Rousey learning hard lessons of celebrity

The UFC champ wasn’t thrilled by her TUF experience, but stands to learn from it

Last month in Boston, Ronda Rousey walked into a lit movie theater shaking her head. She wasn’t there to see a summer blockbuster; she was there to watch herself, and was none too happy about it. Before the premiere episode of The Ultimate Fighter’s 18th season played on the big screen, Rousey, a coach on the current season, sat down on a stool next to UFC president Dana White, with opposing coach Miesha Tate beside him. There were camera lights in their eyes, and Rousey leaned off towards the right, towards the wall to avoid the harsh glare. Somebody joked about the scene looking like a police interrogation, and her body language matched the vibe.

Rousey looked as if she was being held captive, and when she spoke, it seemed clear that wasn’t far from the truth. She didn’t want to be there. The only reason she was even in Boston, she said, was to corner her longtime friend Manny Gamburyan, who was fighting on the premier UFC on FOX Sports 1 event a few nights later. She didn’t even know this TUF event had been scheduled until she arrived into town.

The whole TUF experience had been a rough one, she admitted. There was drama from the beginning, when one of Rousey’s representatives and White clashed heads on some issue related to her career,€” no one would say exactly what it was and according to Rousey, White threatened to replace her on the show. When Tate unexpectedly walked through the door of the TUF gym, Rousey thought she was gone. Judging from what she thought about the experience, that probably would have been a good thing.

It kind of set the tone for the whole series where they would purposely go out of their way to manipulate me, make me react as dramatically as possible, which is probably one of the reasons why I walked away from the whole experience with a pretty sour taste in my mouth,€ she said of her experience. €œThey didn’t really care about making it easy on us as they cared about making it entertaining for everybody else. But it was nice to know right off that bat what their priorities were, and it definitely wasn’t us.

As the questions and answers went on, it became clear that Rousey is very concerned about how she is portrayed on the show, which runs for 12 episodes and comes to a ceremonial end with Rousey and Tate’€™s rematch on Dec. 28.

It comes as a bit of a surprise that Rousey is so concerned about her public image even though of course, it shouldn’t. Most people want to control how the world perceives them; it’s human nature to be liked, after all. But Rousey seemed to be different because from the get go, she’s never had a problem voicing an unpopular opinion. She’s never had an issue with stirring the pot. She is, after all, ‘Rowdy’€ by nature.

Perhaps it is her control of most situations that makes them more easily palatable. When she slams opponents or speaks out on social issues, she can control the narrative, at least to a certain extent. As she’s become more famous, she’s given more snippets into this part of her personality, and she recently said that before she says something outrageous or controversial or even thought-provoking, she often considers all of the reactions she may get, so she’ll always have a ready-made response to any criticism. It is not any different than her fighting game, which beyond the surface, is mostly built upon control.

In this instance, however, she doesn’t know quite what’s coming. In this case, she’s mostly powerless, even if everything that is to come on the show actually happened. Now, she’s not so concerned about her actions as about the context of them.

These are some of the hard lessons of the spotlight, that you can’t always control the message, and you can’t always control the monster of celebrity, which must always be fed to survive and grow.

In this, she had a surprising, ready-made ally: her opposing coach and blood rival, who seems to be taking a more pragmatic approach to the whole thing.

TUF Coach Miesha Tate

We’re not perfect and that’s OK, Tate said. Everybody’s going to make mistakes.

It’s true, even if Rousey is the UFC’s current golden girl. While she’s had only a few minor missteps in the public eye, Rousey cannot count on being as perfect in real life as she has been in the cage. Though no one can begrudge her for trying, deep down she must know this.

As the Boston screening finished and Rousey addressed more questions, she loosened up while recalling a story in the early days of the season. She had been talking to two of the British contestants away from the camera — against the request of the producers — trying to break the tension of the moment, the stress of revealing yourself to the world. She took out her phone and shot some video, speaking in her best accent.

You’€™re going to look back on this video and think, Oh, the things I was thinking on this day and the worries that I had then …€ she said, going on for a few more seconds before realizing she had forgotten her point. With that, she laughed, unaware of the lesson of celebrity she’d just concluded yet smiling once again.