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Ronda Rousey, Down-on-Her-Luck Judo Star Turned MMA Dominator

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Legends are made not only by their deeds, but the stories behind them. We’re sharing the stories of today’s sports legends, who defied all odds to wow the world — not unlike the heroes and villains of DC's Legends of Tomorrow. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Series Premiere Thursday Jan. 21 at 8/7c on The CW. Check out the trailer here.

A potent blend of brawn and beauty, grace and ferocity, Ronda Rousey is the ultimate warrior. Since turning pro four years ago, the 28-year-old mixed martial arts fighter has quickly become the sport's most dominant athlete. During an 11-bout winning streak, she overwhelmed most of her opponents in under a minute, pulverizing them with devastating blows and a debilitating armbar maneuver. (Rousey took a mere 14 seconds — her fastest win — to force Cat Zingano to tap out in a championship bout at UFC 184.)

Rousey has talked a mean game, too. Whether it's been blustery trash-talking to help promote her fights or unapologetic statements about self-esteem, domestic violence, and body image, she's become an inspiration as a feminist, role model, and consummate badass. Movie roles, endorsement deals, talk show appearances, magazine spreads, and big paychecks have followed, raising her profile even further. Until her recent shocking defeat at the hands of Holly Holm, Rousey had been called the world's best pound-for-pound fighter and a revolutionary sports figure. Despite that loss, her mainstream ascendance is the stuff of legend, where even the mighty must sometimes fall, if only so they can one day rise again.

In fact, this California native is used to facing adversity and coming back stronger. Born in 1987 with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, she cheated death. A lack of oxygen caused slight brain damage, which prevented her from speaking intelligibly until age 6. Two years later, her father committed suicide. Judo became her saving grace. At 16, she made the 2004 Olympic team but failed to medal. The following Olympic games Rousey won a bronze medal, but that high was short-lived. After retiring from judo at 21, she lost herself in a series of bad situations — sleeping in her car, abusing drugs, and dating unsavory guys.

Then she discovered MMA and cleaned up her life. She relied on the armbar move to neutralize opponents quickly in her early amateur fights. Her domination continued when she turned pro, winning the Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Championship in 2012. Her tenacity caught the eye of Dana White, who created a women's division in his Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world's biggest martial arts league. He banked on Rousey — a once down-on-her luck ex-Olympian and MMA newcomer — to bring more interest and coverage to the sport. And she delivered, even in defeat.

Now the former champion must show her resilience — the hallmark of a true winner — in what is sure to be an epic rematch with Holm. "To get anything of real value, you have to fight for it," Rousey once said. We can't wait for the rumble.

Illustrations by Joshua Ariza.

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