This Saturday, mixed martial artist "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey will fight defending Bantamweight champion Miesha Tate for the 135 lb. title. Using her strong past in judo as her anchor, 25-year-old Rousey has shot to the forefront of the women's MMA scene since her debut in August of 2010. She's got an Olympic medal in judo, her stepfather is literally a rocket scientist, and her only fear is getting an extreme wedgy on national television. Her high skill level and comprehensive understanding of how to fight has landed her at 4-0 and vaulted her over Sarah Kaufman for a chance to be the best in the 135 division. With the fight in sight, the Venice, Calif. native spoke to Complex about hustling boys for some extra cash as a kid, hating sweat, and cleared up her "beef" with Tate.
Interview by Tony Markovich (@T_Marko)
Your mom was the first American to win the World Judo Championships, but you started out as a swimmer. What made you want to finally take up the family sport?
My mom went to go visit her old teammates when we moved to L.A., and they opened up a club there. What I really loved about it was the creativity. When you swim, there’s only one way to do the butterfly, and if you open your legs just a little bit, you’re disqualified. You have to be exactly a certain way or you’re out. Judo was one of those sports where they give you guidelines, but then try to tell you to develop your own style. I was showed my first throw, which was a soto gari, and they’re like, “Okay, this is one way to do a soto gari, but you have to experiment with it and figure out the way it works best for you.” My judo is not going to be like somebody else’s. It’s always going to be unique, and it’s something that I could get creative with. I remember when I got older, I had an epiphany where I saw how everything was connected from one throw to another and one move to another. You see when something doesn’t work, you can end up in the starting position of another, and you see how they fit together, like chains almost. It’s really hard to describe. It was just such an amazing creative outlet for me. It took a hold of my imagination in a way that nothing ever could.
Do you have any other creative outlets aside from your judo?
I make fractals. They’re like mathematical pictures. My stepdad is actually a rocket scientist, so in his free time, he gave me a fractal program for fun. He showed me how to use it when I was about nine or 10, and I made thousands of fractals. You know how you make a graph, and you see the line on the graph of an equation? If you take that same equation through every single point, it will make a picture. You’re pretty much seeing pictures of different equations that you mesh into each other. You see fractals in nature all the time like nautical shells and stuff like that. They are those things that people look at when they’re tripping on acid, and they’re like, “Oh my God, it’s infinite,” because you can zoom in forever and you an zoom out forever, because it’s a number. It’s infinite. It’s really cool, you can play with the colors and everything. If you go to fractaldomains.com you can go to the galleries and see Ronda’s galleries. Those are a bunch of the fractals that I made when I was younger. I still make them. It’s different. I’m a closet nerd.
It seems like your mother has played a pretty instrumental role in prepping and keeping you going. How has she been a factor through your fighting career?
It’s been a bumpy road for both of us. When I was younger and I was getting in my whole adolescent rebellion phase, I thought that my mom was just mean and trying to ruin my life, and now I’m very grateful and happy for everything she’s done for me. Some things I thought were mean when I was a kid, I realize now she was just trying to develop me into a good fighter. It’s really funny, because she was always a big hardass when I did judo, and now that I switched over to MMA, she’s in worried mommy mode every time that I fight. It’s a total flip. When I did judo, she’d always be like, “Suck it up, I don’t care if your arm is hanging out of its socket, pop it in and keep fighting.” Now if I’m doing MMA she’s like, “Oh my God, the other girl that Ronda is punching is bleeding on her, oh my God! Please, somebody get in there and slap that girl and tell her to stop bleeding on my baby!” [Laughs.] She’s just super worried and overprotective now. I get to see this mighty maternal side that I never really got to see much when I was younger. It’s kind of cool to see that change.
I just have this phobia that I’m going to get camel toe when I fight, and I’m constantly pulling my pants down. That’s really the only thing I’m scared of.
Have you ever asked her why that is?
Yeah, it’s because she was so accomplished in judo. She knew everything that was going on. MMA is a sport that she doesn’t know that well, doesn’t understand all of it, and of course, it’s a lot more graphic. You don’t get as many internal injuries like on joints and other things in a match like in judo, it’s mostly cosmetic damage. But if you see the person before your daughter fights gushing blood all over the place, it’s gonna make any mother worry, no matter how thick her skin is.
But you’re going to put your kids in a cage fight, right?
Well, I understand the sport, so I want them to be prepared if anything came up. Kids are going to fight anyways, so I might as well make them fight with padding.
It might as well be organized, right?
Exactly! [Laughs.] No eye-gouging and no groin shots, go! [Laughs.]
What is something that you are actually afraid of?
I am really scared of getting camel toe on national television. That just scares the crap out of me. If you notice, I’m constantly pulling my pants down when I fight, because those are some tight little spandex shorts. I just have this phobia that I’m going to get camel toe when I fight, and I’m constantly pulling my pants down. That’s really the only thing I’m scared of: [Laughs.] Broadcasted camel toe.
You mentioned that being the muscular fighting girl didn’t exactly help in school. What was that like growing up?
Kids don’t like what they don’t understand, and judo was always my social outlet. I always felt really socially awkward, and I couldn’t speak very well when I was younger. When I was doing judo, it was something that I could understand and some place where I felt that I belonged and fit in. Even though, a lot of times, if you walked in the room, you wouldn’t think I’d fit in, because there was one blond girl and a bunch of Armenian dudes. But at school, I was a muscular girl. I never wore makeup and I would never really spend that much time thinking about what to wear. I wasn’t always the most fashionable, and I would come to school with cauliflower ear and ringworm. I got made fun of a lot. People called me "Miss Man" and "Guns," and people directed a lot of karate jokes at me. I wish that I was at school now that MMA and martial arts is cool, but back when I was in school, people associated it with nerdy stuff. I wasn’t a normal teenage girl, so I didn’t fit in, and people that don’t fit it get made fun of.
What kind of toll did that take on you?
It gave me that chip on my shoulder. It might not sound very correct, but I’m greatly motivated by spite. A lot of people have told me I wasn’t good enough, and I love to prove people wrong more than anything. All these people telling that I was a dork or a nerd or saying that I’m ugly or masculine, it just feels very good to be successful in fighting now. It motivated me to prove all these people that put the insecurities into my head wrong.