Back on December 20, I wrote an article on this very website predicting much of what we saw last night from Ronda Rousey at the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia. I can’t take a full victory lap, because I believed she’d debut as a surprise entrant in the historic first-ever Women’s Rumble Match. Not only that, I believed she’d win it, and then head to WrestleMania to compete for the Championship.
For the past few weeks, Rousey incessantly made claim after claim on social media and in other venues that she hadn’t signed with WWE, that she wouldn’t be in Philadelphia, and most recently that she would be in Colombia shooting a movie on January 28. Despite those statements, I stuck by my guns and felt confident she’d be at the Rumble, if not in the Rumble. Ronda did what pro wrestlers rarely ever do anymore. She sold the con, but unfortunately, at least for many of us who have either participated in the industry or followed it for decades, she was too strenuous in her dismissals of all speculation, and thus her appearance seemed even more obvious.
She wasn’t in the Rumble match itself, which plays out well for WWE. The winner of the bout, Asuka, has an undefeated record dating back over 500 days to her time in NXT. She has never been beaten in singles competition, and although she could have kept that streak alive and still not won last night, it would have been harder to justify the unblemished talking point if the fans watched her topple over the top rope and lose last night.
I suggested if Ronda was in it, she’d win it, because no way is WWE going to pay her an exorbitant amount of money to be THE star, only to put her under. The next best thing is to have her arrive, but not compete just yet, as now Vince McMahon can pump her debut match for the next two months in the run-up to WrestleMania, thus ensuring a major box office attraction for the biggest show of the year. Rousey’s first pro wrestling match will generate incredible attention, and will likely be the main reason the true media takes note of that event.
An early Monday morning report from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer (subscription encouraged) say that the plan for Ronda is to participate in a mixed tag match at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans against WWE COO Triple H and his wife, Stephanie McMahon, who of course is Vince’s daughter. The match makes sense dating back three years to WrestleMania 31, where Rousey jumped the barricade and got involved in an in-ring segment, including a brief submission hold on Stephanie.
The question then becomes who partners with her in the match. In the aforementioned segment, the fourth person in the ring was The Rock. Many believed the mixed tag would occur the following year, but it never did. One of the big issues for WWE and The Rock continues to be his inability to take part in any significant in-ring action due to insurance clauses that accompany his movie contracts. He did a brief spot two years ago, but nothing even resembling an actual match. No doubt the speculation will lean towards Dwayne Johnson, but who knows whether that can actually happen.
If it does, it becomes by far the biggest pure money match in wrestling history. The Rock and Ronda Rousey is something so far above anything specific to sports entertainment, and everybody would want to see it. The Jumanji reboot is still killing it at the box office for crying out loud. Everything Dwayne touches turns to gold, and now you add Rousey to that? Good lord.
What’s most interesting today is what Ronda Rousey’s arrival means for WWE’s future. She told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, “This is my life now,” and stated unequivocally that for the next several years, pro wrestling would be her top priority. If you’re rolling your eyes, you haven’t done much research. This is not a “smash and grab,” which was how she phrased it in the interview. Rousey is a long-term pro wrestling fan and has been interested in getting involved for quite some time. Following her UFC defeat to Holly Holm, it wasn’t a matter of if, but when she’d do business with WWE.
Had she kept winning in the Octagon and if she were still undefeated today, would she be in WWE? It’s a fascinating question, and honestly, the answer comes down to whether Dana White and Vince McMahon could have come to an agreement. The truth is, Ronda Rousey is exactly where she should be right now, because there’s no chance of even a FLUKE loss unless it’s in the script. Believe me, that’s key, because even in last night’s interview, she didn’t want to talk about Holly Holm. Again, with the money she’s making and the level of star power she has, the company might not book her to lose a single match for a very long time.
Rousey makes the WWE Women’s Division matter in a way no one else could have. With all due respect to the outstanding talent on that roster, Ronda is in another league. She’s arguably the most famous female athlete of the century, because she drew major money in main events as a woman on UFC cards. When I mean major money, I mean insane money. Serena Williams is the best female athlete of the century, bar none, but she’s not the star Ronda Rousey is. Because of this fact, Ronda is actually more valuable in the short term than Brock Lesnar has ever been.
As much appeal as Lesnar has, Ronda Rousey isn’t just a dominant, famous athlete. She can talk, she’s wildly attractive, she’s compelling, and WWE has never had anything quite like her before. She’s one of the most well-known women to ever compete in ANY SPORT. As such, when people tune in to RAW tonight on the USA Network, the vast majority will be waiting for Rousey to speak or even so much as breathe on camera. The smartest thing Vince did last night was not let her talk, because there is now a draw to see what she says and who confronts her to ask why she stole Asuka’s moment after the Women’s Rumble concluded.
Do they open the show with her music? Do they bring Stephanie out first? Or do they actually place it in the main event slot to try and hold the audience through the often treacherous, ratings-challenged third hour? These are all important questions, and ones WWE must be careful to address properly.
Where she’s placed is actually more important than what she does, because her very appearance is the draw right now. That will certainly change, but WWE has to be intelligent in how they elect to roll her out. Last night, she shows up and makes news just as the Royal Rumble event is set to end. Tonight, she likely speaks, and perhaps they already set up the Mania match and just hype the hell out of it from this point forward. Finally, on April 8 in New Orleans, Ronda Rousey has her first WWE wrestling match in front of an unthinkably huge audience.
Many pro wrestling fans will be, and actually already are upset that Rousey is walking in and getting a prime spot over women that have busted their butts for years as full-time performers. I understand that argument, but unfortunately, it doesn’t hold water. WWE can’t be expected to do the “respectful” thing when they exist to make a profit. It’s a business decision, pure and simple. So, what you’ll see is television crowds that boo Rousey because she’s not “one of us” in their eyes, and the mainstream casual audience cheering her like crazy because…
…she’s Ronda Rousey.
Color me excited. I know how much she loves the business and I have no doubt she’s going to give it her all. If she adapts to the style properly, this could be the best thing we’ve ever seen in the women’s division. Every match provides a chance for her first loss, and anyone you program with her immediately becomes important. Let’s face it, nobody knew who Holly Holm was until she beat Ronda Rousey. Most of her UFC opponents got the rub of being near her, but once they were dispatched, they went back to the shallow end. But, in WWE the workers are treated differently, and are often marketed differently. It should provide the women a chance to be in even more prominent spots, and places a new spotlight on the division that no one not named Ronda Rousey could have made possible.
So, before you take to social media to complain about Rousey, angry that your favorite women’s wrestlers now have to step into the background for this newbie, understand that Ronda Rousey is unquantifiable compared to anyone we’ve ever seen arrive in pro wrestling. Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn, and anyone else that’s made the transition from mixed martial arts to the squared circle do not hold a candle to what Rousey means in the cultural consciousness. It’s not even comparable. Rousey is a superstar of the highest order. Just her name alone makes people stop and look in whatever direction they heard it uttered.
Before I ever saw her fight, I watched her in interviews and was immediately intrigued by what she had to say and how candid she was. She was unique. She remains unique. She is relentlessly, consistently captivating. WWE, if they’re smart, will let her be herself, will not script her too tightly, and will, especially in these first few months, let her go freaking wild. We don’t need WWE-itized Ronda.
We need Rowdy Ronda Rousey, the one wearing Roddy Piper’s actual jacket last night (given to her by his son), the one that stalks to the ring to Joan Jett, taps people out, mauls them, and the one that came here to do two things…chew bubblegum and kick ass.
And we’re all out of bubblegum.