Former Minot resident Rousey is first female UFC headliner

It had been 16 years since Ronda Rousey set foot on North Dakota’s frigid soil.

Back in December, Rousey, just days removed from signing a contract with UFC to become the first female fighter to compete in the Octagon, was helping a friend move from Albany N.Y., to Seattle and found herself on Interstate 94.

Before becoming an iconic figure – if not a trailblazer – in female mixed martial arts, she spent a sizable portion of her childhood in the Peace Garden State, residing in Minot, Jamestown and Devils Lake.

Long before her Olympic medal in judo during the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Seemingly eons before her meteoric rise as a media darling appearing on the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s oh-so-memorable 2012 Body Issue.

So Rousey (6-0), the main event in tonight’s UFC 157 airing at 9 p.m., figured she’d free-fall into nostalgia and took the first freeway exit into Jamestown.

“We drove through and it still had a lot of the same Christmas decorating,” said Rousey, who fill face Liz Carmouche (8-2) in the $55 pay-per-view fight. “I visited my old house and the old concrete kennel we had for our dog was still there. Not a lot had changed.”

But so much had changed.

Perhaps not for North Dakota – outside of its recent rush of black gold, anyway – but for the extroverted Rousey who, as a child, could hardly mutter a sentence.

Not that she wouldn’t. She just couldn’t.

Born in Riverside, Calif., Rousey and her family relocated to Minot in part because of Minot State University’s lauded speech therapy program. Because her mother, Ann Maria Rousey DeMars, was involved in the school’s psychology department, MSU treated Rousey’s speech problem at no cost.

At 4 years old family members couldn’t make heads or tails of what she was saying. By age 9, however, MSU’s program had essentially stripped her of the deficiency.

“I went from not being able to talk to having the lead role in my school play,” said Rousey, who attended the now-defunct St. John Catholic School in the early 1990s.

Clearing up the speech that’s made her the camera-friendly, trash-talking and foul-mouthed beauty the niche sport has adored was the peak during her time in the Magic City.

It also had a deep valley.

When Rousey was 3 her father, Ron, severely injured his back in a sledding accident. During recovery he contracted Bernard-Soulier syndrome, a blood disorder that hindered the healing process. His spine was deteriorating and trips to the hospital had become a normal occurrence.

In 1995, as his health rapidly declined, Ron – who worked in Devils Lake, 120 miles from his family – decided to end his own life. He drove to a local pond, ran a hose from the exhaust pipe into the passenger side of his truck and died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Rousey was just 8 when her father passed. Memories of her him are directly correlated with her time in North Dakota.

And one memory always brings her a chuckle.

“Our dog kept coming home with porcupine quills in his face, and my mom just kept getting pissed about it,” Rousey said. “And, the last time it happened, my mom happened to be wearing a red dress and grabbed the shotgun and told my dad, ‘Go out there and kill that porcupine. I’m tired of this!’

“So my dad says ‘I’ve never said no to a woman in a red dress with a shotgun, and I’m not going to start.’ I’ll never forget that.”

Dad instilled her competitive spirit, too.

In her earliest years in Minot, a town known for its competitive swimming, Ron got Ronda into the pool where she joined the Junior Olympics swim program. She won myriad races, but after Ron’s passing she gave up the sport.

When the family moved back to California, Rousey began to pursue her mother’s passion of judo, a move that ultimately became the inception of her career.

DeMars was the 1984 World Judo Champion and her connections in the sport helped her daughter to a desirable start.

Plus, Rousey had already developed enough grit from her short time in North Dakota and her mom’s rough-but-playful style.

“She’d always put me in armbars,” Rousey said with a laugh. “She’d jump on my bed and wake me up and put me in a hold.”

Now, after being dubbed a judo prodigy throughout her teens and early 20s, she’s dealing out her share of armbars – the painful kind.

Each of Rousey’s nine opponents have succumbed to a first-round defeat by way of Rousey’s signature move. She’s had eight of her opponents tap out in less than a minute.

Her no-mercy approach and loose tongue are why UFC president Dana White believes she’s the perfect mold for the sport.

“The reason we have women’s MMA now is because of her,” White told Yahoo! “If you’re thinking it’s because she’s attractive and this and that, and that’s great, but you hear how this girl talks? She is a Diaz brother inside.

“None of them have what this one has. She’s nasty, she’s mean. She would actually fight a guy if that was the case.”

Before being discovered by UFC and on the cusp of her MMA career, Rousey was a bartender who sometimes struggled to pay rent. Now, as a UFC headliner, she willbe making well into six-figures a bout.

The once-nomadic Rousey will never forget her roots, though.

“I was lucky to grow up in a place like Minot,” Rousey said. “You can run and play and not worry about being abducted.”