UFC poster girl Ronda Rousey is somewhat of an enigma.
She exudes confidence — and deservedly so, given her upbringing and pedigree with her mother a judo champion, who pushed her incredibly hard right from a young age, waking her up in the middle of the night and attempting to armbar her as a way of preparing her to always be ready.
It worked, as Rousey followed in her mom’s footsteps, winning an Olympic judo medal. She then moved on to mixed martial arts, where she found immediate success, dominating every fighter she’s faced (and winning by armbar each time) en route to becoming a champion in just under a year. Perhaps it’s her dominance that led to her brashness.
In some ways, she’s the female Chael Sonnen, a natural smack-talker who is always ready to offer her opinion on anything from her own sport to others (she has trashed Michael Phelps, telling him to get over himself because all he does is swim, and golf, saying it’s not a sport if you don’t break a sweat).
But in other ways, Rousey is quite the opposite. While Sonnen, the self-proclaimed undisputed champion, will come to UFC press conferences with a fake belt despite having never won a title, Rousey refuses to even claim the belt she was rightfully awarded by the UFC is truly hers.
Such was the case at Thursday’s pre-fight press conference, where she wanted no part of the belt that was placed in front of her as she sat in front of the media.
“All the people that think that I don’t deserve this belt, that I didn’t earn it, I partially agree with them,” Rousey said at Thursday’s pre-fight press conference. “I won’t consider myself a real UFC champion until I win the belt inside the Octagon. That’s why you won’t see me touching or carrying this belt until after I win this fight.”
In fact, she protested when it was handed to her in traditional fashion before she and opponent Liz Carmouche turned to face the press for the shoulder-to-shoulder photo op. At the urging of her boss, UFC president Dana White, she finally relented and threw it over her shoulder with a begrudging look on her face, while Carmouche simply laughed.
While some called it an awkward moment, I felt it was one of the ways that she shows her occasional sheepish charm. The Rowdy one can be a modest one too.
But she certainly isn’t shy about talking up this historic moment that will unfold on Saturday night. Indeed, it’s her charisma outside the cage, combined with her ferociousness inside it — White said her armbar would make “99 percent of the men out there scream and cry” — that has brought almost universal positive attention to the UFC this week. When she’s focused, the look on her face is one that can have you fearing you’ll have your arm broken. But when she smiles, there is a warmth — almost in an “aw shucks” kind of way — that makes you think she might be the friendliest person in the world.
It’s that combination of persona that’s also why the other competitors on the UFC 157 main card are totally cool with being part of the attraction while relegated to a secondary role. Each of the four fighters at Thursday’s press conference had glowing reviews of what the women, in particular Rousey and Carmouche, have done even before stepping into the Octagon for the first time.
“I think it’s great,” co-headliner Dan Henderson said. “I’m a big fan and I’m excited that I get to watch the last fight after I’m done.”
Veteran Josh Koscheck elaborated further: “I think it’s a good thing for our sport. It brings a lot of new attention to the sport and a lot of new media.”
Added opponent Robbie Lawler: “I think it’s awesome. These girls have trained hard.”
Rousey is a huge favourite in the fight, 12-1 by some sports books, and not surprisingly very few people are picking the +800 challenger. But could you imagine if Carmouche pulled off the upset?
The way things have been going in the UFC — and the sport in general lately — it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.
The UFC has had big future plans for former superstars, only to see them go up in smoke. A few years back, heavyweight Brock Lesnar fared very well at first, but he was eventually exposed as more of an athletic entertainer than an all-around mixed martial artist.
Should Rousey suffer a similar fate, it certainly won’t thrill the UFC. But it won’t be the end of the world, because Carmouche is well-spoken and could be a pretty good ambassador for women’s MMA in her own right.
Carmouche doesn’t possess the same promotional qualities and certainly won’t carry the same magnetic charm that Rousey does, but that’s okay, because Rousey won’t simply fade away. She’s driven to be the best and one stunning loss won’t discourage her.
In fact, with all the praise and attention and early accolades Rousey has already gotten, she still isn’t basquing in it. She has a job to do and until that’s done, there is nothing to celebrate.
“I’m not really gonna sit back and enjoy it all until the fight’s already done and I’ve won,” she said Thursday.
At Friday’s weigh-ins, she was asked again by UFC commentator Mike Goldberg if she still felt that she didn’t consider herself UFC champion yet.
“I don’t,” Rousey said. “Probably after I win the fight Saturday, I’ll say I won’t feel like a champion until I win it again. Every fight is a new fight for me.”
Saturday night will be a new fight for everyone, and we can’t think of a better character to showcase women’s MMA for the first time.