From broke and homeless to fierce MMA champ: Rousey’s story

Sep 01, 15 From broke and homeless to fierce MMA champ: Rousey’s story

“When I go for it,” Ronda Rousey says, “I go for it.”

Since going pro in 2011, Rousey has become the most revolutionary female athlete since Venus and Serena Williams upended tennis in the 1990s.

Rousey has also made Maxim’s Hot 100 list and Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30. She was just named the Most Dominant Athlete Alive by Business Insider, beating out LeBron James. Mixed martial arts may never become mainstream, but Rousey has transcended her sport: endorsement deals, movies, magazine covers.

“She’s the complete package,” says Tony Manfred, BI’s sports editor. “She just buries people. She’s better at MMA than any other athlete is at anything.”

As a fighter, Rousey is elegant and brutal, so controlled that her gift seems preternatural.

It is not.

“The way I got here wasn’t perfect,” says Rousey, 28. “It was messy, and there was a lot of s- -t along the way.”

Her new book, “My Fight/Your Fight,” is equal parts self-help manual and memoir. Rousey co-wrote it with her sister, sports journalist Maria Burns Ortiz, which helped her tell the darker parts of her story.

Nothing has struck more fear in her. “It’s very nerve-wracking,” Rousey says. “I don’t know how people are going to take it. But I always feel truth is the best armor.”


Devastating Blow

“At about 6, I began speaking coherently in sentences,” Rousey says. “They told me I had brain damage from the hypoxia. But when you’re a kid, your brain figures out a way to reorganize.”

Her beloved dad and namesake, Ron, encouraged her. “You’re a smart kid,” he’d say. “It’s not like you’re some f- -kin’ moron.”

Ron took her shopping for her first doll — a Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy, which she slept with every night. He took her hiking in the woods. At the end of each day, they’d sit together and watch the animal documentary series “Wild Discovery.”

When Rousey was 8, her father killed himself, committing suicide by asphyxia. He had suffered chronic, acute back pain since a freak accident a few years before, but no one saw it coming.

“None of us were the same after that,” Rousey says. Her father’s death was the most formative event of her life, and she almost never talks about it.


“I never wanted to be in the situation where I’ve told the story so many times that I become detached from it and don’t cry,” Rousey says.

That same year, Rousey had another transformational moment. Rooting around the house, she came across a scrapbook. Inside were photos of her mom, who had her own secret: She had been a judo champion.

“It was an unbelievable discovery as a kid,” Rousey says. “All this time, I’d been looking at my dad as big, strong, invincible, and my mom as the nurturer. I had no idea that my mom could kick my dad’s ass.”

Rousey’s mother, AnnMaria De Mars, is a sixth-degree black belt and in 1984 became the first American to win the world judo championships.

Inspired, Rousey took up judo, and her mom became her first coach.

“I hurt my toe,” I said. “I think it’s broken.”

“It’s a toe,” she said dismissively.

“But it hurts,” I said, crying. “Do you have a pillow for me?”

“What the f- -k do you mean a pillow?” she asked. “Go run laps.”

I hobbled away, more hopping than running.

“I said ‘run laps,’ not ‘hop laps,’ ” my mom said. “Run.”

Rousey was only 12, and to this day, she is thankful to her mother for such militaristic discipline. “Running around on a broken toe — was I going to hurt myself worse?” she asks. “I learned that if my toe broke, I could run on it anyway.”



Rousey would go on to tear her ACL, break her right hand, break her nose, dislocate an elbow, get bitten by a dog four days before a fight and throw up during another, pushing through it all.

At 16, she dropped out of school, left her family and moved to Boston to train to compete in judo at the 2004 Olympics. She was thriving and unraveling, and began bingeing and purging to make weight.

“I used to associate feeling full with guilt,” Rousey says. “Because there was no advice or help if you didn’t make weight — they just yelled at you.”

The night before a weigh-in, she wouldn’t even drink water. Day of, she wouldn’t shower — wet hair could tip her over. Hours before, she’d wrap her body in plastic, layer on her workout gear, go running, weigh herself, and do it all over again if she hadn’t shed enough.

For all that, Rousey placed ninth. “I cried harder than I’ve ever cried,” she writes. She was petrified she had disappointed her mom.

“You didn’t let me down,” her mother said. “You just had a bad day.”


On The Ropes

Her mother refused to let her live at home without a job. So, at 18, she went to live with a trainer who stole what little money she had. She found an older boyfriend who lived in his parents’ basement, cheated on her constantly, and told her that, physically, she was “about a six.”
All that discipline felt suffocating, and she wanted a year off, as she writes, “to party.”Her life fell into chaos. Rousey still competed and would take the bronze in the 2008 Olympics, but her relationship with her mom was rocky.

Her $10,000 prize money ran out quickly, and she got a job bartending at a theme place in Los Angeles.

Rousey began smoking and drinking heavily, often beginning her day with a cigarette and a vodka espresso. She developed a pot-and-Vicodin habit. She’d sleep in her car, and when she did find an apartment, all she could afford was a 12-by-12-foot studio.

“On more than one occasion,” she writes, “sewage would come up out of the toilet and shower, and I’d come home from work to an apartment filled with s- -t. I didn’t think I could get any lower.”

Then one day at work, Rousey caught an MMA highlight reel on the flat-screen over the bar.

“I could totally do that,” she thought.


‘Armed’ and Dangerous

“I really don’t know,” she says. “My best friend says, ‘You’re such a spoiled bitch! You have an incredible career, you’re drop-dead gorgeous, you have an amazing house by the beach — you want a boyfriend, too? Why should you have everything?’ ” Rousey laughs. “I’d rather have the incredible career and be really bad at picking men.”




Her incredible career took off when she had an epiphany in her first MMA fight: Her arm bar — an extremely difficult judo move that can, at its most brutal, break an arm — was enough to defeat anyone.

That first fight lasted 23 seconds.

“I felt a level of joy that I had never experienced before,” Rousey writes.

Though she was still working three jobs and living in a dump she found on Craigslist, Rousey knew she was on her way. She dialed back on her self-destructiveness and channeled that rage outward. By the time she was 2-0 professionally, she was recruited by Strikeforce, then the top MMA organization with a women’s league.

From the beginning, Rousey was the breakout. She won her first fight in 25 seconds, using her patented arm bar.

“From this day on, I’m just going to break everybody’s f–king arm,” she said.

In 2012, Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, called Rousey with an offer: He was going to form the league’s first women’s division and wanted to build it around her. It was a huge backslide for White, who had told TMZ the year before that he’d never allow women in the UFC.

Today, Rousey is on the bubble, about to become a mainstream superstar. She has starred in “The Expendables 3,” “Furious 7” and in the upcoming “Entourage.” She has been on the cover of ESPN The Magazine — as a sex symbol — and in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue.

Rousey used to pocket, on average, $400 a fight. Today, she earns up to $1 million on a pay-per-view event. It’s not Mayweather money, but she isn’t complaining, as evidenced by the beginning of our conversation.

“Sorry, I’m a few minutes late calling,” Rousey said. “I was just buying a Jacuzzi!”

Rousey began with the UFC as champion, shrewdly positioning herself as the “heel” — MMA slang for the villain. And she is widely disliked.

“Pretty looks are going to get people to glance in your direction, but it’s not going to get them to sit down and watch,” Rousey says. “That’s why it was important to push the rivalries at first.”

For Rousey, the ultimate win will be not just the survival of women’s MMA, but widespread recognition that women fighters are just as good — and in some cases, hers especially — better than the men.

“If any of these girls knew how much I actually worry about them and their careers and that we’re all part of this symbiotic ecosystem,” she says. “I need that for the future of the sport. I need them to wake up every day wanting to kill me.”


For full links to this article by Maureen Callahan in the New York Post please CLICK HERE


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