Rousey the last fighter in need of protection

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
2:00
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Gross By Josh Gross
ESPN.com
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On the list of things I have trouble accepting is the notion that Ronda Rousey somehow needs protection from other humans.

Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the first female titleholder in the UFC hasn't been immune from this kind of talk throughout her short career.

Hey, haters gonna hate. But this is more than that.

Fighters, members of the media, even insiders at Zuffa ... they've felt compelled to suggest Rousey is currently being handled -- that is, positioned as advantageously as possible without the specter of a real threat.

That Liz Carmouche, her challenger on Saturday, is the safest fight the UFC could have made for Rousey.

That real opponents, like Cris "Cyborg" Santos, are being kept away for fear of running a potential box office star into the ground.

That UFC president Dana White is such a fan he's willing to manipulate Rousey's career in the cage with the goal of keeping her "safe." (Yet, when has any UFC champion received such treatment?)

Even if there's truth to any of that, is there no worse place to hide than the Octagon? Fighters who aren't good enough will get exposed. That's how it's been. That's always how it will be.

This is part of the reason it's comical to envision a girl with a chainsaw for a mother and a competitive background straight out of Sparta requiring, let alone accepting, a professional life jacket.

If Carmouche isn't up to snuff -- a judgment I'm not willing to make, though Rousey is deservedly a significant favorite -- others will be. The UFC is introducing a new division on Saturday, not just a new champion. It takes time to cultivate serious threats, the type Rousey has always pursued. They'll come and if Rousey is as good as she appears to be, she'll eagerly meet those challenges.

The more Rousey's story has gotten play leading up to her Feb. 23 title defense against Carmouche at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif., the clearer it is that she has all the makings of a special breed.

Among the most frequent questions I hear when talking mixed martial arts is: "Why do these people feel compelled to step in a cage and fight?"

There's no such thing as standard definition of a fighter. MMA is a melting pot. Athletes come from troubled backgrounds. Many found the sport because it offered a new level of competitiveness. Many need to make rent, and waiting tables sounds like hell compared to an elbow to the eye socket.

Rousey walked a path marked with tribulation and triumph. Were it not for those highs and lows, she never would have been positioned like she is today.

Losing her father to suicide made Rousey angry. (Fuel.) Losing a father to suicide meant a new life for a struggling family. (Matchsticks.) Losing a father to suicide meant her mom, the grizzly, needed to snap her child out of a funk. (Boom.) At no point was sheltering part of the equation.

[+] EnlargeRonda Rousey
Kari Hubert/Forza LLC via Getty ImagesTo imply that Ronda Rousey would need -- or even desire -- protection from the UFC would be to ignore the experiences that shaped her.
Prior to beating Miesha Tate for the Strikeforce 135-pound title last year, Rousey outlined in the Telegraph how lame it was for anyone to label her protected.

When she was 11, doing judo, she broke a big toe. It was her first "serious" injury. Rousey's mother, Dr. Ann Maria Rousey DeMars, a judo world champion, didn't care about her daughter's tears. Rousey was told to run laps around the mat, and she did. The lesson was: "Sometimes you have to fight when you're injured. You need to know you're capable of that."

When Rousey was 15, three broken bones in her foot didn't stop mom from sending her daughter upstate without a coach to a judo tournament hosted by one of her fiercest rivals at the time.

The lesson there, Rousey wrote, "You need to know you can win anyway."

By the time she was 16, having endured smashed noses, cauliflowered ears and black eyes aplenty, Rousey tore an ACL in practice. Mom made her finish training that night and made her return to the gym in the morning. As it turned out the ACL was shredded. So as she recovered from surgery, Rousey found other ways to train, other ways to improve.

Rousey wrote about having her arm snapped at a German judo competition. She mentioned that she wouldn't stop. Refused to stop. She won. She wrote about tearing the meniscus in her knee a week before a major competition, only to soldier on and win bronze. On and on and on.

Three days before her first pro fight, Rousey was bitten by a pit bull and needed nine stitches in her foot. Her response was to ask the doctor if she risked permanent injury by competing. He said no, so she went ahead and won in 25 seconds.

This is the last woman who needs protecting.

To say otherwise is to ignore Rousey's experience on this planet so far.

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