Winning is so important to Ronda Rousey that she delayed Christmas.
Well, that might be stretching the truth. But Rousey did say she and her family will be celebrating Christmas on Jan. 2, 2014, with her Dec. 28 title bout against Miesha Tate so close to the holiday.
“We’re sort of pretending it’s not Christmas right now,” Rousey told ESPN.com on Christmas Eve. “My nieces are all excited right now for it, but we’re going to get this fight done and celebrate after.”
The UFC women’s bantamweight champion is no Scrooge; she’s just laser-focused on the fight.
It’s been a busy year for Rousey. She had almost as much going on outside of the Octagon (filming "Fast and Furious 7") as she has had in it. And all during the Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” viewers witnessed a different side of Rousey -- one that was caustic, abrasive, confrontational and at times seemingly immature. She’s taken showers of criticism and perhaps lost a few fans along the way. She was particularly dismissive of Tate, which subsequently defined very clearly who was wearing the black hat and who was wearing the white hat in Season 18, much to Rousey’s chagrin.
She says what viewers saw was definitely not who she is at home.
“That whole show was out of context,” she said. “My first priority was to help those kids develop and win fights. But when I saw her being disingenuous to the kids, I thought it was morally wrong, and my inner mommy took over.
“I wasn’t concerned with creating controversy. But everything was edited in a way that made it look like I was doing that and put my team in a negative light.”
Make no mistake, there isn’t any love lost between Rousey and Tate. But while some deem Rousey dismissive of Tate’s abilities, others might simply see a fighter with supreme confidence in herself, especially against an opponent she’s beaten handily in the past. The fact that Rousey sincerely dislikes Tate only accents that dismissive perception.
“Look, I can't just shake someone's hand and smile in her face when I know they’re stabbing me in the back,” Rousey said. “But I won't take her lightly. This is a fight, and I'm training for a title defense.”
Undefeated in the UFC, Rousey has taken a different approach in her strategy for this fight. Rather than only studying how to beat Tate, she’s studied her own fights and figured out with her coaches how to beat ... herself.
“Opponents vary so much, you can get overconfident, take unnecessary risks,” Rousey said. “Instead of looking at how to beat Miesha, we studied how to beat me. Because against Miesha all I did was basically take her down and arm-barred her. Actually, I thought it was funny her nickname was ‘Takedown,’ and I took her down so easily.”
Indeed, Tate’s 20 percent takedown defense is subpar for a fighter with the deep wrestling background that Tate possesses. This is especially dangerous considering Rousey’s prolific takedown rate (per 15 minutes) of 8.01. Tate will have to keep the fight standing -- something with which Liz Carmouche had some success against Rousey 10 months ago.
Rivalries and show-womanship
The other factor to keep in mind is Rousey’s flair for promoting fights. Indeed, when Gina Carano piqued interest in women’s MMA with her abilities and good looks, Cyborg for her brutality, neither Carano or Cyborg was ever as vociferous in promoting of the sport as Rousey has been. Certainly Rousey has been backed by the promotional machine that is the UFC -- an advantage Carano never had in Strikeforce -- but in the fight business, that show-womanship has proved critical, along with Rousey’s championship abilities.
Admittedly, Rousey knows that’s part of the game. But Rousey-Tate II is co-main event.
“Look, it’s hard to sell a fight like this, especially considering I’ve beaten her already,” Rousey said.
And rivalries can’t be one-sided. Rousey’s first-round submission of Tate seemed so lopsided, it’s comes as little surprise Rousey is a minus-800 favorite coming into the fight.
But Rousey is used to having a target on her back; even throughout her judo career there was always one judoka she’d meet up at different levels and tournaments all around the world. And when there is that rivalry, it gets her that much more focused.
“It makes me sharper,” Rousey said. “The rivalry kind of helps you focus on that one person. And since I’m familiar with her, sure there’s some extra motivation there, more than if I was fighting some random chick in a tournament.
“This is a combat sport. You’re one on one with someone. It’s hard not to be focused and motivated on that one person you’re facing.”
But motivation is different than emotions.
“I don’t ever walk into the Octagon with emotion,” Rousey said. “I don’t try to recreate emotions before the fight. It’s just business as usual for me. You can’t walk in there distracted by emotion. There’s no space for it.”
So for all the vitriol and diatribes from fans and commentators about the “rivalry” between the two, don’t expect a flood of Tate-hate to envelop Rousey as she enters the Octagon on Saturday, although she admits her coaches did indulge her one day during fight camp. It was reminiscent of a prank Tate pulled on TUF.
“They did put a picture of Miesha on a heavy bag other things, so I got to beat on that for a day,” Rousey laughed. “It was only a day, and that picture got destroyed.”