(This story appears in Sunday’s edition of USA TODAY.)
Ronda Rousey is not a normal human being, much less an average fighter.
It’s not just that she boasts an Olympic medal, the first won by an American woman in judo. It’s not even that she’s the UFC’s first – and to date, only – women’s bantamweight champion. It’s not even that she’s proven a natural in Hollywood, earning praise for her acting chops as plans for a life beyond the cage.
Instead, it’s that she somehow manages to do nearly all of it simultaneously, rapidly reaching the pinnacle of success in just about any endeavor she chooses.
“I think compartmentalizing is the perfect word for it,” Rousey tells USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie. “I know when it’s time to be a fighter, and I know when it’s time to be girly, and I know when it’s time to focus on the Hollywood stuff, and I don’t half-ass any of it. … I think it’s all about knowing when to prioritize what.”
UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby don’t tell their fighters how to handle their careers. That’s up to each individual athlete to figure out on his or her own. But both UFC executives are happy to offer the same advice to any fighter who joins the company: Mixed martial arts is not a career; it’s an opportunity.
Get in, make as much money as possible within your window of opportunity, and prepare yourself for the next stage of life as quickly as you can because the body simply cannot take the rigors of MMA forever, they say.
Rousey, 27, is doing precisely that. She’s already established herself as one of the true faces of the world’s largest MMA promotion, and she’s now developing into a cinema starlet with roles in soon-to-be released features “The Expendables 3? and “Entourage.” It’s a delicate balance between the two demands of her time, but it’s one that Rousey seems to have found.
Right now, that focus is honed firmly on fighting, as she defends her title Saturday in the “UFC 175: Weidman vs. Machida” co-main event at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Events Center (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET). Rousey (9-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) faces Canadian Alexis Davis (16-5 MMA, 3-0 UFC) in the five-round affair.
“I really try not to focus too much on the Hollywood stuff when I’m in camp,” Rousey says. “I’ve made sure all the Hollywood-side people know I will not film within six weeks of the fight. I have to be home during that time, and luckily everybody on that side is very understanding of the situation.
“I did go and do ‘Entourage,’ but it wasn’t like I was gone for eight weeks in a foreign country by myself. I was at home, and I only filmed for a couple of days. They really wrote a role in there for me within the exact allotted time that I have, and they only called me when they needed me.”
Winning – and winning with flair
Incredibly, Rousey’s professional MMA career spans just three years. When it started, UFC President Dana White was adamantly against the possibility of women fighting in the promotion.
But as Rousey quickly become one of the top stars for the then-rival Strikeforce promotion, White knew she was a star in the making. She made her official UFC debut in February 2013, downing a gritty Liz Carmouche. The PPV headliner was the first women’s bout in UFC history.
Her career has progressed quickly since that historic fight, leaving Rousey little time for anything other than her professional pursuits. For her upcoming fight with Davis, Rousey says she carved out six weeks to focus solely on the contest, and that it has actually proven a pleasurable preparation process.
“Before the Liz Carmouche fight, it was a whole media circus,” Rousey says. “It was the most media that’s ever been done by any UFC fighter. Sometimes I’d have five video crews in the gym on any given day. With the Miesha Tate fight (in December), there was a huge buildup, not to mention I did two movies back-to-back. That was definitely the most out of shape I’d ever been for any fight.”
Yet, just 56 days later, she set a record for the shortest amount of time between UFC title defenses when she knocked out fellow Olympian Sara McMann.
“I didn’t even get a whole week off from the Miesha fight before I had to go back in camp for McMann,” she says. “So this fight, yeah, it wasn’t like I had to fly across any oceans. I was really just kind of wanting to fight. I’ve been firing on all cylinders for so long that it felt like my battery would die if I left the car parked for too long.”
Her willingness to fight so frequently is one reason White calls himself one of her biggest fans.
“She wants to stay busy, and she wants to keep fighting,” the UFC executive says. “If you tell her she can’t fight, she’ll tell you, ‘(Screw) you. I want to fight.’”
Oddsmakers have tapped Rousey a near 9-1 favorite in the bout with Davis, a lifelong martial arts practitioner who, at 29, boasts black belts in both Brazilian jiu-jitsu and Japanese jiu-jitsu. While a submission expert whose grappling game could give Rousey trouble, Davis is most often lauded for her resiliency and durability.
Whether or not she can muster the speed and explosiveness necessary to compete with Rousey, though, remains to be seen. However, the champion insists she doesn’t consider her opponent inferior in any way.
“She’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, so she’s no joke on the ground,” Rousey says. “She’s not somebody I can take unnecessary risks with, and she’s somebody who would definitely be very confident in defending herself.”
But for Rousey, simply winning isn’t really the goal. Winning with style is the true mark of success.
“I don’t just want to win; I want to win and get out of there unscathed,” Rousey says. “There have been fights where Alexis has hurt her opponent. Her and (Sarah) Kaufman cut each other’s faces up. Even if I win and I walk away with a big face gash, that’s terrible for me. I not only need to win, I need to win without being touched. That’s just the expectation I put on myself. That really places a lot more pressure on the fight, especially with a really grinding fighter like Alexis that has a cement jaw.
“Floyd Mayweather went through over 40 fights without ever getting a cut. That’s what real domination and real style is in a fighter. That’s what I really aspire to. “
Fighting future remains uncertain
Rousey’s MMA opportunity could very well last several more years. After all, she’s just now reaching an age generally considered to be the prime of a fighter’s career. But with her opportunities outside the cage, Rousey admits her time as a fighter could be limited.
“I don’t know,” Rousey admits. “I’m taking it one fight at a time. Everything is changing so fast and so many things are coming up so quickly that I really can’t think more than one day at a time.
“You never know how you’re going to feel after a fight. The fights themselves really affect how you feel. If it’s a five-round war, I might not have as many rounds left in me. If it’s a quick finish, then maybe I’ll have some more. It depends on how those fights go.”
Despite just three UFC fights to her name, Rousey has already etched her name in the record books. Her fellow competitors are often quick to offer their appreciation to Rousey for expediting the addition of women to the UFC ranks, and she has garnished enough attention that her boss labels her “the biggest star in the UFC.”
“No male fighter that we’ve ever had has broken into movies or made as much money with sponsorships and movies like Ronda Rousey has,” White says.
In truth, there’s little left for her to do in the sport other than adding more names to her win column. She’s heeded the sage advice of the UFC matchmaking team and built an exit from the sport – the likes of which has never been seen before any may never be seen again.
When pressed, even Rousey struggles to find any accomplishments necessary to fulfill her career ambitions. There is no pedestal left to reach. In fact, all she can dream of accomplishing in the cage is pulling off her favorite judo technique – a hip toss of which she’s particularly fond – in order to know she’s ready for the next phase of her incredibly unique life.
“I’ve always wanted to do a sode tsurikomi goshi in a fight,” Rousey says, referencing the judo move. “I won my Olympic bronze medal with that throw, and it was my favorite throw when I did judo. It just doesn’t really apply without a gi, and so my favorite throw, I had to actually give it up when I came to MMA. To do it with no gi, it would take a lot of timing and style, and it would just need to be perfectly done.
“I always wish I could pull one more sode out, just for old time’s sake – a shoutout to my judo years.”
For more on UFC 175, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.