Ronda Rousey knows what it’s like to fight at home. She’s competed in an arena filled with family and friends, heard that roar that is unlike any other, and has picked up her check and gone to sleep in her own bed on fight night.
So she knows better than most what New York fighters will be experiencing when they get to fight in their home state for the first time later this year, something that became a reality Tuesday when New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the professional MMA bill into law, making it legal for the sport in the Empire State.
“There's a lot of pride that comes with fighting in your hometown because it's like defending your turf,” Rousey said. “There's something about fighting that's territorial in a way. It's instinctual to defend your home and I think that's an experience no fighter should ever be deprived of. I'm really happy that they get to have that.”
In attendance at Madison Square Garden as Cuomo signed the bill, Rousey wasn’t just a special guest, joining UFC fighters from the area as well as UFC executives. The former UFC women’s bantamweight champion has been a key supporter of the initiative to get MMA legalized in New York State, making several trips over the years to speak to legislators about her sport. It was a cause she had no hesitation in embracing.
“Fighting for acceptance is always important to me, regardless of the venue and where it is,” she said of her support of pro MMA in New York. “I used to live upstate in Albany. I trained judo over there, and my best friends' families were over there and they never got a chance to see me perform because I was never allowed to be over here. I think the audacity of people saying ‘You can't,' that kept me coming back and wanting to fight for it even more and more.
"It was just the right thing to do, and it's never hard to get motivated to do the right thing.”
Rousey, an Olympic bronze medalist in judo for the United States in 2008, never got to compete in the hallowed Garden during her years on the mat, but she does recall winning in an Am-Can tournament that was held in Buffalo. Of course, knowing Rousey’s post-fight meal of chicken wings, there had to be a story connected to the birthplace of Buffalo wings.
“It was a big tournament for us. But I remember I made myself real sick eating Buffalo wings right after I made weight,” she recalled with a laugh. "It was one of those tournaments where we got to weigh in the day before, which don't come along very often, so I murdered myself on those wings that night.”
She may finally get another chance at competing in New York though, as UFC is planning two events in the state before the end of 2016, including a Nov. 12 date at MSG, along with four nore events next year. As for The Garden, a venue that has been of the MMA legalization movement’s strongest supporters over the years, it’s a place Rousey says she avoided until the sport was legalized.
“I was being a brat about it, I guess,” she said, laughing. “And now that they let MMA in, I was like 'let's all go to The Garden.' Now I'm super excited about it. I'm a girl and it's hard to take rejection a little bit sometimes.”
For any fighter, competing in that storied venue is something to tell the kids and grandkids about. For Rousey, it would mean even more.
“It would definitely be a cool thing to stick on your resume, but I wouldn't do it for that reason,” she said. “It's important because of the history. I want a tie to a historical place like this and I want to be remembered in a positive way. I'm from Los Angeles, where if something is 50 years old, they tear it down and build a new one. It's not for my own vanity. It's for a place in history. I don't have a single picture of myself fighting in my house. I don't have my belts, they're hidden. I don't like putting stuff out there, but I like fighting for a place in history.”
As an Olympic medalist, Strikeforce champion, UFC champion, the first woman to appear in a UFC bout, first female MMA fighter to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated, first mixed martial artist to win an ESPY award, etc., Rousey has already made more history than most fighters could dream. But there’s always room for some more, including her place in an event in New York.
“I would love to have the opportunity to fight here because this is another time I feel like I earned the right to fight here because I fought for it,” she said. “It wasn't just something that fell on my plate; I was part of the process and I think that's what a lot of the New York fighters will be feeling when they finally get to fight in their hometown.
"It's not that they're just defending their turf, but they fought for their right and won the right to be able to defend their turf. Any fighter that fights here is going to feel that vibe, but the New Yorkers are going to feel it double. I'm a little bit envious, to be honest.”
Rousey laughed, but she shouldn’t have to worry. Her work to get MMA legalized in New York has likely earned her honorary citizenship. Even Cuomo would probably agree, as he already gave his endorsement for Rousey to appear on the MSG card this November.
“I'm very excited about the November match here at The Garden,” he said. “I'm not a promoter, but boy, if Ronda Rousey fought here in November, that would be a hell of an event. I would call in to reserve my seat right now.”