The Ronda Rousey Fame Machine Will Eat Her Alive (Or Die Trying)

Mike Chiappetta@MikeChiappettaMMA Senior ColumnistOctober 30, 2015

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Ronda Rousey responds to questions during media day in Glendale, California on October 27, 2015 ahead of her November 14 fight in Melbourne, Australia against Holly Holm. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

You don't have to listen too closely to understand the pressure Ronda Rousey faces on an everyday basis, that she is feeling and living, that she cannot escape.

It was obviously self-reflective when the UFC bantamweight champion claimed during a UFC 193 media day that her challenger, Holly Holm, would "enjoy her life a lot more" if she lost, thereby avoiding all of the added responsibilities thrust upon the titleholder. 

The more she talks, the more obvious it gets that being the champ is no longer mostly fun; that it now more closely resembles the relentless grind that both Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre spoke of upon ending their respective reigns.

Another sign came on Thursday night, when Rousey disconnected from a scheduled media conference call after being asked a question about her boyfriend, fellow UFC fighter Travis Browne. While the question seemed relatively harmless, Rousey has often objected to inquiries regarding her personal life.

Just a day earlier, the 28-year-old had decried her treatment in an interview with ESPN, saying, "people stop treating you like a person and start treating you like an event," and said that when she is done fighting, "I'm moving to the middle of nowhere."

The thing is, some of her feelings are completely understandable. Even I must admit media becomes overwhelming to the point of suffocation when it gets obsessed with a topic. And make no mistake, Rousey is a mainstream media obsession.

In the last two weeks, here is a sample of headlines, with corresponding publications:

Most of these stories are nonsense, but because people seem to be fascinated by Rousey, they get assigned, written and disseminated. The media writes, the audience reads, the assembly line needs more. That's the way it works, and the cycle continues ad infinitum. Or at least until that person falls apart or disappears.

The machine must always be fed.

This is Rousey's reality now, no matter how much she objects or complains. It doesn't seem quite fair, but when she smashed MMA's glass ceiling, she called attention to herself that never quite left. In fact, it multiplied exponentially.

People tend to reason the overbearing attention that comes with fame by saying it is what you signed up for, but the truth is no one truly knows what they're signing up for until it's too late. There are too many variables involved. Who would have guessed that Rousey would become without a doubt the biggest crossover star mixed martial arts has ever known? 

Yet here she is now, the most famous cage fighter ever, blowing away Brock Lesnar and Randy Couture and even Gina Carano. In the past few weeks, she's gotten magazine covers (Self, Ring), gabbed with major talk show hosts (Jimmy Fallon, Ellen Degeneres) and co-hosted two of America's top sports shows (ESPN SportsCenter, Fox NFL Sunday). On the other side of the world, her event is expected to draw a UFC record 70,000 fans to Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia.

Rousey has reached the point where her popularity rivals that of the UFC. She can call her own shots in regard to media appearances, and that includes the biggest shows around. Unfortunately for her, it is the only place where she has control. 

In the last week, she has faced questions about her mom's criticism of her coach, and of her relationship with Browne in the wake of domestic abuse allegations against him. It is really among the first times Rousey has been put in uncomfortable positions.

But as the public gets to know the entirety of the Rousey story, they will want more, and some reporters will continue to push her past the point of comfort. The machine plays along until you no longer play along with it. And then it tries to cannibalize you. It is insatiable. This is how it is, even if that's not how it should be. 

To her credit, Rousey has discussed an "exit plan." She says she wants to retire young, to chase a boxing world championship, then a jiu-jistu world championship, then a professional wrestling world championship. All this while doing movies. Which doesn't sound like an exit plan at all, but more like different stages of the same venue. 

At other times, she has said she will disappear and "no one will ever hear from me ever again," which is about as opposite from the first plan as can be. 

In other words, there is conflict roiling within her. The pressure is intensified; the fun is dulled. That's how it is at this level, when the fame machine must constantly be fed. Rousey is finding out now that either it eats you alive or dies trying.


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