LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Ronda Rousey realizes she's finishing up one of the biggest years for any fighter in the young history of mixed martial arts at UFC 168, and the UFC's bantamweight champion intends to go out on top.
Rousey soared to the top of her sport and broke new ground for female athletes throughout 2013. She has made a reality television show, two blockbuster films and a whole lot of money in the 10 months since her UFC debut, along with countless media appearances and profile-raising endorsements.
To cap it off, Rousey (7-0) is a heavy favourite in her rematch with Miesha Tate (13-4) in the penultimate bout Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden. Middleweight champion Chris Weidman's rematch with Anderson Silva is the pay-per-view show's main event.
Although Rousey beat Tate handily last year with her signature armbar submission in the Strikeforce promotion, interest is high in the rematch after Rousey and Tate served as combative coaches on the most recent season of "The Ultimate Fighter," the UFC's reality competition show. Rousey's disdain for Tate is palpable, and she's confident fans will feel it.
"If the Real Housewives threw down at the end of their season, how great would that be?" Rousey asked. "Every schoolyard in the world loves a fight. That's how you get them to glance at us."
With just one UFC appearance and three years of pro experience, Rousey has soared to heights reached by almost no other MMA fighters.
Even before she beat Liz Carmouche last February in the UFC's first women's bout, the 135-pound former Olympic judoka had been targeted by the sports-entertainment complex as a rising star. She has spent the last year doing her best to embrace every opportunity while trying not to neglect the sport that got her to this lofty position.
For instance, while in Bulgaria to film "The Expendables 3," Rousey worked out with Victor Ortiz, the ex-champion boxer who also had a part in the film. Ortiz helped Rousey with a few fine points of standup fighting when they weren't running hills — and slowly getting exhausted with the hours of waiting necessary to be in a major film.
"The movie stuff was fun, but by the time it was over, I said, 'Oh, thank God,'" Rousey said. "'I'm so ready to get back in the gym.' ... It's tough to have to look good and say some line 19 million times. I'd rather slum it and not shave and punch things."
Rousey seemed to enjoy her film work, but her other experience on camera didn't go as well.
Rousey emerged from "The Ultimate Fighter" furious over the narrative dishonesty of reality shows, specifically the poking and prodding done to make Rousey appear to be a humourless villain while coaching eight fighters against Tate's team.
"I really felt mistreated and disrespected by the whole production staff," Rousey said, citing "constant inhumaneness and insensitivity. The gym is my safe place. It's where I maintain my sanity, and they really bastardized that place for me. They needed a villain, and they made me fit that role."
Rousey also acknowledges that she "purposely instigated the rivalry" with Tate to get people to watch their pay-per-view spectacle. Since Rousey has already beaten Tate, who then lost to No. 1 contender Cat Zingano, Rousey realized the matchup would be a tough sell without the personal spice to flavour it.
Tate has been content to play a bemused spectator to Rousey's intensity, but Rousey insists it's all an act.
"When she walked on to that show, I shook her hand," Rousey said. "When she left, I flipped her off. So yeah, a couple of things happened between them."
Rousey's wild life is likely to continue after her second fight with Tate. She'll have additional film opportunities, although she won't allow her agent to discuss them until after the bout, and her fame is likely to grow along with her sport.
She also hopes to fight twice a year for the foreseeable future, although she realizes she'll have to keep getting better to stay on top of the sport she has led to wide exposure. The UFC recently added a 115-pound women's division, doubling its roster in the new year.
"It's really encouraging for me that women's MMA is exiting the experimental phase," Rousey said. "I don't have to worry about the whole sport resting on me. It's better for everybody."