Ronda Rousey’s Life Was More Tragic Than You Realized
The greatest female fighter in history, Ronda Rousey’s journey to the top was anything but easy, and it almost started with death. But she fought and clawed her way from the youngest judo Olympian in 2004, to being broke with no hot water, to the UFC’s greatest female fighter.
Here’s her story.
Rough-and-tumble Ronda Rousey
Born in Riverside, California, in 1987, Ronda Rousey, named after her late father Ron, was a fighter from the moment she entered this world. The daughter of AnnMaria De Mars and Ron Rousey, Ronda was the youngest of three girls. While Ronda was in elementary school, the Rouseys left Riverside for rural North Dakota.
That move to the virtual middle of nowhere would lead to the first of many tragedies Ronda would have to face and overcome in her life. You see, Southern California isn’t a sledding hotbed. There, winter is almost nonexistent. But in North Dakota, winter is real, and that opens up a plethora of activities one can do to keep their mind off the bitter temperatures.
For Ronda and her father, that activity would be sledding.
An accident that changed everything
Ronda and her father, who had retired from his job when the family moved to North Dakota, went on a sledding adventure one North Dakota winter. The two Californians thought it would be the perfect way to get into the winter spirit. However, the day ended in tragedy. While sledding, Ron hit a covered log and crashed headfirst into the ground.
The spinal injury landed him in the hospital. There, doctors worked frantically for months, giving Ron blood infusions and operating on his neck and back. Ronda’s life became confined to the hospital, where she patiently waited for her father to heal. But healing, unfortunately, was not entirely in the cards.
The doctors gave a grim prognosis: in a few months, Ron would be paralyzed below the waist that would, as his spine further disintegrated, devolve into full-body paralysis. The future did not look good for Ron.
A heartbroken family
When Ron processed the news about his future state of health, he made a grim, tragic decision, one that would affect Ronda for the rest of her life. While Ronda and her sister were watching cartoons, her father walked into the room, hugged them both, and got in his Ford Bronco.
He drove to a pond where the family would hang out, and he took his life via carbon monoxide poisoning. Ronda was just 8 years old. Thankfully for Ronda and her family, their mom AnnMaria was strong as a rock and a beacon of hope for the devastated family.
A prodigy in the making
AnnMaria was a judo prodigy herself. As a child and teen, AnnMaria took first place in numerous world tournaments. In college, she kept her winning ways while excelling in the classroom. After a brief retirement, AnnMaria shocked the judo world when she won the 1984 World Judo Championships.
Off the mat, she was smart as a whip. By age 16, she was in college, and by 19, she was working on her MBA. When she was done with her MBA, she went on to pursue her Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of California, Riverside.
Barely making it past birth
With an unbreakable grit learned from judo and a fertile mind, AnnaMaria was equipped with the perfect skill set needed to handle the series of tragedies that would befall her family. But Ronda, the archetype of fitness, strength, toughness, and grit, barely made it past her birth.
When she was born, the umbilical cord became tangled around Ronda’s neck, depriving her of valuable oxygen. Death was narrowly avoided. Sadly, what doctors believed was brain damage, wasn’t. During Ronda’s first six years on earth, she barely spoke, and the jumbled words that spilled out of her mouth were gibberish. She was placed in special education classes.
No more North Dakota
Hope for Ronda was dwindling with each passing year. Then her family took action and moved to North Dakota so Ronda could be near an elite team of speech therapists, who, after intensive work, diagnosed her with apraxia, a relatively unknown speech condition that affects the motor programming system for speech.
While Ronda adamantly worked through her speech impediment, her family suffered the aforementioned tragedy of losing their dad and husband. Rather than staying in North Dakota alone, in the place where the family endured so much grief, AnnMaria opted to move the family back to Southern California, a move that eventually exposed Ronda to her mother’s favorite sport — judo.
The judo journey begins
And when your mother is a judo world champion, one must expect the unexpected, even at 12 years old. “You’d be pretty good at judo too if your mom jumped on your bed every morning and attacked you with armbars,” Rousey recalled to the Los Angeles Daily News.
The judo drilling was daily. As Ronda became more confident in the classroom, she became more confident on the mat. With her mother’s expertise and constant guidance, things began to align for young Ronda. At just 16, Ronda moved away from the comfort of her home to Massachusetts to train in judo.
2004 Athens Olympics
Her aspirations were grand and bold. She wanted to be just like her mother, a world champion, and she would do anything to achieve that goal. Despite the distance from home, Ronda settled into her life in Massachusetts while becoming one of the country’s top talents in judo. She was well on her way to making history.
In 2004, the Olympics returned to its original location: Athens, Greece. And it was there in Athens that a 17-year-old Ronda Rousey would take the global stage for the first time. Rousey had nearly died at birth, lost her father in a tragic accident, dropped out of school, moved across the country multiple times, and was representing the United States at the Olympics in the sport her mother pioneered.
A Greek tragedy
And to reiterate, she was just a teenager; in fact, she was the youngest judo competitor at the games. The games, much like her life, proved to be another hurdle she would have to clear. Despite her best efforts, a 17-year-old Rousey was overmatched and overpowered by her much older and experienced competition. Ultimately, she finished in ninth place.
Determined not to leave the year without any medals, Ronda had one last chance to prove her skill at such a young age. At the 2004 World Junior Judo Championships, held in Budapest, Hungary, a gritty Rousey won the gold medal, marking an incredible turnaround from her Olympic disappointment. It also proved her mettle.
American history made
In the next few years leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Ronda continued to excel on the international circuit. In 2006, she fought her way to the gold medal at the Birmingham World Cup in Great Britain, becoming the first female U.S. judoka in nearly a decade to win an A-Level tournament, judo’s highest level of competition.
At the 2007 Pan American Games, Rousey took the gold medal, an improvement on the silver she took at the 2007 World Judo Championships earlier that year. All of these tournaments were proving grounds for the upcoming Olympics where Rousey, one of the sport’s best athletes, planned on solidifying herself as a living legend.
The best and the bronze
Rousey wasn’t going to forget her disappointing performance at the 2004 Olympics when she arrived in Beijing. She was on a mission to do something no American woman had done since the sport became a women’s Olympic sport in 1992: win a medal. Competing in the 70kg division, Rousey was victorious in five matches while losing one.
The one loss, while preventing her from competing for gold and silver, would not stop her from setting American judo history. In the bronze-medal match, Rousey dominated Germany’s Annett Boehm to claim bronze, becoming the first American woman to medal in the sport. What should have been a high point in Rousey’s career quickly eroded into a near all-time low.
From hero to zero (money)
Ronda retired from judo after her bronze medal and returned to California. She figured her status as a successful Olympian and American hero could get her some money; unfortunately for her, that was not the case. With no money and no plan, Ronda moved into her mother’s house in California while she figured things out.
The first step toward figuring out her next move would be getting a job and finding a place to live. Ronda did both. She became a cocktail waitress in LA and worked at a pirate-themed bar called Redwood Bar and Grill. She lived in a small apartment with a friend and drove a Honda with no air conditioning.
A champion in her car
Money was tight. Her schedule was packed. Dinner would sometimes consist of cold ramen because the hot water was cut off. Cigarettes and marijuana became an integral part of her life. There was even a small period of time where Rousey lived entirely out of her car.
Hope was dwindling away. “It was bad,” she told Los Angeles Daily News. “It was bad for a while.” However, Rousey was an Olympian, a champion, and a fighter. She wasn’t going to wallow in her misery and feel sorry for herself. Rousey picked herself up by the metaphorical bootstraps and took a job, much to her mother’s chagrin, at a 24 Hour Fitness, with the intent of training for MMA.
MMA saves the day
Fighting, after all, was in her blood, and if it took a bit of blood spillage to reach the top again, so be it. While at 24 Hour Fitness, Rousey obsessively trained in MMA. Her life was now dedicated to the sport. Combining her judo skills with full-fledged fighting was a relatively easy transition for her, but there was serious work to be done.
“Every spare thought that I had was for fighting,” she relayed to Esquire. “I was shadowboxing with the droplets in the shower, just trying to get better every single second.” Finally, after months of training in MMA, mostly with males, Rousey made her MMA debut.
Collision course to the top
In 23 seconds, Rousey submitted her opponent, Hayden Munoz, via armbar. The armbar turned out to be her signature move that would lead her to victory in her next two amateur fights as well, bringing her fighting record to a perfect 3-0. Her perfect amateur record aside, Rousey faced a massive, looming dilemma.
Women’s combat sports were in their infancy. There was hardly a market for women’s MMA and the sport’s most massive player, UFC, didn’t even have a women’s division. Sure, she could scuttle around small leagues barely making enough to scrape by, or she could try her hand at women’s boxing, but if she wanted to make her living in MMA, she would have to wait. The end of the road appeared near for Rousey.
Queen of the cage
In 2011, Rousey caught a huge break and announced her intentions of going pro, and signed with King of the Cage. While not a huge name in fighting, King of the Cage was a start. In her professional debut, Rousey once again submitted her opponent via armbar, this time in just 25 seconds.
The speed at which Rousey was dismantling her opponents was not a fluke or aberration. It was the norm. Through 2012, Ronda Rousey continued to dominate women’s combat sports. She was the face of the sport. Opponents lined up to challenge her only to get a heavy dose of reality in the form of an armbar, often early in the match.
From no chance to champ
As Rousey’s success in the cage grew, so did her fame. Appearances on television shows like ESPN and Conan became the norm, and rumors began swirling whether she may become the UFC’s first female fighter. But there was still this situation that had to be dealt with.
A TMZ cameraman asked UFC president Dana White, “When are we going to see women in the UFC, dude?” in 2011. “Never,” was Dana White’s response. Clearly, White overcame his sentiment about women in the UFC, because in 2012, White announced that Rousey would become the UFC’s first female fighter while simultaneously being named the first UFC women’s bantamweight champion (the UFC absorbed Strikeforce, where Rousey was the champion).
Well, it didn’t take long for Rousey to become the sport’s biggest star. She defended her titles with ease, submitting her opponents early and often. In fact, Ronda defended her belt six times to start her UFC career. In those six fights, she spent just 1,077 seconds in the octagon, equating to roughly $1,002 for every second spent fighting.
Her stardom was remarkable. Movies clamored for her; fans begged for her autographs; television shows launched bidding wars to get her on their programs, even if it was for just a few minutes. In 2012, Rousey even appeared nude on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s 2012 Body Issue.
Like every empire that history has known, demise is inevitable. The question, then, was how swift would her demise happen? The seemingly invincible fighter that Ronda Rousey had become was slated to defend her title for an unprecedented seventh straight time in 2015.
Her opponent was seasoned veteran Holly Holm, a fighter with a strong boxing background, a skill that Rousey notoriously lacked in her victories. What Rousey lacked in a stand-up game, she made up for with an almost impeccable repertoire of takedowns and submissions. If she could get Holm on the ground, it would be another successful defense.
The sting of defeat
Well, the worst-case scenario for Ronda Rousey became reality, as she was unable to get Holm on the ground. That also meant she received a steady dose of Holm’s fists and kicks to the face. In a shocking upset, Holm connected with a high kick to Rousey’s face/neck, sending her sprawling to the canvas.
The fight and perfect career ended just like that. Rousey, who was severely beaten in the fight, was medically cleared to fight again after three long months out of the public spotlight. But it would be another nine or so months until she began fighting again.
After nearly a year away from fighting, Rousey announced her comeback in a title fight against Amanda Nunes. Leading up to the fight, Rousey was highly criticized for remaining in the shadows following her defeat by Holm. If she was willing to sell herself to gain attention and more opportunity, shouldn’t she be that same person when she lost?
Critics lamented her hiding and demeanor following the loss, labeling her a poor sport. Ronda even admitted she spent the year crying and trying to overcome the loss to Holm. In reality, the only thing that would help mend her wounds would be a victory in her next fight.
No good Nunes
On December 30, 2016, Rousey stepped into the ring against then-champion Amanda Nunes. The super-fight lasted a mere 48 seconds, with Nunes landing a barrage of punches on Rousey’s face, forcing the referee to call the fight. Battered and bloodied, Rousey finally had enough with the sport that gave her so much. It was over. She retreated in silence, shed tears, and retired from fighting.
But when one door closes, another opens. From 2014-17, Rousey made sporadic appearances in the WWE, entertaining fans in a sport she grew up loving as a kid. Fans and critics widely applauded Rousey’s poise and skill in the ring where her acting skills were put on full display.
WWE’s newest star
Beneath the surface, all was not well in her life, though. Rousey revealed to Ellen DeGeneres that she became suicidal after her fight with Holm. She also had to address dating rumors with fellow UFC fighter Travis Browne, who was under investigation for domestic violence.
With a wide range of emotions taking over, Rousey still managed to secure a full-time WWE contract in 2017. Rousey made her official debut at WrestleMania 34 and won her first WWE title, one she would successfully defend for almost one year before losing at WrestleMania 35. As of today, her WWE title defense is the longest in program history.
More movies, more money
Rousey, since entering the WWE full-time, has had a meteoric rise to the top and is one of the most popular entertainers in the sport. Wrestling may have become her newest passion, but keeping Ronda Rousey confined to one thing is like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube — it’s not going to happen.
While training in WWE, Rousey expanded her acting career, taking on numerous roles in movies such as Furious 7 and The Expendables. While taking on movie roles and training for WWE may seem like a full plate for most, it was just an appetizer for the insatiable Rousey.
An accomplished author
In 2015, Rousey penned her first book, My Fight / Your Fight. There wasn’t an industry in America that Rousey wasn’t touching. Like a true fighter, Ronda embodies the old adage of, “It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get up.”
Her reign in the UFC may have ended, she may have lived in her car and eaten cold ramen, and she may have been in toxic relationships. But for Ronda, it was those moments that formed her and helped her make history. Without her struggles, she wouldn’t have had the drive that propelled her to the UFC Hall of Fame.
Her life, her body
Without those moments of doubt and uncertainty, she wouldn’t have become the greatest female MMA fighter in history. In 2015, Rousey continued making history when she cohosted SportsCenter, becoming the first female athlete to do so. A year later, she appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
Her appearance on the Swimsuit Edition marked the second time Rousey put her body in the spotlight, and the reason for doing so was much deeper than simply wanting fame, money, and attention. Rousey revealed in her autobiography that an ex-boyfriend of hers had taken explicit photos of her without her knowledge and consent.
Starting a family
Rousey ultimately ended up attacking her ex-boyfriend and recovering the phone and hard drive where the photos were stored before promptly deleting them. But the experience also sparked Rousey to pose nude for the aforementioned magazines. The reason was Rousey wanted to take control over her body and empower herself, rather than other people having control over what people see of her.
And in 2017, Rousey became engaged to the love of her life, Travis Browne, in New Zealand. Later that year, the two married in Browne’s home state of Hawaii. Although Browne may have had a controversial past, Rousey appears to pay no mind to the rumors and allegations that, at one point, made Browne one of the most disliked fighters in the UFC.
A promising future
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Rousey has a net worth of $12 million, a number that should steadily rise over the next few years. Although she may not be in the UFC, she still has plenty of opportunities to rake in the cash, ranging from endorsement deals to cameo appearances to featured roles. Plus, not being in the UFC will add years of longevity to her career.
Think about it: Fewer Holly Holm-style knockouts and Amanda Nunes punches to the face means more opportunities to model, appear in films, and endorse products. For Ronda Rousey, her journey has always been a fight, one that she has always won. And although she may no longer be fighting in the octagon, her fighting spirit lives on and pushes her, year after year, into uncharted territory that she’s ready to conquer.