Ronda Rousey’s stardom knows no bounds.
On Wednesday, fans waited more than two hours in the blistering heat of a Brazilian beachfront just to catch a glimpse of her. When she arrived, the screams were deafening and the tears of admiration visible. They rushed as close as possible with the hope of a touch, picture or an autograph.
Rousey, of course, tried to greet as many of them as she could during her open workout – including one young fan who broke from the pack and wrapped himself around her waist. It was a rather fascinating scene, the rock-star fighter amidst the squealing scrum, and it would have been expected if it went down in the United States. But in Brazil, the territory of Rousey’s UFC 190 opponent Bethe Correia, it was an emphatic statement of popularity.
In the span of just five UFC fights, Rousey has evolved into a globalized figure. The popularity of the UFC women’s bantamweight champion is not restricted to international borders or language barriers.
Brazil has historically provided unconditional support to its athletes and displayed a clear disdain for their opponents. Rousey, however, continues to buck trends. She is beloved more than Correia, who grew up just hours from Rio de Janeiro, where Saturday’s fight will take place.
Her popularity in the U.S. is unsurprising. She represented the country in the 2008 Olympic games, where she became the first American woman to earn a medal in judo. She was part of the first female fight in UFC history, and each of her bouts garners more interest than the last. Moreover, Rousey’s exposure stretches beyond the fight game. She’s transitioned to film between fights and over the past year has appeared in The Expendables 3, Furious 7 and the Entourage movie.
Constant appearances in the mainstream have turned Rousey into arguably the UFC’s most popular fighter. In Brazil, however, it’s an entirely different level of admiration. As Brazilian MMA legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira put it, Rousey is not just an American sensation, but a global one, too.
“Ronda looks like the Mike Tyson of our sport – she has no nationality,” Nogueira told MMAJunkie as he watched Rousey get swarmed by fans. “She is a big star of the sport everywhere.”
Rousey’s fame did not come by accident. Her charisma, confidence, good looks and acting ability are mere footnotes to what’s most important – fighting talent. When it comes to in-cage performance, she’s as good (or better) than anyone else: Rousey’s past three contests have lasted a combined 96 seconds, and her aura of invincibility during competition is palatable.
Rousey and Correia have not minced words in the lead-up to their fight. Correia made it clear she intends to shut down the Rousey hype train, but the public doesn’t support that notion. Oddsmakers have Rousey pegged as high as an 18-1 betting favorite. There’s no doubt a section of fans will rest in Correia’s corner. However, the praise for Rousey in one of the most notoriously hostile combat sports territories is telling.
Rousey admits she didn’t know what to expect from the passionate and nationalistic Brazilian audience. She said the reception stretched beyond her imagination, though, and her goal when she enters the Octagon with Correia is to provide another example of why fans grant her unwavering support. Chances are, she will be successful, and her legend will only continue to grow.
“I wouldn’t have been mad if everybody came out here and they booed me,” Rousey said in a prefight media scrum. “I have to admit, it really warms my heart a lot to get such a major reception from the people I respect so much. The reception that I’ve gotten here, I just try my best to deserve it.”