Ronda Rousey had some issues with “The Ultimate Fighter” setup. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
BOSTON -- Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight titleholder Ronda Rousey, archrival Miesha Tate and UFC President Dana White sat stools on the floor of a chilly movie theatre on a Thursday night in August, directly beneath the screen, and stared into a blinding spotlight. Behind it, invited popcorn-munching media members peppered them with questions about the 18th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, which premiered on Wednesday on Fox Sports 1.
By the time it was over, the junket, designed to ballyhoo the show, felt like it accomplished nothing of the sort; or maybe, as is often the case in reality television, it was all one big tease. One could not tell, and that was the idea. Rousey, the women’s MMA megastar, could not hide her irritation. She spoke mostly in hushed tones, looked down a lot, emphasized that she did not know about the screening until the last minute and said her mind was on an upcoming trip Bulgaria to film “The Expendables 3.”
“I didn’t want to come to this at all,” Rousey said.
She also made it clear before the episode screened that she intended to avoid watching the show at all. She is anxious about how she will be viewed and how some of the more trying moments will be portrayed. After the screening, Rousey did not appear distressed -- “I wasn’t really worried about the first episode,” she clarified -- but said the scene where it was revealed to her that her opposing coach would be rival Tate, not the injured Cat Zingano, illustrates her discontent.
“It kind of set the tone for the whole series, where they would purposely go out of their way to manipulate me to make me react as dramatically as possible, which is probably one of the reasons I walked away from the whole experience with a pretty sour taste in my mouth,” Rousey said.
In the scene, Tate flashes a prolonged, knowing smiley at Rousey, who briefly thought that she, not Zingano, was being replaced by Tate due to an unspecified dispute between White and Rousey’s agent prior to filming. Tate tells Rousey she is there to coach and to see White for further details. Rousey storms off to do so, and we have our drama. Tate said she was instructed not to tell Rousey what was going on.
“It was something that was discussed before,” she said. “I think it made for better lead up, kind of that curiosity, and so I agreed that that’s what we were going to kind of do; and so I just walked in there. I didn’t want to give it all away. I wanted to see the full reaction.”
That is television, but Rousey lashes back when she senses people expect anything of her, let alone when they try to manipulate her emotions.
“They didn’t really care about making it easy on us; they cared about making it entertaining for everybody else,” Rousey said. “But it was nice to know what their priorities were, and it definitely wasn’t us.”
Earlier in the week, White told reporters that he was not worried that the show will taint the public’s image of Rousey.
“She says [expletive] more than I do,” he said. “She is who she is, and I think people like her for her fighting style and the type of person that she is. Ronda’s awesome, man. You’ll hear the people say, ‘Oh, they try to do this for the [‘Ultimate Fighter’]. I don’t try to do anything. We bring the people into the show, and then it all just happens. This thing is a pressure cooker. She really, really dislikes Miesha Tate.”
Rousey found another enemy on set: the production crew. She said she asked the crew at one point to not show a disagreement among her coaching staff, which included close friend and confidante Manny Gamburyan.
She is not sure if the request fell on deaf ears, which is part of the reason she is loath to watch the show.
“That’s the kind of stuff that I don’t want being shown, that we ever disagree,” Rousey said. “We want to always to be united, and all of our disagreements are internal and solved internally.”
While she did not seem worried, Tate acknowledged how drastically the editing of the show can alter perception about someone’s personality. She pointed to Canadian fighter Louis Fisette, who is portrayed on the premiere episode as a stay-at-home son who mooches off his father and lacks any desirable qualities.
“I was actually a little bit surprised by the way that Louis came off,” Tate said. “He came off very arrogant, and he’s actually a really, really nice guy, so I wasn’t sure if that was just part of his TV persona. That was a little surprising to me. There’s probably more surprises to come.”
One came in that same junket. The sullen Rousey suddenly started to beam when talking about the fighters she coached on the show -- “my babies,” she calls them -- and the group texts they have all been exchanging since filming wrapped. One got the impression that the bonding between her and the fighters was the only thing Rousey felt was real and enduring about the whole experience, and it was strictly because the cameras were not rolling.
“I was purposely trying to interact with them when the cameras weren’t around and try to have real conversations with them when the cameras weren’t around, much to the production’s dismay,” she said. “Just because I wanted them to know that I was talking to them and I was really speaking to them, just for them and not for the show.”
As against-the-grain as some of Rousey remarks may have sounded, they all served the UFC’s purpose to add an extra layer of intrigue to the season. Rousey is aware of this; she knows her disenfranchisement with the process of making “The Ultimate Fighter” is just as useful promotionally, if not more so, than if she was bubbly and pumped up about what is in store. Asked if coaching against Zingano instead of Tate would have made the process less stressful, Rousey was curt in her response.
“It probably would have been less stressful, but it probably wouldn’t have been as entertaining or given you as much to write about,” she said. “So I’m sure you’re very happy about that.”