GLENDALE (AP) — Ronda Rousey is in charge now. The unbeaten bantamweight champion is the biggest star in the UFC, and she could have staged her next title defense anywhere in the world before she moves on to her next acting job or book tour stop or red-carpet appearance.
Rousey decided to fight Brazilian challenger Bethe Correia in a raucous arena at UFC 190 in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night.
Challenges don’t scare Rousey. They’re what keep her rocketing along this wild path.
“When I don’t have the home-court advantage, that’s another thing that really keeps me motivated,” said Rousey, who hasn’t fought outside Las Vegas or her native Southern California in three years. “I want the fans to know that even though I’m doing a lot of things, I want to be the most active champion out there as well.”
Rousey’s journey to Rio is a multifaceted decision designed to reach her goals — just like nearly everything she does.
After traveling the world during her Olympic judo career, she was eager to fight in front of Brazil’s famously intense fans. And after the trash-talking Correia infuriated her with a flippant comment apparently referencing Rousey’s father’s suicide, Rousey decided to beat Correia in the most painful, humiliating way possible, which meant fighting in Correia’s home.
“I think everything up until the suicide comment could have been understandable from a marketing point of view,” Rousey said. “But when she said that is when it really crossed the line and became truly personal for me.”
So Rousey (11-0) spent several weeks plotting the best way to embarrass Correia (9-0), perhaps toying with the bulky Brazilian on the feet before dropping her with a judo throw and dispatching her with a signature armbar. After winning her previous three title defenses in a combined 96 seconds, Rousey wanted something longer and more painful to befall Correia.
Like Babe Ruth pointing his bat at the fence, Rousey is confident she could call her shot.
The only problem is that Rousey’s mother disapproves.
“She chewed me out,” Rousey said. “She wants me to end it as quick as possible still. I promised her that I’m going to be fine. I’m not going to take any damage.”
So Rousey hasn’t decided exactly what she’ll do when the cage door closes, but there aren’t many people left who doubt she can do whatever she wants. Rousey is an overwhelming favorite against Correia, whose best chance seems to be one big punch and a prayer.
Rousey doesn’t shy away from the role of favorite. With an upcoming role in a Mark Wahlberg film and a soaring international popularity, she welcomes the spotlight with confidence.
“Here’s pretty much the plan: I’m going to beat up Bethe,” Rousey said. “Then I’m going to take a couple of weeks to rest. And then I’m going to go beat up Miesha (Tate, her likely next opponent). And then I’m going to go to Thailand, or wherever we decide to film. I’m going to prep for a month and start filming for eight to 10 weeks, and then go beat up the next chick. That’s pretty much my plan.”
Correia has kept up her tough talk in recent weeks, although the words sometimes feel like a negotiation. She has publicly asked Rousey to stick to a stand-up fight instead of using her peerless judo skills, insisting Rousey should “really fight a straight MMA fight.”
But Rousey has been redefining her sport ever since she stepped into an MMA cage. She is the reason the UFC began promoting women’s fights three years ago, and she has been the company’s most dominant champion during her reign.
Along with her list of new goals, Rousey is driven by the chance to accomplish novel feats. Even in her acting career, she creates goals for herself: She came up with the idea that she could be the first actor to do “a fight scene, a car chase and a high jump in one long shot with no stunt double.”
For her next accomplishment, Rousey started training earlier than usual, isolated in a mountain camp 8 1/2 weeks before this fight. When she returned to civilization, she eliminated many extra interviews and public appearances — aside from her memorable trip to the ESPYs.
Rousey’s fire has been rekindled, and she insists her focus is honed. It’s all bad news for Correia.
“It was actually really refreshing in a way,” Rousey said. “I felt rejuvenated by that. It really reaffirmed the fact that my hunger to fight is still there, and it’s still the thing that I have the most passion for. More than anything.”