The Rise of ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey: The 14-Second Assassin
The world’s greatest female fighter, who recently annihilated her opponent in a record 14 seconds, opens up her mother’s lessons, Laila Ali, Eminem, and her Hollywood takeover.
Fourteen seconds. For us mere mortals, it’s the time it takes to, say, wash our hands or lace up our sneakers. But for UFC champion Ronda Rousey, that’s how long it takes her to thoroughly kick someone’s ass.
On February 28, current champ Rousey squared off against No. 1 contender Cat Zingano at the Staples Center for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship. Zingano was no joke, compiling a stellar 9-0 record as well as the distinction of being the first woman ever to win a UFC fight by TKO. But before many fight fans had even taken their seats, Rousey had her opponent in a brutally effective armbar submission hold. She tapped out. The fight lasted just 14 seconds, breaking the UFC Championship record she’d set her previous match—where she punched out Alexis Davis in a mere 16 seconds—and the legend of “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey only grew.
“I didn’t think I could break it,” Rousey says of her 16-second KO. “I had a bet going with my coach and said, ‘There’s no way anyone is going to break 16 seconds,’ and he said, ‘No, you’re totally going to break your own record.’ We bet $10,000 on it, and the very next fight I beat it by two seconds. I owe my coach $10,000 now... I screwed myself over on that one!”
The 28-year-old mixed martial artist has earned the nickname “The Arm Collector” for her uncanny ability to dislocate her opponents’ elbows with armbars—a submission hold wherein she traps one’s arm in her thigh and puts pressure on the elbow joint until it cracks. And she lets her foes know it, too. Prior to a championship match against Sarah Kaufman in 2012, Rousey warned: “If I get her in an armbar, I'm going to rip it off and throw it at her corner.”
After amassing a 4-0 record in the now-defunct Strikeforce, Rousey became the first female fighter to sign with Dana White’s UFC in November 2012, and was later announced as the first UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion. She’s since defended her title five times en route to an 11-0 MMA record, winning her last four matches by an average of 38.5 seconds.
She’s also managed to cross over into modeling and acting—she’s featured in this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and nabbing plum roles in The Expendables 3, Furious 7, and Entourage. And just last week, it was announced that Rousey will star as the lead opposite Iko Uwais (The Raid) in the action-thriller Mile 22, produced by Peter Berg.
“With Fast 7, The Expendables, and Entourage, I was just getting my feet wet,” says Rousey. “But being engaged in the fight choreography on Mile 22 and really having a say in it, we’re going to produce something unbelievable.”
Her recent ass-kicking exploits have even caught the attention of rapper Eminem, who targeted the pugilist on his song “Shady XV,” mocking her “flat little badonkadonk” and labeling her a “slaughterhouse in a blouse.” “That sounds like a fight where I would end up losing money instead of making it,” she says of Eminem getting litigious after she beat his ass. “I have to keep in mind who would sue me before I get into any kind of confrontation with anyone. That’s why I spend all my time at the gym and never go to the club. If I went to the club and got in a confrontation with someone, that would cost me all kinds of money.”
Plus, Rousey isn’t a fan of woman-on-man fighting. When I ask her if she’s ever considered her own Billie Jean King moment in UFC, she shuts the idea down without hesitation.
“I don’t think it’s a great idea to have a man hitting a woman on television,” says Rousey. “I’ll never say that I’ll lose, but you could have a girl getting totally beat up on TV by a guy—which is a bad image to put across. With all the football [domestic violence] stuff that’s been happening, not a good idea. It’s fun to theorize about and talk about, but it’s something that’s much better in theory than fact.”
Another person who recently took a public shot at Rousey is Laila Ali. The daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali compiled a 24-0 record as a boxer, with 21 wins via knockout. When asked by a reporter about whether she could take Rousey in the wake of that 14-second stunner, Ali said, “No woman can beat me. Period… She’s too much smaller than me anyway. She’s like the size of my daughter, my 3-year-old.”
Even though Ali has been retired since 2007, the diss went viral. And Rousey thinks Ali may have bitten off a little—OK, a lot—more than she can chew.
“If she wants to take me up on that, I’m around,” Rousey says of Ali. “She’s retired and has several kids. I understand why she’d think that because she has a size advantage, but if you saw my last fight it had nothing to do with size or strength at all. That’s not how I beat people. So you can’t count having a size and strength advantage as having a real advantage against me.”
One thing Rousey does have in common with Ali, aside from an undefeated record, is the benefit of some amazing genes.
Rousey’s mother, Ann-Maria “Animal” Burns, was a 6th Degree BlackBelt judoka who became the first American to win the World Judo Championships when she took home the gold in 1984. She also taught her daughter that infamous armbar—a submission technique Ann-Maria mastered after blowing both her knees out at 17. According to Rousey, her mother’s coach was dating her best friend, and every time she would stay over at their place, the coach would wake her mom up by throwing the friend on top of her and yelling, “DO AN ARMBAR NOW!” She’d have to armbar her right away. “Animal” continued the ritual with Rousey, jumping on top of her every morning and forcing her into armbars. “My mom was no soccer mom. I’m laid-back and chill compared to her,” says Rousey.
Another piece of advice her mother gave her came after her first loss. Rousey was just 11 years old and got her butt whooped in judo, but had to fight the girl again later that day. Her mother looked her daughter square in the eyes and said, “You know what? Winning’s a bitch, but revenge is a motherfucker. Go kill that little girl.” And she did—well, not literally.
Unlike some fighters, who work themselves up before fights with loud, angry music, Rousey requires complete silence. There’s no talking or joking around allowed in the locker room, and god help you if your phone goes off. The first thing she does upon entering the locker room is take a nap, then she’s awoken by her coach, who wraps her hands. After a short warm-up, she goes into battle.The entire routine, she says, came from mom growing up. “It’s funny how a woman with a gold medal in judo and a PhD in developmental psychology can systematically mold you into a champion,” says Rousey. “She would take me to judo tournaments when I was a kid, and sometimes I’d fight in three divisions in a day and have 15 matches. I’d go and fight, and then after my mom would make me take a nap. If I was fooling around and joking with the other kids, she’d pull me away, sit me in the corner, and say, ‘Sit there and think about winning.’ She kept me serious all day long. Returning to that mindset is something that I did every weekend for years, and it’s very easy to slip back into it.”
Rousey’s fight night demeanor is unique, to say the least—a bevy of squinty smiles punctuated by jaw-dropping glares. She even has a tendency to cry, both pre and post-match. It’s a relic, she says, of her childhood.
“I think it had to do with me not being able to talk,” says Rousey. “I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, and I suffered from hypoxia. The doctor thought I had some sort of brain damage, which delayed my speech development. So the way I would communicate if I wanted something is I would cry. Plus, I was the youngest of three sisters and they would beat up on me all the time. I couldn’t say, ‘My sister Jennifer hit me,’ so I would cry to get my point across.”She adds, “Some people may think it’s a little much sometimes, but I can’t control it. I have no emotional filter. Whatever I am going through in any particular moment, you’ll see it written on my face.”
At first, Rousey attempted to follow in her mother’s footsteps with judo, starting at age 11. By 17, she won a gold medal at the 2004 World Junior Judo Championships, and a bronze medal at that year’s Athens Olympics. Later, she took home silver at the 2007 World Judo Championships, and another bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Unlike mom, she failed to strike gold.
“My mother was the first American world champion in judo, and I spent my entire life trying to be an Olympic champion,” says Rousey. “I was that close to being it, but I didn’t. I lost and got the bronze. So I’ve always had that little tinge of unfulfillment left behind from judo, and every single time I go out there to defend my UFC belt, I have that one chance to vindicate myself from everything I couldn’t accomplish in judo.”
When she left judo following that disappointing 2008 Olympics, Rousey was very down. She thought she had nowhere to turn. “After the Olympics, I was left with no options, no work experience, and no education. So I had no idea what I was going to do with myself,” says Rousey. “I don’t want to be stuck in that situation ever again. I want to fight for as long as I can, but I realize there’s a short shelf life in this sport, so I’m preparing for when I’m done. I need a new quest to embark on.”That preparation includes acting. Rousey says she’s been taking acting classes for a year-and-a-half, which she began prior to shooting The Expendables 3, and is excited for her upcoming roles in the blockbusters Furious 7 (“You have to figure out whose side my character is on”) and Entourage (“Me and Turtle have a fun little bet going”).
But in the short-term, she’s got her eye on her next challenger: Bethe Correia. The 31-year-old Brazilian is an undefeated 9-0, and has been taunting Rousey for quite some time.
You see, Rousey is the leading member of “The Four Horsemen”—a group of female MMA fighters (and friends) that also includes Marina Shafir, Shayna Baszler, and Jessamyn Duke. The name is borrowed from Ric Flair’s 1980s wrestling crew. In her last two fights, Correia has beaten Duke and Baszler, each time raising four fingers and putting an additional finger down.
“She’s calling me out,” says Rousey. “It’s very smart from a marketing perspective—for her to get a title shot as quick as possible—but it’s not very good for her physical well-being. You don’t fuck with Mama Bear. It might seem lucrative from afar, but it’s not going to be nearly as fun in practice.”
And UFC fans will, it seems, get to see these two titans duke it out in the ring soon. “The fight with Correia is in the process of happening. I talked with UFC and they expressed interest,” says Rousey. “I really would love to fight her in Brazil. It’ll be like Rocky IV. I’m fighting Clubber Lang in a Rocky IV setting, and the best way for me to dispense justice is to beat you in front of your own crowd.”
She laughs, and then gets serious. “There’s no one out there that’s better than me at fighting. But there’s still a lot more work to do.”