Lofty Goals and Self-Expectation Propel Ronda Rousey to Great Heights

Duane FinleyContributor IAugust 16, 2012

Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images
Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images

In the MMA cosmos there are few things burning hotter right now than Strikeforce 135 pound women's champion Ronda Rousey.

A perfect mixture of depth, brashness, humor and sincerity, the two-time Olympic judoka has handled her rise to fame with flawless ease. To put it bluntly—she makes it look simple. When you factor in how easily she has dispatched her opposition inside the cage, the bar of expectation seems to be resting firmly in her hands.

Is Rousey the savior of Women's MMA? That remains to be seen. But what has become glaringly obvious is that she is the current standard-bearer and more importantly the champion.

Rousey pushed her way onto the big stage, and when it came time to show and prove that, she did so in brutal fashion. Any doubt surrounding her legitimacy left the cage along with Miesha Tate's twisted limb. From the moment the belt was strapped around her waist, it has been a whirlwind. While new-found celebrity status can be a difficult thing to process for some, Rousey has taken it in stride.

"Everything is pretty much the same for me except I have more events and appearances to go to," Rousey told Bleacher Report. "When I go I get the rock star treatment but when I'm home, everything is exactly as it was before. I actually have a lot more time to train because I don't have a bunch of crazy jobs anymore.

"I also have a lot more people working for me to help with the organization of everything I have going on. Before this I had to deal with the scheduling of interviews and it actually became pretty stressful because it was taking up a lot of my time. Now I can delegate those tasks. They just dial the number, hand me the phone, and tell me to speak."

While men's MMA has been charting a course for global domination in combat sports, WMMA has steadily scrapped for its place at the table. A handful of talented female fighters have done their best to push the sport forward and when Gina Carano squared off with Christine "Cyborg" Santos in 2009, it appeared as if the future was going to be bright. But that wasn't exactly the case.

Following Carano's loss and eventual exit from the sport, the pulse once again slowed. That was until Rousey burst onto the scene and began rattling cages at WMMA's highest level. Two lights out performances in the Strikeforce Challengers Series gave her a platform and she used it to call out Miesha Tate.

After a high-profile battle of words, she was granted a title shot this past March where she needed only one round to dispatch of the former champion. The process made Rousey no friends, but she believes she understands an aspect of the fight game other women fighters are missing.

"A lot of these girls forget this sport isn't an Olympic or amateur sport situation," Rousey said. "People don't just care about your last athletic performance—they want to be entertained.

"I've been trying everything to not only be an entertaining fighter but an entertaining personality outside of the ring. It helps because people become more interested in the fight. They either want to see me win or see me get my butt kicked.

"I've been trying everything I can to get people interested. If you are depending only on your athletic performance to impress people then you are going about it wrong, because usually people only see it when the fight's over because someone has told them.

"It's different when people know who you are as a person and they want to see you fight just because it's you. Then you will have more viewers initially, but if you are only looking to get in there and throw some crazy head kick to impress everybody, then you are only going to impress the people who are watching initially and everyone who heard about it afterwards. That's why I'm trying to entertain and be a good athlete at the same time.

"A lot of the other girl fighters don't seem to like me too much. I don't blame them because I probably wouldn't like me that much if I was looking at this from the outside. The rising tide lifts all boats, you know? I'm doing whatever I can and I think they are benefiting from the work I'm doing just as I'm benefiting from the work they are doing. I respect them and hopefully one day they will come to respect me back."

On Rousey's fast track to becoming champion, former champion Sarah Kaufman was bumped aside. As criticism trickled in, it was ultimately Rousey's ability to turn the main-event bout with Tate into a high-profile affair which prompted the decision to be made.

On the same night where Rousey became the reigning queen of women's MMA, Kaufman put on an incredible show as she battled to the wire with Alexis Davis. The victory over Davis earned Kaufman her long-awaited chance to regain the title and Rousey the opportunity to put the punctuation on the statement she's been trying to make since coming to Strikeforce.

"I feel beating Sarah Kaufman will validate the point I was trying to make from the very beginning," Rousey said. "People kept saying she was next in line for the title shot and she deserved to have the shot. I think that beating Sarah Kaufman will make me feel more validated in that original argument than I feel right now. I feel encouraged but not entirely validated.

"She's a tough chick. She is a veteran of the sport and deserves a lot of respect. To be honest I don't think she's very creative in the way she fights. Every time she fights, she comes out with the same style. She could come out and show something completely different against me but she has never really shown any kind of adaptability in her fights. It doesn't matter if she is behind or what's going on, she always fights the same.

"On the other hand, they really don't know what to expect from me. They are going to be walking out there guessing while I'm going to be walking out knowing pretty much what I'm dealing with. Even if she decides to do something completely different, I have the ability to adapt and change throughout the match where I don't feel she necessarily has that.

"Both Sarah and I have a lot to prove in this fight. I don't think there is going to be any kind of feeling-out process or point fighting, we both need to beat the other person down for very personal reasons. It's going to be a good one. You aren't going to want to hear about this fight from someone else after it happens. You are going to want to watch it live so you can say you watched it live when it went down. People are going to see the most exciting women's fight they've ever seen in their lives."

When Rousey enters the cage on Saturday night, it will be only the her sixth appearance as a professional. With that being said, the promise and potential she carries is on a different level than what is currently seen in WMMA.

Depending on what happens in her career, Rousey's star power may fluctuate, but her ambition and passion to reach great heights far exceeds any expectation others can place upon her.

"No one puts more pressure on me than I put on myself," Rousey said. "People can think what they want but no one is going to expect more out of me than I do from myself. I am very much a perfectionist. I want to retire undefeated and the pound-for-pound, undisputed best women's fighter in the world. Those are very lofty goals but I've been raised to set lofty goals.

"I want to be something extraordinary. I don't want to settle for mediocre goals. The outside pressures are nothing compared to what I put on myself. The outside hoopla and what people say doesn't matter because it all comes from me."