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Even if you know nothing about mixed martial arts, chances are you know Ronda Rousey's name. The UFC Bantamweight champion is undefeated in the field of mixed martial arts, and an Olympic medalist in judo. She's known for stopping her opponents in a matter of seconds, and is the biggest name in a male-dominated sport. If you haven't watched her fight in the cage, you probably saw her fight Michelle Rodriguez in (opens in new tab) Furious 7. Even Beyoncé has taken inspiration from her (opens in new tab), using her viral "do-nothing bitch" speech during her performance at the Made in America festival this weekend.
But even though she's consistently kickass, she still faces the scrutiny that comes with being a female athlete in the public eye. She's making huge strides to change the way women are perceived in the media, and in sports in general. She's about to head to Australia to promote her November fight with Holly Holm. It's an attempt to break the UFC attendance record with female headliners, which would be a first.
All that and she has to win, in a match with one of her toughest competitors yet—and then go on a date with one lucky Marine. As she gears up for her next big fight, we talked to Rousey about body image, the power of fear, and the pressure to be sexy.
Throughout your fighting career, you consistently end up winning in seconds. How does it feel to be so consistently dominant? Do you wish you had a competitor who can also do what you do?
I mean, all of these girls are amazing competitors. The next chick I'm fighting, Holly Holm, is a 19-time boxing world champion, and she's the most decorated striker in the entire sport of mixed martial arts. I mean, that's serious competition that I'm coming up against. Somehow, people act like I have no competition, but the thing is, the competition is so good that it forces me to be better than I even thought was possible.
Your competition is incredible, but the narrative is that you're unstoppable. That must be a lot of pressure.
The thing is, I'm so dominant in all of these fights because I am the most scared and fearful of all these girls. A lot of people, once they become champion, they relax, kind of sit in the position and try to enjoy it. But I feel like everything I've ever worked for could be lost at any moment. I work harder and harder and harder, because I want to be farther ahead with every fight, and not worrying about these girls catching up to me. Nobody's easy until after you beat them.
After your comments about not having the body of a "do-nothing bitch" went viral, you trademarked the phrase (opens in new tab). What are you going to do with it?
Well, first we had the T-shirt (opens in new tab), an apparel line, and we actually took a portion of the proceeds and donated it to the Didi Hirsch mental health clinic (opens in new tab), which provides free services for kids with body dysmorphia and eating disorders. We were able to raise a lot of money for them, and I'm thinking of probably doing something along those lines every few months, like a limited edition apparel for fundraising for Didi Hirsch.
Why is that cause important to you?
These are issues that I think every girl deals with growing up, and it's something that's largely ignored and unaddressed. I would like that to be different for girls growing up after me. It shouldn't have been as hard as it was.
I was in a weight-cutting sport, in judo, so I had to be a certain weight on a deadline. It kind of pushed me into having a really unhealthy relationship with food in my teens. I felt like if I wasn't exactly on weight, I wasn't good looking. It was a lot to get past, and now I can say that I've gotten through it, I've never been happier with how I look, and more satisfied with my body. It was definitely a journey to get there.
Your Carl's Jr. ad has been getting a lot of praise because it's sexy, but it's not overly sexual like a lot of the other ads have been in the past. Why did you decide to go that route?
When I was a kid, the standard that I held myself to was what I perceived the boys I liked to want. If I liked a 14-year-old boy, and he had 50 Maxim magazines, then I would assume I needed to look like the girls in those Maxim magazines if this boy is ever going to like me. If I see these Carl's Jr. ads, and all these guys are talking about how hot the girl is in the Carl's Jr. ad, and I don't look anything like her, then I figure there's something wrong with me. When you're able to change the direction of those and kind of broaden them a little bit and not just show a small fraction of the female population, then it actually changes the standard and makes it healthier for everybody. I feel like those ads are a real way to kind of change the perception of what is considered desirable in a woman these days.
At the same time, female MMA fighters, and athletes in general, are definitely sexualized more than the male ones. Female athletes are pressured to be sexy but also project power. How do you balance that in your life?
Well, I feel like it's an option that's available to us, but it's not really mandatory anymore. I've been really encouraged by the growth of women's mixed martial arts. It's reached a point where it's like, okay, you can get a little bit more attention [by acting sexy], but it's not like it's needed in order to sell a fight or in order to make a pay-per-view card more successful. It's another option that's available to us as women, as athletes, to sell whatever athletic event we're trying to get attention to. Whereas the men don't even have that option.
A corporal asked you (opens in new tab) to the Marine Corps Ball in December, and you said yes. How did you find out he asked you?
First I started seeing screenshots of it on Instagram, because I was tagged in it. Then a friend of mine sent me the video. I looked at it, and four million people had already seen it. I'm really shy when it comes to accepting dates, but, four million people is a lot of peer pressure. It's really hard to turn that one down!
Have you guys gotten in touch yet?
No, I guess it's "being arranged." I just said I was down to go, but I have no idea how to get in touch with him. I guess the UFC is getting on that and handling it for me. I can't wait.
So most athletes retire at a pretty young age compared to people in other careers. How much longer do you plan on fighting?
I don't really know. It's not about amount of time, or matches, it's the amount of actual fight time. So, I mean, I've only actually been inside of the cage fighting for around 25 minutes. Which is like the length of one championship fight if you think about it. So, I mean, I'm thinking about how much stress I'm actually putting on my body. The shorter the fights are, the more there will be.
What kind of future do you envision for yourself when you've retired?
That's one reason why I've been dabbling in acting while I'm still competing in MMA. In judo, I thought of nothing else except for the Olympics, so when I was done, I was starting at zero. To try to do something else was really a difficult time. I'm trying to get enough experience in acting so by the time I'm done doing MMA, I can be able to transition into acting full time.
You'll be starring in a biopic about your own life, based on your book. What can you tell me about that?
It's pretty much going to be a mix between 8 Mile and Rocky.
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Megan Friedman is the former managing editor of the Newsroom at Hearst. She's worked at NBC and Time, and is a graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.
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