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Ronda Rousey burst on the scene in 2010 after a decorated career as an amateur judoka and forever changed the landscape in combat sports. She finished her first 12 opponents, many of them in record time, and became the biggest star in mixed martial arts before an unexpected fall from grace. The former Ultimate Fighting Championship and Strikeforce women’s bantamweight titleholder put her MMA career on hold in January, when she signed a contract with World Wrestling Entertainment. She makes her WWE debut at WrestleMania 34 this Sunday.
As Rousey transitions from MMA to professional wrestling, here are five things you might not know about her:
She was a prodigy in the gi.
Rousey was one of three daughters born to AnnMaria De Mars, the first American woman to win gold at the World Judo Championships. She was a natural at judo. Rousey was a two-time gold medalist at the Pan American Judo Championships (2004-05), a gold medalist at the Pan American Games (2007) and a silver medalist at the World Judo Championships (2007). She qualified for two Olympics, doing so for the first time as a 17-year-old at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. Rousey returned to the stage in 2008, when she won bronze in Beijing and became the first American woman to medal in judo at the Olympics.
Given her skills, MMA stardom was predictable.
After retiring from judo at age 21, Rousey turned to mixed martial arts. She made her amateur debut on Aug. 6, 2010 and over the course of the next five months submitted three consecutive opponents with armbars in less than two minutes combined. Rousey moved to the professional ranks at a King of the Cage event in March 2011 and won her first four fights in lopsided fashion with 25-, 25-, 39- and 49-second finishes. She laid claim to the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight crown on March 3, 2012, as she tapped archrival Miesha Tate with a first-round armbar at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, and it soon became clear she was a game-changer. Rousey made one successful title defense with another sub-minute stoppage, victimizing Sarah Kaufman with her patented armbar in August 2012 before casting her gaze elsewhere.
She broke barriers.
UFC President Dana White once said women would never compete inside the Octagon. Rousey forced him to change his tune. She joined the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster in late 2012, at which point she was installed as the promotion’s inaugural women’s bantamweight champion. Rousey made her organizational debut in the UFC 157 main event on Feb. 23, 2013 and submitted Liz Carmouche with a first-round armbar before 13,257 fans at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. She won her first six fights in the UFC — she finished Carmouche, Tate, Sara McMann, Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano and Bethe Correia in succession — before back-to-back losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes cracked her aura of invincibility and put her mixed martial arts career on ice.
She capitalized on her appeal.
Rousey parlayed her MMA exploits into a lucrative crossover career. She has appeared in a number of Hollywood blockbusters, including “The Expendables 3,” “Furious 7” and “Entourage.” Rousey has also served as a guest host on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue and hosted “Saturday Night Live.” That mainstream appeal has since opened other doors.
The next chapter of her story will be written in the ring.
Confirming months of speculation, Rousey agreed to terms with World Wrestling Entertainment and appeared at the “Royal Rumble” pay-per-view in January. She will make her in-ring debut at “WrestleMania 34” on April 8 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, perhaps in a mixed tag team match with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Rousey has deeper ties to the WWE than some may realize. She was trained by “Judo” Gene LeBell, whose students included Rod Toombs, better known as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Toombs bequeathed his “Rowdy” nickname to Rousey prior to his death in 2015.