BURBANK, Calif. -- Although she doesn't turn 26 until February, Ronda Rousey has already accomplished more as an athlete that most people can dream.
A child prodigy in judo who went to her first Olympics at 17, the Santa Monica, Calif. native has transitioned from Olympic judo bronze medalist to UFC champion and pay-per-view headliner with breathtaking speed.
And as Rousey looks back on the past several years, she's drawn the conclusion that one of her chosen athletic pursuits is pure, and the other isn't.
"The UFC and MMA stuff is so much more pure compared to all that to me," Rousey said. "No one is going to change the rules of MMA because they prefer European style over Japanese style. It's never going to be like that. It will be as close to a real fight as possible and whoever wins, wins.
"I like that there's a lot of money involved, that there isn't going to be people who are selling out for nothing. You can't predict people like that. There are people [in judo] called sellouts, and stabbing you on the back so they can get on some committee that pays you nothing."
Rousey soured on her Olympic experience after coming home from Beijing, where she won the bronze medal at 70 kilograms, and realizing that not only did years of effort do nothing to pay her bills, but there was a clique of people living high off her work.
"The Olympians in our country are pretty much useless," she said. "You spend your whole life trying to get this medal and you don't do it to make money, you do it for your country, for your pride, for your family, and there's nothing set in place for what happens afterwards. They used to have a program where I'd work at Home Depot 20 hours a week and they'd pay me full-time, that was the only Olympic job program I have. There's nothing afterwards. There's no scholarship program, there's no job placement, after you won an Olympic medal and you've spent $100,000, you get 10 grand, which they tax you on. You get 10K for a bronze, 15K for silver, 25K for gold, which you get taxed on, and a handshake. I couldn't even buy a 2005 used Honda Accord LX with that."
Rousey's worst suspicions of the nature of the international amateur sports scene were confirmed on a trip across the world.
"We had the 2005 judo world championships in Cairo, Egypt," she said. "Me and like one other person got their way fully paid, three other athletes got partially paid. They sent 11 officials, first class, five-star hotels, all their meals paid. ... they'd spend a ridiculous amount of money on entertainment. I was like, ‘entertainment, for the referees?' I'm starving over here, I can't buy a car. It's all spent the wrong way and it's super shady."
Of course, that's all changed now. Rousey is undefeated as a mixed martial artist, has ditched her Accord in favor of a new BMW, and, as you all know by now, will compete in the first women's fight in UFC history when she defends her bantamweight tile against Liz Carmouche in the main event of UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif. on Feb. 23.
As an added bonus, Rousey says, as a mixed martial arts fighter, she has plenty more room to be herself than she did in the staid world of Olympic judo.
"With the Olympics, you're representing your country, so you can't speak your mind," Rousey said. "Your answer to everything is 'What do you want? World peace, world peace!' I like having that freedom now especially because people are used to it, I have a margin of error. I don't have to pretend to be anything else like I did before. I'm just being what I am. I like that I have room for error, the whole bad girl thing. I can mess up, I'm not walking around saying, ‘I'm a virgin, I never touch alcohol,' when here I am with a bottle of Jack in a brothel. I can be myself. I kind of like that, it's cool."