With flash and depth, Ronda Rousey has expertly navigated caged combat since entering mixed martial arts in 2010.
Though they often seem to be, eye-glinting objects and things of substance aren’t, by rule, mutually exclusive. And Rousey, the 135lb female mixed martial arts superstar making her sixth consecutive UFC title defense this Saturday, is proof of that.
The gifs that keep on giving: big hits, bad misses, fast feet and a winning smile
The 28-year-old blonde emperor of the armbar has forged her own path, tearing down walls only to erect a citadel founded on competitive brilliance and unrelenting attitude. This combination has allowed her to imagine a legacy far greater the one created after just 11 professional fights: as a pioneer for women fighters.
The big picture looks like this: leave a brutal sport undefeated, undisputed and unparalleled, all the while fostering and maintaining a mainstream notoriety no UFC fighter has known.
“It’s easy to expect anything when you have a world champion walking through the living room,” Rousey said, alluding to her mother, judo world champion AnnMaria De Mars.
Rousey is likely to step into the octagon in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday against Brazil’s Bethe Correia as the biggest favorite in the history of the UFC. Correia, you see, simply doesn’t have a chance. The unbeaten Brazilian, a powerful brawler, may as well not even show up, for the price of doing so will be steep and furious. That’s how Rousey sees things, at least, and media and fans have not found a reason to argue otherwise.
It’s no surprise then that Sports Illustrated recently named the Californian as the most dominant athlete on the planet, and ESPN saw fit to bestow Rousey the honor of female athlete of the year in 2014 and 2015, ahead of others like Serena Williams.
Rousey is not one for odds, and any pressure she feels has nothing to do with oddsmakers installing her as a 17-to-1 favorite. Her rise to prominence has been so impressive, so filled with incredible moments that expectations surrounding her cage time, fleeting as it may be, are rightly through the roof. This has led some people to question if she’s really as good as she’s made out to be, or if the women she has tormented and torqued aren’t worth much. That’s myopic. Rousey can at the same time be two steps ahead of the competition, and, even if the champion’s dominance instilled a reputation that the bantamweight women are the weakest crop of fighters in the UFC, the competition can still be strong.
“I need these other girls,” Rousey said. “It’s not like I can do this by myself. I need a dancing partner.”
Last time out, in her hometown of Los Angeles, Rousey finished a stunningly fluid armbar over undefeated Cat Zingano. That required 14 seconds. In the fight prior to that, a year ago in Las Vegas, Rousey used the judo that had been drilled into her by her world champion mother, the feisty AnnMaria De Mars, to slam veteran Alexis Davis to the ground, where the challenger’s face was pounded until the referee intervened at the 16-second mark.
Rousey has proven herself to be an unadulterated winner, which is the most important characteristic of any apex competitor. She possesses qualities of the very best fighters. Her penchant for straight talk and the ability to offer quote after printable quote. An ability to dream big, embrace celebrity, exude confidence. And, despite those things, a need within herself to perpetuate an “underdog” feel when every shred of evidence indicates otherwise.
A few weeks after Rousey accosted Davis, the New Yorker, not exactly a hotbed of MMA coverage, released an excellent piece on the UFC champion entitled “Mean Girl.” Rousey has been a media darling to varying degrees from the moment she stepped inside a cage. She released a bestselling book, My Fight/Your Fight, with one of her sisters this year. During a media scrum following an open workout in Brazil on Wednesday, Rousey referenced another book, Ender’s Game, a 1980s science fiction novel that was adapted to movie screens in 2013.
In the story, Rousey found a lesson that she has since applied to the 32-year-old Correia.
During the run-up to Saturday’s showdown, Correia (9-0) offered feigned concern that Rousey might kill herself if things didn’t go her way in the main event of UFC 190 (10pm ET on pay-per-view). As has been recited many times by now, enough that the UFC bantamweight proclaimed she won’t discuss it with the media any more, Rousey’s father, Ron, killed himself when Ronda was eight. Correia apologized, suggesting she was unaware of the family tragedy. Rousey, whose hand wraps on Wednesday were adorned with the words “My lovely father”, dismissed any notion that Correia could not have known, and promised to teach her a lesson.
So like Ender Wiggin, the adolescent protagonist in Ender’s Game, Rousey is resolved to defeating Correia so thoroughly that not only would she have won this battle, she’d resolve all future ones as well. She can’t have other opponents taking the same approach as Correia, feeling as though it’s safe to pick on the champion’s family.
“This definitely is the most personal fight I’ve been in,” Rousey said. “It’s the most pressure I’ve been under. That’s another reason that Bethe is never meant to be a champion. She said: ‘I have no pressure on me. No one expects anything out of me, and that’s an advantage.’
“So you’re saying you do the best with less pressure? That’s what’s best for you? You’re not meant for this life. You’re not. The more pressure there is, I fight above myself. I’ve never been under more pressure in my life, and I’m going to show the world what I’m really made of.”