Exclusive interview: Ronda Rousey discusses her new memoir, the WWE Hall of Famer who inspired her and whether we’ll see her in a WWE ring again
Ronda Rousey isn’t just a champion of her chosen profession. She’s a certified rock star.
That became apparent at WrestleMania 31 last March, specifically the moment when 76,976 sports-entertainment revelers exploded with delight at the sight of a WWE ring being occupied for the first time by the greatest pound-for-pound female mixed martial artist alive today. The WWE Universe witnessed Rousey for the first time on The Grandest Stage of Them All, but already knew her well from her Olympics and MMA achievements as well as her starring roles in films like "The Expendables," "Furious 7" and the upcoming "Entourage."
Rousey’s resume is well documented, but the triumphs and tragedies that brought her to this point are shared with unflinching honesty in "My Fight / Your Fight," a new memoir she co-wrote with her sister, Maria Burns Ortiz. Rousey recently spoke with WWE.com about the details of her new book, the afterglow of her WrestleMania appearance and the influences that helped cultivate her larger-than-life personality.
WWE.COM: Why was now a good time to publish your memoir?
RONDA ROUSEY: Well, it just seemed like so much has happened that if I wait until the end of my career, it's going to be a thousand-page book. And I honestly wouldn't have done it now if it didn't just happen that my sister’s an award-winning sports journalist, and she would be able to write it with me. So, everything just kind of fell together and I was really happy to do such a big project like this with her. We're a lot closer now because of it.
WWE.COM: There was a moment early on in "My Fight / Your Fight" where you reference how one of the things that was appealing to you with judo was that it didn't allow you much time for introspection, that it was very much reactionary and in the moment. Was it difficult for you to be very candid and open? Because you can't just say a couple of quick lines and get through a memoir.
ROUSEY: No, not at all because I did it with Maria. Every single word in that book was spoken from the heart to somebody that I really love, that went through a lot of those experiences with me.
WWE.COM: One of those candid stories was that it took you a while to actually start speaking as a kid. There was an episode that occurred at a very young age, around three years old, where you were unable to communicate your wish for a Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy.
ROUSEY: No, I remember the "Balgrin." (Ed. Note: As she reveals in "My Fight / Your Fight," "Balgrin" was the word Rousey substituted for Hulk Hogan, a name she was literally unable to annunciate as a young child.) I remember even going into toy stores and seeing the toy, and not being able to tell anyone that that's the one that I wanted. And then we would have to go to another toy store and another toy store and it was very, very frustrating. But when I finally got him, it was just ... it's hard to forget being that happy.
WWE.COM: Do you remember why you preferred Hogan as opposed to "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior or some of the others that were available?
ROUSEY: I was just a little three-year-old kid and I loved Hulk Hogan. And when you're a three-year-old kid, you don't list off the reasons. I was just drawn to him. He was always my favorite, even in the video games and everything like that. He was the one that I always remembered and liked the most.
WWE.COM: In the book, you mentioned that his arm was ripped off. Do you remember how that happened?
ROUSEY: Oh, it happened over and over, like several times.
WWE.COM: So there was emergency surgery?
ROUSEY: It was sewed on a lot. I don't remember how I originally did it; I was just really rough on him.
NEXT PAGE: Rousey discusses Gene LeBell and the story of her "Rowdy" nickname
WWE.COM: Gene LeBell, who wrestling fans know quite well going back to his territorial days in California and his influence on everyone from Roddy Piper to Daniel Bryan, has been a big part of your life. Could you speak a bit about your relationship with him?
ROUSEY: Growing up, I never knew that Gene was as famous and as legendary as he is. To me, he was just “Uncle Gene.” And I remember, at one of my first judo tournaments, he came up to me and gave me one of his patches. It said, "Break a Leg," meaning good luck. I never knew until I was much older, actually, like after I already retired from judo and was getting into MMA, when he gave me his autobiography. I read it and I was shocked. I never knew. I knew that he did judo and was like the big ol' bada** back in the day, but I never knew. He's so humble that he never talks about everything that he's done. And so, it's something that I discovered way later. I was like, "Uncle Gene, how did you never tell me all of this?"
Which submission move was named after Gene LeBell?
WWE.COM: Was there anything in particular that surprised you once you had the revelation of everything he accomplished?
ROUSEY: The main thing that surprised me is that he was in the first ever sanctioned and televised MMA match. I had no clue about that. I had no clue that he and his mom ran the whole Olympic Auditorium, had a huge influence in boxing and that Muhammad Ali specifically asked for him to referee. And that he would go to Bruce Lee and John Wayne and everybody... and there was so much, that he got remarried on a motorcycle going 60 miles per hour. There are plenty of things that I was surprised to learn.
WWE.COM: Was he also the connection to Roddy Piper when you were going about asking for permission about the "Rowdy" nickname?
ROUSEY: Yes, yes he was. Hayastan, the gym that Gene runs, just opened a new location and they were having a grand opening party. Roddy came for support, and it was right before I made my amateur debut. And so, I asked Gene if I could ask [Piper] for permission to use the name. So, Gene brought me up to him, and I was like, "Hey, is it okay if I use 'Rowdy' for my upcoming fight?" He's like, "Yeah, sure, kid, whatever." He probably thought it was nothing. And Gene was standing right there, being like, "If you don't let her use your name, I'll burn your house down!" You know, that's kind of the Gene thing. He was always cool with it from the very beginning. And once I got the blessing, I didn't hesitate to use it. But before I did, I thought it might not be right without permission. So, Gene got me the permission and now the "Rowdy" legacy lives on.
Ronda Rousey discusess possible WWE return on "Piper's Pit" podcast
WWE.COM: Another little subplot in the book was the changes in your entrance music. In going from The Exploited to Rage Against the Machine to Joan Jett’s "Bad Reputation," was there anything in particular like that you were looking for in terms of choosing an entrance music?
ROUSEY: No, it just needed to feel right. There's no tangible thing; it's just that pull of something that strikes a chord with you. [My first theme] struck a chord with me in the beginning when I was struggling and it was those gritty, nose-in-the-dirt days. And then, there's more and more attention and criticisms started to build up. "Bad Reputation" became much more appropriate.
NEXT PAGE: Rousey reminices about her WrestleMania debut
WWE.COM: “My Fight / Your Fight” wraps up shortly after your February 2015 fight with Cat Zingano, which means that it cuts off right before your WrestleMania debut. What might that chapter of the book have looked like?
ROUSEY: I don't know. I guess it'll have to start the next book ... ‘cause I feel like that part of my life is still in its infancy and it's a little too early to get into it.
Watch Rousey's WrestleMania debut on WWE Network | See photos from the encounter
WWE.COM: With a little bit of hindsight, though, how would you describe the WrestleMania experience?
ROUSEY: It was like if you were an avid baseball fan your whole life, and you went to watch the World Series and they asked you to come in and pinch hit, and you went out and hit a home run in front of everybody.
WWE.COM: What was the most intimidating part of being in the ring at that point?
ROUSEY: I think it was just everything. It wasn't like I got to go and do some smaller shows and do one of those earlier, off-television matches. People usually get to have some sort of practice, you know, before they get on that level. That was like Day One, Wrestling 101: WrestleMania! That was really hitting the ground running. It was really pretty nerve-racking.
WWE.COM: It probably helps to have a co-star like The Rock in the ring with you.
ROUSEY: Well, it's amazing to have someone of his level because nobody could do it better than him. But it's also very intimidating to be in the ring with Rock, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, and these huge personalities. I mean, especially the kind of rivalry Rock and Triple H have had, you really have to be another kind of captivating to pull the attention away from them while they're standing in the ring.
WWE.COM: Do you think that will be the last time we see you in a WWE ring?
ROUSEY: You know, I was backstage and I got to talk several wrestling legends, so many. It's such an over-stimulating day that I forgot who told me this, but he said, "You never really retire from wrestling; you can't. You just step away for awhile." Life is pulling me in a bunch of different directions and I'm forced to step away for awhile. But there's no way, after getting a taste like that, I could never go back in for seconds.
Ronda Rousey’s memoir, “My Fight / Your Fight,” is available now.
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