What do you think about the progress that women’s MMA has been making?
It’s extremely encouraging just to see how much it has picked up in the last six months. I’m super excited about how things are going. Gina did so much and was this complete pioneer for the sport, but I feel like it really stagnated in her absence and was starting to go down again. I felt that when I started doing MMA it was at a tipping point. It could start falling into obscurity, or something could happen to make it take off again. I just took it upon myself to be that something, because if you want a job done right, you gotta do it yourself.
How can you be that catalyst?
I think because I am an Olympic-level athlete. I’m not just some weekend warrior that thought it would be a good idea to try an MMA match one day. I’ve been fighting and doing this professionally my entire life. I think that there are more women that are coming in that are Olympic athletes like Sarah McMann and Randi Miller that are going to try to do MMA. I think that I’m the first of that new wave that can show people that there is a future and a career here. Not only that, but there are going to be younger girls that have seen Gina and me and Meisha and hopefully, they will want to emulate women like that. There are a lot of girls now that are training younger and are more well-balanced with every style. If we maintain women getting good exposure, then the depth of the division is just going to expand exponentially.
How do you think they should be getting that exposure out there?
You need to put on good, well-publicized, entertaining fights. They have to be entertaining outside the ring as well. I feel like that’s one thing that I have contributed that they were missing before. I am adding some theatrics outside the match. For this match, you’ve never seen so much focus on the interviews and what’s going on with the supposed beef between me and Miesha. It’s gotten so much press because it’s different. We need more things like that, take hints from the guys, and mimic that. There’s this perception that women have to be on higher ground and more ethical and all this stuff, but you know what? You need to put your ultra-feminist ideas of what’s ethical on pause and take a little look at the WWE and see what’s working.
What do you think of girls like Gina who are using their image to venture into other avenues?
I think it’s great for her! I think she’s shown that not only can women do well and succeed in MMA, but they can use MMA to succeed in other areas like doing action movies or doing stunts. She really is a pioneer in every way and she’s opening up all these new opportunities for women MMA fighters. I got a lot of criticism when I quit judo, because people wanted me to be the first American to win the gold medal in judo. They were like, “Why are you quitting? Why are you doing this?” There were so many other people giving me reasons why I should be doing something that I just didn’t have a passion for anymore. If she doesn’t have a passion for fighting anymore, she shouldn’t fight. You can't fight for anybody except yourself. For her to go on to make her career take off is a great thing. I think it will make it easier for other women to do the same in the future.
So you lost your passion for judo?
I just didn’t have fun doing judo anymore. The whole training part of it got to be too much. Competing and winning I loved, but the lifestyle required to be the best in the world didn’t make me happy anymore. I wasn’t willing to be miserable for four years so I could possibly be happy for one day. After my last Olympics, I realized that getting a medal is great, but it doesn’t change your life afterwards. It doesn’t make your life better and all sunshine and butterflies because you are an Olympic medalist. They’re going to give you a handshake, a few grand, and then kick you out the door to figure out the rest of your life. It wasn’t worth it to me anymore. Now with MMA, I’m so happy and interested and enthralled to be there every single day in a way that I never was with judo. I found my niche.
There’s this perception that women have to be on higher ground and more ethical and all this stuff, but you know what? You need to put your ultra-feminist ideas of what’s ethical on pause and take a little look at the WWE and see what’s working.
If or when you win this match, what’s next for you?
I don’t know. The match has my full attention at the time. Whatever the fans want, I’m willing to do. I probably want to set up a fight with Sarah Kaufman, because she is the girl that everybody felt should have gotten the next title shot before I came along. I think the most fair thing to do would be to have a fight between me and the winner of her fight with Alexis Davis. They are fighting on the undercard of our fight.
I wanted to congratulate you on reaching 15 million grains of rice in your Free Rice campaign.
Yeah, thank you. We’re still doing that until March 3rd, the day of the fight. We’re giving away more prizes, because I haven’t released my new clothing line. We’re going to give out the first ones to the top donors as of March 3rd, and a couple more to just random people that donated even a little bit. We thought it would be cool, because I’m cutting a bunch of extra weight, and I’m hungry all the time, so we thought we could do a fundraiser for hungry people. Being hungry sucks! [Laughs.]
Do you know how many people that can feed?
I’m not sure, several thousand people.
How did you get involved in that?
My mom was programing with some other thing, she showed me Free Rice, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is so cool.” It was originally her idea, and she suggested doing something to raise money for hungry people while I was cutting weight and getting ready for the fight. She has been taking care of that and sending out all the prizes and everything, and I do all the promotion and am supplying everything.
Were there others that you considered?
The Pink Fuji Gi that I wear to my fights is the only other thing. I don’t think I’ll be able to wear it this time around, but a portion of the proceeds for that go to breast cancer, so it was a breast cancer awareness gi. That one’s cool. We’re trying to do more things as I progress. I want to use my popularity for good things, you know, not just to make myself money. We’re just getting started. The more time that goes by and the more reach that I have, the more I can do.
Also saw that your sister had a baby, congratulations on becoming an aunt.
I was already an aunt, so now I’m doubly an aunt, because she had her second baby. We’re going straight there after the fight to watch the old and new baby.
Are you a kids person?
Yeah, I love teaching kids, working around kids, and eventually I want to end up having some kids.
I’m sure they’ll be tough little guys.
Yeah, little warrior babies. Every time they have a fight, I’m just going to stick them in a little cage and be like, “Okay, figure it out.” [Laughs.] Wouldn’t it be so cool to get a playpen that’s like a cage? [Laughs.] It would be cruel slash cool.
You could be the marketing person for that. You could start that up.
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