Ronda Rousey Opens Up About The Tragedy That Changed Her Path To Success

By Jake SchroederLast Updated Apr 2, 2020 5:29:45 PM ET
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Photo Courtesy: @JeffKingTV/Twitter

In the UFC community, Ronda Rousey is an icon. Like many athletes who are under the public’s watchful eye, the fighter has been relatively silent about the obstacles she’s overcome. Now, Rousey is finally speaking out about those recent personal tragedies.

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Rough and Tumble Beginnings

Ronda Rousey was born in Riverside, California, in 1987. Named after her father, she was a fighter from the very beginning. She was the youngest of three daughters born to AnnMaria De Mars and Ron Rousey. While she was still in elementary school, the family left their California home and moved to rural North Dakota.

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Image Courtesy: @RondaRousey/Twitter

The move ultimately led to the first major tragedy in Ronda's life. She and her father had taken up sledding after the move, happily taking advantage of the winter conditions they never got to experience in California. Unfortunately, the fun hobby ended in tragedy.

The Sledding Accident That Changed Everything

Ronda's father had retired when the family moved from California to North Dakota, and he took Ronda on a sledding adventure to make the most of the winter weather. He hit a snow-covered log while sledding and crashed, landing headfirst on the ground. He was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with spinal injuries.

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Image Courtesy: @CkarolSperandio/Twitter

Doctors operated on his neck and back, and Ronda's life became confined to the hospital. She anxiously waited for her father to recover, but the prognosis was not good. Doctors said that as his spine further disintegrated, it would eventually lead to full-body paralysis.

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A Devastated Family

After partially recovering and learning of his long-term medical prognosis, Ron Rousey made a decision that would forever have an impact on his daughter. Ronda and her sister were watching cartoons when their father entered the room, gave them both a hug and left, never to return.

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Photo Courtesy: @CkarolSperandio/Twitter

Ron Rousey got into his Ford Bronco and drove to a pond the family visited frequently. It was the spot he chose to take his own life by carbon monoxide poisoning. At the time of her father's death, Ronda was only 8 years old. The family was devastated, but her mother remained strong for her three daughters.

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A Judo Prodigy (and More)

Ronda's mother AnnMaria was a judo prodigy as a child and teen. She won numerous international tournaments in the sport. In college, AnnMaria continued to succeed, but it was in the classroom. She then surprisingly came out of retirement in 1984 to win the World Judo Championships.

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Image Courtesy: @ArmbarNation/Twitter

AnnMaria was such a gifted student that she began attending college at the young age of 16 and was working on her MBA by age 19. After completing her MBA, Ronda’s mother then began to work on a Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside, in educational psychology.

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An Early Brush with Death

AnnMaria's grittiness gleaned from years of judo and schooling gave her the skills necessary to handle the tragedies her family had to endure. The list of tragedies almost included Ronda dying during her birth.

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Photo Courtesy: shaheen john/YouTube

Her umbilical cord became wrapped around her neck during delivery, depriving her of oxygen and nearly resulting in her death. Ronda did suffer brain damage as a result. Up until the age of six, she barely spoke, and her words were jumbled when she did speak. As a result, she was placed in special education classes in school.

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Leaving North Dakota

Ronda's family moved to North Dakota so she could be near a team of talented speech therapists. She was eventually diagnosed with a condition called apraxia, which affects the motor programming system for speech. It’s a relatively unknown condition.

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Photo Courtesy: David Finch/Getty Images

As Ronda worked with the team of speech therapists, her mother decided to move the family back to Southern California and away from the place where they had experienced so much hardship. The move back to Southern California ended up exposing Ronda to the sport of judo.

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The Beginning of a Journey

Ronda has said that having a judo world champion as a mother made it easier for her to excel at the sport. She even told the media that her mother jumping on her bed and attacking her with armbars helped develop her skills.

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Photo Courtesy: OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

Ronda took lessons every day, and her confidence began to increase, even in her schoolwork. Everything was finally starting to come together for Ronda. At only 16, she moved away from the comfort of her home in Southern California to train in judo in Massachusetts.

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The Athens Olympics

Ronda wanted to be a judo world champion just like her mother, and she didn’t intend to stop at anything to reach her goal. She became one of the country's top judo talents after settling into her life in Massachusetts. Ronda's journey to greatness had begun.

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Photo Courtesy: @RowdyTeamRousey/Twitter

The 2004 Olympics were held in the place of their origin: Athens, Greece. At the age of 17, Ronda got her first taste of the global spotlight when she represented her country in the sport her mother excelled in when she was young. Despite her nearly fatal birth, her father's death and two long-distance move, Ronda had persevered.

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Disappointment in Greece

Ronda was the youngest judo participant to ever compete in the Olympics. Still a teenager, she was forced to overcome further obstacles as a result of her performance in the Olympics. She was overmatched by her more experienced opponents and finished in ninth place.

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Photo Courtesy: MORS/Wikipedia

Ronda refused to let 2004 end without winning any medals, however. She had one last chance to win one when she competed in Budapest, Hungary, at the 2004 World Junior Judo Championships. She beat out all the competition at the event, taking first place and winning the gold medal.

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American Judoka Legend

As Ronda prepared for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, she excelled in the international judo circuit. She became the first female in almost 10 years to win an A-level tournament in judo when she took the gold medal at the Birmingham World Cup in Great Britain.

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Photo Courtesy: OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images

Ronda’s success continued at the 2007 Pan American Games, where she again won a gold medal. Earlier in the year, she won the silver medal at the World Judo Championships. Ronda’s success was leading her to the 2008 Olympics in China, where her plan was to solidify herself as an American judoka legend.

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Winning the Bronze Medal

When she arrived in Beijing for the 2004 Olympics, Ronda was determined not to forget her disappointing experience four years earlier in Greece. Her goal was to win a medal, something no other US female judoka had done since judo became an Olympic sport in 1992. She ended up winning five of her matches while competing in the 70 kg division.

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Photo Courtesy: David Finch/Getty Images

Ronda’s one loss prevented her from competing for the gold, but she was determined not to come home empty-handed. She defeated Annett Boehm of Germany to claim the bronze medal. Unfortunately, Ronda’s triumph quickly led to hardship.

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From Success to Financial Strain

After winning the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, Ronda returned home to California and retired from judo. She assumed Olympic success would improve her financial situation, but it didn't. She left her mother's home in California to figure things out with no money and no plan.

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Photo Courtesy: Narek75/Wikimedia Commons

She needed a job, so she became a cocktail waitress at the Redwood Bar and Grill, a pirate-themed bar in Los Angeles. At the time, Ronda shared a small apartment with a friend and drove a car that didn't even have air conditioning (in California!).

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Living in Her Car

During this time in her life, money was extremely tight for Ronda. Her diet often consisted of ramen noodles served cold because the hot water had been shut off in her apartment. Both cigarettes and marijuana became a regular part of her routine. For a time, she even lived in her car.

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Photo Courtesy: ChemaNation/YouTube

While she admitted to the Los Angeles Daily News that things got pretty bad for her, she also insisted she never felt sorry for herself. A new challenge soon entered her life when she landed a job at 24 Hour Fitness and discovered MMA.

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MMA to the Rescue

While she worked at 24 Hour Fitness, Ronda began training in mixed martial arts. Fighting had always been in her DNA, and she soon developed an obsession with the sport. With her background in judo, the transition to MMA came easy, but she still had a lot of training to do in those early days.

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Photo Courtesy: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Ronda told Esquire that every spare moment of thought in those days circled back to fighting. She said she liked to shadow box with droplets of water in the shower, just so she could use every moment she had to improve. After training for months, Ronda made her MMA debut.

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Journey to the Top of Women's MMA

Ronda defeated her first MMA opponent, Hayden Munoz, in 23 seconds using an armbar. The move became synonymous with Ronda, as she also used it to defeat her next two opponents. With an undefeated 3-0 record as an amateur, she faced a dilemma.

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Photo Courtesy: Jeff Bottari/UFC/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

There wasn’t much money to be made in women's combat sports at the time. At the time, there weren’t any women's divisions in the UFC. If Ronda wanted to turn pro, she would have to fight for smaller promotions or take up boxing instead. Faced with trying to figure out a way to make a living with MMA, Ronda was at a crossroads.

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Queen of Combat

Ronda Rousey went pro in 2011 and signed with King of the Cage. It was a big break for her. King of the Cage wasn't a well-known promotion at the time, but it was a starting point. Ronda only needed 25 seconds to subdue her opponent via armbar in her professional debut.

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Photo Courtesy: @RondaRousey/Twitter

She continued to dominate her opponents and win in quick succession throughout 2012. At that point, she was quickly becoming the face of women's combat sports. Challengers lined up to face her, but they ended up falling quickly to Ronda’s patented armbar submission.

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Becoming a UFC Champion

Ronda’s fame grew along with her success inside the cage. She began to get booked on TV shows like Conan and made appearances on ESPN. Eventually, rumors began to spread that the UFC was considering signing Ronda as its first-ever female fighter.

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Photo Courtesy: IMDb

In 2011, UFC President Dana White said fans would never see women in the UFC. A year later, White changed his tune and signed Ronda as the organization’s first female fighter. The Strikeforce bantamweight championship was absorbed by the company and became the UFC bantamweight title, making Rousey the first-ever female UFC champion.

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In the Global Spotlight

Ronda wasted no time becoming the sport's biggest star. Her UFC career began with six straight title defenses, and she often defeated her opponents early in the fight. Of her six title defenses, she only spent 1,077 seconds in the cage. That's approximately $1,002 for every second she fought.

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Photo Courtesy: IMDb

As her success in the cage continued, her superstardom outside of it grew as well. Hollywood wanted her in movies, fans adored her and TV shows began to outbid one another to get her booked. Rousey even appeared on the cover of ESPN the Magazine's 2012 Body Issue.

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Loss to Holly Holm

No athlete remains on top forever, and Ronda was no exception. The only questions were when it would happen and how far the downfall would be. She was slated to defend her title for the seventh time in 2015, and her opponent was Holly Holm.

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Photo Courtesy: Josh Hedges/UFC/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Holm had a strong boxing background, something that was lacking in Ronda’s repertoire of skills. Her weakness in this area was balanced by her takedown and submission skills. If Ronda could get Holm on the ground, she could utilize her armbar and hopefully secure another successful defense of her championship.

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Ronda Rousey Tastes Defeat

The fight with Holly Holm never went to ground level, so Ronda never got a chance to use her strongest tactics. Instead, she took a steady barrage of strikes to the face. Holm finally connected with a kick to Ronda’s face and neck that sent her to the canvas. As a result, she defeated Ronda in a shocking upset.

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Photo Courtesy: Brandon Magnus/UFC/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

As often happens, Ronda’s perfect record and unblemished career were both gone in an instant. After the loss and the beating she took, Ronda wasn’t medically cleared to fight again for three months, but it was nine months before she ever stepped back in the cage to fight again.

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Facing Amanda Nunes

Ronda took nearly a year off before announcing her comeback fight against Amanda Nunes. In the build-up to the fight, she was criticized for taking time away from the spotlight after the loss to Holm. Some felt that if she was willing to put herself out there to attract more attention, then she should still be willing to do so even after suffering a loss.

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Photo Courtesy: Josh Hedges/UFC/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Some even labeled Ronda a poor sport for the way she handled her first loss. She admitted she spent much of the year coming to terms with the loss, and she hoped a victorious comeback would help.

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Second Straight Loss

Ronda faced then-champion Amanda Nunes on December 30, 2016, and the fight only lasted 48 seconds. Nunes unleashed a torrent of punches and never let up. The referee was forced to call the fight. After her second straight loss, Ronda disappeared again into the shadows and silence.

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Photo Courtesy: Josh Hedges/UFC/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

As the door to her MMA career began to close, another one opened. A fan of WWE since she was a kid, Ronda had been making appearances for the organization since 2014. Fans and detractors alike had noted her ability when she competed in the ring. WWE provided a unique opportunity for Ronda.

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Becoming a WWE Star

Ronda told Ellen DeGeneres that she had suicidal thoughts following her loss to Holly Holm. She also had to deal with rumors regarding the man she was dating, fellow UFC fighter Travis Brown, as he was under investigation for allegations of domestic abuse.

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Photo Courtesy: IMDb

With so much going on in her life at the time, Ronda signed a full-time deal with WWE in 2017. Her first official match with the organization was at WrestleMania 34. After making her debut, she won her first WWE women's title and carried it all the way to WrestleMania 35.

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Making Movies, Making Money

Ronda quickly rose to the top of WWE and became one of the most popular entertainers in the entire industry. She had found a new passion, but she isn’t someone who can limit herself to just one thing. What does that mean? Ronda decided to put her acting skills to the test.

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Photo Courtesy: Universal/IMDb

She started building her acting career with roles in films such as The Expendables and Furious 7. It might seem like a bit much to train for a new WWE career while taking on acting roles, but it was the perfect challenge for someone like Ronda Rousey.

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Publishing Her First Book

Ronda sought to achieve success in yet another field when she released her book, My Fight/Your Fight, in 2015. Always a fighter in everything she does, she perfectly encapsulates the saying "It's not how many times you get knocked down, it's how many times you get up."

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Photo Courtesy: Miguel Discart/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

Everything Ronda experienced helped form her into the champion she became. The loss of her father, living in her car, the way her UFC career ended — all these challenges led her to become the person she is. Without the hardships she endured, she might not have ever achieved success.

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Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition

Without her struggles, Ronda Rousey never would have become the greatest female fighter in MMA history. She again made history in 2015 when she became the first female athlete to co-host SportsCenter. Still not enough? The next year, she appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.

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Photo Courtesy: IMDb

Of course, Ronda’s motivation for appearing on the cover was more than money, attention or the fame it brought. She noted in her book that her ex-boyfriend had taken explicit photos of her without her consent or knowledge, and she had to go to great lengths to delete them.

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Time to Start a Family

Ronda was forced to attack her ex to recover the explicit photos. She obtained a hard drive and phone where they were stored and deleted them. She wanted to take the power back from that experience, however, which is what led her to pose for the magazine.

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Photo Courtesy: WWE/YouTube

Moving on from that disaster, Ronda and Travis Browne became engaged in 2017 and married that same year in Hawaii. At one point, domestic abuse allegations against Browne made him one of the most hated fighters in the UFC, but that didn’t matter to Ronda. She considers him the love of her life.

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A Bright Path Ahead

Ronda Rousey has a net worth of $12 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth, and that number should continue to grow. Although she is no longer a UFC fighter, she isn’t running short on ways to bring in money, whether it’s from endorsement deals or her career as an actress.

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Photo Courtesy: @MsCharlotteWWE/Twitter

Not being in the UFC should also help add longevity to whatever she chooses to do as well. Even outside the UFC, Ronda is and always has been a fighter. Whether it’s working to overcome adversity or competing inside the octagon, she is synonymous with the toughness of a fighter.

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A Total Diva

After losing the WWE RAW Women's Championship at WrestleMania 35, Ronda Rousey took a hiatus from competing inside a WWE ring. She has remained involved with the organization, however, and was announced as the newest cast member of WWE's reality TV program, Total Divas, for its ninth season.

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Photo Courtesy: WWE/YouTube

Total Divas follows the lives of the women of WWE. Ronda’s private life is on full display on the show, which began airing her season on October 1, 2019. She has spoken openly on the show about her desire to have a baby and start a family.

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Ronda Rousey on 9-1-1

In 2019, Ronda Rousey landed a role in the Fox drama 9-1-1. She plays Lena Bosko, a firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department who first appears in season three. She has learned during the filming of the show that acting carries its share of physical risk as well.

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Photo Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/IMDb

She nearly lost a finger due to a freak accident on set, although she initially thought her injury was no big deal. There's a lesson there about Ronda’s character. We're certain that no matter what she does now, she will infuse it with her signature intensity and dedication.

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