Pittston dad says Ronda Rousey is a great role model for his daughters
Jess Papi, a mixed martial arts instructor at Scranton MMA, says Ronda Rousey is unstoppable.
Rousey is the first and current female UFC bantamweight champion. At 28, she has become the most commanding mixed martial arts fighter in the sport’s history. She’s undefeated in all of her 12 professional fights — 11 of which she won in the first round. Her combats are fiercely impressive, tending to last less than 60 seconds.
Sports Illustrated hailed Rousey to be the most dominant athlete of 2015 — male or female. Rolling Stone named her the world’s most dangerous woman. Not a bad feat, considering five years ago, Rousey was a pot-smoking, booze-swilling cocktail waitress so hard up for cash that she lived out of her Honda Accord, according to an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in May.
The world has taken notice of Rousey’s badassery and it is bowing down.
Young girls like Crystal Smith, of Pittston, look up to Rousey. Others, such as Tykira Silas, of Hamlin, despise the brutal warrior, and call her a negative role model with poor sportsmanship. As Rousey trains to headline UFC 193, her next fight against Holly Holm in Melbourne, Australia, on Nov. 14, a group of female mixed martial artists from Northeastern Pennsylvania laid the takedown on the MMA game changer.
Weekender met up with Papi, Smith, Silas, and Courtney Dempsey, of South Abington Twp. at Scranton MMA as they finished a class in advanced Jiu Jitsu. They were dripping with sweat, and their adrenaline was peaked. The group shared a unanimous understanding that Rousey is “the best female fighter on earth,” but dissented on whether the fighter was a first-rate representation for mixed martial arts outside the ring.
Papi says mixed martial arts should unite people to become better at a skill, and help others achieve greatness.
“We’re not here to beat each other up and hurt each other,” Papi said. “We’re here to really help each other. The stuff that we do — Ju Jitsu, Muay Thai, Judo and boxing — it’s great for self-defense. It’s great for your health. It’s great for confidence.”
Smith, 13, was quick to announce that Rousey is her idol. She said watching Rousey empowered her to take up mixed martial arts six months ago to defend herself from bullies at school. Now, she has the confidence to confront someone if they pick on her.
“This girl, she bullied me for a while. She used to call me names and spread rumors,” Smith said. “So I confronted her because I got sick of it. The girl kept saying, ‘Oh, girls should be cheerleaders. Girls aren’t supposed to fight.’ So I was like, ‘Coming from the girl that would probably end up pregnant, dead or in jail?’”
Smith said she was then pushed into a locker. “I ended up Judo-flipping her in the air,” she said.
Smith’s father, Tom, thinks it’s great that his daughter admires Rousey.
“She was picked on, and Ronda Rousey inspired her to defend herself,” Tom said. “Parents would understand if they have a kid being bullied.” His other daughter, Skylar, 15, also trains. “They know not to start. It’s more about self-defense, and knowing they can defend themselves,” Tom said.
Silas rolled her eyes. She stringently believes Rousey is a bad role model for girls like Smith. When Rousey noticeably refused to shake hands with opponent Miesha Tate after defeating her in Jan. 2014, Silas was left with a “bad taste” in her mouth.
“Win or lose, I draw (my opponent) in for the real thing and hug them after,” Silas said. “I feel like, respectfully, I have to acknowledge that you were willing to get down on the ground with me and fight me. (Rousey) needs to portray herself in the same way, a way that is worthy to being looked up to as a champion. She should always keep in mind that young girls will look up to her.”
Dempsey is 25 years old and looks up to Rousey.
“I love the fact that she can get in a ring and not let her gender define what she can do,” Dempsey said. “That’s a good message for young women who are really struggling with people saying, ‘She needs to be a cheerleader.’”
Silas added not every girl wants to be a cheerleader, or a doctor or a lawyer. Some girls want to be a fighter.
Dempsey noted she was a ballerina, the captain of her cheerleading squad at Scranton Prep, and continued to cheer in college at The University of Scranton.
“I lost the ability to compete in sports because I’m older now and out of school,” Dempsey said. “I was always fascinated with mixed martial arts. It was my secret. Then I decided to do it. This really gets my mind going. You’re always anticipating what the next person’s move is. It really gets me engaged. I built a lot of strength and confidence.”
Dempsey said her confidence carries off the mat into everyday life. “If you can feel empowered and learn a skill, no matter what it is, you get that confidence in yourself and you can apply that confidence to every other area of your life,” she said.
A difference in opinions aside, they all shared gratitude for Rousey’s contribution to putting females involved with mixed martial arts on the map.
With the help of Rousey, women are more open to participating in mixed martial arts, and Scranton MMA welcomes them with open arms to be part of their mixed martial arts community, Papi said.
Would any of them be willing to challenge Rousey to a fight? Not in this lifetime. However, they agreed it would be an honor to say the undefeated champion kicked their ass.
Reach Justin Adam Brown at 570-991-6652 or on Twitter @TLArts. Follow him on Instagram and Snapchat @justinadambrown