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Ronda Rousey, UFC fighter and American superhero, explained

Ronda Rousey.
Ronda Rousey.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

In the time that it takes you to wash your hands, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey wins championship bouts.

You're supposed to wash those paws for 20 seconds, doctors say, to demolish the dirt and crud that will make you sick. But if you got up to wash your hands during Ronda Rousey's 2014 fight against Alexis Davis (a black belt) and did your due diligence, you would have missed the 16-second "fight" by the time you pumped soap into your hand.

Calling what Rousey does to opponents a "fight" is kind. Fights imply a sense of unpredictability or some kind of resistance. Rousey's fights are more like an annihilation — like watching a freight train run into cotton candy. Entering the octagon with Rousey is a death sentence for your limbs. And watching Rousey in the cage is witnessing an octopus-anaconda hybrid take human form and hunt for its dinner:

Ronda Rousey (black shorts) does not play. (UFC)

Rousey's full arsenal was on display on Saturday night. Rousey defended her UFC bantamweight title in 34 seconds. Her opponent, Bethe Correia, talked mountains of trash before the fight, even including jabs at Rousey's late father and his suicide. Why would Correia have such blatant disregard for her life and limbs? That I cannot explain.

But Rousey's rise to success, her fame, and her sustained excellence are a bit easier to grasp and, well, admire.

Why everyone cares about Ronda Rousey right now

On paper, the fight wasn't really out of the norm. Once again, Rousey's opponent didn't last past the first round (only one has) — and didn't even last past the first minute of the first round (only four have). Correia was wrecked. But the fight was unique in that it provided a reference point for Rousey, who is having a pop culture moment — a moment when she's transcending the sport of mixed martial arts and becoming a standard for female athletes.

It's the peak of a busy 2015.

In April, Rousey starred in Furious 7, one of the biggest movies of the year. In it, she played the head bodyguard of a Middle Eastern aristocrat and went toe to toe with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). That was about a month after a viral interview in which a male interviewer challenged Rousey and subsequently had his ribs broken. In June, Rousey appeared as herself in the Entourage movie. And in July, she won the ESPY Award for best fighter, and then, as part of her acceptance, asked if boxer Floyd Mayweather felt like "getting beat by a woman for once." (Mayweather, one of the premier boxers on the planet, has a past peppered with accusations of domestic violence.)

Rousey had become part of our pop culture fabric and collective consciousness. This put a lot of weight and pressure on Rousey delivering on Saturday's fight — the first huge fight since her pop culture boom.

Correia, Rousey's undefeated opponent, played into this too. Leading up to the fight, she talked the aforementioned trash, including a jab at Rousey's father, who killed himself.

She had said:

She [Rousey] is winning, so everybody is around her cheering her up, but when she realizes she is not everything that she believes she is, I don’t know what might happen.

I hope she does not kill herself later on. [she laughs]

Rousey responded with the word "comeuppance":

Somehow, Correia didn't stop there. At the weigh-ins for UFC 190 (the event where the fight takes place), she got into Rousey's face during a photo op, puffed her eyeballs to anime levels, and repeatedly said, "Don't cry."

It was time for Rousey to deliver and live up to her myth. She did it in 34 seconds. Again, the fight was lackluster. It was a total Rousey domination. Rousey beat Correia like she was the human embodiment of a Monday.

But the best, most Rousey, part of this all was that after she had eaten Correia's lunch and knocked her into oblivion, Rousey told Correia and her fans, "Don't cry."

Rousey doesn't just win (she's 11-0). She wins at an astoundingly fast rate. FiveThirtyEight's Andrew Flowers found that Rousey goes against the grain of MMA fights by winning in seconds while the majority of MMA fights have gotten longer:

(FiveThirtyEight/Andrew Flowers)

When we talk about an athlete's greatness, there's usually one defining battle that they have had to endure. Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant had game sevens, Roger Federer has had monster fifth sets, Serena Williams came back from a career-threatening injury and hospitalization (which led to losses), and Manny Pacquiao has lost to the openly unlikable Floyd Mayweather. These setbacks, defeats, and struggles have pushed these athletes to be better. They are emphatic punctuation marks on their careers.

Rousey's MMA career doesn't have a chapter like that. Her record is poreless, smooth like marble. She doesn't know what it's like to lose in the Octagon. She exercises complete domination over a sport. The one "thorn" in her side is a woman named Miesha Tate. Again, "thorn" is generous. Tate has just put up more resistance than the other women Rousey has fought. Deadspin explains:

Of Rousey’s 25 minutes in the cage, 15 and a half have been against Tate. Tate has lasted longer than all of Rousey’s other opponents combined, and is the closest thing the champ has to a rival. This is not, of course, to say that they are rivals. Neither fight was close, and when they fight again, Rousey will send one of Tate’s elbows the wrong way once more.

But while Rousey's winning streak is remarkable, it's the way she's winning that makes her a once-in-a-lifetime type of athlete.

What is Ronda Rousey's origin story?

Rousey is clearly a superhuman genetically engineered in a government-funded underground bunker where scientists have managed to splice the striking speed of a mamba, the strength of a grizzly bear, and the swirling limbs of an octopus with the lost clone of Julia Stiles.

But Rousey's human cover story is almost as interesting. Born in Riverside, California, she won a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Summer Olympics — the first American women to ever medal in the sport.

But Olympic stars, save for gymnasts, figure skaters, and a handful of runners and swimmers, usually don't get the kinds of life-altering endorsement deals other athletes do. Rousey was in Los Angeles tending bar after the Olympics when she saw MMA on television, and thought she could do that.

She wrote in her memoir, My Fight/Your Fight:

Everyone in the bar kind of nodded to humor me. It was obvious that no one believed me. The fact that I was doing absolutely nothing with my life was apparent to everyone … I had endured so much to get to the Olympics. All along the way I told myself that the result would be amazing; that it would be worthwhile … My disappointment haunted me. I didn't know how to cope with it. I was trying to drink myself into contentment, but I still wasn't happy and I didn't understand why.

MMA became her passion, and she picked up the sport in 2011, beginning with nondescript, unwatched fights, in hopes she would be able to fight in the UFC.

As Rousey began focusing her talent and training in MMA, UFC president Dana White was making sexist remarks (also in 2011). The Wall Street Journal explains that White was walking out of a restaurant and was asked whether people should expect to see women in the sport:

When are we going to see women in the UFC?

"Never," White says, chuckling.

The most powerful man in the sport steps into his ride, closes the door, and the black SUV rolls away, mwahahaha.

The paper continues, detailing that Rousey caught up with White months after this quip about women in the UFC and eventually convinced him to take her on:

Rousey found White at a UFC event in Las Vegas. "I’m going to fight for you someday," she promised. "And I’m going to be your first female world champion." In 2012, White took Rousey to Mr Chow and told her he was bringing her aboard.

Fast forward three years, and Rousey is now the big-name draw with endorsements from Buffalo Jeans and Reebok.

What is Ronda Rousey's fighting style like?

I've mentioned a couple of times now that watching Rousey is like watching some kind of dream-eating animal hybrid come to life. Her fighting style epitomizes that. It stems from her judo training, and what you'll notice from the majority of her fights is that Rousey will get in close, crowd an opponent, then trip or throw her to the ground:

A fight between Rousey and Miesha Tate (UFC)

It's what happens in the split second after the takedown that makes Rousey so lethal. Her limbs become autonomous tentacles of swirling, liquid muscle, pinning, pulling, and prying away at an opponent as if each one were trying to shuck a reluctant oyster.

Once she's found a wayward appendage (left arm or right arm, you choose), she changes her point of attack, directing her 135 pounds of muscle to make it bend in the most unnatural and painful of ways.

Rousey has won nine of her matches by pulling and popping her opponents' elbows and arms in ways they are not meant to be pulled and popped. Rousey has that quality lots of great athletes at their peaks have: When she hits her stride, you know exactly what's coming. And as her opponents have found, there's nothing to prepare you for the onslaught.

When we watch her on TV, it's hard to imagine the raw physicality that Rousey is bringing into the fight. The angles we see of the cage are meant to give us the best view of the fight, show us the bloodied faces, and somehow get those two bodies working against one another into one great shot. What the television doesn't get across is how fast Rousey is moving and the sheer weight of her muscle working against her opponents. Those opponents aren't slouches; Rousey is just faster, stronger, and more unpredictable than they are.

Submission isn't the only way in which Rousey wins. In her match on Saturday, she pummeled Correia into submission with a barrage of punches — showing that she is constantly improving and finding out more ways to obliterate opponents.

Rousey improving would only mean more pain for her opponents.

What makes Ronda Rousey so badass?

Rousey's story is inspirational and one of clear dominance — proof that if you devote yourself to something, it can and will happen for you. Stories like this are valuable. But she's also a role model in other ways.

Rousey's rise to glory has coincided with a cultural moment and appreciation for America's female athletes. Serena Williams won this year's Wimbledon championships and the US women's soccer team won the World Cup.

In Williams's and Rousey's case, both have been buffoonishly criticized for having "masculine" bodies. The New York Times had an entire story about female tennis players not wanting to build muscle because they're afraid to look masculine. But you need muscle if you want to go stroke for stroke with Serena Williams.

"I’m really happy with my body type, and I’m really proud of it. Obviously it works out for me," Williams told the Times.

But even Williams was quick to say she doesn't lift as much as we think she does. "I don’t touch a weight, because I’m already super fit and super cut, and if I even look at weights, I get bigger," she added.

Williams is being too kind and too polite. Her words show that she harbors a little bit of self-consciousness about how muscular she can get. Granted, UFC isn't Wimbledon, and MMA isn't steeped in the stodgy decorum of tennis, but Rousey is much more willing to say that having a muscular body is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead, she said during a UFC interview, she's proud of it:

Listen, just because my body was developed for a purpose other than fucking millionaires doesn’t mean it’s masculine.

I think it’s femininely badass because there’s not a single muscle on my body that isn’t for a purpose, because I’m not a Do Nothing Bitch.

It’s not very eloquently said, but it’s to the point and maybe that’s just what I am.

Although Rousey's message resonates with and inspires women, it doesn't mean it's exclusively for girls and women. There's something deeply empathetic and awe-inspiring in finding your purpose, being proud of who you are, and living with the honesty that Rousey does.

Rousey's personality, her superhuman ability to not give a shit, is her real appeal. People are not tuning in to see a fight when they watch Rousey — we know she's going to win. We're watching because we want to see this indomitable human do things that she was told she couldn't — the fights are just a small part of that. We want to see her crush the fighter who made fun of her dead father. We want to see her tell people not to cry. And we'd all be lying if we said there wasn't a part of us rooting for Ronda Rousey to do all the things we think we can't.

VIDEO: Post-fight analysis of Ronda Rousey by MMA Fighting

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