Ronda Rousey wants 'to earn' her belt

Ronda Rousey is bringing her patented armbar to the UFC women's bantamweight division. Greg Bartram/US Presswire

She will walk into the Honda Center arena in Anaheim, Calif., on Feb. 23 to defend a title belt she neither asked for nor wanted.

Women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey makes her Octagon debut in the main event at UFC 157. She will face Liz Carmouche in the first women’s bout in UFC history.

Rousey is the defending champion. It’s a designation she isn’t yet comfortable embracing. And who can blame her? The title was practically thrust upon her.

“When they [UFC] brought in the guys from WEC they gave (featherweight champion) Jose Aldo and (bantamweight champion) Dominick Cruz their belts,” Rousey told ESPN.com. “They did that to me as well when they brought the women’s division over. But I don’t feel like I’ve really earned it.

“When [UFC president] Dana [White] gave me the belt, I told him I didn’t want it, I wanted to fight for it. But he said, ‘I’m going to give it to you anyway and you can think whatever you want.’”

No disrespect to White or anyone else, but Rousey, who was the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight titleholder before that promotion officially folded in January, believes no one can be called UFC champion until they compete and win inside the Octagon.

But UFC is the largest and most successful promotion in mixed martial arts, so when White issues a directive, fighters usually go along with it. Rousey saw no need to engage White on this issue.

While Rousey remains uncomfortable with being labeled UFC champion now, she deals with it. Besides, she has a bigger matter to address on Feb. 23 -- beating Carmouche and keeping women’s mixed martial arts viable.

Unlike any other fighter, mixed martial artist or boxer, Rousey finds herself in a truly must-win situation. If she fails to defeat Carmouche, it’s very likely that every female mixed martial artist will suffer.

UFC created a women’s bantamweight division solely because of Rousey’s success and star power. There is no other women’s division in UFC, and there isn't any talk of creating others.

For now, the presence of women fighters in UFC depends on Rousey’s continued success. She needs to beat every fighter placed in front of her for the foreseeable future to ensure that women mixed martial artists remain employed by the promotion.

Carmouche, and every other female fighter, is determined to dethrone Rousey. But if they succeed, they do so at their own peril – and that of every woman on UFC’s roster.

It’s that simple.

Rousey is very much aware of the precarious situation women’s MMA finds itself in at the moment. But she is up to the task of fighting to keep women’s MMA relevant in UFC -- even if it is just the 135-pound division.

“I don’t mind having that kind of pressure on me,” Rousey said. “I feel that the more pressure there is, the more I fight above myself.

“And I like to pretend like it’s going to be the end of the world, the end of the world depends on whether or not I win the fight, because it is the end of the world for me.

“I’m fighting to win, and I’m fighting to keep women in UFC. And I’m not entertaining the idea about what will happen if I lose because I’m not going to lose.”

Rousey’s confidence is infectious. Despite such a heavy burden on her shoulders, she accepts the ordeal with a big smile on her face. She will not be deterred.

How can anyone not support this fighter who carries the weight of so many others on her shoulders?

Confidence, however, isn’t the only thing Rousey that is relying on to get her pass Carmouche. She remains humble. Despite being a gifted athlete, Rousey never takes an opponent for granted. She isn’t looking past Carmouche (8-2).

“[Carmouche] is a very dangerous fighter,” Rousey said. “My last opponent, Sarah Kaufman, was also a former champion in Strikeforce. And was a very good striker, very disciplined. But she was very predictable and very easy to prepare for.

“Whereas with Liz, there are fights when she comes out with flying knees, or fights when she comes in with spinning back fists, or fights when she comes in throwing a right kick followed by a right hook right away. She’s very unorthodox and very unpredictable.

“There are girls who’ve underestimated her before. She fought for the Strikeforce title against Marloes Coenen and dominated [Coenen] for four rounds and made one mistake and got caught in a triangle sent from God and lost the fight.

“She is just the type of person you don’t underestimate, and I haven’t been in the least. I don’t care what people are saying or what oddsmakers are saying, I still consider myself an underdog in every single fight.”

That’s Rousey: never one to rest on her impressive laurels. No wonder she seems to become more dominant with each fight.

Rousey has won all six of her professional bouts by arm-bar submission. She also used the technique to finish all three of her amateur opponents in the opening round.

Her proficiency on the ground might cause some to question whether she is a one-trick pony. What will happen if Rousey finds herself in a standup battle or has to venture into the second round?

“I’m prepared for everything,” Rousey said. “I train to be a mixed martial artist, not to be an arm-bar specialist. I train to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“The first round actually was always my worst. I used to call it first-rounditis when I was doing judo.

“It’s so funny to hear all these girls say, ‘If I get her out of the first round, I’m going to see the defeat in her eyes.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m just opening up. You don’t want to see what the second round looks like.’”

Maybe we’ll get to see the post-first-round Rousey on Feb. 23. But be prepared; it could get frightening.