Ronda Rousey in nothing but a smile

Body Issue 2012: Ronda Rousey (1:44)

Go behind the scenes for the making of ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue with Ronda Rousey. (1:44)

Why did you decide to pose for the Body Issue?
RR: I look at it as art. It's not about showing people naked; it's about showing the limits of the human body.

If you could write your description of your body, what would it say?
RR: Svelte. It means you can be muscular without being masculine -- more like streamlined and agile. Women don't have to trade their femininity for athleticism. I can be a fighter and be tough yet still retain my femininity. I want people to know you don't have to look like an anorexic 8-year-old to be a beautiful woman. Skinny girls look good in clothes, but fit chicks look good naked.

What do you like about MMA?
RR: The only time I'm entirely present is when I'm fighting, with 100 percent of every thought focused on that very second. There is a ref and a crowd, but I'm totally focused and spotlighting every bit of myself on my opponent. It's peaceful. I'm not nervous, I'm not scared, I'm not angry. I just feel this deep focus, and I'm able to observe everything without thinking of anything else.

How do you view your opponent in the ring?
RR: She is my biggest care in the world. I treat her as if she is going to try to kill me. And I respect opponents so much that I almost have to hate them. This sport is unlike any other. If I screw up in curling, I might put a rock into someone's ankle. In MMA, there are serious repercussions. That sense of danger makes you feel alive.

What are some misconceptions about women's MMA?
RR: Female fighters are not intense or aggressive. They're way calmer than other girls. They're more like hippies than warriors. MMA is one of the best outlets for any violent thought. I have every single aggressive impulse wrangled out of me every day to the point that when I get home, I don't even want to watch action movies. It's just happy, My Little Ponies and hugs.

Talk about your first fight.
RR: A boy tried to take my lunch money in sixth grade. I was this little blond girl wearing a Gap shirt with a butterfly on it. He grabbed me by the throat, so I threw him to the concrete and busted open the back of his head. He had to go the emergency room, and I got sent to anger management. When my mom came to school she was like, "I can't believe this," but at the same time she was giving me a wink and a nod like, "Good job. I secretly approve of this, but I have to yell at you in front of the vice principal."

What's your favorite body part?
RR: My butt. I'm half-Venezuelan, but I'm blond, so my butt is the only proof. I also have these riblet, Rocky ab muscles up by my ribs. I got them from MMA. I never got anything like that from judo.

Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
RR: I went through high school with complete self-loathing. I would try to lose weight to make my body look a certain way. But you can't make your body one way to make yourself happy. Get happy first then worry about your body. As soon as I started to change my workouts to "What do I want to do?" instead of "What do I feel like I have to do?" everything came organically. One day I looked in the mirror: "Oh, I have abs. What do you know?"

When I was in school, martial arts made you a dork. I was a 16-year-old girl with ringworm and cauliflower ears. I didn't know how to put makeup on. I wore baggy clothes. People made fun of my arms and called me Miss Man. It wasn't until I got older that I realized, "Wait, these people are idiots. I'm fabulous." I was 23 when I was like, "I'm going to make my mind up to like myself, because you know what? The only person beating myself down is me." I realized that everything making me unhappy was in my control. How you feel is in your head, how you motivate yourself is in your head. For some reason, that's how easy it was. People don't want to think it's that simple, but it really is.

What is the most difficult thing you put your body through?
RR: Striking and sparring are the most taxing. When we have a hard sparring day, we'll make that the only workout of the day. I could do judo all day long and never get tired because I've become so efficient with my body. But striking is new to me, so I'm a little more tense. Everything is a little more tiring, and I have to think about things more. I've done judo for 15 years, so there's nothing I have to think twice about. Doing a round of judo is like brushing my hair.

Why do you only spar with men?
RR: Female training partners are hard to find. We've only had one girl last longer than a minute and 15 seconds. Two female partners told me I hit too hard and never came back. I was just trying to work with them. But it's, "That's it," or "Okay, I'm done," and they leave. So I grab guys and hit them around instead. They don't complain.

What is the most unusual training you have ever done?
RR: Isolation before fights. I've been put in a rocky forest cabin, a dungeon of a weight room, a corporate apartment surrounded by aspiring actors. The point is that before I fight, I'm extremely isolated. The people I live with aren't fighters. They have a completely different mindset. My roommate is amazing, but he will make delicious bread and dangle it in my face. My trainers need to put me into a mode where I'm entirely focused on the fight and nothing else, so I don't see my friends or family until after the fight. I'm dieting and training and lonely, and I'm mean! And then after the fight, it's "Okay, get her some hot wings and let her hang out with her friends so she calms down." When it's over, I like that there's nothing about fighting at my house. I can escape from it. I get asked if I party after fights. No. I sit on a couch. I play Donkey Kong. I eat junk food for two weeks.

What training can't you live without?
RR: Grappling. It's my bread and butter, and it's what I'm good at. I understand all the concepts, so I can make things up and be creative. Grappling is where I'm most able to think without thinking. I kind of go on this autopilot mode where I see everything going on, and I'm able to make sense of the situation and deal with it.

What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any more?
RR: I tell myself that I can force my body to do anything. If my little sister's life depended on me finishing a certain circuit, of course I would do it. If a woman can lift up a car to save her kid, I can finish any workout. It won't kill me. I don't need that situation to force my body to that limit. I just have to decide to be that motivated.

What's something about your body that would surprise us?
RR: I'm like a Monet. From far away, I can look like a prissy model, but when you come closer, you see the scars and the wear and tear of a fighter. That's probably the most surprising thing. I can put on an evening gown and walk around batting my eyelashes, but if I need to prove that I know how to throw down, I flip my hair over and show a gnarly ear.

What injuries have you endured?
RR: Knee surgeries, separated AC joint, broken collarbone, broken more toes than I can count, broken foot, sprains in my knees and ankles. I've dislocated my elbow so many times that my ligaments are loose. I've broken my nose a couple of times; I have a deviated septum. My nose just squishes back, so I can get punched as much as I want and it's not going to deform. What can I say? It's a dangerous job.

Do you feel pain?
RR: I feel pain, but I acknowledge pain. Whenever I'm in pain or tired, I look at it as information being sent to my brain. Then I can take that information and decide what to do with it. My body is telling me it's in pain because it thinks I should stop, but I can beg to differ.

What was your best athletic moment -- a time when everything clicked and you felt completely in tune with your body?
RR: In 2007, I went through the whole Europe tour and needed to win a World Cup to pay my bills. The Hungarian World Cup was the last tournament, so it was the one I had to win. I went to the executive director and told him I was going to win and that he was going to take us out to eat because I wanted a nice steak in Budapest. For some reason, I was convinced there wasn't a person on earth who could stop me, and I walked through everyone in that tournament. It was a small tournament no one has heard of, but there wasn't a shadow of doubt in my mind that I would walk out of there with a gold medal on my way to a nice, fat steak.

What do you want people to know about you?
RR: I don't care about people's opinions. Nonfans pay tickets just as well as real fans. I just want them to remember me. I'm trying to be the most dangerous unarmed woman in the world while also being as pretty and feminine as possible. I want to be remembered as somebody who had zero respect for the limits placed in front of her.

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