Cheers of the 70,000-strong music festival crowd die out as the stage goes dark and fans restlessly wait for Beyoncé’s next song. A screen lights up with words; the stadium filling with a familiar voice, but not that of Queen Bey.
“I have this one term for the kind of woman that my mother raised me to not be. I call it a ‘do-nothing bitch’. The kind of chick that just tries to be pretty and get taken care of by somebody else. That’s why I think it’s hilarious when people say my body looks masculine. I’m like, ‘Listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than fucking millionaires, doesn’t mean that it’s masculine.’ I think it’s femininely badass as fuck because there isn’t a single muscle in my body that isn’t for a purpose. Because I’m not a do-nothing bitch.”
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— Dana White (@danawhite) September 6, 2015
As the last word echoes through the speakers, the introduction to the song “Diva” begins. Fans, who had erupted with roars at the “millionaires” comment, chant the lyrics loudly. The lights flash to reveal Beyoncé, with eight back-up dancers dressed almost identically to the star, wanting to know if there are any divas in the house tonight. The horde scream in response. It’s one epic prologue. And a big moment for the woman responsible for the rant, professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Ronda Rousey. Because, Beyoncé has just cemented Ronda’s status as a feminist pop-culture icon.
Two weeks later, I’m sitting in a hotel room with the outspoken 28-year-old from Santa Monica.
For someone who has been studying various forms of martial arts for the past 17 years, she has the air of a Hollywood star. Not surprising as acting is a career she’s seriously pursuing, with appearances in the films Entourage, Furious 7 and a major role in the upcoming Road House remake. She also happens to be disarmingly lovely. “You can sit closer,” Ronda says, motioning to her side of the sofa. “I don’t bite.”
She might not bite but she does have the reputation of defeating her opponents in less than a minute in an eight-sided fenced cage called the octagon. It’s why she’s in Sydney, promoting her upcoming fight in Melbourne for the biggest mixed martial arts organisation in the world, UFC. As Ronda’s risen through the ranks and become the highest paid athlete in the male-dominated sport of MMA (how’s that for girl power?), she’s also unintentionally become a role model, even owning her pre-fight anti-“do-nothing b*tch” rant and encouraging fans to be inspirations themselves with #DNB T-shirts and posts on Instagram. So if her mum raised her not to be a DNB, what kind of woman did she raise Ronda to be?
“She raised me to become ambitious. She said that it’s our responsibility to leave the world a little bit better than how you found it. And you can do that in any way you so choose, but you’re not just to be a drag on the world. You’re going to be a contribution to it.”
Ronda recalls a story from childhood: Her mum was explaining how much she loved the city of Santa Monica because it was in constant development. People were doing whatever they could to make their own space, however small it was, as beautiful as they could. “When I think about that – in my life in general – I can only affect so big of a space but I can do everything I can to make my little space as pretty and nice as possible,” Ronda explains. “So this is my way of doing it.”
In November, she’ll come up against fellow American and undefeated UFC fighter Holly Holm. It’s not even a question of whether Ronda will win, because, she says, “The day that I started MMA, I was sure that I could beat any girl in the world already.” For her it’s all about winning perfectly, “so that no-one has anything to say to criticise me”. Just don’t confuse this self-belief for thinking she has it easy.
“I go into [a fight] every single time, convincing myself that yes, this is scary, yes this makes me more anxious and uncomfortable than anything else in the world, but I also believe that it’s a situation I am the best in. And so I’m full of every single fear that I could possibly have but I don’t have a single doubt,” says Ronda.
While fear would stop most people from even contemplating going after their dreams, Ronda (being the anti-DNB that she is) feels the fear and puts everything she has into pursuing her goal anyway. So does she have any wise words for those of us wanting to make a difference in our own little worlds?
“I think that if you want to be able to aspire to do anything you really care about, you need to be willing to get your heart broken. I spent my whole life trying to win the Olympics, and I didn’t, and it broke my heart,” Ronda says of her bronze medal place in judo in 2008. “But it still ended up being the best thing that I ever did. It’s still something that I draw from and benefit from to this day. I think a lot of people shy away from really throwing themselves into the pursuit of a goal they really care about because they’re afraid of getting their heart broken.”
Got that, ladies? Now let the heart-break commence.
This article first appeared in the November 2015 issue of Cleo Australia.