Wrestler hits milestone in her film career

Ronda Rousey gets her first major action role in Mile 22, playing a CIA operative.
Ronda Rousey gets her first major action role in Mile 22, playing a CIA operative.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LOS ANGELES • Ronda Rousey is no longer down on the canvas and being counted out. She was once again on a dais to promote an event she was prominently featured in, but this time the other participants were not fighters.

They were not even fellow WWE wrestlers, though she would do plenty of press over this week in New York ahead of SummerSlam, where she will fight for the women's championship against Alexa Bliss.

On this day, Rousey was flanked by leading man Mark Wahlberg, director Peter Berg and others at a press junket in Beverly Hills for action film Mile 22, which opened last Friday in the United States.

Rousey portrays a CIA operative on a mission in South-east Asia.

She briefly appeared in the films Furious 7 (2015) and The Expendables 3 (2014), but Mile 22 represents her first major action role.

Along with her burgeoning career in the WWE, Rousey's second act is off to a rousing start.

She learnt to wrestle last year at the WWE Performance Centre in Orlando, Florida, where the training included plenty of tutorials on acting. But now she had to figure out the nuances of film too.

"A lot of people doubt that anyone can master more than one thing," Rousey said, "and it's easy to get stuck in (the mindset of) 'you're already good at this thing, you're good at what's comfortable', and it's hard to try and learn something new with the world watching. But I love those kinds of challenges and I love people doubting me".

Rousey knows all about doubt under the magnifying glass of the public eye. Her career was in shambles just 20 months ago and her post-UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fortunes looked grim as she battled depression in the aftermath of two devastating defeats.

She was loath to delve into the details of her emotional state following her fall from the top of the sporting landscape, but the 31-year-old opened up during a private speaking engagement moderated by Berg at his Santa Monica boxing gym.

"I did a whole lot of crying, isolating myself," admitted Rousey, who paused intermittently to dab away at tears with a tissue. "(Husband Travis Browne) held me and let me cry and it lasted two years. I couldn't have done it alone.

"There're a lot of things you have to remember. Every missed opportunity is a blessing in disguise. I had to learn from experience. Time is a great teacher. It's that belief that time passes, even bad times."

Now, Rousey is enjoying plenty of good times once again. She has been praised for her performances in WWE and is already one of the organisation's top draws.

Most of all, she has dealt with the demons that accompany a fall from grace in public life.

She was widely panned at first for shunning any questions about the losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes that effectively ended her fighting career.

Perhaps it was the rapport she struck with Berg on set in Colombia, but for the first time, Rousey was open and forthcoming when the painful losses were broached.

"One thing my mother never taught me was how to lose. She never wanted me to entertain it as a possibility," said Rousey, who won a bronze in judo at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

As a little girl growing up in Venice, California, she dealt with apraxia, a motor-speech disorder.

She did not begin speaking until she was six and her difficulty with verbal communication taught her to be economical with her words.

The former UFC bantamweight champion admitted she was hesitant at times to "say anything at all" when she knew her chatter would be "cut, copy and pasted, split into 10 different articles so you can put out 10 different headlines… so they can get 10 times the clicks".

"We live in an age of what I like to call trial by Twitter," said Rousey, who has 3.2 million followers on the platform. "There's no incentive for speaking your opinion anymore because you're always going to offend someone, so what do you really gain from stating your opinion about anything?

"If you're a public person, you get a really big punch in the stomach instead of a slap on the wrist. Eventually, that whittles people down and they express less and less of what they think."

She is also no longer beating down opponents unless it is part of the script. She has rewritten her story arc and along the way learnt that "self-reliance and independence is real freedom".

It is not simply positive thinking.

Rousey and Browne, a heavyweight in the UFC, live off the land on a large compound in rural southern California.

There, they raise chicken, steer and goat.

"Instead of my apocalypse plan being (linked to) alcohol and maybe tears, which is a lot of people's plan, I'm like, I'm going to make it. If anyone's going to make it, I'm going to make it."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2018, with the headline 'Wrestler hits milestone in her film career'. Print Edition | Subscribe