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Rousey eyes big things for women's MMA
Things can get rough overnight when you become a champion.
Gone are the days when Ronda Rousey could leave her house without caring about what she looked like. No, now that she's a budding MMA superstar, the newly crowned Strikeforce women's bantamweight champion has to take some pride in her appearance when she goes out.
"Before, I'd leave the house with one bunny slipper, one black sock, a pair of sweatpants I'd been wearing for three days, with my hair looking like a crazy cat lady, saying, 'I'm just going to get coffee!' Nobody was going to see me," Rousey said. "Well, now somebody can see me. No more one-slipper, crazy cat lady anymore."
Such is life for Rousey after her March 3 win over Miesha Tate when she took Tate's title in the main event of a Strikeforce event in Columbus, Ohio. Rousey, a former Olympic judo competitor (she took home a bronze medal for the US in Beijing in 2008), forced Tate to tap out in the first round after bending her arm almost to the point of breaking. It was the fifth time in five professional MMA fights that Rousey has gotten a victory via a first-round armbar.
Much was made in the buildup to Rousey's fight with Tate about how little the two like each other. Tate spoke harshly of Rousey's inexperience in MMA (despite the fact she competed in thousands of judo bouts before her MMA career). Rousey raised the level of smack talk by saying she'd beat Tate and her boyfriend, UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway, on the same day.
Rousey said having ill will toward her opponent does not necessarily make it easier for her to get up for a fight.
"It doesn't make a difference for me either way," she said. "I'm going to fight the same way regardless if I like the person or hate the person, or if they made me cookies yesterday or if they just kicked my dog. The fight itself is separate from everything else outside. I try to compartmentalize everything like that."
While she likes to joke around and have fun outside the cage, Rousey said a switch flips when she's about to throw down.
"I used to call it 'on-the-mat personalities' and 'off-the-mat personalities,' " Rousey said. "A girl I can't stand when we're fighting could be the coolest chick in the world when we're not fighting. It just so happened I couldn't stand Miesha on or off the mat."
Rousey said she caught some flak about a pre-fight interview with Showtime reporter Heidi Androl moments before entering the cage with Tate. Androl spoke with Rousey in her dressing room, and let's just say Rousey had her "game face" on and was not feeling all warm and fuzzy at the time.
"Everyone was giving me a hard time," Rousey said. " 'You were giving that lady Heidi a mean look!' But I was in the middle of warming up and I was about to fight somebody. People don't realize how real this stuff is. People will say, 'You should be like this or that,' and I'm like, 'Are you aware that I'm getting into unarmed combat? I've got things on my mind, dude.' This is really serious stuff, and I have to treat it like it's the big deal that it is. I can't act like I'm going out to get an ice cream cone. Somebody's going to actually try to kill me. So you've got to be serious."
Rousey's sudden rise to the top of the women's MMA world after her win over Tate has caused some to bestow upon her the unofficial title, "The face of women's MMA." It's a title former Strikeforce star and current action-movie hero Gina Carano carried for several years. Even though Carano, who starred in this year's Steven Soderbergh-directed thriller "Haywire," hasn't fought since losing to Cris "Cyborg" Santos in 2009, Rousey says Carano still deserves to wear that crown.
"Gina is the one making movies and making people aware of women's MMA," Rousey said. "I'm well-known among people who are fans of MMA already, but being called 'The face of women's MMA' makes you the representative, and she's still the one representing us the most."
Something Rousey does share with Carano is good looks. While that's something that can (and does) draw male MMA fans and sports fans in general, Rousey said she's heard from some women who saw her fight Tate and became instant fans — not just of Tate but of the sport in general. And some of them are looking at women's MMA as a way to get in shape.
"People get mad and say I'm playing up the looks side. But playing up the looks side isn't just toward guys (who like it). It's also toward girls that see a body they can get from a certain sport," Rousey said. "If they're envious of that, if they like it, then they're going to go and do it, too. Then there's more money being put into martial arts schools. Then there's more people hearing about a martial arts event and buying martial arts merchandise and buying UFC (pay-per-view) shows.
"It's half the population. You can almost double your fan base of people wanting to go do MMA now. There's so much potential there. I feel like it'd be dumb to pass that up and let it fade into obscurity."
For the moment, no women are fighting under the UFC banner, but Strikeforce is owned by Zuffa, the UFC's parent company, so there is a connection with the sport's premier promotion. But Rousey envisions a future where men and women compete equally in MMA. She said the most important thing would be a deeper talent pool to add stability to the sport.
"There's a lot of work to be done," Rousey said. "There's only so much that I can do. I'm trying to push women's MMA into a more stable future. Right now I feel like there has to be someone sustaining it. Before there was Gina pushing it along, and Cris Cyborg was there while Gina was gone — I don't think she was doing as good a job, but at least it was stagnating and not plummeting. I'm trying to do whatever I can. There are a bunch of other girls trying to do whatever they can."
While UFC president Dana White has been reluctant to embrace women's MMA, Rousey feels there's plenty of room for the women to fight alongside the men. She said Zuffa should look at its own recent history as a guide to what women's MMA can turn out to be.
"I understand (Zuffa) not wanting to invest very much in women's MMA right now because it's not such a secure investment right now," Rousey said. "But then again, neither was men's MMA when it first started. If they could take a company that was millions and millions of dollars in debt and make it work and do all these amazing things business-wise with men's MMA, there's no reason to believe they can't do the same thing with the women. They're entirely capable of it. We've just got to make sure they see the potential that's there."
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