There’s no escaping Ronda Rousey these days. Far and away the most publicized female fighter in mixed martial arts today, the Strikeforce bantamweight champion may also be the best.
Five wins. All by submission via armbar. All coming in the first round. You can’t argue with that kind of success, but it may also be getting lost in the talk of Ronda in ESPN’s “Body Issue,” Ronda trashing Kim Kardashian, and Ronda being on the red carpet. Maybe the only one who hasn’t forgotten what got Rousey to this point is the champion herself. And she is well aware that she will be in for the fight of her young career on Saturday against former champion Sarah Kaufman. So she’s prepared accordingly.
“She’s the hardest test I’ve come across so far, and I respect her very much as a competitor and I’ve been taking this fight one hundred percent seriously and I’ve been training harder for this than any other fight before,” said Rousey of Kaufman. “I’ve been watching her fight excessively, and I’m gonna be more than over prepared for this fight, and I’m a hundred percent sure that I’m going to win.”
All the obligations that come along with being the “face” of her sport can’t possibly have made things easy for the 25-year old from Venice, California. But when speaking to her a week ago, she appeared to have it all under control, and for that, she credits the team around her for taking care of everything that doesn’t have to do with training and fighting.
“I’m dealing with it fine,” said Rousey. “Before, I was working three jobs and training full-time, and now because everything has been going so well, it’s the same amount of work, but it’s just different work. I don’t have to do graveyard shifts anymore or show up for a 9 to 5 job; I just have more media obligations. But I’ve trained more than I ever have for any other fight before, even for the Olympics. This is the peak of my athletic career, and having to deal some extra media and all those other things, the only challenges are multi-tasking, organization, getting help with my schedule and getting enough rest. But thankfully, I have a very professional team behind me now that’s really helping me coordinate everything, so that’s pretty much how I’m dealing with it – I get a lot of outside help with organization. But I always put my training first and all the other things come second.”
And if you’ve been paying attention over the last few weeks of the latest round of Rondamania, you’ll notice that in addition to her usual crew of stalwarts, Rousey has been working with the likes of the Diaz brothers and their striking coach Richard Perez. Another familiar face to combat sports fans has been former female boxing great Lucia Rijker, brought in by Rousey’s manager, Darin Harvey, to deliver some quality sparring partners and also tighten up the standup attack of the ever-evolving champion.
“She’s been bringing in some really good sparring partners for me and she gives me tips from time to time,” said Rousey of Rijker. “She’s not on my permanent coaching staff, but it’s really encouraging to have such a legend in women’s athletics around and in the gym and to have her support. So I’m very thankful for that. She’s awesome and really cool.”
She was also the Ronda Rousey of boxing back in her heyday, a ferocious competitor with world-class skills who was never beaten in the ring. The only difference was that when Rijker walked away from the sport, it was without reaping the rewards her talent deserved. She never got the big fight that would have propelled her into the mainstream’s consciousness, and when she almost got it in 2005 against Christy Martin, a ruptured Achilles tendon took Rijker out of the fight. It was never rescheduled, and these days, only the hardcores know just how good she was. Rousey knows how good Rijker was too.
“I know her story and I know she had a lot of trouble getting fights back when she was actively competing, and I definitely had that trouble when I was first getting started,” she said. “But I feel like I’ve been able to use the more theatrical and entertaining side of the fight business to get myself the fights that I wanted instead of sitting back and hoping someone will hand them to me. I learned to demand them and get the fans behind me and to have their support so that I get the fights that I want. I came into this business thinking that I’m gonna make it impossible for people to ignore me.”
No one has and no one is ever likely to ignore Rousey, whose Olympic level judo skills and killer instinct in the cage, coupled with a confident and no nonsense attitude outside of it has made for a winning combination that has skyrocketed her to the top of her profession in a little less than 17 months as a pro. That kind of success not only brings good things, but it brings critics and backlash as well, and before you can even get the words out of your mouth, she’s already addressing the idea that she’s an armbar and nothing else.
“When people say that I’m a one trick pony and only have the one armbar, they don’t realize that I have so many setups to that armbar that I don’t even know them all – I’ll make them up on the fly,” said Rousey. “When you’re watching boxing and you see somebody knock someone out with a right hand every time, they’re not like ‘oh, they’re a one trick pony.’ No, they have a billion different setups for that right hand. And just because it ended with a right hand on the face, it doesn’t mean it’s the same thing every time. And just because so many people are unfamiliar with grappling and they just see the armbar ending the same, they assume the setup’s the same, but if you look back at all those fights, I’ve jumped into that armbar from many different positions. It ends the same way, but the setups are always different. So they can prepare for a certain setup, but I’m always gonna think of more.”
Rousey also makes it clear that if you think you’ve seen all she can do in the cage, you’re mistaken.
“I’m lucky that the style I’ve developed is extremely hard to prepare for because I don’t walk out there with a set gameplan,” she said. “I always walk out there to improvise and be creative, and that’s what hard to prepare for as opposed to someone who has a very rigid and predictable style, which Sarah Kaufman tends to have. She’s a very talented and very disciplined striker, but she’s not very overly creative and you usually see the same version of her in every single fight and she doesn’t really change how she’s fighting depending on how the match is going. She has her set ways and what works for her, and that’s awesome. She’s 15-1 and that’s obviously working very well for her, but she doesn’t seem very adaptable.”
She does hit hard though, and she has a level of striking acumen that Rousey hasn’t seen yet. Then again, this isn’t a new concept to the former Olympic bronze medalist, and she’s used to hearing that each fight is going to be her toughest yet. And that’s fine with her. Just don’t say that with all the attention she’s getting that she’s neglecting what’s important.
“Contrary to what a lot of people believe, I never underestimate a single opponent,” she said. “I always assume that they’re going to be the best I’m ever going to be facing, the best version of them that’s ever going to be seen, and the very first opening I see, I’m gonna go for it. I’m not going to be cocky enough to think that I can let certain openings slip by so I can finish the fight in a style that I think is cooler. I assume that if I see one opening to finish a fight, that could be the only one I will ever see and I have to capitalize on it. I never relax in a fight, thinking that I’m such a shoo-in that I can finish in any way I want. I’m always so worried that there might be only one chance or no chances for me to see a finish, so I have to try and create and capitalize on every single thing that I see.”
Fame hasn’t changed Ronda Rousey, not before the fight, and certainly not during it. Reason being that nothing that happens in front of cameras or on television screens can compare to the thrill of winning and being the best. And maybe that’s the real appeal of Miss Rousey. Sure, she looks good and is quick with a soundbite, but for her, the bottom line will always be the fight.