutting weight and training and then fighting a world class athlete.
During this time, Ronda's training was absolutely rigorous. When it comes to elite level, world class athletes, the club is exclusive and the love comes tough. If Rousey thought her mother was tough on her while growing up, she was just an appetizer to the main course of training for the Olympics.
Rousey was in constant proving-herself mode. No matter how hard she worked, it wasn't hard enough. If she cried, she was mocked. When she improvised judo technique, she was criticized. It was a world filled with tradition. It was their way or the highway, and Ronda took the highway several times, sometimes having to live in her car. She was thrown out of friends' homes, forced to sleep in a crowded living room with someone's feet in her face — you name it, she went through it while on the glamorous road to so-called judo fame. Ronda did her best to walk their line, but the truth is: Can you name one world famous judo player not mentioned in the last few pages? Exactly. Theirs was not Ronda's path to take, and luckily she had the fortitude and the audacity not only to take a different path, but to pave her own with her blood, sweat, and tears.
Luckily for every MMA fan in the world, and for so many girls, boys, men, and women who have been inspired by her phenomenal talent and indomitable strength, things didn't play out in judo the way she had hoped they would.
Thank God she lost.
Rousey was and still is a judo phenom. By the time she was 15 years old, she was beating players who were twice her age. In 2004 at the Junior World Championships in Budapest, Ronda defeated China's Jing Jing Mao with a slam takedown in just four seconds. It was a prelude to what would come in her MMA career, where thus far, her average fight lasts just over a minute.
That same year, at age 17, Rousey made the US Olympic judo team as the youngest judoka in the games, though she failed to medal. She was devastated. While most others would live out their first Olympic experience (the host city was Athens, after all, the birthplace of the games), Rousey took the first available flight home after the loss, re-living her match over and over again during the 16-plus hour flight home to Los Angeles.
Even at 17 years old, there was nobody harder on Ronda Rousey than Ronda Rousey.
In 2008 in Beijing, China, during the Summer Olympic Games, Ronda became the first woman in US judo history to win a medal. For most mere mortals, any Olympic medal would have been satisfactory, but for Rousey, it was utter failure.
They say combat sports players remember their losses more than they remember their wins. It haunts them, even as they achieve greatness in the future. But that doesn't mean they want to go back to avenge them.
The day after Rousey won the Strikeforce bantamweight championship belt in March 2012, Ronda made appearances at the annual Arnold Classic bodybuilding contest and expo inside the Columbus Convention Center in Ohio. I met the new champion at the Gaspari Nutrition booth for a lengthy sit-down interview (Rich Gaspari, the multiple-time bodybuilding champion who owns the eponymous supplement company, was one of Rousey's sponsors). You may recall her wearing the Gaspari Nutrition logo on the front of her sports bra during most of her early pro fights.
I asked her if coming up short in the Olympics had given her the extra drive to be successful in mixed martial arts.
"I have all my fire taking care of this belt right now," she said, holding on to her brand new gold and gem — encrusted belt in the Gaspari booth. "I can't be happy doing judo right now. People change careers several time in their lives, and this is what I'm meant to do now. I'm going to go to the Olympics and support my teammates and I'm going to cheer them on and hope someone else can win the gold this time around. My work is done in that sport."
That very well may be, but so many of today's greatest MMA fighters have some unfinished business they need to deal with.
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier was captain of the 2008 USA Olympic wrestling team but didn't compete after suffering kidney failure during his weight cut. UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture failed to make the USA Greco-Roman team (he was an alternate but didn't get to compete). Despite being an NCAA Division-1 All-American wrestler, former UFC lightweight champion — and one of the sport's pound for pound best — Frankie Edgar lost a final college wrestling match in triple overtime and missed being named an All-American. These highly competitive athletes all have unfinished business in their competitive lives that drives them to keep competing.
They've all left something on the mat.
I pushed the theory that losing Olympic gold is what drives her to utterly demolish her competition.
"Absolutely," she said. "I believe that everything happens for a reason. I trained so hard for the Olympics and when I got the bronze I was kind of wondering why that happened. I think the reason why is that I would still have this drive and try to achieve more. If I got the gold medal in judo I think I might have retired myself mentally, and thought I did what I needed to do and not gone on to this [MMA]. Yeah, I think you're totally right, you need to have some unfinished business."
After coming home with a bronze medal, and just $10,000 for her effort, Rousey was pretty much broke. There is only so much sponsorship money to go around when it comes to supporting Olympic athletes, and most sponsors only care about the high visibility sports.
Judo is not one of them.
Ronda worked three jobs to make ends meet. She was teaching judo at a friend's dojo, working the overnight shift at a gym, and was a bartender at a bar in Long Beach, California.
Excerpted from Rowdy Rousey by Mike Straka. Copyright © 2015 Triumph Books LLC. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsForeword by Chael Sonnen,
Introduction: Interviewing the Baddest Woman on the Planet,
1. The Champ Is Here,
2. Unfinished Business,
3. Growing Up Rousey,
4. Building Women's MMA,
5. Ronda Goes to Hollywood,
6. Ronda in Her Own Words,