Ronda Rousey: ‘Crazy’ Like a Champion

Ronda Rousey

(Ronda Rousey after successfully defending her UFC bantamweight title against Liz Carmouche in February. | Photo via Getty)

By Elias Cepeda

There seems to be a lot of chatter about Ronda Rousey’s mental state lately. The UFC women’s bantamweight champion has always gotten attention for her intensity and arm-snapping viciousness, but ever since Rousey the TUF 18 Coach began appearing on television a few weeks ago, the notion that the undefeated fighter is mentally unstable has started to pick up steam.

There was Ronda becoming infuriated when Meisha Tate dared to celebrate her own fighter’s win over Team Rousey’s Shayna Baszler. There was Ronda getting in the face of and taunting Tate’s coach/manager/boyfriend Bryan Caraway. There was Ronda kicking open the UFC gym door and screaming Tate’s team out because they’d gone approximately 30 seconds over their scheduled time. In last week’s episode, Ronda launched some of her trademark hostility against UFC vet and Team Tate assistant coach Dennis Hallman.

And then, of course, there’s Ronda crying. A lot. Like, all the time.

Not your normal, boo-hoo type of crying, either. Hers is an angry, motivated and terrifying type of cry. Former Strikeforce champion and would-be Rousey rival Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino called Rousey “mentally sick” after watching her on The Ultimate Fighter. Recently, Hallman did an interview where he recounted a story of an incident he said happened on the TUF set where Rousey told a producer of the show to shut their mouth while she was speaking to her, and then said that he believed that Ronda had mental health issues.

I’ve already written in partial jest that Rousey’s mind is evidently a dark and scary place, but is the two-time Olympian “crazy?” The simple answer is, “no.”

If Ronda Rousey is crazy, it’s the type of crazy that has become familiar to us in great competitors. Rousey isn’t an out-of-control head case, she’s a competitor. She’s not crazy, she’s a champion. And like many champions before her, Ronda is a fiercer competitor than most professional athletes. Her hyper-competitiveness, her apparent need to establish dominance in almost every and any situation, and her ability to used even perceived slights as fuel are traits Rousey shares with the likes of Michael Jordan and Anderson Silva.

Joe Rogan shared a keen observation about high-level competitors on his podcast once. He spoke about legendary athletes like Jordan, Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson and how traits of theirs that could be considered flaws, actually helped make them the champions they were.

“A lot of success in athletics comes down to almost, like, a psychosis,” Rogan said. “At a real high level of anything, there’s a certain amount of crazy behavior to get to this incredible position like Michael Jordan or Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson in his prime. There’s a madness.”

Joe Rogan on the madness of excellence

MJ not only held on to grudges longer than anyone and turned them into fifty-point games, he was also so ruthlessly competitive that he punched his own teammates in the head during practices. Ali literally, and arguably criminally, stalked Sonny Liston outside his home, and before their first fight doctors came close to not even allowing the brash young star to compete because of his erratic behavior at the weigh in and because his heart rate and blood pressure were at dangerous levels afterwards. Anderson Silva has spent more time talking and taunting and pantomiming during some fights than actually fighting. He has worn masks, kissed and shoulder-checked opponents in the face during weigh-ins.

We don’t really have to detail Mike Tyson’s crazy behavior for you, do we?

Ronda Rousey’s craziness is becoming part of her persona, but it is clear that she’s often times acting out on purpose. She’s already said that a chief part of her strategy in her rematch with Tate is to get her opponent so angry and agitated by her antics leading up to the fight that she will not fight smart — something that Rousey believes happened in their first fight and helped her win so fast.

As for how legitimately touchy Ronda appears to be at times, her mind might very well be wired differently, but it is also likely a key to all her success. Like Silva and Jordan, Rousey appears to be a master at being able to use anything to fuel and motivate herself.

And, if Rousey couldn’t manufacture extra things to motivate her in fighting Tate again, there simply might not be enough there for her to be sharp. Think about it. Ronda beat Tate already and did so quickly and decisively. Most recently, Tate went out and lost to Cat Zingano in her UFC debut. Ronda, still undefeated, now has to fight a woman who she’s already beaten and who has lost two out of her last three fights.

Chances are that Ronda needs a little extra motivation to fight Tate again and so she’s giving it to herself on this season of TUF. In the sense of living a happy and healthy life outside of or after your competitive career, are traits like hyper competitiveness, a need to dominate, and an ability to make mountains our of mole hills great for a person’s emotional health? Maybe not. Would Rousey have become a champ without those traits, though? Unlikely.

Rousey is exactly what she has needed to be to succeed. That isn’t to discount how good, dedicated and hard fighting even someone as even-tempered as Meisha Tate can be and is. Tate is an excellent fighter, but how many of Rousey’s personality critics would be willing to put their money up against the champ in their rematch? All other things being equal in a fight, this writer will always bet on the meaner, madder dog.

So far, Ronda Rousey hasn’t met anyone meaner or madder and that’s a big reason why she’s the champ.