'The Ultimate Fighter' Took Ronda Rousey to the Edge and Back

Duane FinleyContributor IAugust 6, 2013

Ronda Rousey's life may be traveling at a mile a minute, but right now, all the 26-year-old Olympic judoka can think about are the two heaping trays of desserts sitting behind her.

To her immediate right is a triple-stacked mousse. While the key lime variety is certainly an attractive option, the tower of chocolate has captured her attention the most. But it's not a craving that has attracted Rousey's mind to the sugary treat—it’s figuring out the proper way to pluralize the scene before her.

"That's good mousse," she says to the waitress with a laugh. "That's a good looking mousse, or meese."

After discarding a possible "meeses" option thrown into the mix, the UFC women's bantamweight champion settles in with a mixture of readiness and relief on her face. For Rousey, the interview will be her last on the UFC's 2013 world media tour, and in a few hours, she will be boarding a plane back to California after what has been a whirlwind stretch of obligations.

This is certainly an interesting time in Rousey’s career.

From her upcoming stint as a coach on the reality show The Ultimate Fighter and subsequent rematch with her nemesis Miesha Tate at UFC 168 on Dec. 28, to a role in the next installment of the action-flick franchise The Expendables, there is never a dull moment for Rousey in and out of the cage.

It would be easy to understand if the talented young fighter struggled to keep her footing, but Rousey is handling the unpredictability of her life with remarkable poise.

Where the UFC has produced a handful of superstars in the past—and a current crop of high-profile fighters who are attempting to break through into the mainstream—Rousey is shattering boundaries and blazing trails no other fighter, male or female, has before.

She became the first woman to win a title under the UFC banner, establishing herself as a pay-per-view draw in the process. The card she headlined in February, UFC 157, drew an estimated 500,000 buys. While she didn’t eclipse the one million buys mark like WWE crossover star and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar, it was a strong showing. It shattered the previous PPV record for a female fight  (125,000 buys), which featured the daughters of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.

Outside of the Octagon, Hollywood came calling. From a rumored connection to the third installment of The Hunger Games to a confirmed role in the latest Sylvester Stallone vehicle, movie sets and red carpets could very well become commonplace in the near future.

Through it all, Rousey has continued to promote her fighting career with the same “never back down” attitude that immediately made her a fan favorite.

And while nothing the transcendent star says is predetermined or sugarcoated, she is reaching a point where things once new are starting to blur together into one experience, and the repetition sets in—even the best questions, and certainly the worst, have all been asked before.

The constant pressures that come with being under a microscope 24/7 could end up cementing her future disposition, but the Rousey of here and now is determined to remain in the moment.

Walls will be constructed to keep whatever privacy she can hang on to intact, but before she becomes too hardened by the media storm, the brash champ has every intention of enjoying the ride and making her mark on the sport she loves.

She fully understands the road ahead could lead to tremendous opportunity outside of fighting, but she is adamant about making sure the doors she opens for women's MMA remain that way.

"That is the only reason why I did The Ultimate Fighter," Rousey told Bleacher Report. "From a professional and career standpoint, there were no reasons I needed to do that show. Zero. I didn't need it at all, but I want the division to be stable. I want it to survive me and I want to have some sort of legacy in this sport.

“We needed to bring attention to all these girls who are so passionate and train so hard. They are valiant fighters and extremely passionate about what they do. They offer so much the guys don't, and I thought it was something people really needed to see. I thought The Ultimate Fighter could provide that vessel where people could start getting interested in these other women coming up."

With the UFC set to begin its next begin endeavor with the launch of Fox Sports 1, Rousey was chosen to be front and center in the process. 

Where Rousey goes, eyes follow, and by making her a coach on FS1's first installment of the established reality series The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC made a huge effort to ensure its latest endeavor would hit the ground running.

The intensity of the situation skyrocketed when her originally scheduled opponent and coaching counterpart, Cat Zingano, was forced to withdraw due to injury and the aforementioned Tate was tapped to step in.

Suddenly, the already turbulent environment of filming a reality show became that much crazier, as Rousey battled to keep her personal feud with Tate on the shelf to focus on helping the collection of hungry fighters gunning for a life-changing opportunity.

"I haven't seen any of the footage yet, but I'm aware that I'm going to look nuts," she said. "These kids that I'm responsible for have everything that is important in their lives on the line, and if that isn't something important enough to care about and cry about, then I don't know what is. I have no filter with my emotions, and people are going to see exactly what I'm feeling. I don't think that is a bad thing.

"They purposely put you in a situation where they throw curveballs at you all the time. They really want to get a rise out of you and really make you uncomfortable. It was so much emotional investment with every single fight, and it was repeated over and over and over again.”

With the media, both inside and outside of the sport, constantly knocking on her door, taking a role coaching on The Ultimate Fighter may not have seemed like too much of a stretch for Rousey, but it was one she came to understand in a much different light.

Cameras surrounded her at every moment, hoping to pick up the next great soundbite, and it tested the young star's limits. That platform became her new norm, and it created an emotional conflict that forced her to reassess aspects of her career she had never thought to explore.

Throughout Rousey’s athletic career, working within the walls of gym have always provided some level of comfort and stability. She can control what happens on the mats, and as her profile has increased in the public view, Rousey can also dictate the access the outside world is allowed in that realm.

Yet on The Ultimate Fighter, those boundaries were stripped down, and what was once a place of Zen suddenly housed constant conflict.

"That environment is really meant to break you," Rousey said. "The gym is the place where I really center myself and I'm able to put the world into perspective and calm down. When the cameras are on you nonstop, that changes. Even electrons change when they are watched constantly, and they really took my safe place and bastardized it to where I was dragging myself to the gym every day.

"They literally took my only safe place and made it something that I hated. I'm so thankful for being able to forge the relationships I did with my team, but you couldn't pay me 10 million dollars to do that again. There is just no way. By the end, I was questioning my love for the sport. I'm just happy to get back home to my environment and have my gym be my reprieve again instead of it being a stage.”

Where other athletes strive to reach the forefront of the mainstream with glossy presentation and squeaky-clean manufactured soundbites, Rousey has done things her way. In an age where flawed anti-heroes have taken the helm in the driver’s seat of popular culture and produced a cultural shift in the perception of antagonist and protagonist, she has managed to stay step-for-step with the changing times.

Positive fan response to unapologetic and brazen may be absent in some of America’s traditional athletic institutions, but in a growing yet niche sport like mixed martial arts, Rousey’s approach has garnered rave reviews from the the fighting faithful.

"I decided long ago it is much better to be the bad guy or the heel because you have room for error," Rousey said. "If you try to be perfect then you have to be perfect all the time. I always loved the heel so much better when I was a kid. 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper was the best heel ever and I loved the bad guys because they are always more interesting. The way Heath Ledger played The Joker no one gave a damn about Batman. They are always more interesting and you always want to know more about them.”

Rousey’s other endeavors will allow her unique opportunities in the coming years, but that being said, she is a fighter and a champion first and foremost. While that means the most to her, the elements of her persona that make her one of the most polarizing figures in sports will continue to attract attention from all angles.

The ever-increasing interest is a symptom of the role she has chosen, but it doesn’t define her as an individual, and that is exactly the way she prefers to have it.

"People keep researching everything my name is on because you can't categorize me or put me in any one box. No one is ever going to get it. They are going to spend a lot of time on the Internet trying to figure it out, which is going to make me money, so I'm going to keep talking."


All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.