As dominant as Ronda Rousey has been in the Ultimate Fighting Championship octagon, she is also among the organization’s most compliant employees.
Last year, when the UFC needed a main-event fighter only 56 days after Rousey’s toughest bout yet, she immediately agreed — then beat Sara McMann in 66 seconds with a hard knee to the midsection.
Now, as an unbeaten Brazilian challenger has emerged in the UFC’s hottest international market, Rousey has again jumped into a situation where others might have balked.
On Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, she will fight Brazilian Bethe Correia (10-0) in what will be Rousey’s sixth women’s bantamweight championship bout.
“I want to be the most reliable champion in the company,” Rousey said of her willingness to step into difficult situations. “I need to challenge myself … give myself the underdog feeling where I feel there’s more to work for, putting more on myself.”
The UFC’s branding of Rousey has allowed her to remain true to her toughness while accentuating her intense drive and unfiltered personality. More than once, she has told her UFC bosses, “If the guys can’t do it, give it to me.”
Dana White, UFC’s president, marvels at how Rousey has risen to every occasion. “We definitely steer her in some directions, but the last thing you need to do is sit around and have too many meetings about branding Ronda Rousey,” he said. “… Not only is her physical talent dominant, her personality makes her a home run in every way, shape and form.”
Before setting Saturday’s fight on challenger Correia’s home turf in Brazil, White and UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta huddled in Southern California with Rousey.
Rousey (11-0) was coming off a 14-second armbar submission of Cat Zingano at Staples Center in a February pay-per-view bout that generated a live gate of $2.675 million. Her dominance and popularity gives her the clout to fight when and whom she wants — similar to undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., who has fought 13 consecutive times in his hometown of Las Vegas, including his last 11 at the MGM Grand.
Rousey resides in Venice, Calif., and all but two of her fights have been in Southern California or Las Vegas.
But Rousey embraced the idea of traveling to Brazil, informing Fertitta and White that she had fought in Rio de Janeiro once before in an amateur judo competition. (Before launching her UFC career, Rousey was the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist in women’s judo.)
“This one, taking it purposefully without the home-court advantage, I want the fans to know I’m the most active champion out there,” Rousey said.
The champion apparently doesn’t lack for fans in South America, either. At a news conference in Brazil to announce Saturday’s bout, White said Rousey received more enthusiastic cheers than Correia from fans who have watched countrymen Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, Renan Barao and Vitor Belfort become UFC champions.
“For us, it’s a good thing because it helps grow the sport,” Fertitta said. “She’s the iconic face of the sport.”
White said Rousey’s willingness to venture to her challenger’s territory illustrates why he ranks her as “the greatest athlete I have ever worked with in every sense of the word.”
He added: “I love the way she pushed this herself: ‘Not only am I going to take this fight against this girl I don’t like, I’m going to beat her in her own backyard.’ I love the way she pushes and challenges herself.”
Correia, a respected striker, gained Rousey’s attention last year by defeating two of Rousey’s training partners, Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler.
Rousey is calling this training camp her most productive yet, and her Glendale-based trainer, Edmond Tarverdyan, predicts yet another one-sided triumph for the fighter who has been taken past the first round only once.
And, while training, Rousey has landed what White said were three more “massive” sponsorship deals.
“She schedules everything around what’s going on with the UFC, keeps us in the loop on everything,” White said. “Fighting is her No. 1 priority, but she’s building a life after fighting. If there’s a bit of a conflict, we don’t mind because she’s amazing for us.
“We can take Ronda to any arena and sell it out.”
White added: “The scary thing about Ronda is she keeps getting better. Have you ever seen a more durable person? All the other injuries we have in the UFC, all the [publicity] stuff we throw on her … she never falls apart.”
Rousey seems oblivious to what all the fuss is about. “I’ve been doing this for so long. This is my life,” she explained. “When I was 12 years old, we were at a [judo] training camp and had to pull ourselves across a mat — 30 laps back and forth pulling ourselves with our arms and stomach. Burned all the skin off our elbows, bleeding at the knees, someone threw up.
“I’ve been doing that kind of gnarly stuff for so long that I feel pampered and spoiled now that I’m a professional athlete. What [White] calls durability, I call being well taken care of.”