Rolling Stone magazine calls MMA fighter Ronda Rousey “The World’s Most Dangerous Woman,” and Sports Illustrated recently proclaimed her “THE WORLD’S MOST DOMINANT ATHLETE, (ARM) BAR NONE.”
“That’s pretty bold,” she said, laughing. “I didn’t write it, but I won’t disagree with it.”
Her upcoming schedule includes walking the red carpet for the premiere of the movie “Entourage,” in which she has a prominent role, and then “I’ve got a chick to beat up” on Aug. 1.
When Rousey was asked during a press junket for “Entourage” if she would ever fight boxer Floyd Mayweather, she took what seemed to be a jab at Mayweather’s history of domestic violence when she said she didn’t think they’d ever fight unless they ended up dating.
Even as an emerging crossover star, perhaps all of this conjures a certain image of Rousey, 28.
But her appeal, like her story, is unique and can’t be contained — least of all in the octagon.
For all the hysteria over Rousey, the title of the book she was signing on Thursday night at Unity Temple on The Plaza in conjunction with Rainy Day Books is particularly telling:
“My Fight/Your Fight,” it’s called.
Counterintuitive as it might seem, the implied empathy and accessibility of the book title resounds from Rousey — whose rise came through arduous times that included the suicide of her father when she was 8.
She remembers what it was to be voiceless, almost literally in the wake of being born with the umbilical cord around her neck, delaying her speech development and requiring years of speech therapy to resolve.
She remembers not being able to ask specifically for things she wanted, like the pink Barbie backpack she was trying to ask for before she began kindergarten. She could only muster “that, that, that” as she pointed.
“Struggling to be heard and stand up for myself and not be afraid to speak out has been a journey,” she said Thursday.
She remembers what it was to be bullied and not fit in when she was growing up in Southern California, and she’ll never forget the troubled funk she was in after winning a bronze medal in judo in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“Those days keep me hungry, and never winning the Olympic gold keeps me hungry,” she said. “I’m so grateful that I never won it, and it took me a long time to realize that.”
So even now that she wields the might of her voice and the currency of her stature as an unbeaten fighter who crushes most opponents in under a minute, Rousey remains a relatable every-woman.
This doesn’t happen in sports much anymore. The higher athletes ascend, the more distant and disengaged from reality they tend to get.
Rousey, though, is a phenomenon who is redefining so many things, at once attractive and powerful, self-deprecating but self-confident.
And simultaneously a soaring star but grounded.
You could count the ways that showed up during a 20-minute interview.
As she prepared for the signing that would be flooded by hundreds, Rousey lamented her issue with “taking too much time with everybody” at such events. Because she finds it so hard to cut people off, she once remained in place for some six hours.
When she was asked if she might ever have heard of Claire Tietgen, a 12-year-old from Prairie Village whose life was saved by MMA, Rousey said, “I met her! She came to my last fight, and I took her to my after-party.”
She had seen a video of Tietgen that left her in tears, she said, and after UFC president Dana White put them on the phone with each other the meeting was arranged.
“She was a really sweet, cool chick,” she said.
Then there was this:
“I know like three Vahes,” she said, laughing, as the phone conversation began. “I was thinking, like, ‘Do I know you?’ ”
This is a rare thing, as you might guess.
But Vahe, after all, is an Armenian name, and as it happens Rousey’s career and the very path of her life have been enabled by Armenians.
She began competing in judo at the Hayastan MMA Academy in North Hollywood, where she was ushered in by Gokor Chivichyan.
Her trainer from the Glendale Fighting Club remains Edmond Tarverdyan, also of Armenian descent.
This is no trifling thing to Rousey, who still appreciates that no one would make her feel bad in those gyms for crying when she was getting thrown in the early days, and all the nurturing they provided through her injuries and other ups and downs.
She can represent the U.S. by birth, she said, and by blood she also can represent Latina and Polish-English roots.
But she feels as much connected to Armenians as anything she was born into.
“The only person that I’d ever seen hold an American flag for me was when my mom upheld my dad’s flag at the Olympics,” she said. “When I walked out in the Staples Center (for a match), there wasn’t a single Armenian on that card — but there must have been 30 Armenians flags up there” for her.
So when the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide was commemorated last month, Rousey decided the best way to show what that has meant to her was to travel to Armenia for the occasion.
As if that wasn’t demonstrative enough, she decided to apply for Armenian citizenship.
“So I’m probably going to have dual citizenship,” she said. “Yerevan (the capital of Armenia) was beyond gorgeous. I can’t wait until I buy property over there. I can’t wait to bring my mother over to show her.”
Just more evidence of how Rousey’s singular path nevertheless seems to hold something for about anybody, part of a refreshing story that defies any conventional labels.