A historic night for Ronda Rousey, the UFC
FEB 20, 2013 5:46p ET
Nothing is out of bounds. Rousey unabashedly discusses her transient youth, her struggles with speech as a child, her failed dating life and her sudden stardom — an assortment of topics designed to quench the thirst of her newfound fans.
It’s all part of the buildup that culminated at the Honda Center in Anaheim in what was generally considered the most important fight in women’s mixed martial arts. Rousey – gorgeous, smart and eminently gifted in the octagon – beat Liz Carmouche on an armbar with 11 seconds remaining in the UFC’s first women’s bout, the bantamweight title fight at UFC 157.
Rousey (7-0) defended her belt with her signature move, forcing Carmouche to tap out after bending back her arm. Rousey raised both arms in victory while flat on the canvas after the longest fight of the mixed martial artist's ascendant career.
The fact that she was even there was no small thing. UFC president Dana White had once famously said he would never permit women to fight on one of his shows. But then, he had never seen Rousey, who has the kind of charisma and good looks that can turn heads and attract paying customers.
On Saturday her name was at the top of UFC 157, and her 135-pound bout win against Carmouche, a former U.S. Marine who spent 21 months in Iraq, was critically important to women’s future in the sport.
“She has nothing to lose and everything to gain, and I have everything to gain and everything to lose,” Rousey said of Carmouche before the fight. “There’s always a whole lot of pressure on me, but luckily I’ve been the kind of fighter that the more pressure there is, the more I fight above myself.”
Rousey, who entered the fight undefeated in six bouts — all by submission armbars inside of one minute — spent Wednesday at a public workout at the UFC Gym in Torrance. She, Carmouche and several other fighters on Saturday’s card worked out for fans and media, but it was Rousey who drew the loudest cheers.
Southern California is home for Rousey, 26. She was born in Riverside and currently lives in Venice, although her family moved to North Dakota when she was 3. But as a child, she was never vocal, never able to speak well enough to communicate.
“When she was little, I just hoped she would talk,” said her mother, Ann Maria DeMars. “Her sisters always said, ‘You let Ronda get away with everything,’ and it’s partly true because she was the baby. She couldn’t get words out.
“She was in speech therapy for years. It was gradual, where she went from being at the bottom three percent (of her class) to the bottom 10 percent to average to – well, you’ve heard her talk now.”
Rousey only remembers that speaking never came easily. There were hearing tests and speech therapy, anything to get the little girl to put words together.
“I didn’t talk much at all, and what I did say was incomprehensible,” she said. “I never really thought I had a problem, but then I got my hearing tested, and I thought all kids got it. But it’s because they thought I was possibly deaf.”
Her family returned to California when Rousey was 9, settling in the Venice area, near Santa Monica. But school was never a good fit, she said. She was home-schooled for the second half of the fifth grade and about a year and a half of high school. She didn’t graduate from Santa Monica High, instead leaving early and later earning her GED.
“She was really unhappy in school,” her mother said. “If you’re a skinny little kid and you don’t talk very well and you came from North Dakota to L.A., it’s really hard. So I think it helped her academically to keep up, but it also let her know we would back her up no matter what, even if it means taking you out of school so you’re happier and can do better.”
Rousey was always more comfortable out of the classroom. Her mother was a former world champion in judo, and Rousey followed her, taking up the sport at age 11 and qualifying for the 2004 Olympics at age 17. Four years later, she won a bronze medal in judo at the Beijing Olympics.
She gave it all up for a professional MMA career, going against the wishes of her judo coaches and her mother, who called the decision “dumb.” But it’s not dumb anymore.
Her stardom has been swift, and there was a moment when Rousey may have been caught up in the adulation and attention.
“She changed for about five minutes and then she changed back,” her mother said, smiling. “She was a little impressed with the media coverage and everyone telling her how great she was. We had what her father used to refer to as a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting. Then she changed back.”
Blame it on a non-stop regimen of training and media interviews. There has been little time for anything else, and certainly no time for a social life. Rousey admits there is no one currently in her life and hasn’t been since she began her MMA career in 2010.
“Since I’m single, I’ve had 100-percent fail rate up to this point,” she said. “I guess I’m a very difficult person to date. I travel around a lot. I need somebody that’s confident and trusting because I hang out with a bunch of guys all day long. I come home with weird skin abrasions on me from training that look like hickeys.”
After her win Saturday night, she’ll finally be able to relax. Rousey will allow the experience to sink in, even the demands on her time and the lack of privacy.
“It’s fun,” she said prior to Saturday night's fight, “but I’m going to sit back and enjoy it after I win.”
-The Associated Press contributed to this report