Rousey’s sister – Maria Burns Ortiz – writes a letter through Vice Sports on a blow-by-blow account on what went on with the former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion went through in 2015.
It feels like you’re inside a washing machine’s spin cycle. You are pushed from side to side, front to back. You can’t see anything clearly, and every time you think you’re about to orient yourself, you get jostled again. Eventually, you give in and just allow yourself to be shoved through the masses.
What is it like? “It” being on the inside of all that is Ronda. Or perhaps it’s actually being on the outside, within the inner circle, but having the perspective of those not quite inside the bubble. There are so many questions. What is she like? What has this journey been like? How have things changed? More than anything, people what to know what’s happened since “then”: that night in Australia, the moment the world learned she wasn’t invincible. But this story is not about what she thinks or her reflections on that night, or this year, or whatever. That’s for her to tell in her words. That’s for her to share when she’s ready.
All I know is that she has never been invincible. Not to me. You think of your parents as invincible. But you forever think of your younger sibling as the scrawny little kid who you roll up your sleeves to protect and fight whoever is picking on them—even if, years later, your sibling has several inches on you (not to mention a fair amount more muscle) and is more than capable of beating up anyone on her own.
Ronda meeting her nephew, Cal, in early January. Before he was born, Ronda said she was going to “push him around” to toughen him up to be a fighter. Her teary-eyed first words upon seeing him were, “Awww, I could never push you over.”
Ronda has risen to be one of the biggest stars in sports. A rising name in Hollywood. An endorser, a spokesmodel, a role model, and a lightening rod for controversy—loved and hated equally by those who will never meet or know her, which is all very surreal because I see her as none of those things. She is just Ronda. She is the kid who went to the mall for Pokemon tournaments. She is the one who left sweaty judo gis in the bathroom that I’d have to kick out of the way when I got out of the shower. She is the one we made ride down the stairs in a laundry basket to see if she would crash through the window at the bottom. (She didn’t, but that did not prevent my mother from yelling at us all for such “stupidity.”) She lives in a Venice Beach bungalow that—despite her having hired a cleaning lady—still looks like her closet has exploded all over the living room. She is fearless and sensitive and hilarious and “just Ronda.” Nothing that has happened in the past year or the past 20 years or the next 20 years will ever change that.
Of course, no one wants to hear that. They want to see the drama. They want to understand what it’s like inside the spin cycle, in the constant churn that was the Year of Ronda—a year that saw her ascend to nearly god-like status as she won two fights, starred in movies, signed endorsements, graced magazine covers, inspired murals, published a best-seller, and be almost inescapable, crossing over in ways that perhaps no athlete ever has. It was a year that saw her eventually lose in the ring—not for the first time in her life, but on a bigger stage than ever before, in front of scores of people who wanted to see her fail. But also, I remind her often, in front of millions of people who wanted to see her succeed.
This is just one of my favorite pictures of Ronda from this year. It’s in the minutes before we left Rio. That’s Copacabana Beach in the background. It was the end of a wonderful week that we got to spend together (mom and sisters), which we never get to do with everything going on in our lives.
It’s loud. Everyone shouting, hoping to be heard above the noise. And there are hands everywhere, reaching out, straining to touch just a piece of her. It is a strange combination of a dim arena before the lights have been turned up on the crowd and the brightness of the camera lights, thrust into her face, broadcasting her image to the world.
I am often asked if I’ve read this Ronda story or that one, or seen this SportsCentersegment or that morning show appearance. There is disappointment when my inevitable answer is no. I’m busy. I have three kids, a dog, and a startup, and what is an article going to tell me about Ronda that I don’t already know? I mean, I literally wrote the book on her. So I don’t read it, I don’t watch it, and I don’t know what anyone says about her because nothing said about her is going to be completely accurate, and seemingly, more often than not, it’s going to be completely wrong.
But I hear things, third-party. I hear that people say insensitive, hateful, disgusting things about my sister—and my mother—and I don’t try to make sense of it, because you can’t. There’s something very strange, though, when the world seems to think they know someone—this idea that society suddenly owns a right to build someone up or tear them down because they are a public figure. To watch that happen to someone you love is enough to drive you insane—unless you tune it out, which I do.
Occasionally I wonder how people could say such awful things about someone they don’t even know, someone they’ve never met. I attribute it to the fact that their mothers probably didn’t love them enough, and then I briefly curse out the part of the Internet that allows people to hide behind anonymity as they let out the worst parts of themselves.
Sometimes, all you can do is think, “What the fuck is wrong with you people?”
Then I move on with my life, because you can only waste so much time on other people’s stupidity.
Before we left for Australia, my daughter Eva told me she was excited about two things: 1) seeing Ronda (it had been maybe a week since we’d seen Ronda last), and 2) feeding kangaroos. This was a sweet moment I snapped between the two of them at the open workout.
And then you break through the tunnel, turn, and expect it to be quiet. But there is a constant motion, not the screaming frenetic chaos of the crowds but a bustle of people among the cement, cinderblock and fluorescent lighting. They are being directed here, then there. The surge of adrenaline is wearing off, but you know it will be hours before the night is over.
Three fights on three continents in the span of nine months. A book tour. Hollywood meetings. Scripts to read. Photo shoots. The cover of Sports Illustrated, Self, Shape, and magazines I’ve never even heard of. Hosting on ESPN. A pair of ESPYs. Film premieres. UFC promotion. Training camps. Flights. Appearances on Ellen, Kelly and Michael, Good Morning America, The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live! Her image plastered on TV screens everywhere. Interviews and interviews and interviews. Training camps. It’s a lot. It’s not an excuse. It’s just a fact.
Like every year, this was a collection of highs and lows, where you don’t so much remember the details of the events but instead remember the emotions those moments evoke.
We celebrated Ronda’s February win over Cat Zingano in UFC 184, singing “Happy Birthday!” at a restaurant in Hollywood as she devoured platefuls of chicken wings. We spent the week in Rio in a penthouse overlooking the beach, praying at the shrine inside Christ the Redeemer, and feeding monkeys after she knocked out Bethe Correia in August in UFC 190. Those are the parts I remember far more than the actual fights.
Our family Thanksgiving. My mom demanded we have a theme, so we went with hats. All hats were courtesy of my sister Jennifer (in the bowler) and her husband, Chris (in the aviator cap).
Then there was Australia, where we expected Ronda to win. Just like we always do. Just like we always will. But she didn’t. I haven’t rewatched it. I haven’t read about it. I won’t. I don’t see a point in reliving the moment when a part of my loved one died, when I saw someone I cared about have her soul crushed. I saw how horrible people can be to someone they don’t even know, which made me even more appreciative when I saw how wonderfully Ronda’s friends and family treated her. Those are the people that matter.
The world watched Ronda fall, but I have had the opportunity to watch her get back up. To be proud of her and happy for her when she wins, and to be proud of her and concerned for her when she loses. To tell her that I loved her just as much in the moments after the fight as I had in the moments before. To put my arm around her and try to protect her. To push aside the negativity. To help her get back up. Not just in the past few weeks but in the past 28 years.
When some people reflect on Ronda and 2015, they will see it defined by a single event. They see it as the end. And in some ways, they’re right—but that only means we’re at a new beginning.