LOS ANGELES — Ronda Rousey is constructing her escape hatch out of mixed martial arts, even if she’s not planning to use it just yet.
The UFC bantamweight champion has turned her celebrity and charisma into a budding career as an action film star. Many MMA fighters dream about it, but Rousey is actually doing it: With upcoming parts in "The Expendables 3," the newest "Fast and Furious" chapter and the "Entourage" movie, she’s seeking success outside the cage even while her fighting career is near its peak.
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Rousey has little down time between Bulgarian film sets and endless training back home in Los Angeles, but she isn’t looking to relax while her window of opportunity is open.
"There’s really not much of a model for this," Rousey said. "I’m making it up as I go along, and I think we’re really starting to find a groove and a way for it to work without me falling asleep in traffic again. That’s not good."
When Rousey (9-0) makes her fourth title defence against Alexis Davis at UFC 175 on Saturday, she isn’t the main event in the biggest show of the summer. Rousey honestly prefers sharing the bill at big events, this time with middleweight champion Chris Weidman’s title defence against Lyoto Machida.
On the big screen, Rousey won’t always be satisfied with occasional supporting roles. She wants to be a star, preferably in a series of action adventures that could keep her occupied well after her MMA career ends.
"One of my goals with the whole movie thing is I want to just be able to have my own franchise, and I feel like that’s something that doesn’t happen overnight," Rousey said. "That’s something you have to put a lot of thought into. Yeah, it would probably be extremely difficult for me to play Queen Elizabeth in some film, but I feel like a franchise is a great fit for me, because then I could find something that just fits me being myself. And then I would just have to continue to be myself, and I know I’m good at that."
For all of Rousey’s outside interests and attention, her last two months have been focused on Davis (16-5), a Canadian expert in jiu-jitsu with a five-fight winning streak. Rousey is an enormous favourite, but she has yet to take an opponent lightly in the sport she took up professionally just over three years ago.
"My sister is getting married, and the whole day I’m going to be thinking about beating Alexis," Rousey said. "Anything that comes up that should make me super-excited, I really do not have the capacity to enjoy until I beat Alexis."
Rousey made back-to-back films in 2013, but her bout with Davis is her third fight in just over six months. She has enjoyed the chance to get into a training groove after learning that ring rust is real when she returned in December from that 10-month absence and mildly struggled to finish off Miesha Tate.
But Rousey showed a tough chin in that bout, and her tight schedule has kept her focused on improving the weaker aspects of her game. Rousey’s Olympic-caliber judo skills and signature armbar submission hold are still vicious, yet her coaches are impressed by her improvements in striking.
In the future, Rousey would prefer to fight twice per year, devoting the rest of her time to a film career. She also still dreams of a fight against Gina Carano, another rising actor whose MMA career inspired Rousey to step into the cage.
But unlike Carano, Rousey insists she isn’t leaving MMA in the foreseeable future, flatly laughing at any suggestion she can’t pursue both careers. After UFC 175, she’ll begin promoting "The Expendables 3" for its Aug. 15 release, but she’ll likely fight again this year.
"The UFC, they’ve been good to me," Rousey said. "They took a lot of risks for me, and the way I show my appreciation is I take risks for them, and I’m there when they need me. They know that if something falls out, they can call me on 24 hours’ notice and expect me to show up, be the Fight of the Night, perform and win and get out of there. And I know that they can’t say that for a lot of their fighters."