Ronda Rousey isn't always the most beautiful woman in every room she walks into. But she's in the conversation. Standing 5'5", blonde hair cascading right past a beauty mark just under her left eye, at first glance you might mistake her for just another actress in a town full of them.
Until your eyes slide a little further. With shoulders sculpted like a Greek statue, there's no mistaking that this is a serious athlete, one with a body sculpted not for show but for a purpose. Her eyes tell the same story. Even when relaxed, they exude a certain kind of danger. Something primal and fierce.
That ferocity has always been there. Rousey has been a fighter her whole life, battling back from childhood trauma to earn Olympic bronze and MMA fame. The inner warrior hasn't changed one bit over the years—but the packaging sure has.
Far from the sleek sex symbol who recently graced the pages of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue, the teenage Ronda was an honest to goodness nerd. Video games were her young life's other passion. As she became a bona fide judo prodigy, she focused just as much attention on the Pokemon video games, taking great pride in being named a moderator on the Gametalk.com message boards.
"She would be in her room with the laptop open while she played games on the console," Ronda's mother, Dr. AnnaMarie De Mars told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "Answering questions about Pokemon strategy."
Pokemon was perfect because of its portability. It and judo were copacetic. Mario Party? That one caused waves.
"She left me at a friend's house for a sleepover," Ronda told Bleacher Report. "Have you ever played Mario Party? You have to spin the joystick really, really fast, so I put the joystick in my palm and was just grinding it in my palm to build speed. I ended up breaking all the skin on my palm and had this huge blister. But I didn't stop. I just switched hands and kept playing the game until I had a blister on my other palm! Both my palms are open sores and I have the Junior Nationals that weekend. My mom was far from amused."
De Mars was furious when she picked her daughter up. "I told her 'If you lose a match and don't go to the Olympics because you were playing that g**damn video game, I swear to you that I will blow that console up.' She won everything hands down, of course."
Winning, soon enough, was contagious. She made the Olympics at 17, returned four years later in 2008 and won a bronze, the first American woman ever to earn a medal in judo. Success continued in the world of MMA as Rousey won each of her first six fights in the first round by armbar. This weekend, she headlines UFC 157 in the first ever fight between women in the UFC's Octagon.
Fans should enjoy it while they can.
If past is prologue, Rousey's time in the MMA spotlight may be short. Her predecessor as MMA's top female star, Gina Carano, swooped onto the scene and grabbed the sport's attention in much the same way, albeit without the same amateur pedigree. Like Rousey, her combination of killer instinct and beauty was compelling television. A bit too compelling. Hollywood saw all the same star traits MMA promoters did and Carano was soon on American Gladiators and eventually the silver screen in major motion pictures like Haywire.
After signing with William Morris, a premiere talent agency, Rousey may be on the same path. Rousey preferred not to speculate on a film future. Concentrating on the fight game is enough pressure for now. But others around her let the cat out of the bag. While no one outright says film is her future, everyone expects offers to pour in.
"We've gone to some pitch meetings for major motion pictures," Rousey's manager, Darin Harvey, said. "There are a lot of big Hollywood producers and directors that are very interested in Ronda. They're paying very close attention to her. They see the star potential. When Steven Seagal came on the scene, one of the things that made him successful, besides having this cool persona, was how well his style of Aikido worked on camera. It looked different than anything we had seen in the movies before. Ronda's judo—the throws can be spectacular. It can translate on to film very, very well."
For Harvey, building Rousey to this point has been his life's focus since meeting her in the gym years ago and having her deposit him on his backside with a picture-perfect throw. He was sold—and convinced he could sell Ronda in turn.
"I knew right away that there was something very, very special there," Harvey said. And despite White's public proclamations to the contrary, he was convinced Rousey had a future in the UFC. "We had blinders on. Nothing could dissuade us. We were 100 percent convinced this was going to happen, and it has. The timing was perfect. The opportunity was perfect. And Ronda has been perfect.
"I felt that Ronda, as a brand, had tremendous potential like Danica Patrick or Lance Armstrong, who are super famous from non-mainstream sports. I looked at Ronda as having that potential with the right push. Almost since day one we've had a PR team working specifically on Ronda, helping to build her."
The result is a polished performer. Rousey plays well with the camera and is one of the sport's most creative and persistent trash-talkers. White sees these traits as well—after all, they're the same traits he hopes will make her a marketable fighter—and accepts that Rousey's future may lie outside the cage. To many insiders it seems almost like an inevitability.
"I'm always happy for people when they're successful and they can do different things. If she ends up becoming a big huge movie star—good for her," the UFC president told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "...There's only a few stars in any sport. Male or female. Ronda Rousey is one of them. I have 475 fighters under contract. Some of them have what you can't teach. Some of them have that 'it factor.' that thing that people are drawn and attracted to.
"You either have it or you don't. She's got personality for days. She's very intelligent. She's a hard worker. She's got all the tools to become as successful as she wants to be."