AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In the time that it takes me to give this introduction, a Ronda Rousey mixed martial arts match would be over. Rousey is the reigning women's bantamweight champion in the sport, a title she's held since the women's Ultimate Fighting Championship was established in 2012, more or less to showcase her talent. The most lethal of those talents is the arm bar.
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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Slips out to the arm bar - beautiful transition.
CORNISH: That move, borrowed from her days as an Olympian in judo has helped her take down opponents in seconds. Rousey is known for her ice-cold stare and getting booed by the crowd, all of which she loves, all the more surprising given that she required speech therapy as a child.
RONDA ROUSEY: I had a lot of trouble speaking as a kid. I didn't really speak in, like, coherent sentences until I was, like, 6 years old.
CORNISH: And this was because of some complications when you were born.
ROUSEY: Yeah. I had aproxia from having the cord wrapped around my neck. And there was a long time where everybody was very worried 'cause my sisters were so advanced for their age and I would barely talk.
CORNISH: So would you describe yourself as shy? I mean, it doesn't seem like it to us, but I would think growing up with that - right? - in your background, that maybe you might think of yourself that way.
ROUSEY: I was painfully shy for a very long time. I mean, that's something I really had to work my way out of. And I really think it was because after the 2008 Olympics, I spent a whole year bartending - was the one thing that really forced me to be just not so scared to start conversations with strangers and things like that.
CORNISH: Now you're also a massive trash talker, and I say that with the utmost respect. Like, you are really good at holding your own against people.
ROUSEY: (Laughter). I always thought I was really bad at it because I could barely hang in there with my sisters and my mom. But when I got away from the Olympics over to professional sports, where I was into entertainment and getting people involved, that's when I really got to find a new means of expression of, like - I get to create this superhero character version of myself, and I don't have to think about, oh, my God, I might be misrepresenting my country in doing so because it wasn't about representing my country anymore. It was about building myself as an individual.
CORNISH: Now you can enter the ring with Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" playing. (Laughter).
ROUSEY: Yeah, yeah. It's cool, though. I like it. It puts my mind in the mode.
CORNISH: You mentioned your sisters. And I know that one of your sisters helped you write your memoir - right? - last year, "My Fight / Your Fight." That was a New York Times bestseller. And the book also does touch on you losing your father. He committed suicide after suffering injuries to his back, correct?
ROUSEY: Yeah, yeah.
CORNISH: I know that in the lead up to the last fight you won, which you won in 34 seconds, your opponent, Bethe Correia, actually made comments alluding to that. And did that surprise you, you know, having, like, an opponent trying to use something like that to psych you out?
ROUSEY: Well, I'm used to opponents trying to say as many mean things as possible as they can about me, but when it gets to a part where they're saying things that are hurtful to my family, that's when it gets to a point when I feel like I have to make an example out of that person so people know where the lines are and where to not cross them. And I don't think anyone's going to be crossing that line ever again after that last fight.
CORNISH: You've had this long-running war of words with the boxing champion Floyd Mayweather. He's, in his past, been accused of domestic violence. And you've sort of taken little swipes at him here and there, and he's come back at you. How are you feeling about that now? Do you feel like you have a duty to kind of step up to someone like that?
ROUSEY: I don't think it's my duty or anything like that. I don't think I have to do anything. But I'm in a position where I can say something if I feel like somebody insults me. I don't have to sit there and bow my head and be a good little girl and just take it. I can say something back. And it's actually encouraging that he's in the kind of situation where he feels like he has to respond to me.
CORNISH: Do you have any sense that you could fight someone like Mayweather if it was on even terms - MMA battle?
ROUSEY: Well, I don't think he would ever take that, but I honestly - I don't even think that any kind of coed fight would be good for the sport at all.
CORNISH: Oh, that's interesting. How come?
ROUSEY: 'Cause I don't think that there should ever be a situation where everyone gathers around in an arena to see a man hit a woman.
CORNISH: The idea of the so-far-undefeated Ronda Rousey being in a coed fight is often mentioned, sometimes in jest, sometimes not. Her outspokenness and, more importantly, her might have sports writers calling her the most dominant athlete alive. She's appeared in movies like the last of the "Fast And Furious" franchise and "The Expendables 3," where she was the only female action star on the bill full of men. In the UFC, she's not just another name on the card or sleight of fighters. She's the main event. I asked her what it was like for her when she was just a fan.
Can you remember the first, you know, MMA fight you saw that had women in it, kind of what that experience, like, was for you on the sidelines?
ROUSEY: Yeah. I saw Gina Carano fight Julie Kedzie on Showtime, and I thought it was the most amazing thing not just seeing how great they were fighting each other, how great of a fight it was, but seeing the reaction of all the men I was watching that fight with. And where they would speak vulgarly about the ring girls that whole night, when the girl fighters came on, they spoke about them with awe and respect. And I envied them in a lot of ways 'cause I trained with a lot of these guys, and the kind of reverence that they were giving these girls were something that I never received from them.
CORNISH: I forgot about the ring girls (laughter). They definitely still have that - right? - the women holding up the signs in the short pants.
ROUSEY: Yeah. You know, they stick to tradition in some ways - yes.
CORNISH: What difference have you seen in how the women's sport is viewed 'cause it seems like it still has mostly male fans. And what do you think are some of the reasons that women haven't been drawn to the sport?
ROUSEY: Actually, MMA is pretty even when it comes to the fan base. I think it's, like, 60, 40 - men, women. It's much more even than people would think. And I think one reason why women are so drawn to fighting is because it's an instinct that everybody has. It's not an instinct to hit a ball with a bat or to put a ball in a hoop or to kick a ball between two posts, but it is an instinct in every single human being to fight. And everyone has that thought in their mind. What would I do if I was in there? And it's not something that we're taught. It's something that we have in us. It's not a man or a woman thing. It's a human thing.
CORNISH: You know, listening to you talk about the card and how many fights there are, what are your worries about what kind of toll that this takes on your body?
ROUSEY: I'm actually a lot more healed now doing MMA than I was doing judo. In judo, I was, like, on the verge of having to quit because my joints, my knees, everything was so worn out.
CORNISH: But I think of judo as being so, like, disciplined, right? Like, there's not punching and...
ROUSEY: No, it's just everything without the striking. But it's actually a lot more internally damaging. I mean, people have died doing judo. It's just that MMA has this - everyone thinks it's a lot worse than it is because you'll get, like, a little cut here or there, and it'll bleed. It'll look bad, but as long as I keep walking out of the cage without a single bruise on me, I'll be able to fight a lot longer.
CORNISH: I was going to say, I don't recall seeing any of those cosmetic injuries on you. It seems like there's not enough time for that.
ROUSEY: (Laughter). No. What I say all the time is, the pretty fighters you got to look out for 'cause they're the ones that get hit the least.
CORNISH: Ronda Rousey, thank you so much for speaking with us. You're on an incredible streak, and best of luck. I hope you don't sustain an injuries when that streak keeps going.
ROUSEY: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD REPUTATION")
JOAN JETT: And I don't give a damn about my bad reputation. Oh, no.
CORNISH: Ronda Rousey, the women's bantamweight champion in UFC. Her next fight against former boxing champion Holly Holm is set for early next year in Las Vegas.
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