It's been 11 years since UFC star Ronda Rousey rolled on a judo mat with her mom, world champion AnnMaria De Mars. These were the sessions in which Rousey developed her earliest inkling of what it took to be world-class, an Olympian. What it felt like to struggle and fall short. What it took to persevere. Parent versus offspring, one-on-one hoops in a driveway, this was not.
Then one day at a judo club in West Los Angeles, De Mars, sprightly and vicious, whose competitive demeanor a friend once described as "wicked intention," underestimated her kid.
"I don't remember how it happened," Rousey said. "I don't because she didn't even let me know she was hurt. She fractured her wrist and was like, 'Eh.' My mom's tough like that.
"She told me years later that she broke her wrist. She didn't let me know anything hurt, but that was the last time she rolled with me."
De Mars, 44 at the time, mentioned nothing because she wanted to avoid giving Rousey heartache. Either way, toppling mom wasn't a trophy. This wasn’t a case of knocking the queen from her perch and feeling good about it.
"I didn't know, so there wasn't a day when I said, 'Oh, I got Mom today!' " said the UFC champion, who puts her belt on the line Saturday in a rematch against Miesha Tate in Las Vegas. "I don't even remember what day that was. Or how it happened. I feel bad about it though."
Rousey did recall that they were doing "randori judo" -- essentially open sparring. Her world champion mother described the situation more along the lines of technique drilling. The point was: Mom didn't think her fierce daughter could finish a throw against her.
Then it happened.
"I didn't really think I was going to go, you know, so I put my hand out and she caught me," De Mars said. A rookie mistake. Among the first things a judo student learns -- any practitioner of martial arts, really -- is how to fall. The point is to foil gravity while keeping bones intact and craniums from hitting the floor. De Mars would "always, always, always tell kids don't reach for the mat."
But that didn't stop her from pulling a white-belt move and sticking her hand out.
De Mars didn't let on in the dojo about the injury. Or at home. But sitting at her desk typing was a different story. Eventually she realized it wasn't something she could just shake off. Rousey wouldn't find out until a couple of years later. By then she was 17, striving to compete internationally, and had accordingly increased her intensity and level of training.
Rousey was "skinny and scrawny" and, as she is today, gifted athletically. She did fine against adult women, in part because -- like mother, like daughter -- she just attacked. Said De Mars: "Even if she didn't always score, the fact that she didn't give up, those kids will eventually get you."
As Rousey matured, she was purposefully steered toward more challenging training. Mom was an aging parent, and too small, the size of an average 13-year-old. Not only did she want to avoid competing as hard as she could against her child, she knew that her diminishing speed wasn't going to help Rousey prepare for the future.
"Unless you're a crazy person, I don't think you could ever go 100 percent against your kid," De Mars said. "When you're younger, you think your parents are invincible. You go all out. But as a parent, I'm sure every dad that ever wrestled with his young son, you think you're going hard but really you're not. I think that's even more true in a sport like judo where you could seriously get hurt. When I was competing, yeah, I'd break your arm. But obviously I'm never ever, ever going to hurt my kid. I might push her face in the mat, something like that, because I want her to be ready if somebody does that to her.
"I wanted her to work with people that would challenge her more, and as you get old and slow you just can't. I think she understood. She's a pretty smart person."
As Rousey prepares to fight Tate again, she's the best known, most financially successful female mixed martial artist on the planet. With this comes exposure, and thus far the media seem to be consumed by Rousey. She's temperamental, incapable of making a passable poker face, unbearably competitive, and a great quote.
After beating Liz Carmouche in February to become the first woman to hold a UFC belt, Rousey spent much of 2013 in front of the camera, taping TUF in Las Vegas with Tate, and working in feature films “The Expendables 3” in Bulgaria and “Fast & Furious 7” in Atlanta. Questions about focus and priorities were largely dismissed by Rousey and her camp heading into Saturday’s contest.
"Ronda does not need to be reminded she has a fight coming up," her mother said.
The prospect of beating up her rival is enough motivation. Rousey dislikes Tate, perhaps even more than TUF -- she said her youngest sister, Julia, would need to be held at gunpoint before she would appear on the show again. De Mars, not surprisingly, noted that the show "pissed Ronda off,” and said if she had been in her daughter’s spot, “someone would have been hit with a chair.”
There's no doubt that Rousey's image has changed for the worse after TUF, a “calculated business move” on the part of the show’s producers, De Mars suggested.
There are plenty of reasons to watch Rousey fight, including disdain. If the UFC champion can continue to compete at her highest level, people surely will continue to care enough to love or hate the 5-foot-6 fighter.
"There's a difference between wanting to win and being willing to die in a cage, and when Ronda said [she was willing to die] people thought it was hyperbole," De Mars said. "No. No. If Miesha got Ronda in a choke, she would have to choke her unconscious. She would have to kill her for Ronda to stop. She will not.
"I think that many people who are competitive at the very top, they have that. It's more important to them than anything. When they lose that, that's when you retire. It's time to go. That's why I quit competing after the worlds. I did this. I'm done. I'm going home to have more babies. Ronda still has that 'I will kill you and eat you in front of the referee if that's what it takes to win' attitude."