GLENDALE, Calif. — Moments after Mike Tyson stepped into the Glendale Fighting Club, Ronda Rousey grabbed her judo coach and abruptly flung him onto the canvas with an enormous bang.
This training violence unsettled Iron Mike, whose eyes widened in awe while Rousey repeatedly hip-tossed Justin Flores with the same brute skill. The former heavyweight champion finally spoke up.
“It just doesn’t look fun no more,” Tyson said with a smile.
“It’s fun for me,” Rousey replied from the cage. “I don’t know about him.”
Tyson once dominated boxing in much the same way Rousey dominates mixed martial arts, overwhelming every opponent in their paths with a mixture of pre-fight intimidation, hard-earned skill and unstoppable force.
Dana White realizes the comparison is inexact, but the UFC president believes no other athletes in the so-called combat sports have separated themselves from their competition more than Tyson and Rousey over the past 30 years.
“These are two of the greatest to ever walk the planet in their sports,” White said. “Not many people in the world can relate to that.”
Although the 49-year-old Tyson is years removed from any interest in competition, he saw shades of himself in the UFC’s most authoritative champion when he dropped in to meet the appreciative Rousey this week. Tyson has watched Rousey’s fights cageside for years, but hadn’t seen her training work up close.
“Ronda, she’s a lady. Polite, kind, sweet and adorable,” Tyson said. “But her whole barometer is, she’s a killer. She has that killer aura, meaning anything is capable of happening. Whoa! That’s exciting before the fight even starts. I think of myself when I watch her.”
Rousey (11-0) is the only women’s bantamweight champion in the UFC’s history, and the two-time U.S. Olympic judoka has dominated her new sport. She is heavily favored to win her next bout against Bethe Correia at UFC 190 in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 1, but that hasn’t stopped it from becoming one of the most attractive pay-per-view fights of the year, according to White.
Rousey, who has stopped 10 of her 11 opponents in the first round, has been a big fan of Tyson for years. After the fighters chatted for several minutes, she even left her training session wearing an Iron Mike T-shirt.
“Tyson is like the God of War,” White said. “When people see him at their fights, they freak out. They love fighting in front of him.”
After they bumped fists, Rousey gave tips to Tyson on Armenian food, and Tyson expressed his admiration for Rousey’s training focus in front of spectators. When Tyson mentioned that his favorite moments were his post-fight return to his hotel room with “the belt and the cash,” Rousey immediately agreed.
“You look in the mirror, and you’re like, ‘What happened today?'” she said.
“It’s very humbling, and I was just honored that he would go through the trouble or go out of his way to watch me train,” Rousey added. “I’m really glad he was able to come, but it won’t be until after I beat Bethe and go home and go back to the hotel and look at myself in the mirror for the first time, like he was saying, that’s the moment it all hits you. He knows better than anyone what that moment is like.”
Rousey has promised to make her next fight painful for Correia, the trash-talking Brazilian who has mentioned Rousey’s late father in her pre-fight taunts. Rousey, whose previous three fights lasted a total of 96 seconds, said she wants Correia to lose “in the most devastatingly embarrassing way possible.”
Tyson won the heavyweight title in 1986 by knocking out six of seven opponents within the first two rounds, and he remembers that feeling of seeming invincibility.
Tyson knows it’s an intoxicating position. He is glad Rousey has been able to handle it.
“Listen, if you want to become anything close to being a god, the first thing you’ve got to know how to do is know how to decimate,” Tyson said. “If you’re a god, you have to know how to decimate, and that’s what she does. It would be very easy for her to have a big head, (to say), ‘I can beat anybody in this world.’ I don’t know. Maybe she’s a likeness of a god.”