Feb 20, 2013; Torrance, CA, USA; Ronda Rousey during today's public workout at the UFC gym for her bout with Liz Carmouche on Feb 23. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES It's early morning in L.A. really early and a publicist, a camera crew, a sports network, a fight trainer, a sportswriter and a lot of fans and autograph seekers have converged to fill Ronda Rousey's schedule full of this and that and then a little more this.
It's early in the week that Rousey will make history as the first woman to fight in the UFC octagon, headlining the UFC 157 mixed martial arts card Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., and the promotion is in full swing.
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A limousine arrives at 4 a.m. to pick Rousey up at the house she shares with an assortment of friends and fighters, just up the street from the funky, iconic Venice boardwalk. The day will include a stop at the UFC gym in Torrance and be filled with interviews, fake smiles, a makeup lady, autograph hounds, a few large Starbucks drinks and a speeding ticket from a California Highway Patrol officer who isn't the least bit interested that the passenger in the back is a famous fighter late for a TV appearance.
At one point, she stops to consider her fame, her frenetic pace and her exhaustion.
"It's great. It's awesome. It's cool. I'm not complaining," she says. "But it's a lot."
Moments later, with time to kill before appearing live on one of ESPN's afternoon shows, she is sound asleep on the couch in the green room, and you know she is very tired because she remains in a deep sleep despite voluminous commentator Stephen A. Smith making his point CLEARLY on a TV hanging from the ceiling.
This is not Rousey's idea of how to spend a day, but it's worth it because, despite a lot of naysayers, including her mother, she is succeeding in life the way she envisioned it.
Rousey, from the age of 12, was considered an uncommon prodigy in the world of judo. People in that world, including her mom, AnnMaria Rousey DeMars, a former world judo champion, thought Ronda would be the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the sport.
She went to the 2004 Olympics as a 17-year-old and didn't medal. She went back as a 21-year-old and won a bronze.
Right on track, her judo people thought: She's on pace to win gold as a 25-year-old.
Except that Rousey, in terms of living the spartan, highly repetitive lifestyle of Olympic judo training, was done.
She took a year off, working as a cocktail waitress and bartender (and learning how to put on makeup), and then came up with her plan to take on the world of MMA.
She told her judo coach, Jimmy Pedro.
"He pretty much told me to go (bleep) myself," she says. "He didn't want to help me."
She told her mother.
Mom's response: "I told her that was about the dumbest idea she'd ever had. If you think you're going to live with us while pursuing some crazy dream about being an MMA fighter . . . No way."
But Rousey asked her mother to withhold judgment for a year, and her mother agreed.
'She's a home run'
Four years later, Rousey's mother no longer need worry about supporting her MMA dreamer.
Rousey, 26, has won six professional bouts, all in the first round with her signature move, the armbar submission hold. Now that she has signed on with UFC, she is expected to make perhaps $150,000 or more per fight if she wins.
But the winnings don't seem foremost on Rousey's mind this week as she contemplates what a win in the octagon - and becoming the UFC bantamweight (135 pounds) champion would mean to her.
"In judo and at the Olympics, I was carrying the weight of everyone's expectations and trying to prove people right that I could win the Olympics," she says. "I didn't like that. I want it to be just for me, not for other people. I like proving people wrong more than proving people right."
After seeing Rousey become a star for another MMA organization, UFC president Dana White was convinced it was time for him to promote a women's fight for the first time.
"There's a certain type of person and fighter that make people come and watch, and she's got it," White says of Rousey. "First, she's got to be able to kick some ass. With Ronda, she can do that and she is also beautiful and she speaks well. She's a home run, man."
Rousey is a whole lot of things, actually.
She is appealing in a Beyonce kind of way. She's small (5-6 ¼, 135 pounds) but mighty.
She's traveled around the world and won an Olympic medal but she calls herself the "black sheep" of a family that is filled with impressive academic credentials, including her mother's doctorate in educational psychology.
She's smart but calls herself dumb. She's articulate but trash-talky, and that's gotten her into some mini-controversies.
She once called out Olympic swimming superstar Michael Phelps for, she said, coming off as arrogant around the other 2008 Olympians. She ended up on a YouTube video, saying, "Get over yourself. All you do is swim. If someone slapped you every single time you jumped in the pool, then I'd have a little more respect."
Rousey laughs that incident off, saying she didn't know she was being filmed as she was shooting the breeze with some fighters at the gym.
"If I had known I was on camera," she says, "I would have said, 'I really respect what Olympic swimmers do. And I know it takes a lot of hard work. And I know that the mental and physical toughness that goes into sports like kickboxing and wrestling and judo could not be compared to a sport where you're, you know, suspended in fluid.'
"That would have been a better way of saying it."
It's classic Rousey - playful and irreverent but not wanting to be hurtful.
She's just as happy to make fun of herself as she is making fun of Phelps. She means no harm, and if she's a little unfiltered at times, she enjoys it that way.
"In the Olympics, it's kind of like you're supposed to act like Miss America and talk about world peace," she says. "I like having that freedom now. I like having that room for error, that whole bad girl thing."
Not so bad
Her mother chuckles at the notion of Ronda as black sheep or bad girl and points out that none of those stories about her highlight the charity work she does.
She has been active in Freerice, which helps send grains of rice to the hungry. She's also donated time and money to a mental health clinic and regularly donates signed gear and memorabilia to various charities.
If it seems like her mother has come around on this MMA stuff, she has. She will be at the fight Saturday, along with Ronda's stepfather and three sisters.
That pleases Rousey.
"I want to prove myself right to my mother, and that has been a big motivator for me for a long time," she says. "We have a much stronger relationship now that she isn't so worried about me all the time. She's very hard on me when she's worried. Now I can tell she's a lot less worried when I come home. She's like, 'Want some tea? Some cookies? Some soup? You should sit down and relax.'
"I never thought I'd hear my mom say I need to relax. She was always, 'You need to do more. You need to do more. You need to work harder.'
"Now she's telling me to calm down and relax. I wouldn't be where I am without her. I am very appreciative."
In a way, Rousey believes her father, who was an avid sports fan, will be there Saturday, too.
When Rousey was a little girl, her father suffered a broken back and other complications in a sledding accident. He was given a short time to live and committed suicide. Ronda was 8.
"He still is a motivation to me because he always thought I was going to do something big, that I'd do something extraordinary," she says. "He made me think, 'Of course the world is going to be my oyster. I'm going to be fabulous.'"