Ronda Jean Rousey was born on February 1, 1987, in Riverside, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) She was the third of three children born to Ann Maria and Ronald. Her older sisters were Maria and Jenny.
Ronda's birth nearly ended in catastrophe. The umbicial cord wrapped around her neck and deprived her of oxygen. The result was that she was unable to speak clearly as a child. Often her own family was unable to make out what she was saying. Ronda would undergo years of speech therapy to correct the problem.
The three Rousey girls were very athletic and highly competitive. Ronda was very reserved because of her speech problems, but she found an outlet in the sports she played. She ran and swam competitively at a young age.
In 1994, the Rouseys moved from Southern California to North Dakota. Ronald, an aerospace engineer, suffered a serious back injury, which led to other medical problems. When Ronda was 8-years-old, her dad committed suicide. The family moved back to California, settling in Santa Monica.
As a teenager, Ronda cut her hair short, wore baggy clothes and kept mostly to herself. She went by “Ronnie” back then and started to channel her energy into judo, a sport her mom had excelled in at the same age. In fact, Ann Maria went on to win a world championship in 1984. Often she would wrestle her daughters out of their beds using a painful Arm Bar.
Ann Maria chauffered Ronda to her judo lessons, using their endless hours of drive time to build her self-confidence and raise her expectations. By her sophomore year in high school, Ronda was all-in where judo was concerned. She had her eye on the 2008 Olympics, and even named her cat Beijing. When a Spanish teacher started giving her flack about missing too many classes, Ronda dropped out of school. Already known as an up-and-comer in American judo, she burst onto the international season when she qualified for the 2004 U.S. Olympic team—four years ahead of schedule—and finished ninth in the judo competition at Athens. At 17, she was the youngest person in the competition.
Later that year, Ronda won gold at the 2004 World Junior Judo Championships in Budapest. But once she was back in California, the glory faded and reality set in. Ronda had a disagreement with her equally stubborn-minded mom and moved out. She moved from place to place, living briefly in Albany, Chicago and Montreal before returning to California. Ronda struggled to make ends meet. She worked in a vet's office and gave judo lessons, but making the rent proved a challenge. To save money, she joined a 24-hour gym where she could shower and change. So she simply slept in her Honda Accord.
ON THE RISE
Ronda's coaches in her amazing rise to fame in 2004 had been Jimmy Pedro Sr. and Jimmy Pedro Jr. She left them in 2005 for two years before returning to the fold in early 2007. That season, Ronda became the first U.S. female martial arts athlete in nearly 10 years to win an A-Level tournament when she took the gold at the Birmingham World Cup in England. She also took gold at the Pan American Games.
Later that year, at 19, Ronda won the bronze medal at the Junior World Championships, becoming the first U.S. athlete in her sport to win two Junior World medals. She also won silver at the senior 2007 World Championships.
All of this was a prelude to Beijing, where Ronda finished third in the 70 kilo category to win a bronze medal—the first ever for Team USA in women’s judo. Her only loss came to Edith Bosch of the Netherlands, who at six feet talltowered over Ronda by five inches. Bosch used her long arms to fend off the 21-year-old American before flipping her on her back in a tense overtime battle. Ronda ramped it up and ran the table after that loss to secure the bronze. She secured her medal with a yuko side-throw of Anett Boehm, the 2004 bronze medalist from Germany. The medal was the first ever for a U.S. woman since judo became an official Olympic sport in 1992.
After the Olympics, Ronda began looking seriously at MMA. In 2008, there was no women’s division in the sport. She set her sights on changing the status quo. She began training with a group of Armenian MMA fighters in Glendale, with whom she had been friendly for years. They showed her some tricks of the trade, and in return she served as their "wingman" at nightclubs.
By 2010, female mixed martial artists were beginning to pop up on the men's schedule. There were enough skilled fighters to make a decent showing, plus the sport's fan demographic was males 18 to 34, so it didn't hurt matters to sex things up a bit. After almost everyone she knew tried to talk her out of MMA competition, Ronda made her first official appearance—as an amateur—in the summer of 2010.
Her debut came against Hayden Munoz. Seconds into the match, Ronda had Munoz in an Arm Bar and the fight ended in 23 seconds. This maneuver blended Ronda's speed, power and judo experience perfectly. Once in an Arm Bar, an opponents either had to submit, or risk permanent injury.
The crowd that night was stunned. By the end of the year, Ronda was one of the favorites in the Tuff-N-Uff women’s championship tournament. She defeated Autumn Richardson with an Arm Bar in under a minute. In early January, Ronda beat Taylor Stratford in under 30 seconds in the semifinals with the same move.
With a wave of attention and fan support behind her, Ronda bypassed the finals of the tournament and announced that she was turning pro. Her debut as a professional came in March at a King of the Cage event. She defeated Ediane Gomes with an Arm Bar in 25 seconds. That June, MMA fans were anticipating more of a struggle with Charmaine Tweet, a world-champion kick-boxer. Ronda's other opponents had essentially been brawlers. This would be different, fans predicted.
It was. It took Ronda 49 seconds to subdue Tweet with her signature move.
MAKING HER MARK
That summer, Ronda agreed to join the successful Strikeforce Tour. She faced Sarah D'Alelio and pinned her under a minute. At a fight in Las Vegas that fall, Ronda dislocated Julia Budd’s elbow in another lightning-fast victory.
With no competition at the 145-pund weight class, Ronda dropped 10 pounds to fight in the Bantamweight division. She challenged champion Miesha Tate, who years earlier had made headlines as the star of her high school’s boys wrestling team. Tate had just won the championship and Ronda would mark her first defense.
The match itself never made it past the first round. Ronda got Tate into an Arm Bar and nearly dislocated her elbow before she submitted.
Rousey would defend her title against Sarah Kaufman a few months later. In the run-up to the fight, Ronda demonstrated her flair for trash talk as she promoted the championship match. When asked to predict the outcome, she said she would rip Kaufman's arm off, throw it in her corner, and then beat her face to a pulp. Needless to say, ticket and pay-per-view sales spiked nicely. Some of her fans began calling her “Rowdy” after loud-mouthed WWF legend Roddy Piper.
As usual, the actual fight lasted under a minute. Ronda subdued Kaufman with an Arm Bar.
With nothing left to prove on the Strikeforce circuit, Ronda signed on with Ultimate Fighting Championship. There was no women's division at the time, so part of Ronda's job would be to sell the idea of women’s UFC to MMA fans. She entered the UFC octagon for the first time in February of 2013 against Liz Carmouche during UFC 157. Their bout was the headline event of a 12-fight card.
Carmouche had a good martial arts background, but she had enjoyed less success than Ronda as a member of the Strikeforce organization. Both Tate and Kaufman had defeated her. However, she had sharpened her skills in 2012 with wins in the Invicta Fighting Championship.
Early in the first round of their UFC fight—the first ever between two women—Carmouche maneuvered Ronda into a standing choke. Ronda wriggled out, regained her composure, and ended the fight with an Arm Bar just before the first round ended.
At 135 pounds, Ronda has been ranked as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, male or female. This is merely a case of wordsmithing, as men and women don't fight each other in MMA or any other legitimate sport. However, in the future, it would not be out of the question that Ronda does face off against a male fighter in her weight class. Unlike Bobby vs. Billie Jean, this Battle of the Sexes would involve two athletes in their prime in a full-contact sport. Wouldn't that be something to see!
RONDA THE FIGHTER
Ronda's judo skills come into play when she must read and react to an opponent’s advances. Her years of martial arts training enable her to anticipate attacks and often turn the other fighter's energy against her. As she describes it, her strategy is to “herd” someone, making them think that moving in a particular direction is to their advantage—while actually set them up for an Arm Bar.
Ronda wins her matches by manhandling her opponents and trying to maneuver them down on the canvas. Once there, the Arm Bar is coming an instant later. She attempts to lock the fighter's arm and then slowly hyperextend it until the pain is so torturous that her opponent submits. Ronda compares the Arm Bar to removing a turkey leg at Thanksgiving.
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