In just six professional fights, Ronda Rousey has taken the world of women’s MMA by storm.
A 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in judo, Rousey (6-0) defended her Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title against former champion Sarah Kaufman in just 54 seconds. Each of her professional fights has ended in first-round submission by armbar, including all three of her amateur bouts.
Rousey sat down with ESPN.com during a recent visit to the Bristol, Conn., headquarters to talk about how her life has changed outside of the cage, and what she hopes to accomplish inside of it.
You’ve become the face of women’s MMA in a very short period of time. Was there a specific moment when it hit home just how famous you’ve become?
I try not to think about the expectations and the pressure and just try and do my job the best that I can. But me and my friend were walking around Whole Foods; I always make fun of him because he thinks everyone is [someone famous.] Our thing to do is say, “Ooh, is that so and so? Is that Jamie Lee Curtis? Is that Christina Aguilera’s ex-husband?” We’d always play that game and say, “Oh look, it’s Fabio!” and play spot the celebrity. Then one day I got spotted at Whole Foods and we suddenly just looked at each other like, “Oh my God! I’m that guy at Whole Foods. I’m the dude!” That was when it really hit us. We got Whole Foods recognition. Hell yeah!
Has it surprised you how quickly you’ve destroyed the competition? Is there a part of you that almost welcomes some adversity just to see how you would respond?
No. I’m happy with the way things have been going. I expect a lot out of myself and I knew I was capable of doing this well. I knew watching women’s MMA for the first time that I could armbar all of these women right away. I swear. And everyone was like, “You’re crazy. You don’t know about the striking.” And I told them to just watch. The very first fight I watched I knew I could beat all of these girls just doing judo and nothing else. It’s when I started coming into MMA and learned the striking and all of that, I found out there was a lot more to this sport than I originally saw. I’m not surprised at my success now. I was prepared for more. Every time I go to a fight, I am prepared for the worst-case scenario. It’s just that I have a very good camp and we do all of our work before the fight. We prepare very well and I go in there completely capable of beating these girls right away or completely capable of going five rounds.
The armbar has become your signature finishing move, sweeping women’s MMA with the same impact as Royce Gracie’s rear-naked choke in the early days of the UFC. Has this been by design or has the opportunity simply presented itself each fight?
No, it just opens up. I literally make up everything as it goes along in the fight. For every action that I do, I feel like I have memorized every possible reaction to it. I’m like constantly ticking down options in my head. So when I’m going for a trip in the beginning, I’m not thinking about an armbar, only what my options are to react in that moment.
You recently called out Cris “Cyborg” Santos -- even calling her “Cyroid” -- and have been outspoken about her recent failed drug test. How much of what she has accomplished do you believe has been artificially enhanced?
I believe all of it has been artificial. You don’t see athletes have successful careers and then suddenly start doping in their prime. Why would they do something like that? The people that dope are a certain kind of people that have a certain kind of mentality and it really just comes from insecurity and thinking that they’re not good enough without it. There’s nothing that’s going to suddenly change a person’s mindset in the middle of their career. Either you have that mindset or you don’t. I feel like if you are a doper, than you are always a doper. I have never tried any performance-enhancing drug in my life. Ever. And there is nothing that can change my mind about that. People that are inclined to do things like that are always inclined to do things like that. It’s not like there is some switch that makes you decide to be a cheater someday.
Santos said she is unable to make 135 pounds, but would be willing to drop down to 140 in order to meet you in the cage. Would you accept the fight at anything other than the bantamweight limit?
I don’t owe her anything and I think it’s wrong to reward someone like that with a title fight and with all of the considerations they want after they disgrace the sport and their country like that. If, while she was doping, she could get down to 145, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that if she’s not doping, she could be lighter. When have you ever heard of somebody taking a bunch of steroids and then stopping and maintaining the same muscle mass? It’s a flawed argument. She’s come into fights overweight and comes into fights on steroids. She obviously has no respect for the people she is fighting. She’s never had a fair fight once in her life and I’m going to put my foot down once and for all and give her a fair fight. I can see why she is scared to death with it and completely against it. I’m the strongest competitor that she’s ever going to come across. She’s not going to have any of those advantages. For someone to be so mentally weak that they need to do that to get by, of course she is going to do everything she can to resist it. It’s going to reveal her as the fraud that she truly is.
A fight between the two of you would easily be one of the most anticipated in the sport. How would you plan on dealing with her relentless striking?
Cris “Cyborg” is not a technical striker. The way that she strikes plays very well into my style of fighting. When she fought Gina [Carano], she got mounted three times in a round. She’s very wild and just uses a lot of strength. But all of the principles of judo is using the strength and momentum of a person against them. So a lot of times, the more that she is flailing around and resisting, the more that it is going to help me out. I don’t feel like she has the awareness of distance or is technical enough and I intend to piss this girl off so much that there’s no way in God’s green earth that she is going to be able to have any kind of game plan. She is just going to come in there and see red and I’ll be in there calm, cool and collected.
It seems that athletes get into combat sports for different reasons, from the money and fame to the pure addiction of competition. Why does Ronda Rousey fight for a living?
I think it’s just that this is what I was born to do. I tried getting away from judo and bartending for a while and being normal. It just wasn’t for me. I’m not the kind of person that was meant to sit behind a desk. Even in school, it just wasn’t my environment. I need to be the running, jumping and climbing trees kind of person. After the Olympics, you get used to this lifestyle of being pushed to the absolute extremes in the emotional and physical spectrum all of the time. If you start living at a plateau, it doesn’t feel right anymore. So I feel like this is the only way that I can feel like I can make sense of the world. I feel like it’s more pure. This is real people, real interactions and real fights instead of dealing with office politics. Or having a boss or a co-worker you don’t like, but you never get to say anything about it. Instead you are just like sitting in traffic and yelling at everyone around you from inside your car, but when you are actually face-to-face with people you can’t say what is on your mind. Everything is just so calculated all of the time in the outside world; I get to be so much more real and myself in this setting and not be blamed or punished for it.
You’ve been very open in the past about the impact of losing your father at a young age. What do you think he would say about all that you have accomplished today?
I think he would be tripping out over it. When I first started swimming, he bought a swimming handbook and read all the rules about swimming. He would sit there for every practice and watch me and he would get super into it. So I imagine if he was around right now that he would buy every book on MMA and [be] researching it and coming to all of the training. He would be totally all about it and would be extremely proud.