Have you been in any real fights with guys?
A couple times. The only time I fight is with guys. When I was in sixth grade, some kid tried to take my lunch money or something, and I threw him onto the concrete and burst the back of his head open. He had to go to the emergency room, and I got community service for that. I remember when I was in high school, me and my friend Jackie would go to Palisades Park [Santa Monica, Calif.], and we would bet guys that we could beat them up for $5 or $10. I would throw them down and arm bar them until they would say, “I give up, I give up!” We’d take the money and go buy frappuccinos. That’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t expect in Santa Monica, right? Two girls picking fights, getting the prize money, and getting a frappuccino. [Laughs.]
So you hustled people and beat them up?
[Laughs.] Yeah, and I have my now infamous movie theater fight story. A bunch of guys jumped me, I beat them up, and then they sued me, because, hey, we’re still in Santa Monica, right? They probably wanted to buy some frappuccinos, too.
What happened with them suing you?
The case got dismissed, because it was self-defense. They tried to get a civil case filed on me, but I’m very elusive and hard to find. My address isn’t anywhere, and I was working like three jobs, so anytime they’d try to send me a subpoena, they couldn’t find me. The lawyer has to pay every time that you send a subpoena, so eventually the guy was just was like, “You guys aren’t going to win this anyways,” and refused to defend them anymore. It just got dropped. I’m really a ninja, they can’t find me. I fight and then poof, gone. You’re not really a ninja if you’re easy to find. [Laughs.]
What’s more deadly, judo or wrestling?
Judo, but it has to be a specific style of judo. I lucked out in that the kind of judo I developed was perfect for MMA. I tore my knee out when I was younger, so I spent an entire year only working on my ground game, and my mom always made sure to send me to both Japanese-style places and European-style places. I did wrestling, tae bo, judo, and proper Japanese judo that is very applicable to no-gi [grappling]. I went to wrestling a couple times. I always thought that was gross when I was younger, though, because I didn’t like skin-on-skin contact for some reason. They would walk outside and then they would come in and walk on the mats with their dirty shoes. In judo, people are impeccably clean with the mats. You never walk on the mats with shoes or anything. The feeling with dirt on the ground and sweat, rubbing skin-on-skin really grossed me out when I was younger. My mom made sure I was very well rounded, though. I think that my style of judo is much more effective in MMA than wrestling is.
How did you get over your dislike of touching other people and sweat?
[Laughs.] Well, after I quit judo and after the ‘08 Olympics, I started doing grappling a lot with guys that I knew, and it was on judo mats, so at least they were clean. They were all guys that I knew since I was young, so I wasn’t too grossed out. I was cool about it. Then all through 2009 I did grappling with them, all no-gi, just for fun. It wasn’t full-time or anything, because I was working.
So you just got used to it?
Yeah, and now I like it way more. I don’t like putting a gi on. I hate having the extra friction, because I can’t move and can’t put combinations together as quickly or as smoothly. It’s much easier to be defensive in a gi. I’ve switched over to the dark side. I like the no-gi a lot better.
I would throw them down and arm bar them until they would say, “I give up, I give up!” We’d take the money and go buy frappuccinos. That’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t expect in Santa Monica, right? Two girls picking fights, getting the prize money, and getting a frappuccino.
The gis are a lot heavier than people think.
Oh my gosh, the gis are like armor. Especially when they’re soaked with sweat, it weighs several pounds and the gi on the neck, like, oh my God. It takes a while to get used to. When I first put a gi on, I remember hating that stuff on my neck.
You talk a lot of trash. What’s your reasoning behind that and how does that benefit you?
I don’t think of it as talking trash, I just think of it as any kind of banter that I would have with anybody in the gym. I come from a very intellectual house. My mom has a PhD, my stepdad is a rocket scientist, my sister has a masters, and my other sister has a bachelor’s in journalism at NYU. I would go from that environment to the gym, where the guys make themselves comfortable with me being there by pretty much talking shit to me all the time. It’s weird to have a girl there for them, you know? They would tease me all the time to make themselves more comfortable, so I developed this way of talking that is a mix of intellectual and bullshit in the gym. I come off as a little brash to a lot of other people. I make fun of my teammates and talk trash to them in the exact same way that I talk to my opponent. It’s just because they don’t know me and I’m not saying it with a smile that it becomes so jarring to some people. People aren’t used to seeing a girl talk like that.
What kinds of things would the guys say to you?
They would call me Big Ron all the time. They called me Ron for years. Anything, if somebody messes up that day, you make fun of them. It’s hard to quote. Everybody gives everybody else a hard time. I feel a little bit out of place when I’m hanging out with a bunch of girls, because I’m more comfortable in the vernacular that is used with the guys. I’m more of a guy’s girl, and that comes off as being brash when I’m talking to other women.
Do you think that benefits you when people don’t realize that's your normal talk?
It's definitely beneficial, because it’s something different, and people aren’t used to it. People are entertained by new things. When there’s a girl that shows up that can fight, talks like a guy, and can still look hot when she wants to, that’s something different and something that people want to see.
You and Miesha Tate have been going back and forth with some jabs.
Sefore she was saying that I was getting this fight because I was pretty. Then I beat the hell out of her at a debate, and she’s changed to saying that I talked my way into the fight. I’m like, "Yeah, you changed your mind on that one." And I don’t know how she could call me fake, because she doesn’t even know what I’m actually like. All this other stuff, I don’t take personally. She didn’t do anything originally to piss me off. If you make the two hot chicks fight, everybody will want to watch it. So, I thought maybe if people think these two chicks don’t like each other, they’d want to watch. I just started focusing my banter in her direction. Her stuff doesn’t really bother me, but I’m sure it bothers her. I’m used to going back and forth with people like that, and she’s not, you can tell. She takes a lot of it personally. For me, everything is resolved after the fight. I’m willing to have a clean slate, because I can’t really take offense to anything. I started it and I understand why she would be pissed off.
I guess that depends on who wins, huh?
So nothing she’s said has hit you personally?
One thing that bothered me was when she was trying to say that my Olympic medal isn’t legitimate. Anyone who says that obviously doesn’t know how the brackets and stuff in judo work. It’s just completely wrong. I was appalled by the fact that she would try to defame one of her own country’s Olympic medals. I worked really hard to represent my country well. I didn’t talk or act this way when I was an Olympian, because I wasn’t just representing myself, I was representing my country. I went through a lot of pain and hardship and sacrifice to bring this medal back to my country, and I was very proud of that. That deserves a little bit of respect. I didn’t just do it for myself. MMA is just for myself, but that medal wasn’t. I wanted to make history for America, and I did. I was the first female to win a medal in judo since it became a full-fledged sport in 1992. For her to try to say that my medal doesn’t count because it makes her feel better just shows how selfish she is. She’s basically putting herself over her own country’s accomplishments. That’s very ungrateful. I won that medal for her country.
Do you think there is an element of jealousy in there?
No, I don’t think it’s jealousy as much as she feels threatened. She’s threatened by the fact that I’m an Olympic-level athlete, and she’s a high school-level wrestler. She feels the need to try and bring me down to her level to feel like she has a chance. If she convinces herself that my Olympic medal isn’t legitimate, then she feels like she’s a little bit more in my league. Psychologically, it’s understandable, but it’s still selfish.