A year ago, Ronda Rousey was a largely anonymous ex-Olympic bronze medalist who was trying to find her way as a professional in mixed martial arts.
As the 2012 London Games open, though, Rousey's profile has shot higher than that of all but a very elite cadre of athletes inside the Olympic Village.
Since winning the Strikeforce bantamweight title in March with a stunning display against Miesha Tate, Rousey has rocketed to stardom.
She appeared on the cover of ESPN The Magazine's "Body Issue." She testified before the New York legislature for the legalization of MMA in the state and then appeared before the California state assembly to testify against an MMA bill.
She is blunt in interviews and says what others think but wouldn't dare to say. She garnered major attention when she trashed Olympic hero Michael Phelps as arrogant, as well as when she urged the 2012 athletes not to forget to pack condoms.
She also didn't hide her disdain for pseudo-celebrity Kim Kardashian.
"You know what? I would beat the crap out of Kim Kardashian, actually," Rousey told the Times. "I don't want some girl whose entire fame is based on [appearing in] a sex video to be selling Skechers to my 13-year-old little sister."
On the other end of the celebrity meter, Rousey ran Carmen Electra through a workout, worked a corner in a UFC fight and along the way became a more recognizable figure in MMA than just about anyone this side of Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Georges St. Pierre.
The secret formula which has made Rousey a pop culture icon in such a brief period of time is partly due to her good looks, partly due to her tremendous athletic ability, but most of all due to her very large personality.
She defends her title for the first time Aug. 18 against the estimable former champion Sarah Kaufman at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego in the main event of a Showtime-televised card in what essentially will play out as all Ronda, all the time.
Showtime cameras have been trailing Rousey and the network plans to feature her in an All-Access show on Aug. 8. Though Kaufman's resume is elite and she's beaten a who's who of the best female fighters in the world, attention figures to be split about 99-1 in Rousey's favor.
That may irritate a few who are angered that Rousey's presence overshadows everything else in women's MMA, but it also misses a significant point: The attention paid to Rousey can only help create and increase interest in the sport. As President Kennedy said in 1963, "A rising tide lifts all boats."
Rousey insists that all she's doing is being herself. She's attracting a lot of attention because of her ability – she's 5-0, with five first-round finishes, four of which were in less than a minute – and because of her quick wit. She's always good for a great sound byte.
That shouldn't be construed, however, as Rousey forgetting why she became famous in the first place. She understands that she won't be the so-called "It Girl" for too long if she doesn't keep up her part in the cage.
As a result, she's done what she's asked to do and, wisely, taken advantage of opportunities presented to her to increase her exposure and build her personal brand. What she hasn't done, she swears, is cut corners athletically.
"I still have a lot more work to do and I have had a lot of different kind of media opportunities come up," Rousey said. "I keep the same group of people around me when I'm home. I try not to think about everything that's happened, though. It's not like I wake up in the morning and say, 'Good morning, world. I'm a star!' That just doesn't happen.
"I am just trying to do the best I can with what I have and take advantage of the opportunities to come my way. If I do a good job, more opportunities will come up. But in no way am I sitting around thinking I'm so awesome and that my job is done. I have so much more I want to do and so much I want to accomplish."
The biggest name athletes make the bulk of their money outside of competition. Tennis star Roger Federer makes $54.3 million, according to Forbes, but the bulk of it is not prize money but rather in endorsements and sponsorships.
Rousey's omnipresence has to appeal to sponsors, so she dutifully fulfills as many requests as she can.
It's had a side effect that might benefit her as a fighter, though her record would show she hardly needs the boost. And having won a championship in just her fifth fight added to her belief in herself.
"I have so much confidence from having had all these experiences," Rousey said. "It doesn't affect me in the cage the way it would somebody who wasn't used to it. I don't get tired as quickly. I'm able to keep a more level head, those kinds of things.
"Being comfortable in that environment is something you can't teach. You have to go through it and because of what I've been through, my comfort level has been increasing every day."
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