Ronda Rousey on Being an Olympic Medalist, Actor and MMA World Champion

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Ronda Rousey, the reigning UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, was a Judo bronze medalist in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games; she's also an actor and author with the charisma and wit to match her athletic ability. On Friday, May 29 she will be at Tattered Cover Aspen Grove to sign copies of her latest book, My Fight/Your Fight, a look at her life in and out of the cage. In advance of that appearance, Rousey spoke with Westword about how she went from Olympian to the top performer in the fast-growing sport of Mixed Martial Arts to a face on the big screen.

Westword: You began as a champion in Judo and won a bronze in the 2008 Summer Olympics. How did that lead you to becoming a Mixed Martial Artist?

Ronda Rousey: After the Olympics I knew I wanted to step away from the sport and kind of had a rude awakening — I had an Olympic medal but no work experience or education. I realized how much an Olympic medal can really get you. I tried to bartend and be a cocktail waitress and make myself happy that way, but eventually I had to admit to myself that it wasn't a lifestyle that fit me. I decided that if my main skills were throwing people on the ground and breaking their arms, then I might as well try to make a career out of it.

Was the lack of opportunity in post-Olympic life a shock to you — or is that just something that comes with the territory?

You don't really expect anything — when you're training for the Olympics, it's the only thing you think about in your life. It was very shocking returning to the real world outside the Olympics, a world where the Olympics isn't the biggest deal in the world to everyone else in the world — but in my little world, it was that way. When I stepped out into the grand world of everybody else, I realized how little that mattered to me really mattered when it came to paying the bills.

So from there, how did MMA fit into your life with the idea that it could be a career? Does it function as an entertainment and sport, like boxing?

It was the only contact sport where I felt women had real potential to make decent money. Boxing has one hundred years of history; MMA has barely reached its twenty-year history. No one who is at the top of the sport of MMA has even grown up doing MMA. A young sport like that is much easier to change than something old and established like boxing is. It's the fastest-growing sport in the world.

How are Judo and MMA similar or different as sports? Is there more of a risk for injury with MMA versus Judo?

Judo when I was going it was pretty much everything in MMA except for the striking. There's actually way more of a risk for injury doing Judo — people have died doing Judo. No one has ever died doing MMA. There are a lot of internal injuries — you can break your neck, tear your knees, shoulders and hips. That happens all the time. With MMA, it's much safer for my body; my body has actually healed a lot switching from Judo to MMA.

Have you encountered any struggles related to your gender when it comes to MMA as a professional sport?

I think just getting into the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Champtionship] in general — when I first started doing MMA, the president of the organization, Dana White, had very publicly said that women would never be in the UFC. That was my main obstacle — changing his mind. I made myself impossible to ignore; there was no way he could look at the news to see what was going on with MMA and not know what was going on with me. That got his attention, but the fighting itself is what really convinced him. When he came to see me defend my Strikeforce (Women’s Bantamweight Champion) title, I think that was a major step in convincing him. He was in the arena, seeing the fight live.

You've also made a career as an actor. How do you make the step from MMA to Hollywood?

It all really happened organically — I realized when I switched from Judo to MMA, the entertainment aspect of the sport was something that I really loved and enjoyed. I was compelled to entertain people and I really got this strange sense of fulfillment from it. It seemed like a natural progression, almost? When I got the offer to be in The Expendables 3, I had already been taking acting classes and had been working with an acting coach. I was already auditioning for parts because I didn't want to make the same mistake I did with the Olympics and finish my fighting career with no thought of what I was going to do afterward. I really want to have an acting career that I can turn to full time when I'm done fighting.

Ronda Rousey will be signing copies of her new book, My Fight/Your Fight at 6 p.m. Friday, May 29 at Tattered Cover Aspen Grove. For more information on this event, visit the Tattered website; for more on Rousey, check out her website. 

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