BURBANK – When Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White speaks, people tend to listen. It’s hard not to, often times. There's rarely a topic he shies away from and he's not afraid of saying something controversial.
And one person he doesn’t seem to tire of talking about is Ronda Rousey, the newly christened and first-ever UFC women’s bantamweight champion. The fact that Rousey rarely hesitates to say what’s on her mind — among myriad more characteristics that have many calling her a fighter that’s the total package — is likely a reason White so quickly warmed up to the prospects of Rousey headlining February’s UFC 157 event.
“She’s cute and she’s articulate and she’s intimating, but when she goes in [to fight], she’s mean, nasty and she likes to finish people,” White said. “She’s a badass.”
Upon a sunny Wednesday afternoon in Burbank, White, arguably the most powerful man in mixed martial arts, and Rousey, the face of women’s MMA, book ended a table lined with various media members at Morton’s The Steakhouse to begin a steady stream of media fanfare that will follow Rousey as she prepares to make history when she headlines UFC 157 against challenger Liz Carmouche on Feb. 23 live on pay-per-view from the Honda Center in Anaheim.
“She’s a home run,” White said of Rousey, who trains at the Glendale Fighting Club under Edmond Tarverdyan, as well as at Team Hayastan. “It’s hard to compare her to anyone else because we haven’t had anybody like her. She’s very unique.”
Rousey, 25, brings a 6-0 record into her main event with Carmouche (7-2), having defeated every opponent via arm-bar submission in the first round — five of them coming inside a minute.
“They know exactly what she’s gonna do and they can’t stop her,” White said. “She’s a killer, she wants to finish it.”
In addition to the results she’s produced and skills she’s showcased, Rousey has an Olympic pedigree, as her Bronze medal in 2008 Summer Games was the first for an American in the sport, has displayed the sex appeal that garnered her the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “Body Issue,” and her articulate and unflinching interviews have made her a media darling and a sound-byte haven.
Thus, since winning the Strikeforce title in March and the UFC taking over the company, White made a move seen as bold by some to bring Rousey over to the UFC. Just as some said Rousey did not deserve a shot against Miesha Tate for the belt after four professional fights, many doubt whether she deserves to headline a pay-per-view main event, especially one that features former world champions Dan Henderson, Lyoto Machida and Urijah Faber. It’s only fuel for Rousey’s fire, though.
“I love that stuff, I love proving people wrong. Proving people right doesn’t do anything for me,” Rousey said. “I’m glad people are doubting me, that means I have more and more to do.”
For his part, White said the male fighters on the UFC roster have been complimentary of Rousey’s ascent, with the only criticism coming from a member of Henderson’s training camp.
“Most of them respect her. I haven’t heard anyone bitch until Henderson’s camp, but they bitch about everything,” said White, who clarified that Rousey’s fight will go on last because she’s the champion fighting on the card. “You’ll never see the situation where the champion, man or woman, will fight on the undercard.”
As for the pressure that goes with being a first in so many respects — the first female fighter to sign a UFC contract, the first UFC women’s champion and the first to headline a card — that’s all part of why she does what she does.
“You always feel pressure, but I like the pressure,” she said. “There’s a reason I do this. It fulfills me as a person.
“The brighter the lights are, the better I see.”
The history and the magnitude of the event are clearly not lost on Rousey. With a reputation for trash talk that she said she’s used to successfully get into opponents’ heads, most notably Tate, Rousey doesn’t see that being the case with Carmouche, who was reportedly one of the few opponents who would step up to fight Rousey.
“I like Liz and she’s a Marine, so there’s not much I can do to intimidate her anyway,” Rousey said.
“There doesn’t need to be. This is an extraordinarily positive event.”
It’s an event White believes could possibly open the sport of MMA up to some different sets of eyes, as well.
“I think we’re gonna get all the people we normally get,” he said. “But, I think Ronda’s gonna bring in media we’ve never had before.”
With tickets going on sale for UFC 157 on Friday, many are interested in how ticket sales and pay-per-view buys will go. But it’s abundantly clear that Rousey, with a sound byte and a smile, knows how to sell an event — whether she’s fighting or not.
“My striking coach is Edmond Tarverdyan — and he’s fighting this weekend and I’m cornering him, so you better go!,” said Rousey when talking about where she trains. “Hollywood Park Casino.”
A bit larger venue awaits Rousey for her first foray into the UFC octagon. The fact that it’s in her Southern California backyard is one more reason everything seems to be falling into place for Rousey’s road to making history.
“It’s very serendipitous,” Rousey said. “Everything came together. I couldn’t have written it better.”
For information on UFC 157, see www.ufc.com. For information on Hollywood Park Casino’s “Chaos at the Casino 2,” see www.teamlightsout.com.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun