Ronda Rousey Is Willing to Die to Keep Her UFC Championship

Jeremy BotterMMA Senior WriterFebruary 19, 2014

USA Today

LAS VEGAS — Most UFC fighters view the mid-week open workouts as just another obligation in an endless sea of fight week commitments they must attend. They walk into the room, say hello to a few fans, hit a few mitts and they're done. Workout complete, they move on to talk to the media.

Ronda Rousey is not most fighters.

The women's bantamweight champion used the open workout as an opportunity to actually, you know, work out. For over an hour, Rousey—clad in blue spandex pants and a Glendale Fight Club sweatshirt—thrilled the fans in attendance with gut-wrenching judo throws, grappling and mitt work.

Rousey meets the media on Wednesday
Rousey meets the media on WednesdayPhoto by Brian Oswald

She is intensely dedicated to constant improvement, and it shows heavily in her striking. It's impossible not to notice how far Rousey has come in the stand-up department since the first time I saw her swing wildly as an amateur on a local Vegas fight card. She may not be Floyd Mayweather, and we have yet to see her execute much striking in an actual fight, but what we see in her workout session is impressive.

She's coming off a UFC 168 win over Miesha Tate in December, and on Saturday she steps back in the Octagon with Sara McMann. It's a quick turnaround, especially when you consider Rousey hadn't competed in the UFC since making her debut one year ago. But Rousey says she has no regrets in agreeing to return so quickly.

"I think it's actually better. I think it's more of an advantage for me, fighting 36 days after my last fight, than for Sara fighting 10 months after hers," Rousey said. "If you think about it, this would never happen in boxing. You would never see two guys fighting for a title with one guy having a 10-month layoff because the promoter would be so worried about ring rust that they'd want him to have a tuneup fight first and then fight for the title.

"I think it's more of a problem that she hasn't fought in so long than for me fighting so recently. Me and my coaches have looked at my past performances, and I've always had my best showings when there was a shorter turnaround."

McMann, by any measure, is the toughest opponent of Rousey's career. Where Rousey famously holds an Olympic bronze medal in judo, McMann holds a silver medal in wrestling. It is hard to imagine Rousey throwing McMann around the cage the way she has her previous opponents, and it makes for an interesting stylistic matchup.

Apr 27, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Sara McMann (black shorts) competes against Sheila Gaff (blue shorts) during UFC 159 at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

"I don't want to give anything away. But everyone presents their own problem. She brings her own unique things to the table. People have always tried different ways to approach me in a fight, and I always expect them to come out with something different," Rousey said. "We focus not so much on what the other person's weaknesses are. We focus on what my weaknesses are, and we do everything we can to close them for the whole camp.

"The more the focus is on me, it's making it so that whatever approach they have, we have an answer to it. Instead of focusing on how we catch her, we focus on how I can make myself uncatchable."

Rousey's free time is becoming more and more scarce by the day. She's already filmed two movies, and will begin filming a lead role in the Entourage movie in March. After that, she has a role lined up in the film adaptation of The Athena Project. She is a budding Hollywood star, and one can easily envision a day in the not-too-distant future when she leaves this fighting stuff behind for a permanent switch to the silver screen.

But Rousey said the prospects of Hollywood aren't cutting into her motivation to go to the gym.

"There would be no movies or anything like that if it wasn't for me fighting. No one would care if I didn't do well as a fighter," she said. "There are quite a few UFC champions, and there are quite a few action stars. But there are none who do both, and I want to be the first one to do that. A lot of people doubt me and say it's impossible. Those are the things that really motivate me: the doubts."

White believes Rousey may be UFC's biggest ever star
White believes Rousey may be UFC's biggest ever starJayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

UFC president Dana White told media last week that Rousey was perhaps the biggest star in the history of the UFC, but UFC 170 will be a marker for how big of a star she truly is. With Rashad Evans out of his fight with Daniel Cormier, the event will rely almost solely on Rousey to sell. She has been involved in two big pay-per-view events thus far, but this is the first time an event will be sold almost purely on her name value.

"I do have my concerns on the pay-per-view. It's a really quick turnaround, so I haven't given people a chance to miss me after two huge pay-per-views in the Super Bowl card (UFC 157) and the New Year's card (UFC 168)," Rousey said. "And when I'm the headliner, all the pressure really does fall on me to deliver. And because of the quick fight camp, I wasn't really able to do as much press as I did for the Carmouche fight. I really had to cut it down.

"And I do worry about these things. But the No. 1 issue in front of me is the fight. The pay-per-view is second. I have to do what is best for the fight and what is best for me to win. I've talked to Dana about whatever concerns I do have, and he said, 'Look, it's my job to sell pay-per-views. You worry about winning the fight.'"

And so she does.

The stylistic matchup between Rousey and McMann—and the intrigue provided by two Olympic medalists squaring off for UFC gold—has many fans and industry pundits excited to see what unfolds on Saturday night.

The idea of McMann taking Rousey to the mat and stifling her there while avoiding Rousey's dreaded armbar is not so far-fetched.

But Rousey says she has a mental ace in the hole that gives her an advantage .

"I'm more of a fighter than she is. I can tell this title is not as important to her as it is to me. She has a kid at home, and she has to go home to that kid," she says. "I can afford to be selfish where she can't. I'm willing to die in there, and she can't."