Keeping Score

Women’s UFC Star Ronda Rousey, Unplugged

The ex-Olympian, who will make history in the first-ever women's UFC fight, isn't exactly the shy type.

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Jeff Minton for TIME

On Saturday night, Feb. 23, Ronda Rousey, a former Olympic judo medalist, and Liz Carmouche, an ex-Marine and Iraq war vet, will make history: they will become the first women to compete in the UFC, the wildly popular mixed martial arts promotion whose growth has exploded over the past decade.

Rousey and Carmouche are the main event at UFC 157, in Anaheim, Calif. For years, UFC commissioner Dana White insisted that women would never fight in the UFC. “I don’t want to see two women beatin’ on each other,” he told me back in 2007. “I don’t like it.” But Rousey’s talent and appeal changed his mind. (Carmouche is adding another layer of history to the bout – she’s the first openly gay fighter in the UFC).

For a magazine feature on Rousey – which TIME subscribers can read here – I spent a day with her in Los Angeles in early January. Here are some of Rousey’s thoughts on a number of topics….

On skeptics who think women should not be fighting in the UFC…

I think if they expect the sport to be universally accepted, it has to be universally accepted for everyone to do it. If they don’t want that stigma, that, like, you know ‘oh, it’s so dangerous, and it’s so barbaric, and dah dah dah,’ if they don’t want that attached to it, then it’s going to have to be acceptable for women and kids to do it. Really. I’m not saying have 8-year-olds do MMA matches. But I mean, if you want it to be a household recognized sport, it needs to be acceptable for everyone to do it. It needs to be celebrated for everyone to do it. Look how popular tennis is. Everyone can do tennis. The chicks do it, the guys do it, kids do it,, heeeeeey…

Rousey’s response to Georges St. Pierre, the MMA legend who said in November “personally I have a hard time watching the girls fights” …

It really upsets me that Georges St. Pierre is taking that stance. Because if we want the women to do well and to be accepted, we need to have the other champions within the sport supporting us. And not merely tolerating us. I’m not here to be merely tolerated.

If he has such a problem seeing me get hit, then fine. I’m going to be so annoying to him, that it won’t bother him in the least bit to see me get punched in my pretty little lady face.

Rousey’s response to Gus Pugliese, striking coach for Dan Henderson, who is also fighting on the UFC 157 card; Pugilise objected to the Rousey-Carmouche fight  — the first UFC bout for each — headlining the event, saying that “there’s a pecking order for anything in life.”

I’m like, ‘dude, if I waited for my turn in the pecking order, I would never get anything f—–g done.’ Like, ‘yeah, OK, you’re a fully grown white man. I’m sure the pecking order really works out fantastic for you … you can sit around and wait for you’re pecking order time, it will probably take five minutes.’ If I sit around and wait for that, I’m never going to get anything done.

(MORE: Women in Combat – Ronda Rousey profile)

On the armbar, a lethal MMA move in which a fighter contorts on opponent’s arm until he or she “taps out,” or “submits” …

You put the arm in a position where it can’t bend naturally anymore. It’s like a pop, pop, squish. When you get to the squish, that means there’s no more pops …

You know what, when I fight, I have no opinion. I’m completely emotionless. So I’m aware of what’s going on. I’m observing what’s going on. But I don’t have an emotion or opinion about it. Some people are like, ‘what do you feel, as you’re like, doing it?’ I feel like I’m almost done. Winning. Almost there …

They choose whether or not they want their arm to be broken. They can tap out the second they walk in there. There are several steps leading up to that, and they know what’s going down. Whether or not their arm gets broken is their choice, not mine. So it’s not like I jumped on them on the street and threw an armbar on them. They knew it was coming, they’ve prepared for it for awhile, and before they get caught, they know they’re about to get caught. So there’s every single opportunity for them to avoid it.

So I’m very apathetic about it. Every arm I break I treat with complete apathy. Because they’d do the same thing to me. They wouldn’t care. They’d probably enjoy it.

On why her presence the UFC may help convince politicians in New York to sanction and regulate MMA; New York is one of only four states not to sanction the sport (MMA remains unsanctioned in New York and Connecticut; Alaska and Wyoming do not have the necessary regulatory bodies to oversee the sport) … 

I’m not nervous around a bunch of politicians. Lobbying is just flirting with information…

It’s hard to, like, convince people that MMA is a good, safe, cool sport, if the guy speaking about it is a dude with a bunch of scares in a suit. You know? I think me being there kinds of helps make people look at MMA in a different way. You know, like, ‘look at me. I do this. I’m an Olympian. I’m not some guy they picked up in a bar.’

On tragedy: Rousey’s father, Ron, broke his back in a sledding accident and later contracted a rare blood disorder from which he could never fully recover; when Ronda was 8, he committed suicide.

I didn’t know that anything was wrong with him. So they pretty much they kept the fact that he was dying from us, until he already killed himself. He broke his back, and he had that blood disorder where he couldn’t heal.  They said, ‘look, you’ve got pretty much two years to live, you’re going to be a paraplegic, then you’re going to be a quadriplegic, then you’re going to die.’ And my dad, he was one of those providers. He got to the point where we were so much in debt taking care of him – he just didn’t want our last memories of him to be in a bed with tubes running in and out of him. So he just took matters into his own hands.

We had this pond where we used to go to, to skip rocks at. And he drove the car out there, put a hose in the exhaust, turned on the car and went to sleep.

Then I found out later that he never recovered. Because they told us that his back got better. So I pretty much found out that my mom [Rousey’s mother, AnnMaria, was a judo world champion in 1984] had been lying to me for years. Me and my sisters had been lied to for years, my dad had been slowly dying in front of us and we had no idea.

I understand. I understand that our mom didn’t want to put us through that, and have to worry. I understand why my dad did that, he was in pain all the time, he didn’t want to put us through that either.

I would have done the same thing. I’m not happy he killed himself, at all. But if I was in his position, I would have made the same decision, you know? I’m not ashamed of it at all. I respect him for what he did. Same thing with my mother – it must have been really hard to keep us all in the dark like that. I don’t blame her at all for keeping us in the dark about it. You know, I respect her for that as well. She had to handle that all on her own. My mom is the strongest person I know.

On the toll a lifetime of fight training has taken on her. Once Rousey decided to take up judo, her mom – a former judo world champion — pushed her hard. Rousey, 26, teared up as she recalled this incident, from when she was 16….

You’re a teenage girl, and you have f—ing cauliflower ear, and you have ringworm. People aren’t going to be very nice to you. So my ear was like swollen up so much that it was inside out. And I was ashamed to show my face at school.

I went to go get it drained, and they cut open the whole side of my ear. And they put like a tube in it to drain it. And my mom was like, ‘get in the car’ afterwards. And I was like, ‘all right,’ and I got in, and she just drove me straight to San Diego to go train. ‘You were supposed to train today.’ And I’m like, ‘mom, my heads hurts, it’s throbbing.’ And she’s like, ‘just take a bunch of aspirin.’ Aspirin is a blood thinner, and makes it bleed more, apparently. So like, my whole headband was just covered in blood … And now my ear is just deformed for the rest of my life.

(MORE: Extreme Fighting – It’s Ladies’ Fight)

On why she essentially ran away from home after the 2004 Olympics; Rousey competed in the Olympics that year, but didn’t win a medal …

I didn’t really have the courage to speak up for myself. Between my mom and my coaches, every single second of my day was planned out. I couldn’t go to a single party, I couldn’t go to a single dance. I couldn’t have a boyfriend. I had a couple of friends that my mom thought were bad for me, and wouldn’t let me hang out with. Two of my best friends, I was banned to hang out with. So I was just frustrated by my lack of control.

And instead of being able to sit down and have a conversation with them and talk it out, I was scared to. I just put my affairs in order, got myself a flight, and peaced out in the middle of the night.

On Rousey’s criticism of Michael Phelps, who was her Team USA Olympic teammate at the 2008 Beijing Games, where Rousey won America’s first-ever medal – a bronze — in women’s judo; Rousey said Phelps “annoyed” her by acting standoffish at the Games. “We’re your teammates,” Rousey told an interviewer this summer. “We’re not a bunch of groupies. Come hang out with us, who the hell are you”?

I just answered the f—–g question. While every other p—y out there would try to dance around it, I just answered it. I’m not afraid of a question. Ask me question, and I’ll f—–g answer it for you.

You know, it’s just that because I don’t hesitate to actually give my opinion, then everyone’s like ‘Ronda’s a bitch.’ Well, it’s not like I walked in the room and was like, ‘hey, you with the camera, film me. I’m going to talk some s–t about Michael Phelps.’ No. They asked me a question and I answered it.

On her state-of-mind after those 2008 Beijing Olympics …

I call it post-Olympic depression. Which is very common actually. And no one ever talks about it. I got extremely depressed after the Olympics. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself. I had no options. I had no education. I had no work experience. There’s no kind of scholarships in place for Olympians. There’s no job placement program. There’s a bunch of companies that donate millions of dollars that pay a lot of people that make a lot of money off the U.S. Olympic athletes. But as soon as you’re done competing, it’s just like a shake of the hand and a kick in the ass out the door. It’s just the way that the US Olympians are disrespected in this country — there’s nothing like it around the world . . .

What I got for winning a bronze medal in the Olympics was $10,000, which I was then taxed on. Which ended up being like $6,000. And the only thing I got for myself after the Olympics was my ‘05 Honda Accord LX. Which I would have had to win two Olympic bronze medals in order to pay for one used Honda. Think about that. Two Olympic medals, which takes hundreds of thousands of dollars, and years and years of effort, paid for one used Honda, made in 2005.

On why she quit judo after the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and instead held a series of odd jobs, like bartender, and graveyard-shift receptionist at a 24-Hour Fitness …

I just wanted to be normal. I just wanted to see what it was like, to be honest. I was like, ‘what was I missing out on?’ I didn’t go to a single party, or to a single dance or anything in high school.  You know? All that normal kid s–t, just didn’t happen.

On her decision to take up MMA:

[My mom] didn’t think I could succeed in it. She thought there was no future in it. Everybody else just thought I was a waste and a f–kup. So I was like, ‘you know, I’m going to make this thing work. I’m going to make my mom believe whatever I’m saying about this s–t. All those people who are hoping for me to fail, are going to be clamoring for my time and attention.’ …

When I started doing MMA, I was angry. I felt wronged and betrayed by a lot of people. It was almost like I was out for revenge when I trained. I had never been so motivated in my life. Every second of the day, I was like, ‘What else can I do? What else can I do? I was shadowboxing in the f—ing shower, all the time.”

If I was in Star Wars, I would definitely be on the dark side. Because, you know, the hate and aggression is what really fuels me. I hate haters. There are so many people that want me to fail. There are so many people that want this event to fail.

On whether her good looks, as opposed to her talent, are more responsible for the attention she receives, as some opponents have suggested:

Well, I wouldn’t have made it to this point with looks alone. You don’t see any supermodels headlining UFC cards. I’m here because I work hard and I feel like I’m a good athlete and I deserve to be treated as such. Yeah, the looks thing helps, because this isn’t amateur sports. This isn’t the Olympics. This isn’t idealism. It’s professional sports, a marketing business. If you’re a girl, f—ing looks help in every single industry out there. It’s just a f—ing fact of life.

On her training habit of having as much sex as possible before fights because, as some studies suggest, it raises testosterone levels …

Unfortunately, I don’t have a boyfriend right now, so I’m s— out of luck.

(PHOTOS: U.S. Women’s Boxing Hopefuls)

On why Rousey thinks mixed martial arts – a brutal, violent sport – has inherent beauty …   

I try not to have a single wasted movement. Everything is for a reason, everything is for a purpose. I’m not coming in and flailing and brawling. This is a martial art. It’s an art that I’ve perfected over a very long time, that I’ve put a lot of work into. There’s something pretty about it. I consider myself a practical physicist. You know, I work with physics, I understand them. I don’t actually have to do the formulas, but I’ve memorized enough where I can make decisions based off of what’s going on.

On Rousey’s need for speed; while driving to training on a January morning, Rousey at times drove through a jam-packed interstate at 95 m.p.h. Why risk an embarrassing speeding ticket, or much worse, a wreck that could damage her life, and the life of others?

They wouldn’t make cars go that fast unless you’re supposed to drive them that fast. And every accident I’ve ever been in has been in a parking lot. I have really good sense of dimensions.  I told you – I’m a practical physicist. I can understand the physics of everything moving and I just see everything in way that I’m like, ‘pfffff, if I can do it safely, I’m going to do it.’ Why should I drive at the standards set in place for the worst drivers? …

It’s worth it to me to get into a fight and risk getting my knee ripped out or hit in the head and getting a hematoma. I don’t care. It’s worth it to me to enjoy speeding. Because yeah, I can get in an accident, get a ticket or whatever. But I’m not alive to not get in trouble. I’m alive to enjoy my life.

On the appeal of women’s MMA … 

Every single time I walk into the ring, I always intend to put on the type of performance where everyone in the room is just absolutely shocked at what just happened …

Women fighting, regardless of whether or not you like it, it’s going to incite some sort of emotion from you. You are going to have an opinion about it. And I would rather be completely polarizing in people’s opinions. I want you to have an opinion. I don’t care: either you love it, or f—–g despite it. I don’t want you to just be OK with it.

Because that’s what starts a discussion. I want every single time that my name comes up, or women’s MMA to come up, for there to be a debate. You know, because I can say ‘I love apples,’ and then we’ll move on. ‘I love women’s MMA’ … 20 minute conversation.

On why women’s MMA creates such a conversation:

Because it’s new, it’s a different, it’s change. It’s women in a role that people aren’t used to seeing them.

It’s much more raw when girls fight. When I watch girl fight — if you see a girl get popped in the face really hard, you’re like, ‘Oooooh.’ There’s something much more emotional and survivalist about it. Women don’t just fight because. They fight to live. There’s something much more exciting about it because of that.

It’s a newer sport, so they’re a lot less structured than the guys are at this point. So there’s a lot less of that measuring, meticulous aspect of it. Which is very, very cool ….

You never see a boring girls fight. Those girls have a chip on their shoulders. They have something to prove. They’re not in there to win matches. They’re in there to make a point. The point is that they deserve to be in there.