A Lifetime of Fighting: An Interview with Ronda Rousey

Ronda Rousey

At 27, Ronda Rousey might be one of the best pound-for-pound mixed martial artists fighting today. Boasting an undefeated MMA record, she’s blown through her competition, winning a majority of her bouts in under a minute. To see Ronda in action is to watch a fighter in her prime, throwing, punching, and submitting her opponents in record time. But getting to the top was no simple feat. When she spoke with us recently, she recalled a lifetime of fighting, starting at a young age.

To stay out of trouble in the Rousey household, you just needed to follow four simple rules: (1) don’t take anything out of people’s hands, (2) don’t hit anyone unless they hit you first, (3) no being naked at the dinner table, and (4) you can’t eat anything bigger than your head. That second rule – don’t hit anyone unless they hit you first – was especially instructive to Ronda, especially when it came to handling bullies. She remembers her father sitting her down shortly before her first day of school to teach her the importance of defending herself. So when a boy grabbed her by the throat a few years later, she didn’t think twice before throwing him against the hard concrete, splitting his head open in the process. It wasn’t long before she developed a reputation as someone not to be messed with.

After her father’s death when she was eight, Ronda started practicing judo. She took to the sport quickly, in part because it quieted her mind, focusing her in on the present moment. And under the guidance of her supportive yet firm mother – who at one point even made her daughter run laps on a broken toe – Ronda rapidly advanced up the ranks, even qualifying for the Olympics by the age of 17.

“I expected to shock the world, and to be the first American to win the gold medal [in judo],” Rousey recalls. In the end, she finished in ninth place, better than any other woman on the US judo team. Even still, she considers it a crushing defeat. But losing at the 2004 Olympics only encouraged her. Months later, still reeling from the loss, Rousey bulldozed through her competition at the World Junior Championships, winning the finals in four seconds.

By 2008, Rousey was again competing at the Olympics, but this time as a much more disciplined and experienced fighter. She soundly defeated her first two opponents, but in her quarterfinal match, she faced Edith Bosch of the Netherlands, a woman who on two separate occasions had dislocated Rousey’s elbow with illegal moves. It was a brutal fight, with Bosch throwing illegal punches from the start. Over the next five minutes, Rousey says she gave it her all, but in the end Bosch edged ahead to take the match. Rousey would go on to win the bronze medal that year. She’ll never forget the first thing she saw after winning that last match: it was Ronda’s mother proudly waving the American flag that was placed on her dad’s coffin.

“I was much more proud of myself than I thought I would be for a bronze medal, that’s for sure,” she says.

After the Olympics there was no doubt in her mind that she was the best female fighter in the world, but proving it to others was a harder sell. And so, with the near-delusional self-regard that only comes with years and years of training, she set out on a career in mixed martial arts.  

“It was me versus the world and I was pissed off,” Rousey remembers of the decision. “And there was no way the world was going to pick on me anymore.”

Within two years of her first mixed martial arts fight, Rousey would become the Women’s Bantamweight champion. She hasn’t been defeated since. 

Interview highlights

On coming home after winning a bronze medal at the Olympics

People only care about the Olympics one month out of every four years. In September you’re nothing to them. And I realized that when I got home and I had no work experience [or] education and was trying to get a job…The jobs I got were bartending and cocktail waitressing. I was bartending and I told a customer that I won an Olympic medal and he goes, “Oh, that’s cool. I collect stamps.” That’s all it is to people. It’s like a fun fact about you.

On her mom’s reaction to MMA

She thought [pursuing MMA] was a stupid idea. She said, “Go to college and be an adult. What’s wrong with you?” So I was in a rush. My first year of fighting I fought six times…Every two months I would fight. And I would just come out of there unscathed. I would walk in there, would win in less than a minute, and walk out. I never had a fight go over a minute until I fought for the title, and I still finished that in the first round.

On being an elite athlete and a sex symbol

I’m put into a situation now where I could really effect change where I think is important. I had serious body image issues for a very long time, and issues with food and all these sorts of things. When I overcame that, I was like, “What could I do to help other girls in the same position, because I know I’m not alone.”…So when I go and do shoots like Maxim or Sports Illustrated or stuff like that, I purposely shoot at the weight I walk around at….A lot of these girls, they cut weight for photo shoots the way I cut weight for a competition. And I only weigh 135 for a few hours of the year…And to make people think that I look like that all the time, it’s inaccurate. And any girl that would aspire to look like that all the time, it’s unhealthy.

On MMA ring girls

I think it’s actually pretty cool that we’re setting up a situation where you have one woman who is a competitor and these other women who are there for looks. But the focus is entirely shifted away from them. It really shows that there’s a difference between a job and a career. Those girls have a job and I have a career. I’ve had plenty of jobs on my way to having a career, and some of those girls like Brittney Palmer – she’s one of the ring girls I really love because she hustled. She got a ring girl job and paid her way through art school, and now she’s able to have a career as an artist and a painter and she used that platform to get there.

Listen to the full interview to hear Ronda talk about her career as a mixed martial arts fighter.

Ronda Rousey - Extended Interview

As the reigning Women's Bantamweight Champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Ronda Rousey just might be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. In this extended interview, she reflects on some pivotal fights throughout her career, and the people who helped her get to the top.

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