SPORTS

Strikeforce champ Rousey has a nose for success and earned it the hard way

07/17/2012 02:55 EDT | Updated 09/16/2012 05:12 EDT
Punch (Rowdy) Ronda Rousey in the nose and the Strikeforce bantamweight champion doesn't much care.

A deviated septum has rendered her nose pretty flexible. But the 25-year-old mixed martial arts star, Olympic judo bronze medallist and ESPN The Magazine cover girl didn't have her nose rearranged in a cage. And the story behind her battered beak speaks volumes about Rousey's resolve.

A year ago, Rousey was juggling three jobs while trying to train as a fledgling MMA fighter.

She was working overnights in a gym, pulling down day shifts as a canine physical therapy assistant (think holding down big dogs having acupuncture) and teaching judo. The crowded schedule took its toll.

"I ended up driving back from a graveyard shift, I just fell asleep while driving and smashed my face into the steering wheel," Rousey told The Canadian Press. "That's why I have a deviated septum, not from getting punched in the face, but from having my car run into my face."

A Strikeforce contract offer turned her life around. Rousey did the rest.

Now 5-0, Rousey has spent just six minutes 45 seconds in the cage — winning every fight with a brutal armbar.

"Yeah, it's hard for me to watch it actually," Rousey says of the submission move, which involves bending the arm the wrong way. "It's easier to do it than watch it, for me."

The next limb the five-foot-six Rousey has her eye on belongs to former 135-pound champion Sarah Kaufman of Victoria. The two meet Aug. 18 in San Diego.

Since dethroning champion Miesha (Takedown) Tate in March, Rousey has helped ring the bell to open the NASDAQ trading day and spoken to the New York and California state senates about her sport.

She also posed for the current issue of ESPN The Magazine, joining basketball's Tyson Chandler and Candace Parker, baseball's Jose Bautista, tennis' Daniela Hantuchova and football's Rob Gronkowski as one of the six Body Issue cover athletes.

On one pose, a smiling Rousey has her hands — in pink wrap with the logo Built to Fight — in a punching stance with a tattoo of the Olympic rings just visible at the top of her thigh.

In the other, the lean Rousey is shown skipping from the side.

"I'm like a Monet," she tells the magazine. "From far away, I can look like a prissy model, but when you come closer you see the wear and tear of a fighter.

"Women don't have to trade their femininity for athleticism," she continues. "And you don't have to look like an anorexic eight-year-old to be considered beautiful. Skinny girls look good in clothes but fit chicks look good naked."

Rousey, who follows UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon (Bones) Jones in stripping for the magazine, says she thought long and hard about doing the May photo shoot.

For one, she grew up in a "very Hispanic Catholic family."

"My mom is very conservative about those kind of things so I was very anxious about it when they first approached me about it."

Also, the rarely reticent Rousey had already gone on the record on posing nude when asked about ring girls and Playboy shoots.

"I told everybody ... 'Nobody should be able to see your hoochie-coo for $5.'"

Rousey was concerned people might call her a hypocrite. But she eventually reasoned that Playboy was more about sex while the ESPN Body Issue was a "celebration" of the human form.

And she liked the photos.

The fact Rousey is in the magazine is further proof of how she is achieving mainstream attention. And she has become the face of women's MMA with Gina Carano seemingly moved on to movies and Cris (Cyborg) Santos sidelined by a drug suspension.

Even the UFC, which owns Strikeforce, is taking notice. Rousey made a well-documented appearance as a guest coach on an episode of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show.

Rousey said she was ecstatic when she heard the show wanted her. But she thought her appearance would come and go.

"Still to this day people keep asking me about it," she said. "I think that's awesome. I think it's great to see women being respected in this sport, to the point that they're asked to teach. I think that's the highest compliment that you can play somebody."

Away from the gym, Rousey lives in a "hippie house" in Venice, Calif.,

"Everyone I live with doesn't fight or really knows anything about it, which is part of the reason I love living there," she said.

She has been training in Los Angeles and Stockton, Calif., home to the Diaz brothers. But she leaves the hippie house in the final weeks before a fight, to move into an apartment to focus on her preparations.

Rousey calls it "Rocky-IV style cabin training."

Rousey and Kaufman (15-1) have been at loggerheads in the past over the image of the women's side of the sport.

Strikeforce was happy to play up the looks of both Rousey and Tate in the leadup to their championship match.

Kaufman, who reckoned she deserved the title shot over Rousey, suggested there was too much focus on the sizzle rather than the steak.

Expect more style in the fight buildup. A publicity picture of Rousey in an outfit that looks like it was painted on has already appeared on Twitter.

Rousey says the 26-year-old Canadian is missing the point.

"If she's not happy with the way the (Tate) fight was sold, I mean she's reaping the benefits of it now in that more people are paying attention to her having this title fight with me than they would ever had with having a fight with Miesha before," Rousey said. "So I think that it's OK for her to want to be idealist, but in this business if she was running the promotion, they'd go broke really quick under her leadership."

Rousey says she has trouble with what she calls Kaufman's "idealist attitude."

"We disagree on a lot of things and I think it's because I dealt with the Olympics and all that stuff before. I'm able to separate the idealism of sport — I kind of think as the Olympics as the place for that. And when I look at MMA, it's half-sport and half entertainment business.

"It's a business to make money whereas the Olympics is not a business. it's a movement. And she can't treat an entertainment business like it's some other type of sports movement, it's not."

As a fighter, however, Rousey sees Kaufman as her most difficult opponent.

"She obviously did very well against Miesha, nullified all of her grappling. Obviously able to deal with that style of fighter. But then again I've fought very good standup girls before who have tried the same thing and been able to nullify that. We've both displayed proficiency in dealing with the style the other one has, so it will be very interesting to see who comes out on top."

Rousey says there is no mystery to that.

"I'm completely 100 per cent confident that I'm going to win this fight, but she definitely has my respect as a fighter."

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