LAS VEGAS – Ronda Rousey’s current life is that of a superstar athlete and media celebrity, with talk show appearances, red carpet events and a bank balance fueled by her mixed martial arts paychecks and growing number of movie credits.
Even when she is not fighting her presence is felt. The outcome of the women’s bantamweight clash between Holly Holm and Miesha Tate at UFC 196 this Saturday has Rousey-related repercussions written all over it – both of this weekend’s protagonists want a shot at the UFC’s biggest female drawcard.
Yet it is easy to forget that for all her popularity and fame, the Ultimate Fighting Championship star was living in squalor just a few years ago.
Back in 2011, Rousey’s home was a ramshackle property in Venice Beach, Calif., that was overgrown and consigned to be demolished as soon as the fighter and her roommates moved out.
“I’m surprised we didn’t invent a new strain of cholera,” Rousey said in footage of the home, which will be revealed along with details of her pre-stardom life in an upcoming documentary.
The film, titled In Her Father’s Eyes, is due to be released this year and tells the story of the 29-year-old during an seven-year period dating back to her initial steps into the octagon.
Filmmakers Gary Stretch, a former professional boxer turned actor, and Peter Antico, a Hollywood stuntman, actor and film producer, followed Rousey long before she hit the big time.
In footage shared with USA TODAY Sports, the movie portrays a different side of Rousey. At her home, which has clearly seen better days, Rousey had written on the wall in Sharpie: “I wonder what our garbage disposal thinks of us.”
However, despite her limited means at the time – Rousey also spent a brief period sleeping in her car – she appeared content.
“I think she was happier back then,” her mother, AnnMaria De Mars, told USA TODAY Sports. De Mars has seen a version of the documentary, made by Stretch and Antico in collaboration with The Safest Place on Earth, a Los Angeles production company, and said it left her feeling sentimental.
“I don’t feel that way very often,” said De Mars, a former world judo champion. “But it was different time for Ronda. She didn’t have a lot but she knew who her real friends were.
“People say that if you’re a beautiful woman no one ever tells you the truth and I think it is the same if you are wealthy. Back then she knew that if people wanted to hang out with her it was because they genuinely wanted to spend time with her. Not because they were leeches.”
Antico said that Rousey, who is tentatively scheduled to return to the octagon in November for a potential rematch with Holm, will see the film in the coming weeks. “We met Ronda in the years before anyone knew her name,” Antico said. “We really tried to capture who Ronda is and we had the advantage of spending a lot of time with her. She is a sweet-natured and genuine person and we saw her evolve into this famous athlete before our eyes.
“But it is fair to say that her life was very different only a few years ago. When we turned up at the place in Venice it was so overgrown it was hard to find it.”
In the clip, Rousey explained part of the reason behind the mess strewn around the property.
“They are tearing the house down right after we move out,” she said. “As soon as we found out we were like, ‘Well who gives a (expletive). (But) it was already kind of hellish when I moved in.”
Stretch, who appeared in the film Alexander alongside Colin Farrell, laughs when he remembers Rousey’s humble past.
“We were like, where are we?” Stretch said. “It didn’t look like the kind of place where someone was actually living. It was like a jungle outside and looked like it was about to fall down.
“But it is part of Ronda’s story and why what she has achieved is so special. She is a strong and confident woman and we first met her at a time when she was still finding her way.
“She may not have had much financially but she had this drive and spirit and determination. That is why she has become as big as she is. She made it happen herself.”