LAS VEGAS – Ronda Rousey would tell you that it took her more than a decade of brutally hard work to become an overnight sensation in 2013.
There were many long days and nights spent in the gym where no one wanted her autograph, or asked to pose for a picture with her, or cared about her opinion of world events.
Despite the opinion of some of her peers, however, nothing was given to Rousey. She's worked for everything she has, but she's hardly alone among athletes in sweat equity and pushing herself beyond normal human limits.
Few, though, have ever had the impact upon their sports that Rousey, the UFC women's bantamweight champion, has already had upon hers, particularly in such a short period of time.
The UFC has put on more than 250 events in its more than 20 years of existence, and never before has there been a fighter who commanded such extraordinary attention with such little cage exposure as Rousey.
Rousey has fought one time in the UFC, with 4:49 of cage time.
Yet, by the time this year ends, she will not only have defended her title twice, she'll have starred in a television reality series, had key roles in two major motion pictures, testified in front of state legislatures from one end of the country to the other in support of mixed martial arts, and done a live spot on a late-night talk show. She also was the company's most requested fighter for personal appearances and became the first woman to make the UFC's pound-for-pound Top 10.
Whatever the UFC is paying her, it's gotten its money's worth and way more.
With ex-welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre on sabbatical and considering retirement, Rousey is arguably the UFC's biggest drawing card.
Her fight with Miesha Tate on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden is the co-main event of UFC 168, but one of the reasons UFC president Dana White is so confident of the show's pay-per-view success is because of Rousey's presence.
Whether she's the greatest women's MMA fighter in the world remains to be seen, but she has no peer when it comes to attracting an audience.
She didn't make many new fans during her coaching stint on "The Ultimate Fighter." She frequently came across as mean and petulant and constantly seemed to have a sneer on her face.
The fact that Tate beat her head-to-head in the first round of a fan-voting contest to be on the cover of a video game says much about the perception of her after TUF. To be fair, Tate campaigned to win the vote and Rousey did not, but the public outcry against her from TUF viewers was loud and clear.
Still, it's not a bad thing to have a segment of the audience against you. The worst thing for an athlete who needs to sell tickets and pay-per-views to make a living is an apathetic fan base. There's next to no apathy where Rousey is concerned.
You either love her or you hate her, but if you're an MMA fan, you unquestionably have feelings about her.
The unanswerable question at this stage is whether she'll be able to come close to sustaining the pace she's set. One movie is a year's work for most people. So, too, is a starring role in a television series. And of course, being a professional fighter is a grueling, difficult, full-time job.
But Rousey also gets far more media attention than the overwhelming majority of UFC fighters and that becomes yet another full-time job in and of itself.
She had no time in 2013 to veg out, relax at home with her friends and family, and enjoy the fruits of her success.
And so, the only possible downside with her is sustainability. It's not as if she's going to get multiple movie offers a year, but she's still going to be in exceptional demand: commercials, photo shoots, promotional interviews, autograph sessions and an increasingly better brand of opposition are guaranteed to fill her datebook in coming years.
Rousey admitted she needed a break from the MMA scene and said the movies were, in a way, a blessing.
"Everything happened at the exact perfect time," Rousey said of her roles in "Fast & Furious 7" and "The Expendables 3." "And I think it was good for me to really kind of get away and kind of change the environment I was in for a little bit. It's kind of hard to change your mind set when you're in the same environment.
"So I kind of got to do a little bit of reset. And I was still training really, really hard. And I flew out a couple of my teammates from TUF to Bulgaria to help me train. I continued my training there, but I got to do stuff that was different. That just kind of like really reinvigorated my drive. The first day when I got back, it was just like, 'All right. It's camp time.' It really kind of broke up the long period between my last fight and now."
She desperately wants to defeat Tate, not only because she despises Tate but also because that's part of who she is.
She puts demands on herself that most others can't understand. Just winning isn't enough. Expectations on her are extraordinary, but they aren't even close to the pressure she puts on herself.
Successful athletes have an attitude that maybe doesn't make them the most warm and fuzzy human beings, but it propels them to success. Rousey definitely has that.
"Every single fight is more pressure than ever before," Rousey said. "… Every single fight is the end of the world. I've always been raised to be the kind of fighter who rises above myself in high-pressure situations. The more pressure it is, the better I'm going to perform. And that's the only reason why I try to increase the stakes every single fight, you know? It's really hard to get just as motivated for the same goal twice.
"So that's kind of why I was so down to go do these movies before this fight because I already won the UFC title. I already beat Miesha. How could I get even more excited and pumped about it the second time around? I wanted to raise the stakes and make it more difficult for myself and be like, 'You know what? I'm going to make two movies and I'm going beat this chick.' I'm going to make it even more unprecedented than ever before."
It will be quite a feat if she pulls it off. Tate is a quality fighter and no pushover.
Rousey, though, is a different breed.
White didn't have to ask for a gift on Christmas, because he got one when Rousey came along in February.
It's not a gift he should expect to have for years and years and years, though.
Given the pace she sets and the tremendous demands placed upon her, Rousey doesn't figure to be still doing this in 2038, when she would be 51 and challenging Ron van Clief's mark as the oldest fighter in UFC history.
The best thing for Rousey will be for the women's game to continue the upward arc that she set it upon and for other, equally bright stars to develop.
That's the only way to guarantee a long future for her in the sport.
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