I discovered Ronda Rousey in a way that’s become classic in the modern age – an internet search re-direct. While searching for someone else named Rhonda, I mistakenly left out the “h” and suddenly I was looking at an interview with Ms. Rousey. The sound was off but under her name, it said MMA fighter and I said “really”? So I turned up the volume and entered the world of Ronda Rousey.
Two years ago, I’d never heard of her. Two years ago I’d never watched an MMA match, male or female. Two years ago, MMA was not even on my radar. As a kid, I had liked boxing. It was one of the rare interests I shared with my father and Mohammad Ali was a big hero, both in and out of the ring. He was brash, he understood that promotion, publicity……selling the fight was important and he did it well. Outside the ring, he had principles and he stuck to them, despite the cost. But boxing isn’t what it once was and my adult interests no longer included the “sweet science” or any other combat sport.
But I listened to Ronda’s story and it was a compelling one. I was particularly struck by her description of how she felt after winning a medal for her country, then having to struggle just to stay afloat, all the while being expected to compete again in another few years. I thought of how difficult a decision it must have been to let go of the only life she’d really known. After the interview, I looked up a few of her fights and holy cow! For the first time ever, I thought I could get into this sport. Although it is true that I’d never actually watched an MMA fight I was, of course, aware that it existed. In the early days of the UFC, I’d seen some of it on the TV screens in the bars I worked at. I thought it was a joke, more akin to pro wrestling than a legitimate combat sport..
Ronda changed all that. Her fighting style was pure athleticism and I loved watching her. She spoke well, showed a good sense of humor and had that refreshingly “unfiltered” style that was a breath of fresh air compared to most athlete interviews. Her one-woman campaign to get female MMA into the UFC was impressive. Since then, she’s gone on to do a lot for the sport as a whole, not just the women’s side, and in the process revealed a lot about who she truly is. Despite my misgivings, I did watch “The Ultimate Fighter” and I could see she’d likely be portrayed as a kind of bad ass punk. But watching “between the lines” I could see what her priority was and it was her team. The dedication and support she showed, especially when things weren’t going well, made a deep impression on me. And it made sense. She’s grown up in a team-type atmosphere. She was clearly a person with a deep sense of loyalty and that’s a quality I admire.
After “The Ultimate Fighter” it was onto the rematch with Meisha Tate. The fight went the way most predicted and in that briefest of moments when it ended, Ronda spurned the hand that Tate offered her. Immediately the boos and cries of “unsportsmanlike conduct” echoed throughout the arena that night and the interned in the following days. To me, those cries rang hollow. There is a knee-jerk expectation that people should act in certain ways in certain situations simply because it’s expected. Once in a while, someone comes along who doesn’t act based on expectations placed on them but rather on their principles. I mentioned one who did exactly that earlier – Mohammed Ali. Ronda is another one. Not shaking Meisha Tate’s hand, in my view, doesn’t mean she is a poor sport. To me, it means she has values she’s willing to stand up for. She was being true to herself, despite the fact that some people who live by convention for convention’s sake won’t like it. I’m not one of those people. In that moment, I found even more respect for her than I already had. I didn’t think it was possible but I was wrong. I am now an even bigger fan of Ronda Rousey than I was before the fight.
This essay was written by Michael Brooks and submitted to Armbar Nation on January 14, 2014. If you would like to share your Ronda Rousey story, please email us at TeamRousey@armbarnation.com