It was just four years ago that Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey was in Beijing, China, hunting a medal for the U.S. judo program.
When the 2008 games were over, Rousey stood proud with a bronze medal, the first American woman ever to capture a medal in judo.
Now, as Rousey stands atop the world as the best women’s fighter on the planet, her influence is ever present in her old sport as the American judo program has continued to flourish in her absence, but still feels her effects with the attention the athletes are now receiving.
This year in London, two American women captured medals in judo including Kayla Harrison, who won the gold at 78 kilograms, and Marti Malloy, who grabbed the bronze medal at 57 kilograms. Malloy, who grew up on the mats working alongside Rousey in the American judo program, says that her fellow Olympic medalist has been a huge influence and attraction for the sport as they continue to look for national exposure.
“Everyone knew who Ronda was in the judo world, like across the whole globe; she was a bad ass. She was beating people up everywhere she went. So when she went over to the MMA world, I gave a little ‘duh,’ she’s been taking judo girl’s arms off for years, of course this is going to work in MMA,” Malloy said in an interview with MMAWeekly Radio.
“Now that Ronda has this great fan base and following because of her incredible skill in the ring, it’s doing great things for judo.”
Malloy knows that judo isn’t as popular in the United States as many Olympic sports such as basketball or the track and field events, but that’s what she’s hoping can change over the next few years leading into the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“My dream would be for judo to be just as popular and shown on all the sports networks as much as it is in the other countries. I always say this, but in France and Japan, judo is just as popular as the NBA or the NFL on TV and their judo superstars are hailed as heroes. If we can help make judo be that in a few years or however many Olympics, we’d be part of help making that happen,” said Malloy.
As far as her former teammate, Malloy loves watching Rousey continue to accomplish her goals in the world of MMA with the same tenacious attitude she had in judo. There was no surprise that Rousey rose as fast as she did when she started fighting, according to Malloy, because she’s already been fighting her entire life.
“Ronda and I fought I can’t even tell you how many times growing up and I want to say we were nemeses because I never beat her. I was like never able to beat her as a teenager and that was my goal, who I trained to beat. So now seeing her on the top, it doesn’t surprise me at all because Ronda has this fighting spirit, and nobody has been able to even take her out of the first round, so they haven’t even seen the fighting spirit Ronda has,” Malloy stated.
“She will fight to the death to win and people haven’t seen that yet except in the judo world. We all get excited to watch her matches, but we know better than to think she’s going to have any trouble.”
As far as the detractors that have gone after Rousey because she only has five professional fights in MMA and didn’t “earn” her way to the top, Malloy is quick to shoot it down in defense of her former teammate. If anyone earned her place, it was Ronda Rousey.
“She earned it,” Malloy commented. “She has not only these amazing technical skills that are just judo, but jiu-jitsu, wrestling, everything she trains and in the judo world we’re all really, really proud of her. She sets a good example of what it means to be a true athlete.”
With the success of Ronda Rousey in MMA and now that Malloy is clutching her own bronze medal, the question has to be asked: is she ready to follow her teammate into the cage?
Well, Malloy is awfully proud of Rousey, but doesn’t have plans of a rematch in MMA any time soon.
“I have a ton of respect for MMA, especially people like Ronda and Sarah Kaufman, but for me right now, my dream, I just got the Olympic bronze, but I want the Olympic gold more than anything,” said Malloy.
“I’m focused on returning to the games in 2016. So right now I can’t say what’s going to happen after that, but my main focus right now is still judo.”
Ronda Rousey puts her belt on the line against Sarah Kaufman at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman on Saturday night. Stay tuned to MMAWeekly.com for full MMA news and fight coverage.