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As Ronda Rousey returns at UFC 207, go back in time to her first fight

(This story first ran at USAToday.com)

The story of Ronda Rousey’s fighting career is full of unusual twists, but one of the most bizarre came right at the very beginning.

Rousey’s next fight against Amanda Nunes will headline UFC 207 on Dec. 30, in front of a packed Las Vegas crowd and a global television audience. Her first was at a makeshift venue at a Californian country club, and it nearly didn’t happen.

Thanks, primarily, to a 60-pound pitbull named Porkchop.

Back in March 2011, Rousey, a former Olympic judo bronze medalist, was preparing for her first steps into mixed martial arts, chasing a dream despite the UFC then not having a women’s division.

Her debut professional contest was slated to take place at the Braemar Country Club in Tarzana, Calif., in front of a tiny audience, with a guaranteed purse of $400 plus an additional $400 for a win.

However, it would take a sneaky bit of chicanery at the weigh-in for Rousey to be able to compete against, and ultimately defeat, Ediane Gomes.

In her book, “My Fight/Your Fight,” Rousey described how two days before the bout her dog, Mochi, had gotten into a fight of her own – with Porkchop – owned by Rousey’s then-roommate, Wetzel Parker. As Rousey intervened, Porkchop was “still in fight mode” and bit her twice, on her foot and her shin.

“There was a hole in the arch of my foot,” Rousey wrote. “Flesh was hanging off the base of my toes. A split second later, blood filled the holes and started gushing onto the carpet.”

A trip to the emergency room, then another to a plastic surgeon, meant that Rousey’s foot was stitched up before she prepared to tip the scales. Despite blinding pain, she was determined to have her initial MMA scrap, even though athletic commission rules forbade fighters from competing with stitches.

In order to stop the fight doctor and commission official from paying too much attention to her foot, Rousey came up with the idea of loudly announcing she needed to weigh-in naked, as fighters sometimes do when they are near the weight limit, with towels held up around them to protect their modesty.

In the confusion, the doctor and officials barely noticed the inflammation and stitches across the top of her foot, and the match went ahead.

The exchange is highlighted in an upcoming documentary about Rousey that features some fascinating and previously unseen footage of the early part of her career.

Filmmakers Gary Stretch and Pete Antico followed Rousey for five years to collect material for their upcoming movie about her, titled “Through My Father’s Eyes” and to be released by Wrekin Hill Entertainment in the spring.

According to Stretch, a former world champion boxer, and Antico, a renowned Hollywood stunt man, the remarkable scene at Rousey’s first fight perfectly highlighted how much – and how quickly – her life changed.

“It was a tiny little venue; I remember as she was warming up out the back you could see a forklift truck and machinery behind her,” Stretch told USA TODAY Sports. “Everyone has to start out somewhere, and that was the beginning for her. The amazing thing about it is that just a couple of years later she was a huge superstar and a household name.”

“Ronda had the burning desire to be great, that was within her heart,” Antico added. “But at that time of that first fight there was no outlet for it. It didn’t seem possible for a woman to become rich and famous in the sport. Women’s MMA was just getting started. She made it happen. Everything that has happened since and the way the sport has grown, … that is a testament to her passion and dedication.”

Rousey defeated Gomes (who would later go on to compete in the Invicta FC organization and had previously lost to Nunes in 2010) via her signature armbar maneuver, in only 25 seconds.

And thus the process of dominating the world of women’s MMA began, a juggernaut that suffered its first derailment in Australia last November, when Rousey was stunningly knocked out by Holly Holm.

The Nunes fight offers a chance for redemption, as well as an opportunity to reclaim the belt, which Holm surrendered to Miesha Tate, before Tate in turn lost it to Nunes during the summer.

It will be one of the year’s most-watched MMA contests, and a world removed from the low-key inception of her career in the octagon.

For more on UFC 207, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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