MMA / Sports

Rousey focuses on fighting McMann first, acting second

LOS ANGELES -- Ronda Rousey, the world's top female mixed martial arts fighter, is also an emerging film star whose attention to both crafts might inspire alarm among MMA fans that her two careers can't coexist.

Yet, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White feels no such worry, as he sends Rousey out as the main-event star of UFC 170 Saturday night in Las Vegas to defend her bantamweight title against unbeaten former Olympic wrestling medalist Sara McMann.

"Doesn't trouble me at all," White said. "We've had fighters do films. It wasn't their future. I do believe this is Ronda Rousey's future and I believe she can handle it. She's a workaholic, super-strong mentally, and whatever she sets her mind to, she nails."

Rousey, 27, the Riverside County, Calif.-born, 2008 Olympic judo bronze medalist, was the first woman signed by the UFC in 2012. Since then, she headlined a February 2013 main event at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., beating Liz Carmouche with a seventh-consecutive first-round armbar submission, and has struck four film deals.

She has completed a supporting role in the seventh "Fast and Furious" film, alongside Vin Diesel and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, as well as a part in "The Expendables 3," filmed in the hills of Bulgaria with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I'm a fighter, not an actress," Rousey told a crowd of media last week at her gym in Glendale, Calif. "I know there's a short shelf life in MMA, though, so I like having more ways to make history."

She also has a deal to appear in the film version of the HBO series "Entourage," and is committed to the movie version of the popular counterterrorism book, "The Athena Project."

Rousey (8-0) admitted to suffering from some ring rust, following a nine-month fighting hiatus, during her third-round armbar triumph Dec. 28 over Miesha Tate. "I had 10 weeks without any sparring," Rousey said.

But White is confident his 135-pound champion can effectively juggle the responsibilities that come with working hard, while trying "to make as much money as she possibly can," he said.

UFC Chairman Lorenzo Fertitta says Rousey is the organization's second-most popular fighter, behind only middleweight Anderson Silva, and that she will fight three times this year.

Only minutes after Rousey beat Tate, White announced Rousey's next fight against McMann (a 2004 silver medalist).

"I'd like to see her fight every month if she could, but three fights a year would be great," Fertitta said.

Rousey is due to start filming "Entourage" in mid-March. But she admitted being "uncomfortable" at discussing her film work with the unbeaten McMann awaiting.

"I've been avoiding talking about movies for so long," Rousey said. "It's more a peripheral thing to me now. I want to keep my focus on the fight."

Other MMA fighters have been lured to Hollywood, including Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Gina Carano.

"It comes down to communication and being organized, and I believe that's who Ronda is," Fertitta said. "It's a plus for us, in that she's building her awareness, popularity and stardom. She'll fight for us when it fits into her schedule. We just have to work together."

Despite Rousey's concern about ring rust, Fertitta is confident she can handle three fights a year. "She's only getting more recognizable and famous, and she's already carrying cards for us," he said.

Rousey had also landed a marketing deal with Nike.

Her surge in popularity has irked UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who recently complained that her acclaim is the result of the UFC "pushing" her "really hard."

White said any sour grapes ring hollow.

"Look and learn, boys," White said. "It's all about how hard she's willing to work. Follow her lead, boys."

Rousey said she understands the film work came as a result of her dominance, attraction and charisma as an MMA fighter, and thus strives to remain unbeaten in the octagon.

Rousey promises a victory over McMann. "My best performances come when I have the shortest amount of time" between fights, Rousey said.

In her last fight, Rousey repeatedly tossed Tate to the canvas with judo moves, and her striking, especially to the body, has improved. She also dissed Tate's offer of a post-fight handshake for what Rousey said was a repayment for Tate being unprofessional -- and that enhanced Rousey's tough-girl reputation.

Rousey credits her mother, a former judo world champion, with guiding her as a teenager to develop an unorthodox style.

"I'd go to four to five different gyms a week, to get different styles, different defenses, to develop a hybrid style that is difficult to train for," Rousey recalled.

"Then, when I blew my knee out when I was 16, I had to learn a whole new style that didn't involve my right leg at all, and had to double the throws. I spent an entire year training on the ground, which no one in judo does. So it was a series of coincidences, lucky advantages."

The good fortune has continued, and Rousey's confidence has soared because of it.

"I know I'm going to win," she said.

(c)2014 Los Angeles Times

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