GLENDALE, Calif. – Ronda Rousey is part Dana White, plenty of Anderson Silva. She's a little Nick Diaz
and a lot of Anna Kournikova.
As the UFC women's bantamweight champion, Rousey is frequently funny, occasionally crude and always blunt, direct and outspoken.
Rousey is 6-for-6 as a professional, scoring all of her wins by first-round arm bar. It's a move famously taught to her by her mother and which she describes as the same feeling as yanking a drumstick off the Thanksgiving turkey.
"It's kind of gross," the 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist said, wrinkling her nose. "But I do what I have to do. They always have the option of tapping."
Rousey's unique blend of California blonde good looks, feisty attitude and world-class athleticism has made her one of the most in-demand female athletes in the world. She's been even more dominant in her brief pro career than Silva, the UFC's record-setting middleweight champion.
Rousey turned pro on March 27, 2011. On March 3, 2012, she arm-barred Miesha Tate to win the Strikeforce bantamweight title, vaulting to the top of her profession in a mere 343 days.
On Saturday, she'll defend her belt in the main event of UFC 157 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., against Liz Carmouche, the UFC's first openly gay fighter. They'll become the first women ever to compete in the UFC.
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In a professional sports culture where homophobia is rampant, Rousey sneers at those who might object to fighting a gay opponent.
"Really? Why don't we just grow up a little bit," she says. "We're not 12. We're supposed to be adults here. If I were gay, I'd totally be out. I'm happy for her. I totally support that. It doesn't matter to me [that Carmouche is gay]. I'm still going to try to yank her arm off either way."
It's that attitude that convinced White, the UFC's president, to reconsider his long-standing attitude toward the women's fight game. Rousey is everything White looks for in a fighter.
"She's mean and she's nasty and she wants to finish people," White said. "She's a Diaz brother trapped inside of a pretty woman's body. She's a real fighter."
White was referencing brothers Nate and Nick Diaz, two of the UFC's best fighters whose tenacity is legendary within the sport.
"She's a finisher, man, and that's what we want in the UFC," White said. "She's a true fighter to the core. This isn't a pretty girl who took up fighting. This is a fighter who happens to also be a pretty girl."
Those words were just what Darin Harvey, Rousey's manager, was desperate to hear for two years. From the day Harvey laid eyes on Rousey – their first meeting included a grappling session in which she quickly caught him in one of her patented arm bars – he schemed for a way to get White's attention fixated on her.
He believed that Rousey's potential in mixed martial arts and her earning power from fighting, acting and endorsements was limitless.
"That was the end game, really, to get Dana's attention," said Harvey, who said he's taken nothing to manage Rousey and has invested "well into the six figures" of his own money into her.
"I was confident we could do it, because Dana is a smart guy and he knows a star when he sees one," Harvey said. "I knew early on that Ronda was going to be a very big star. Dana was saying he would never be interested in women's fighting, but that didn't discourage me, because what I think he was really saying was that there were no women worthy of being in the UFC."
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Harvey and his partner, Geneva Wasserman, an attorney who serves as Rousey's publicist, set out to build Rousey's brand while Rousey did her thing in the cage.
She's appeared on Jim Rome's television show on Showtime and Conan O'Brien's talk show on TBS. She guest-hosted "TMZ Live" in the summer. She appeared on the cover of ESPN the Magazine's "Body Issue" last year and will be profiled Tuesday by Jon Frankel on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."
Rousey takes all the fame in stride, though, because she knows how easily it all could disappear.
Only a few days after becoming the first American woman to earn an Olympic judo medal when she won a bronze in the 154-pound class in Beijing, Rousey was shocked to learn the bronze medal and a couple of bucks would buy her a cup of coffee.
It didn't help her to get a job after the Games. It didn't give her access to an education grant or some sort of job-training. The medal wasn't even enough to allow her to run for an hour on a treadmill at a local gym.
Rousey was so broke that when she returned from the Olympics, she lived in her car while working three jobs.
She was, she says, "too proud to live in [her mom's] house," but she didn't have enough money saved to pay both her rent and a security deposit on an apartment.
Because 24 Hour Fitness was an official U.S. Olympic Team partner, Rousey hoped she'd be able to use its facilities to work out until she got on her feet financially. She brought her bronze medal with her to a Southern California gym to plead her case.
"Didn't matter," she said. "Still had to pay. What is that all about? [Mimicking a television commercial], 'The official gym of the U.S. Olympic team.' Here I was: a real, live, U.S. Olympic team member, with a medal, but if I wanted to work out, I had to pay."
Rousey has great natural ability, but talk to anyone who has been around her and they all say the same thing: She has an insatiable work ethic and is never satisfied.
Her coach, Edmond Tarverdyan, is amazed by the way Rousey pushes herself. But, he said, she does it in a smart and calculated way and the results are visible.
A noted boxing coach, Tarverdyan said Rousey's improvement in boxing is typical.
"Honestly, Ronda has worked so hard on her boxing and she's come so far that if she wanted to, she could win a gold medal in the Olympics in boxing," he said. "I truly mean that. She could be a professional world champion. She's training with world champions [in boxing] now and Ronda looks like she's been boxing her whole life. Ronda is such a great athlete, and she wants it so badly, she can do whatever she wants to do."
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Her best friend, fellow judoka and fledgling MMA fighter Marina Shafir, said Rousey is a perfectionist who never stops thinking of how to improve.
She has a tennis ball hung from the ceiling in the living room of her Venice, Calif., home. It's a prop used to remind her to move her head when she's boxing.
"It's a life commitment," Shafir said. "I think what sets Ronda apart from most of these MMA athletes is that she's made a life commitment. You don't just walk off the street and say, 'Oh, I want to be an MMA fighter.' Ronda's committed her life to be great in this sport.
"She gave the first part of her life over to judo and she had an incredible career and won an [Olympic] medal. And now, she's committed her life to MMA. Just because she has the belt, she knows that's not the end. It's just the beginning."
Harvey said Rousey will eventually be making "millions" from fighting, endorsements and doing movies. He said she has the athletic skills, looks, intelligence and personality to become a transformative figure for women's sports.
Still, Rousey has to fight to earn respect for her accomplishments. Invariably, when she walks into a gym, a male coach will come over and begin to teach her how to throw a jab, or discuss some other technique.
Some may see it as a harmless way to be friendly. It's disrespectful, though, to a UFC champion.
"As a woman, every time I go to a new gym, I have to prove myself all over," Rousey said. "With a guy, his reputation carries over. But if you're a girl, they say, 'Oh, there's so-and-so. But is she really good?' People come up to me all the time and try to teach me stuff.
"I don't know them from a hole in the wall and they don't have any professional accomplishments. But I guess they think just because I'm a chick, they can show me a thing or two. I'm like, 'Dude, if I was Anderson Silva and I walked in here, you wouldn't be showing me how to throw a jab.' "
That discrimination gnaws at her. She barely shrugged her shoulders when her mother, AnnMaria DeMars, threw out a box of medals and certificates she'd won during her judo career. The trinkets of success mean little and she has none of her medals – not even her Olympic medal – on display in her home.
Question her ability, though, or demean her accomplishments and you'll have a fight on your hands.
"If I spend all of my time admiring what I've done and thinking I'm hot [expletive] because I have a couple of medals and ribbons and whatnot, there's going to be some girl somewhere busting her ass figuring out a way to beat me. I'm not going to let that happen. I've been like a 12-1 favorite in all these fights, but that's because I've worked 12 times harder than anyone else. You get out what you put in."
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