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Ronda Rousey Banking on Eclectic Judo Background to Earn Strikeforce Gold

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Can the varied judo background of Ronda Rousey carry her all the way to earning the Strikeforce women's bantamweight championship? In the mind of the Olympic bronze medalist, it's almost a foregone conclusion.

Kari Hubert, Getty Images
Kari Hubert, Getty Images

In the run-up to Strikeforce's bantamweight title clash between champion Miehsa Tate and challenger Ronda Rousey, much of the focus of the fight has had nothing to do with actual fighting.

Did Rousey jump the line for a title shot? Has the marketing for this fight focused incessantly on looks? What's the latest in the war of words between the two fighters? Questions like these and others dominate the news cycle. While these queries aren't without some merit, there's another story to be told: how each fighter plans to win this coming Saturday evening.

In this interview with MMA Fighting, Rousey discusses her unusual judo past, how it's radically different from the prototypical wrestling/jiu-jitsu fighter background and why she believes Tate cannot properly prepare for it.

The judo bronze medalist also discusses her admiration for Gina Carano, drug testing efficacy in USADA, candor in the fight business and much more. Full audio and partial transcription below:

Luke Thomas: Okay, joining me right now to talk about her upcoming title fight at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey, which of course takes place March 3rd at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, former bronze judo medalist, Ronda Rousey. Ronda, how are you?

Ronda Rousey: it's not former, the next Olympics hasn't happened.

Luke Thomas: (laughs) I guess that's true, current bronze medalist, how are you?

Ronda Rousey: I'm good, how you doing?

Luke Thomas: Speaking of the 2012 London games, how invested are you in judo? Are you gonna watch that as a spectator?

Ronda Rousey: Yeah, well I'm for sure going. It'll be an amazing experience to go to the Olympics just for fun and just to watch and to enjoy the games and different sports, it'll be great.

Luke Thomas: Are you being facetious?

Ronda Rousey: No.

Luke Thomas: I guess I'm just sort of curious as to your current level of enthusiasm for judo in that way. I know you sort of went to MMA because you got tired as a competitor of the daily grind.

Ronda Rousey: Yeah, but that doesn't mean I don't love the sport. I love watching judo, I just don't like the lifestyle required to be the best in the world at it.

Luke Thomas: Fair enough. Let me ask you about self promotion because you seem to be rather good at it. Did it come naturally? Is it something you're working on? Is it a little combination of both? What is it?

Ronda Rousey: I guess it comes naturally in that I benefited from being raised in a certain environment where I come from a family of very educated and empowered and quick-witted women and ever since I've been 13 or so, most people I've hung out with are men in their mid 20s. I've lived in a lot of houses that were just me and my teammates between the banter of my teammates and arguing with my sisters, I developed my own brand of quick-witted shit-talking that has served me so well.

Luke Thomas: But this isn't something like a Chael Sonnen act, is it? This seems to be something that is mostly natural, or am I overstating it?

Ronda Rousey: I just try to be as bluntly honest as possible. It's not entirely genuine in that I do not have all that energy all day long, but I just kind of just an exaggerated version of myself I guess.

Luke Thomas: Let me ask you about being blunt. Do you think the fight game is full of too much posturing and people not being candid with one another?

Ronda Rousey: I think that the women's side definitely does. The men have a good balance of fighters that are much more soft-spoken and are just there to compete and other fighters that are showmen but on the women's side, you really don't see any of that, any of the girls going out of their way to market themselves at the extent of some criticism. That's why I really did a call-out on my last fight because I realized that no other woman had done a call-out on TV before so I was like, "You know what? If I'm the first one to do it, it's bound to work and it did and I'm just trying to draw inspiration from a lot of the men's fighters that have been using the exact same package that I have and I think if I was a man and I was doing the exact same things that I'm doing now, no one would really say "boo" about it but because I'm a woman and not a lot of the women have been outspoken before that it's become something that a lot of people like to pay attention to.

Luke Thomas: Well tell me about Gina Carano, and I don't mean to be superficial with the question but in the sense that she has been able to leverage both ability and looks to a pretty strong degree at this point. Is she blazing a path that you'd like to follow or are you looking for something different?

Ronda Rousey: She definitely is and if I didn't see what Gina was already doing, I wouldn't have become an MMA fighter because I wouldn't think it would offer any sort of long-term career for me so she has her own path and she's going about things her own way, but yeah, I see that she's been successful and I think it would be dumb of me to not look at what she's done and how she's succeeded and kinda pick and choose from her strategy and make some of it my own.

Luke Thomas: Let's talk about drug testing and the state athletic commissions versus WADA which you've also done a lot of testing throughout your judo career. Which one's more rigorous, WADA or state athletic commissions?

Ronda Rousey: I would actually say that USADA is the worst one because I think that the United States drug tests are more stringent than the world drug testing and I think that the professional athletic commission is actually most lax of the three. For the Olympics, all I could take the Olympics was Advil.

Luke Thomas: Does that mean that there is more opportunity for a false positive because you can take more over the counter supplements in gross degrees in state athletic commission testing?

Ronda Rousey: Well in USADA, they told us that, "You are entirely responsible for everything that you take." Even if you take a supplement and test positive for something that's not on the label and you can prove that it came from that bottle and it was mistakenly done, they will hold you accountable so that's why I only take children's vitamins because I know that it's a lawsuit waiting to happen if they happen to put something else in there. I've always just been overly cautious and for all these people that are testing positive for various kinds of steroids and saying, "Oh, I got it from some supplement," it's bullshit. It's a blatant lie and I feel it's insulting the intelligence of the fans.

Luke Thomas: Talk to me about newaza in judo. I think a lot of people have poor conception of what it actually entails both in terms of newaza training and newaza as a function of competition in judo. How does it work? How much training is involved in submissions in judo and how much of it matters in competition?

Ronda Rousey: Training in newaza in judo is not mandatory. You can get away with not knowing any ground and just knowing how to defend and stay standing. I just happen to come from a background where my mom, she tore her knees out when she was like 17 so all of her fights, she won on the ground and then when I was 16, I tore my knee out and I spent that entire year only doing ground work and when I moved away from home, I went to [Jimmy] Pedro's. They're known as mostly a very ground based judo school so the difference I think between a judo and jiu-jitsu ground game is in judo, you only have sometimes only three seconds, even less than that to make something work so it pushes the transition and the pace on the ground to be faster than any other grappling sport.

Luke Thomas: Is that the key to the game? It seems like once you get that rush in, the two on one and then the trip, it's just a matter of seconds at that point. Do you think the jiu-jitsu guys don't have the same sense of urgency in their submission application?

Ronda Rousey: Yeah, they don't have any sense of urgency and they don't have as much need to be able to transition between the stand-up and the ground as quickly as a judo player does because we don't have an undisclosed amount of time to work on the ground and so I think that's a big advantage. A lot of judo players like I said neglect learning any kind of ground game at all. It's kind of like some judo players I think have an amazing ground game that transfers better to MMA than any style but some judo players are just completely useless on the ground. It's kind of random.

Luke Thomas: There's obviously a lot of overlap between amateur wrestling, folkstyle, freestyle, Greco Roman and judo but I guess my question to you would be, why does your judo beat Miesha Tate's wrestling?

Ronda Rousey: I think it's because I have a very unorthodox style of judo in that I kind of have a weird European-Japanese-Brazilian jiu-jitsu mix that is extremely hard to prepare for and I train with world champion and Olympic medalist wrestlers several times a week and there's no way that she could have judo players of my caliber to train with. It's just such an unorthodox style that I don't think she can be nearly as prepared for me as I am for her.

Luke Thomas: You come in reaching for her arm, I've never seen you change elevation at least not yet in your career. More than just being a different style, I mean the particular application of it. Is she not going to be as strong as you, is she not going to be able to understand the angle at which you come to grab her, what do you mean?

Ronda Rousey: Well, yeah, like you were pointing out, for judo players, you don't change levels when you come in for the takedowns, you telegraph a lot less. What was the rest of your question, just the advantage that judo players have in general?

Luke Thomas: I guess I'm just wondering, I talked to [Tate] and her sense was that her wrestling really had a lot of different tools to stop your judo and what you're telling me is quite the opposite in a sense that she doesn't even know what she's getting into.

Ronda Rousey: There's no way she can know because I'm not a normal judo player and she, I think it's ridiculous to assume that you know how to defend a style that you've never fought against or had any experience training with.

Luke Thomas: Talk to me about what's harder on the body over time, judo or MMA? I read a book called "Falling Hard" where a writer picked up judo as a hobby and really sort of followed it through and he talked about the devastating injuries. Which is harder on the body, judo or MMA?

Ronda Rousey: Judo is definitely much harder on the body. It's much harder on your joints. It's not so much cosmetic damage because you don't see much blood, but more people have died from judo than doing MMA and most people get injuries like torn shoulders, separated collar bones, broken collar bones, broken legs, knees everything. I've seen way more injuries, broke necks, people break their necks doing judo because you're pretty much doing gymnastics with somebody on your back. Imagine someone doing gymnastics with another person trying to stop you and throw you on your ass. It's pretty much dangerous in that way and I think that judo is probably one of the more dangerous sports under boxing.