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The most famous fighter in the world is going down her menu of bone-snapping options, ticking off the possibilities.

"Which arm bar would you like to see?" Ronda Rousey says. She's the best mixed-martial artist at work, and one of the most dangerous humans alive. The arm bar is her signature move. She's ruined careers with it.

Which of them is least likely to cripple me?

"Okay, this is the one that that chick broke my arm with in the 2007 semi-finals."

That doesn't sound good.

Rousey's talking about the '07 judo world championships. In that contest, Dutchwoman Edith Bosch grabbed her left hand and spun her to the ground, crashing down on top of Rousey's straightened arm. The elbow joint popped out. Rousey popped it back in, and went on to win the match.

She's got hold of my shirt now, judoka-style, gently pulling this way and that. Rousey is taking my measure, while kinetically telegraphing hers. You get the uncomfortable sense of a very unfair fight about to kick off.

My arm is fully extended. Rousey spins in toward me quickly, coming up just short of the point where her inertia would put me in hospital. She does it a few times.

"All my bodyweight goes through your elbow, which only goes 180 degrees. It's a poorly designed joint."

Rousey stops, takes better hold of my hand and twists it around. I stiffen, entirely under her control. We're standing in the downtown Toronto boardroom of her Canadian publisher. There are plenty of witnesses. This is all in fun … I think. I'm not afraid of her, but I'm starting to wonder if I should be. She begins probing.

"This is one finger," Rousey says, pressing down into the gristle of my elbow with her free hand. She locks eyes. "I could break your arm with my thumb."

The first time she does it, it tingles. The second, it hurts. By the third, my arm goes numb. I squeal. Satisfied, she lets go.

"It's just physics and anatomy," Rousey says, grinning. She's got a lovely, wicked smile. The sort you imagine on the face of a killer.

Rousey, 28, has been coming up the Ultimate Fighting Championship ladder for a while, but she made her reputation in 96 seconds. That's the cumulative total it's taken to win her past three fights.

All of them go the same way. Rousey wins the match in the staredown. The bell rings. Shortly thereafter, it ends. In order, the past three were decided by a knee to the head; repeated punches to the face; and an arm bar.

The last of them – against then-undefeated American Cat Zingano – was supposed to be the bout that put Rousey to the test. It was over in 14 seconds.

A day later, Zingano still had no idea what had happened.

"It was a knee, then a throw, then a scramble and then my arm was – she was wrapped around my arm," Zingano said. "I don't know."

Rousey was similarly baffled. Even after repeated viewings of the brief tussle, she wasn't sure how she'd done it: "Sometimes, I feel like I'm thinking with my spinal cord."

That's why the fight audience adores her – she is an unguided missile seeking out random targets. She doesn't beat people into submission. She destroys them.

After a brief spike of interest in its Aughties heyday, UFC and mixed-martial arts plateaued. Pay-per-view numbers and live attendance are stagnant or slipping. The men's half of the bracket failed to throw up compelling personalities – the lifeblood of the fight game. Even the best of them present as thuggish dullards: boring inside the ring and/or boorish outside it.

While cagefighting has become more technically sophisticated, it's lost a great deal of its charm. Sort of like society in general.

Given those circumstances, Rousey hasn't just elevated her sport. She may have saved it. She's a throwback to a much earlier era. She likes to fight and she likes to talk. As good as she is at the former, she might be even better at the latter.

In the right situation, most of us can fake a big personality. But a very few of us have the gift of occupying the centre of attention without hogging it. Rousey is one of those. She doesn't push you out; she pulls you in.

She asks about her shoes. Should she put them back on? (Not really meant as a question.) She compliments a Canadian on his dialectic infirmities.

"I miss the 'ehs,'" Rousey says. "Just for that, I'm happy to do this interview."

This is what makes her so alluring – the Ali-esque playfulness masking the potential for mortal peril. She spends a great deal of time in public being demurely X-rated and talking about her inability to find a boyfriend. You get the impression Rousey enjoys daring people to fall in love with her.

That charged charisma has some unpleasant side effects. Her publisher, Simon & Schuster, has been warned of two possibly dangerous stalkers in town. Rousey is accompanied on her media rounds by a pair of bodyguards.

One of them is patrolling the lobby, looking affably murderous. "She's already had a couple of guys run up to her," he shrugs. "I'd take them out, but she doesn't seem to mind. She's a nice lady."

Rousey is here shilling her autobiography, My Fight/Your Fight. She's pulling in endorsements left and right. She has a little sideline in professional wrestling. She's also transitioning to acting. This is all part of the exit plan. She's just arrived, but Rousey is already thinking about pulling the chute.

"I want to be the one that ends on top. I want to be the one who retires undefeated, still totally dominant and walks away unscathed," Rousey says, searching around for a comparison. "[Undefeated heavyweight boxing champion] Rocky Marciano. It's been far too long since we've seen one of them."

How many people use "unscathed" and "Rocky Marciano" in the same thought? And how many of them have an up-close sense of what those two things really mean?

Rousey has already crashed out of one career – international judo. After winning a bronze medal for the United States in the 2008 Olympics, she went into a tailspin. That's a good chunk of the book – boozy, clueless Ronda, living in penury in L.A., trying to figure out what to do with her life.

She returned to fighting. This time, the one without so many rules. She spent years persuading a series of men – trainers, partners, promoters – to take her seriously. Then she had to win over the knuckleheads and MMA obsessives. She didn't reach a peak, so much as break a dam. Over the past year, she's gone from a curiosity to the sport's most bankable commodity.

She wasn't at the recent Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquiao fight. A bout of pneumonia kept her home ("Apparently, I work too hard"). But she may have been the real winner of that turgid encounter. Mayweather and Pacquiao are now finished as public figures. There is no boxer to replace them. There is no male MMA competitor that comes close. That leaves Ronda Rousey as the most notable fighter on Earth.

Sports Illustrated cemented the impression by putting her on its most recent cover, calling her "the world's most dominant athlete." There hasn't been a battling woman this universally acknowledged since the Hundred Years' War.

"I love Joan of Arc," she says. "She was my patron saint. I wanted the saint who took some people out before getting martyred."

It's a celebratory moment. Nonetheless, she still spends more time fending off questions that boil down to "Why does a girl fight?" than she does opponents.

What's the worst of them?

"'Would you fight a man?' Repeatedly. That's annoying," Rousey says. "The most annoying one is, 'Do you think you can beat so-and-so?' … I've given the same answer over and over again. I think it's statistically possible for me to beat anyone in the history of the world. I think I could beat up Genghis Khan."

The Rousey vs. (Insert Male Fighter Here) theme has been picking up momentum. It's unfair. No one would suggest Sugar Ray Robinson can't be considered the best ever because he was too small to fight a heavyweight. The conceptual nuance of "pound-for-pound" hasn't yet been extended to women.

Rousey is the first to encounter this phenomenon, and so, in all likelihood, will blaze the trail for someone else. Knowing that already haunts her a little.

"Is it possible for anyone to consider a woman the greatest fighter of all time? Because I look at my heroes and I want to be them. I want to be better than them," Rousey says. "I'm always worried that, no matter what I do, and how much I win, and how amazing it is, I'll never be considered the greatest of all time because I'm a woman."

Although she resents the suggestion, that answer does beg it – would she consider fighting a man? Just to shut everyone up.

Rousey darkens – "I thought I just told you I hate that question …" – but she gives it a think.

"I don't think it's right to ever celebrate a man hitting a woman. It'd be terrible for the sport, and terrible in general."

She rolls it around in her mind for a while, looking for an analogy.

"I don't think it's necessary for me to fight a man to prove myself. I never heard anyone ask Mike Tyson how he would fare against a grizzly bear."

More to the point, fighting a man would turn Rousey from one thing into another – from a serious competitor into a circus act. Winning or losing wouldn't make any difference. Because, while people want to see stunts, they are not wired to respect them. Rousey knows that instinctively.

Instead, she will continue plowing through the UFC's bantamweight division at louder and louder volume. Her next opponent, on Aug. 1 in Rio de Janeiro, is undefeated Brazilian Bethe Correia.

She's already emptied out the Urban Dictionary on Correia, and called the fight "personal" (although it feels like the manufactured kind). Rousey's acting isn't all happening in front of film crews.

As much as she enjoys this grim industrial banter, there is no fear in her. And, therefore, very little challenge. Fighting is easy for Rousey. Life's already taught her that it's everything else that's hard.

"It's like Superman and Clark Kent," Rousey says. "Sometimes, I got the cape on and I'm like, 'All right!' Clark Kent isn't a different guy when he doesn't have the cape on. I'm just more vulnerable in Clark Kent mode."

And so while you may just be getting to know Ronda Rousey, she's already begun to recede. Her Marciano-style slow fade has begun.

"It's weird that I exceeded even my ridiculous expectations," Rousey says. "Everyone thought that my expectations at the beginning were beyond what was even close to reasonable. Now we've gotten to the point where I have to start imagining new goals."