Win Or Lose, Rousey Will Always Be Special To Female Martial Artists
I took my first martial arts lesson when I was 7.
In previous years, my mom had subjected me to ballet. You know, because ballet is for girls. Or at least it was in the mid-90s.
Ballet was sheer hell for me.
During any attempt at a group performance, I would start flailing around like a wounded animal, usually taking several of my classmates down with me.
Also, being on the chubby side was hard for my self-esteem. I felt like an overstuffed sausage in those nude tights and tight leotards.
Never mind my dancing. It was a horrible sight. I had the grace of a drunken wombat, and earned the unfortunate nickname, "the blob."
I begged my mom to let me do karate instead, and she agreed on the condition that I kept up with ballet. It wasn’t ideal, but it was enough.
From the moment I stepped into the dojo, it was magic. I loved going through the kata’s and the hours of kick-stepping and punching.
I like the smell of sweat and white cotton. The metallic sting of blood in my mouth. I even liked getting kicked in the face. Fighting was my passion.
Ronda Rousey lost her father at age 9, which was the same age I lost mine. Losing a parent at a young age forges a certain type of child. It makes you hard and it makes you cold. Everyone else is in despair, so you keep it to yourself.
The more you try to will yourself into becoming numb, the angrier you get. Around this time, the quiet reserve of ballet made me furious. Karate offered me solace. So I quit the tights for good, and turned my full attention to martial arts.
I got the sh*t knocked out of me more times that I could count, but my clunky frame served me well. I could take punches, push through the fights, and was getting a little better day by day.
I was always tall, and in ballet it worked against me. I felt like a beached whale surrounded by nimble fairies.
But in martial arts, my size worked to my advantage. And when the baby fat melted away, it was replaced by muscle.
Over the next few years I was devoted to karate. Then I moved through several techniques until I found kickboxing.
At 16 I began training twice a day, before and after school. At the time, there were no competitions open to women in my area. Although I was passionate about the sport, there were no opportunities for advancement.
After tearing my ACL in my early 20s, I lost the motivation to keep fighting. It’s still one of my biggest regrets.
In 2005, Forrest Griffin beat Stephan Bonnar in one of the most stunning Mixed Martial Arts fights of all time. My interest in MMA was sufficiently piqued.
I knew it was the future, I just wished that women were represented in the Octagon.
In 2006, I watched "Ring Girls," starring an unknown Muay Thai kickboxer named Gina Carano. I had never been so stoked about a female fighter. Carano was powerful, predatory and absolutely dominated in the ring.
I followed her undisputed reign from 2006 to 2009, all while wishing that I hadn’t given up on my fighting dream. But it would be enough to see a woman fight in the UFC, and I was certain Carano would make it happen.
Then in 2009, Carano faced Cris "Cyborg" Justino.
I was on the fence about Cyborg from the get-go. She seemed to be an incredible fighter, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Cyborg wasn’t legit. It didn’t take a doctor to look at Cyborg’s masculine frame, and realize it wasn’t benching weight that created that body.
Steroid abuse has been a thorn in the side of women’s fighting since the get go. Widespread steroid abuse amongst female fighters was one of the top reasons why female MMA had never caught on.
Looking at Cyborg, I was convinced that she was juicing. I still thought Carano could beat her, but it was not meant to be.
Cyborg would destroy Carano’s winning streak in 2009, and it was the worst thing that could have happened to women’s MMA. It was obvious that Cyborg was using steroids, but nobody could prove it. Cyborg’s deranged hulkish performance seemed to confirm what the critics were saying.
There was no place for women in MMA. It was a freak show, not a fight.
In 2011, Cyborg tested positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid.
To this day, Cyborg denies any wrongdoing, and gets pretty heated when anyone brings it up. She has even threatened Rousey with legal action for discussing the scandal.
When I heard the news, I was livid. Cyborg was a disgrace to all women fighters.
I knew first hand what guys said in the locker room, and Cyborg had proved them all right. Around the same time, Dana White said women would never fight in the Octagon.
Women’s future in the UFC seemed to die with Cyborg’s betrayal. I would have been the first to stand on my chair, and cheer for Cyborg had she not have cheated her way to the championship.
If it wasn’t for Ronda Rousey, women wouldn’t be in the UFC today. I noticed Rousey in 2010, when she was fighting in Strikeforce. I was reluctant to get my hopes up, after Carano’s defeat to Cyborg.
It seemed like unless you were willing to pump your body full of drugs, there was no place for a genuine female talent in the UFC.
And Rousey, like Carano, didn’t have the physique of a roid-rager. Thus, she seemed doomed to fail.
I tweeted Rousey in 2010 saying, “I’m proud to see more women following in Carano’s footsteps! Take it all the way!” I can’t remember her exact response, but she shared my respect for what Carano had done for the sport, and appreciated the comparison.
Ronda Rousey knew that Gina Carano had opened a door for her, and wasn't afraid to credit her for it.
That’s the difference between a fighter like Ronda Rousey and her popular contemporaries.
Rousey has respect for those who opened doors for her. The list of women who can credit Ronda Rousey for their careers is vast: Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm.
No one would be talking about them today if it wasn’t for Rousey.
In the next few years, Ronda defeated the skeptics, and rose to the top of her game. Unparalleled. Historical. Triumphant. Her game got stronger and stronger, until finally she became impossible to ignore.
In 2012, Dana White made Ronda Rousey the first female fighter in the UFC. I was jubilant. History was being made, and a champion rose to greatness before my eyes.
She was the champion I had been waiting for. As her fame expanded, I was overjoyed I finally lived in a world where my future daughter could be inspired by an athlete like Rousey.
Rousey’s rise to fame was astronomical. Best of all, she didn’t give a crap about calling herself the best. Women are often expected to apologize for their success. They are expected to be humble while men are allowed to scream their victories from the rooftops.
Rousey was edging herself into a dangerous position, and she knew it. She spoke up against Floyd Mayweather's domestic violence charges. Domestic violence is often overlooked in sports.
Just look at Johnny Manziel or Ray Rice. She spoke up about sexual harassment in the industry. She challenged those who acted dishonorably. And she knew she was dancing in the fire with a giant target on her back.
Some like to watch a great woman rise. But more love to see her fall.
I wanted more female fighters to support, but it was slim pickings. I would never forgive Cyborg, and Miesha Tate was just as bad. I thought Tate's actions were disgraceful.
She acted like a typical mean girl in order to drum up publicity. The final straw was when Tate coaxed her boyfriend into threatening Rousey on Twitter.
To encourage a man to commit an act of violence against a woman -- no matter how well she fights -- is disgusting. I turned my back on Tate after that.
I had high hopes for Holly Holm. They came crashing down when she threw a punch at Rousey during the weigh-in.
Is a little bit of respect too much to ask for? The media turned the tables on Rousey after she refused to touch gloves at the start of UFC 193.
Rousey was the one who they called disrespectful.
As my sensei used to say, if you don't give it, you don't get it.
In Rousey’s career, female competitors have threatened her family, made light of her father’s suicide and punched her during a weigh-in.
The world says Rousey is arrogant. But I think she’s just trying to survive being everybody’s punching bag.
Take it from me, being a female fighter is not easy.
Honor has a prominent role in martial arts. Every student is schooled by their sensei in the importance of honor. Sadly, many female fighters act without it.
It pains me to say it, but the biggest enemy to women’s MMA is the majority of women in MMA.
Not one of them thanked Rousey for opening the door to the Octagon. They didn’t show her respect. They didn’t act with honor.
And that was crystal clear the night Rousey fell.
My heart collapsed when she took the kick from Holm. It was devastating. Not because Rousey lost. Every champion must fall. But because I knew what would happen next.
Celebrities like Lady Gaga flooded to social media to gloat about Rousey's defeat.
“THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR NOT TOUCHING GLOVES!” Gaga captioned an Instagram post.
Tate’s reaction was immediate and visceral. "F*** ROUSEY!" she screamed. Cyborg was also quick to join in. Of course.
Social media was awash with joy over Rousey getting “what was coming to her.”
Muhammad Ali fell to Joe Frazier during the height of his reign. Mike Tyson lost to Buster Douglas. Every great champion must fall in order to get back up.
But Ali and Tyson never had to suffer the glee the world is now enjoying at Rousey’s expense.
You can call her what you want, but don't forget the reason why we're talking about women in the UFC.
It's all because of Ronda Rousey. I can talk to strangers about Rousey, whereas only a select few knew about Carano back in the day.
Ronda Rousey is single-handedly responsible for bringing women to the UFC.
She is responsible for inspiring thousands of young girls to sign up for martial arts. And it may be the butterfly effect, but Rousey will probably be responsible for saving the lives of several young women.
In my early 20s, I lived in Paris.
One night after finishing work, I was walking home on a dark street. A car pulled up beside me, the door swung open, a guy locked onto my arm and tried to drag me into the back seat.
The car began to drive away, and I reacted immediately. I wasn't afraid. I just remembered exactly what I had to do. I landed three clean blows, and he let me go. The car sped away.
In the still of the night, the shock hit me like a battering ram. I don't know what would have happened if I had been dragged into that car. But my martial arts training saved my life.
I didn't have any females in the sport to inspire me when I started, aside from maybe "Buffy The Vampire Slayer."
I was the only girl in many of my classes. The other day, I walked past the local dojo, and it was brimming with little girls proudly wearing their karategi.
Two of them walked out of class. "I'll be the next Ronda Rousey one day!" one of them said happily to her friend. Fighting is an art, but it also a survival skill.
One day, those girls may need to fight for their lives.
Rousey may be responsible for them knowing how to fight. And for that, in my eyes, she will never be defeated.
My biggest fear is that, like Carano, Rousey will give up after this. After all, it must seem like the whole world is against her right now.
I hope that Ronda Rousey understands that while she may no longer be the champion, she now has the opportunity to become something more. She can be a hero.
Being a hero is more important than being a champion, because a hero falls. A hero bleeds. A hero is defeated. But a hero gets up, even when they feel crushed. A hero always gets back up.
To Rousey, wherever you are, I’ll quote "Batman" for you: “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Pick yourself up Ronda. You’ll always be my champion. And you will rise again.