In May Sports Illustrated called you “the world’s most dominant athlete” on its cover. Do you agree?
I think anyone considered for that kind of title would already think that they deserve it. You don’t wake up Thursday and suddenly think you’re the best in the world. You start off thinking that.
You’re best known for your “armbar,” in which you pressure an opponent’s elbow, forcing her to tap out of a fight. What does applying an armbar feel like?
Exactly like ripping off a Thanksgiving turkey leg.
You were an Olympic judoka trained by your mom, who won America’s first-ever judo world title in 1984. Did she really armbar you in your sleep?
Yeah, sometimes. I would have to be ready. It really helps with your confidence. A lot of people will get in your head, whereas I’m thinking I can beat this person right out of my sleep. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world right now to have a mom like that.
After winning a bronze medal in judo at the 2008 Olympics, you fell into a depression before taking up mixed martial arts. What was the low point?
Living in my car. I literally sat in a bar alone and just tried to complain to random people walking by, like, “I’m a homeless Olympian.” I knew I was a loser at that point.
Do you face sexism as a female athlete?
Well, people constantly ask me why I’m single. If I was a young, rich, successful 28-year-old guy, everyone would be like, “No doubt he’s single, he’s living the life, he’s living the dream.” But I’m single and everyone’s like, “Oh, what’s wrong with you, poor girl?”
Caitlyn Jenner’s transition has brought more attention to transgender issues. Would you go up against a transgender fighter, like Fallon Fox?
I believe it’s one of the things that should be case by case and up to a doctor. I’m no expert. But from whatever research I’ve been able to do, it seems that science has not reached the point where if you’ve already gone through puberty as a man, they can make it physically even for a man and a woman.
Your acting career has also flourished: you appeared in the Entourage movie and have been featured in Furious 7 and The Expendables 3. What’s harder, acting or being an MMA fighter?
MMA fighter, one hundred percent. Acting is just so much more lighthearted and fun. Whereas when I’m fighting, this is some f-cking serious sh-t about to go down. No one is laughing, no one is chitchatting, no one on their cell phone. Period.
What’s the weirdest thing you eat while training for a fight?
I have, like, a tablespoon of psyllium husks or something. I have to mix it in water and drink it. It’s really high-fiber stuff that tastes like snot.
Your opponent on Aug. 1, Bethe Correia, recently said that she hopes you don’t kill yourself if you lose; your father committed suicide when you were young. She apologized, saying she didn’t know about your dad. Does this still bother you?
I don’t believe her apology for one second. It’s entirely disingenuous, and I don’t accept it.
You have said you love to be hated. Why?
It leaves room for error. If you’re the perfect little hero and you mess up, people find out that you’re not the perfect little hero. But if you’re the villain, the antihero, then your mistakes make you more complex and interesting.
This appears in the July 20, 2015 issue of TIME.
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