What happened to Ronda Rousey, the person of multitudes?
Before she took the coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter 18, it felt as though she could literally do no wrong. Rousey was the first women’s UFC champion. She was on glossy magazine covers and became the apple of many media outlet’s eye. There were movie roles to mull over, and sponsors, and television appearances -- the basic spoils of sudden stardom, which she coyly embraced. I called her the Royce Gracie of women’s MMA before she fought Liz Carmouche at UFC 157, because it felt like she was pioneering a movement for future generations.
Then she showed up to Vegas and, instead of finding Cat Zingano, whom she was supposed to spend the next six weeks with, there was Miesha Tate, her arch-nemesis with batting eyes like the purring cat that swallowed the canary.
This somewhat sadistic -- and perhaps unfair -- surprise was all it took to curdle the milk.
That’s when our vanguard champion went into a spiral of Hitchcockian proportions, falling in slow screaming circles from some high place as the ground rose up to meet her. On the program Rousey showed her true colors, as they say, and wore those colors with pretty insistent righteousness against the "fake nice" of Tate. She was, to be sure, just keeping it real.
And what a version of "real" it was! There were long periods of sulking and brooding and scathing tension and childlike silences, which began on the first show when they evaluated talent, and went on through the coach’s challenge when they scaled a rock face for a fat brick of cash.
The general thought was, if this was the real Ronda, then heaven help those nearest to her. (Of course, it wasn’t the real Rousey, just like it wasn’t the real Tate…"real" is a more complicated word than can be so breezily canned into television preserves).
Even still, in the course of filming -- and unmistakably, through the narrative control of editing -- people began to dread her the way they do a gathering of dark clouds over the delta. Dana White, who was there to cater/mollify during the process, became more of a mediator than a president. At one point he put the kibosh on Tate’s silly pranks, because he feared the very wrath of She. He didn’t want to tempt an active volcano, and any fool can see that’s just the type of volatility we were dealing in. White chocked it all up to Rousey’s fiery "competitiveness," which is exceptional and obviously something not to be toyed with.
But at some point, that Rousey "competitiveness" lost a good deal of its professionalism. On the way down from the rock climb, Rousey did what ninth graders might at the first chance of long-suppressed validation -- she hoisted her middle finger and yelled, "f--- you, b----!" Sadly, by then we anticipated nothing less. "Real" and "immature" are very difficult to tell apart in a line-up, just as "huffy" is the cheapest brand of expression.
Needless to say, Rousey came out of the show…somewhat more poorly than when she went in.
Yet after going to Bulgaria and getting away from the whole escapade to film Expendables 3, she came back (apparently) in a redoubled state of seething. She didn’t try and conceal her disdain for Tate or the process of fight game promotion when interviewed by Fox Sports 1’s coverage team on Saturday night. In fact, she darkened the set with tornado weather. She never watched an episode of the show, she said, and wanted only to console Davey Grant and Jessica Rakoczy, her team that lost in their respective Finals matches…if only these
pesky adults media types would leave her alone.
While some people who operate without filters have redeeming qualities -- like Nick Diaz and his "wolf tickets" theory, a treatise that centered on the manufactured hype in the fight game itself -- it’s hard to side with sulking.
Rousey and Tate will fight on Dec. 28 in the co-main event at UFC 168 in Las Vegas. This whole chapter will soon be behind us. But here’s the thing: Imagine if all athletes had the virtuous sense to just "be themselves" at all times. Isn’t the very essence of professionalism being able to mute the urge of saying "f--- you" whenever the thought occurs to you? Isn’t it the ability to put things aside, even for a minute? Small, reluctant compromises for the larger picture, right?
Not for Rousey, and that, we’re told, is just Rousey.
Maybe it’s because her team members lost in the finals. Or that actor Paul Walker, who starred in Fast and Furious 7, a film she has a part in, had died tragically that same night. Maybe it was because Tate -- Ms. Fake Nice, with the "little boyfriend" -- was right there soaking in the limelight like the class angel.
Whatever the case may be, when Rousey’s just being herself -- which sounds so admirable to anybody who enjoys their own freedom of expression -- her untethered competitiveness becomes less admirable than it does a thing to be tolerated. When everyone else keeps their inner-child tucked away, Rousey feels intent on letting hers out. And in any other circumstance, we might tend to call a person like that a "brat" rather than a professional (or even an iconoclast).
And who knows. Maybe this is all part of Rousey’s growing pains. Maybe after she defends her belt she’ll smile again, and the sun will come out, and she’ll regain the sheen that was lost in the filming of TUF 18. Winning has a way of moving the needle and reactivating our sense of praise.
If not, then we might just have to get used to the "competitive" side of Rousey bleeding into all areas of her public domain, and right now that doesn’t feel all that great.