How Ronda Rousey went from child prodigy to the UFC's most dominant champ

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – When Ronda Rousey was 13 and in junior high school, she was doing things athletically that made her mother's jaw drop. AnnMaria De Mars suspected she may have a child prodigy on her hands.

De Mars was not just another proud mother. She was a world-class athlete herself and in 1984 became the first American to win a world judo championship. She had an eye for talent and an analytic mind, and she believed deeply that her daughter had the potential for greatness.

What she was concerned about was having it develop to its fullest extent. So she did what any parent in a similar situation would do with a prodigy. She sought help, only to get rebuffed.

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"I called up USA Judo, the governing body for judo, and I said, 'I have this kid and I seriously think she is going to be something special,' DeMars said. "[I said to them], I don't just say it because she's my kid, because I have three other kids. I'm telling you Ronda has something. Can you send me a program for what to do with really gifted athletes.' They kind of laughed and said, 'That would be nice to have.' So I kind of made it up as I went along."

She did about as well as anyone could have possibly done. Rousey went on to compete in the Olympics twice and in 2008 won a bronze medal.

Ronda Rousey is now 11-0 and has only fought out of the first round once in her career. (USAT)
Ronda Rousey is now 11-0 and has only fought out of the first round once in her career. (USAT)

Since then, she's become one of the most dominant athletes in the world, regardless of sport. On Saturday in her bantamweight title fight in the main event of UFC 184 before 17,654, she ran her record to 11-0 when she broke her own record by submitting previously unbeaten Cat Zingano in just 14 seconds.

It was the fastest submission win in UFC championship history. It was also two seconds quicker than her TKO of Alexis Davis her last time out, when she needed just 16 seconds to successfully retain her belt.

With all due respect to the UFC's magnificent light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, Rousey very well could be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.

She's becoming such a phenomenon that it hardly matters that just two years into her UFC career, she's effectively already cleaned out the division.

People, though, will almost certainly come out to see her fight, because sports fans are attracted to greatness and uniquely talented stars.

They won't show because they're necessarily expecting to see this back-and-forth, nip-and-tuck battle between two evenly matched opponents. They know Rousey is miles better than just about anyone else, but they come to be awed, to be amazed, to see things that no one else can do.

The card was a massive success, despite losing a number of excellent fights. But when Rousey zipped up her sweater, pulled tight her hood and strode purposely toward the cage, not a person in the building missed Vitor Belfort or Chris Weidman or Jacare Souza or any of the other fighters who were supposed to appear but did not.

A broken rib suffered in training cost the show what was to be its main event, a middleweight title fight between Weidman and Belfort, when Weidman pulled out. Souza caught a case of pneumonia, which forced the postponement of his match with Olympic silver medalist Yoel Romero.

And because of another injury, the UFC had to shift a heavyweight match between Frank Mir and Antonio Silva off the card and to the main spot on a show in Brazil.

Ronda Rousey leaves the arena with sister Julia De Mars and mother AnnMaria De Mars after her win. (USAT)
Ronda Rousey leaves the arena with sister Julia De Mars and mother AnnMaria De Mars after her win. (USAT)

Yet, they were hardly missed. The card did a $2.65 million live gate and attracted a slew of celebrities, all of whom were on their feet roaring as Rousey stomped to the cage to the strains of Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation."

"Staples Center in Los Angeles, 17,654 people, a gate of almost $3 million and pay-per-view trends have been very nice," UFC president Dana White said. "It's looking like it's going to be a good pay-per-view. No women in the history of combat sports have ever done anything remotely close to this. Coming from a guy who said he'd never do women's MMA, I'm getting kicked in the face with that one.

"But nobody could have predicted how insane this would be."

It's all because of Rousey, who besides being a brilliant marketer is that brilliant athlete who is never satisfied.

Her mother related a story about how frustrated her then-13-year-old daughter got when she couldn't throw her 41-year-old opponent.

"Ronda refuses to lose, and even if somebody is much bigger, much stronger, she will find a way," De Mars said. "She was 13 and she was fighting this guy who had been the All-Japan champion. He'd come to our club to work out. He was an adult man, in his 40s and he was working out. And he was throwing her.

"She was crying all the way home. She said, 'Mom, I couldn't throw him. No matter what, I couldn't throw him.' She didn't think, 'The guy's twice my size. He's the All-Japan champion and I'm 13 and I'm a green belt.' She thought, 'I ought to be able to beat him.' That is what you look for."

Rousey said she's going to take a break to film another movie. The only opponent who appears to have an even remote chance to beat her is not even in the UFC.

Ronda Rousey works for a submission on Saturday. (USAT)
Ronda Rousey works for a submission on Saturday. (USAT)

Cris "Cyborg" Justino is fighting at featherweight in Invicta, and she stopped Charmaine Tweet in under a minute on Friday in Los Angeles. That prompted even more calls for a fight with Rousey, though Justino has never made the bantamweight division's 135-pound limit.

"Judo" Gene LeBell, one of Rousey's coaches, scoffed at the notion that Justino would give Rousey a run for the money.

"Ronda would annihilate her," LeBell said, sounding almost offended by the question.

She's annihilating just about everyone she faces and is making it look increasingly easier.

A heartbroken Zingano pleaded with White for another chance at the title. Normally, White would scoff at such a request, but there aren't many legitimate challengers left, so it's possible she could win a few fights and get a second chance.

"I need fighters [who can challenge her]," White said.

It's a problem, but it's the kind of problem every promoter dreams of having.

He's got the biggest star in the sport who is so much better than her peers, she's lapping the field. Fans come to see her much like they did for Mike Tyson, eager to see the carnage she can bring.

She brings it every time, and with it, she brings down the house.

As far as the UFC is concerned, there are no brighter stars than Ronda Rousey.

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