One year later: Ronda Rousey reflects on her WWE journey

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Ronda Rousey woke up Thursday morning with a lot of mouths to feed -- six goats, four ducks, three dogs, a steer and a bunch of chickens. Her husband, Travis Browne, recently had ankle surgery, so as soon as she got home from her latest WWE appearance to the ranch they reside in east of Los Angeles, it became her job to take care of the animals.

"I feed them all, clean out the duck pond, change their water, put the chicks up in the hen house, put the goats in the barn, let out Kobe, our steer, so he can run around and have the whole property to himself at night. And I put up Millie, our donkey, because her and Kobe don't get along and have to be separated," Rousey explains, proudly.

One day this will be her whole life, she says. She'll walk around barefoot with her kids and telling the rest of the world to leave her alone.

"I'll be on some mountain, saying, 'Nice to see you!'" she says with a laugh. "And I'll have the high ground ready for you when the world ends."

Rousey has talked about this kind of escapist fantasy for years. Of creating a life with no public obligations or the hassles of celebrity. It becomes very appealing when she's on the road for weeks, or dealing with paparazzi outside a Starbucks, or pregnancy rumors. There is a part of her that absolutely wants to escape all that into private citizenship someday. It's why she and Browne bought the ranch -- which they call Browsey Acres -- for her to retreat to as often as her WWE schedule will allow.

But it's hard to see, after how successful her first year in professional wrestling has been -- and how much she clearly enjoys it -- any way she'll be able to fade from public view soon.

"It's kind of cool to see, not just how I've changed from the beginning of this year, but how people's expectations have changed," she says, just a few days in advance of this year's Royal Rumble in Phoenix.

One year ago, at the 2018 Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, Rousey made her WWE debut.

"I think that everyone thought that my wrestling debut would be a big ol' mess, that my first single [fight] would be super lame. And now it's just kind of ... we've got them hooked. People want to see what's gonna happen next ..."

When will she have a rematch with Charlotte Flair after their showstopper at Survivor Series in October? When will she finally meet Becky Lynch? What will happen with Rousey's friends, Shayna Baszler, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke, who all wrestle professionally with NXT?

"I didn't think I'd be any good as an actual wrestler. I thought I would be pretty much just a gimmick that got old after a couple of months." Ronda Rousey

Currently, Rousey is the WWE Raw women's champion and this weekend she's facing four-time Raw women's champion Sasha Banks.

"I've been very extremely respectful to Sasha Banks and I haven't received any of that respect back," she says of the storyline. "I feel like I've never gotten respect where it's due, and she feels like I basically get a bunch of opportunities that I haven't earned because I have been here less than a year and I already have a title."

Rousey delivers the line with feeling, because that's how her new world works.

"The more people think that we hate each other the better," she says. "It's like being in 'Game of Thrones.' The chick that's playing Daenerys and the chick that's playing Cersei, those actors don't actually hate each other but the more that they can get you invested in it, the more successful 'Game of Thrones' is.

"If I'm playing Cersei, I don't give a s--- if you hate Cersei's guts, I care that you love 'Game of Thrones.'"

That willingness to be hated or booed is part of being good at this, too.

"In Los Angeles they booed me out of the stadium in my hometown," she says of her infamous fight against Flair at Survivor Series. "Now I know how the Dodgers feel."

Of course the Dodgers didn't leave their home field with blood dripping from their mouth, like Rousey did after Flair hit her repeatedly with a kendo stick.

"Sometimes I don't feel like I'm acting or selling anything," she explains. "Whatever we're doing in that moment, I'm so wrapped up in it that I really believe it. I've really convinced myself of all of this, 'Oh my God it hurts so bad!'"

When Rousey joined the WWE last year (on a two-year contract), there was some question as to how much she would appear and whether it would be enough to win over hard-core fans who'd be skeptical of her celebrity.

She had those same questions, actually.

"I didn't think I'd be any good as an actual wrestler," she says. "I thought I would be pretty much just a gimmick that got old after a couple of months."

She'd grown up as a pro wrestling fan and knew how the audience would view her. If she was going to succeed and be taken seriously, she'd have to put the time in. Not just at the high-profile events a few times a year in major cities and venues, but at Raw stops and live events all over the country.

"I really wanted to get good at it and I needed to get time and practice," she says. "So the more that I do it, the more that I realize that I really love it. The more that I love it, the more I really, really want to be good at it. The more I really, really want to be good at it, the more that I really want to be there so I can get even better at it. I have that type of personality."

If that's the case, why would she spend so much effort perfecting her craft only to leave the WWE to start a family after WrestleMania in April, as some reports have suggested?

"I honestly don't know why [anyone] feels like [they're] an authority to speak on the plans for my uterus," she says. "If I responded every single time the world speculated what I was doing with my womb I would not have a free moment in the day.

"I really don't feel like I should have to respond to that kind of thing. It's my vagina, my life, keep the speculations to yourself. Leave me and my reproductive organs alone."

Yes, at some point soon Rousey says she wants to have a family. But that doesn't mean she'll leave the WWE because of it. There are, as one source close to the situation put it, "plenty of ways for her to stay involved" once she has children.

There are also a number of entertainment projects she has produced or is producing, such as "Why We Fight," which was nominated for a Sports Emmy, or a scripted show called "Strong Girl," based on one of the most popular shows in Korea.

So the farm and the kids on the mountain and the animals remain a temporary respite and an escapist fantasy.

"I've not kept it a secret that I would definitely want to start a family," Rousey says. "But how do you go about doing that? I love this way more than I thought that I would. So do you just keep going until you just happen to get pregnant? Or should you stop and go try and get pregnant? Or is going and trying to get pregnant putting yourself on the spot and then you're less likely to get pregnant? I've never had a baby before, I don't know these kinds of things.

"It would be kind of cool to just keep acting and then one day, 'Hey, surprise twist, I'm pregnant.' That would be fun. There's a lot of things up in the air. A lot of decisions that we've gotta make as a family. I'm trying to figure it out as I go along."