Thursday, July 25, 2024

Ronda Rousey believes she started getting concussions at 6-years-old: ‘Nobody talks about it’

Ronda Rousey isn’t taking the traditional route to retirement. The former UFC and WWE champion is working on her debut graphic novel “Expecting the Unexpected,” plus additional Hollywood ventures. But compared to the physical tolls that a lifetime of martial arts took on Rousey, her new projects are labors of love.

Rousey made the full-time transition from UFC to WWE between 2016 and 2018. Her exit from mixed martial arts was swift and relatively quiet, not giving Rousey and her fans much closure. Rousey revealed earlier this year that concussions kept her tight-lipped as she tried to embark on a professional wrestling career but her concussion history predates MMA by a large margin.

“If the concussions weren’t an issue, things would’ve happened completely differently,” Rousey told CBS Sports. “Accumulative neurological injury is something people don’t talk about in MMA. It’s something that everybody is dealing with at a different pace. I started dealing with it at six-years old. I started getting concussions much earlier on in swimming. Two kids doing a backstroke in the other direction crack heads or hit the wall doing the backstroke. 

“I started doing judo at a young age and kept getting concussions regularly and multiple times a year and not being allowed to speak up or say anything about it. As a fighter, you’re not supposed to show any weakness or talk about things like that or the inevitable neurological decline that comes with taking headshots. A lot of people talk about it as if it’s making excuses or weakness.” 

Rousey’s final two fights in her world-renowned career were her only two losses, both by KO. It was a sign that a lifetime of accumulative head trauma was catching up to her and a caution for her long-term future.

“I have a whole list for my life to think about, and you’ll never know when you take one hit too many until many decades later,” Rousey said. “But I also don’t think I would be serving the sport or the division the right way if I stuck around too long. I got to a point where I knew that I literally could not be taking those head impacts and continue to compete at that same level. It doesn’t do the sport any favor. It’s a bad look on women’s MMA in general. I am the representative of that sport.”

MMA fighters are notoriously stubborn. Major UFC stars like Dustin Poirier, Alexander Volkanovski, and even controversial former champion Sean Strickland have started opening up in a banner year for mental health. Many fighters have also moved away from full-force, full-contact sparring to a training style more conducive to longevity. Rousey asserts that fighter well-being is still severely overlooked and warns of the fight game’s long-term hazards.

“You see that happen to a lot of fighters as they age. It takes less and less and less to be able to hurt them and for them to get knocked out,” Rousey said. “It’s not just them losing matches. Their brains get injured. That is going to hurt them later on in their life and they end up getting punch-drunk or slurring or in wheelchairs and all this stuff and nobody talks about it.

“I wish more people would because the longevity of our fighters is at stake. I want all these fighters to get old gracefully and hold their grandkids and stuff like that, not to be another one of those cautionary tales.”

MMA is in Rousey’s rearview mirror but she’ll never completely separate from martial arts. It’s quite the opposite. Retirement has allowed Rousey to reconnect with the skills that took her to the Olympics, made her the UFC’s first women’s champion and a legitimate mainstream attraction.

Rousey is actively training one pupil and has long-term plans to open a free dojo in Hawaii with her husband, Travis Browne. Even her graphic novel, which launches a Kickstarter campaign on July 25 that includes alternate cover art and the ability for fans to be drawn into the story, embodies her relationship with martial arts.

“Fight choreography in comics has not been done in this way before. You don’t often see grappling sequences and stuff like that,” Rousey said. “It’s a lot of, ‘punch, kick, energy beam!’ I love ‘Dragon Ball Z’ more than anyone, but I’m just saying that in this medium, the action has been limited in how it’s been shown. And so the action that we’ve done in this, I choreographed it, I performed it and I taped it.”

Rousey linked up with comic book artist Mike Deodato Jr. — who has drawn for properties like “Avengers,” “Batman,” “Captain America” and “Wonder Woman” for DC Comics and Marvel — and former Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso to tell a fictional story influenced by her life and career.

“It was right when me and my husband were trying to get pregnant the first time. I guess it was delving into the dilemma of bringing a child into a hostile world and I was getting pregnant during COVID and all this stuff. It’s a crazy act of optimism having a kid and bringing them into the world and believing that you can guide them through all of this that’s going on.

“It was something that was inside of me as a martial artist and hopeless romantic. It’s very much if you read it, it’s me and my husband and our relationship, but taken to the nth degree. What is more difficult than trying to have a baby and no one’s helping you? Oh, trying to have a baby and everyone’s trying to kill you, but not taking itself too seriously at all and doing a lot of it with a laugh and a wink and a cute little love story.”

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