[The Sports Issue]

The UFC has a new marquee name, and Ronda Rousey is always ready for a fight

Ronda Rousey can’t wait to get into the cage for her December 28 title fight with Miesha Tate at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Photo: Nick Coletsos

Ronda Rousey took a couple steps back as she watched the throng of humanity topple the barricade and rush toward her.

Her meet-and-greet at the 2012 UFC Fan Expo had ended, but the crowd wasn’t satisfied. She found herself pressed up against a desk, surrounded by hundreds of fans with requests she wished she could honor. But her next obligation was calling. So Rousey, accompanied by UFC personnel doing their best to shield her from the crazed mob, escaped from the Mandalay Bay Convention Center—barely.

“I just remember looking back and seeing the carnage—everything was broken, tipped over and stomped on,” Rousey says, leaning back in her chair at this year’s expo. “That was the first time it really hit me that everything was changing.”

This was last summer, before Rousey not only overcame UFC President Dana White’s pledge that women would never fight in the octagon, but also shattered pay-per-view expectations and attracted what White called the most media coverage in the history of his company with her debut. One year later, at this year’s Fan Expo two weeks ago, a team of five security guards escorted 26-year-old Rousey around the premises. Since making Liz Carmouche the 10th straight victim to fall to a first-round arm bar defeat in her inaugural UFC bout in February, the former Olympic judoka’s fame has spread far beyond the fight world.

Now, Rousey risks re-creating her moment of reckoning every time she goes out in public. She’s resorted to wearing “incognitos,” her name for a pair of glasses she believes make her more difficult to recognize. She wore the quasi-disguise recently while alongside White at a mall—and received a few seconds of anonymity. Fans approached and asked her to take a picture of them with White, initially not realizing who she was.

“Dana used to make fun of me and say [the glasses] never worked,” Rousey says. “He doesn’t give me grief anymore.”

People don’t go out of their way to get on Rousey’s case these days. The truth is, beyond the newfound glamour, Rousey remains terrifying at her core. Before she nearly snaps their arms in half, Rousey gets into her opponents’ heads with a trash-talking game that might be superior to any other current athlete’s.

Ronda Rousey, top, punches Liz Carmouche during their UFC 157 women's bantamweight championship mixed martial arts match in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Rousey won the first womens bout in UFC history, forcing Carmouche to tap out in the first round. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Ronda Rousey, top, punches Liz Carmouche during their UFC 157 women's bantamweight championship mixed martial arts match in Anaheim, Calif., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Rousey won the first womens bout in UFC history, forcing Carmouche to tap out in the first round. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

White expects that part of Rousey’s personality to be on display before her Dec. 28 title fight against rival Miesha Tate and during the upcoming season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show, where the two compete as coaches.

“Leading up to that fight, it’s going to be nasty,” White says. “I’m telling you, they hate each other so bad. Every time Ronda sees her, she’s flipping her off and getting in her face. You will see a lot of that this season, a lot of blur marks.”

Rousey admits she’s apprehensive about how fans will respond to her behavior on the 18th season of "TUF." She went after Tate and her boyfriend, UFC bantamweight Bryan Caraway, relentlessly for the entire six-week filming session in Las Vegas. Not that Rousey regrets it. She’s harbored a strong dislike of Tate since the two were first booked to fight for the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight title in early 2012.

Tate campaigned that Rousey, then 4-0 as a professional but having never fought below the featherweight class, didn’t deserve a championship fight. Rousey never got over the slight or the ensuing trash talk, even after submitting Tate in the fight as she’d promised she would. Filming the show alongside Tate only intensified those feelings.

“After this fight, she is going to be ruined,” Rousey utters with no emotion. “I don’t just plan on winning. I plan on defeating my opponent forever. If you’ve ever read "Ender’s Game," that’s the idea. He says you don’t just win one fight; you win so devastatingly that you win all future fights. I’m going to try to break her mentally and defeat her in the most devastating way possible.

“This girl is never going to want to see me again.”

The only aspect of the upcoming Tate fight that makes Rousey smile? That it’s being held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. She never told White, but she’s held out hope that her second UFC event would land in the headlining role of the annual year-end card, which she’ll share with the rematch between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman. Rousey has long envisioned herself making her walkout in the storied combat-sports building, and the arena holds symbolic significance for Rousey. Just three years ago she was an amateur fighting down the street at the Orleans Arena.

“I remember thinking I was such a big deal, because I was fighting at a casino I had never heard of in Vegas,” Rousey says. “I thought I was on my way and so impressed with myself. I felt like everything was falling into place and was going to happen so flawlessly.”

Rousey’s two previous Vegas fights had come during well-documented low points in her life, when she worked as a bartender in Hollywood and lived out of her car. She relied solely on her judo, since the striking coach at her gym didn’t take Rousey’s career seriously.

Looking back, Rousey is eternally grateful for the Vegas-based Tuff-N-Uff amateur promotion. The two events at the Orleans gave her opportunities she struggled to find elsewhere. “No one wanted to fight me,” Rousey says, still a bit perturbed. “Even though I didn’t have a record at that point, they saw ‘Olympian’ and stayed away. I don’t have that problem anymore. Now, everyone wants to fight me.”

That’s helped keep Rousey motivated. She takes every call-out and criticism personally. If Rousey appears more insulated since breaking through the UFC barrier five months ago, she says it’s because she’s working harder. The summer has been solely dedicated to TUF and training sessions for herself between filming.

She broke her phone early on in the process and has found no time to get it replaced. The only thing more cracked than the phone’s screen are Rousey’s nails, which she’s planned on getting done for the past several months.

In Rousey’s new whirlwind world, there’s no time for rest, manicures or anything other than the work that will help her dismantle her next opponent.

“Everyone is making fun of me for walking around rocking the broken iPhone 4,” Rousey says. “But I haven’t had time to fix that. I have no time to bask at all.”

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