After several months of speculation, the former UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion, “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey made her debut at the conclusion of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, an event that featured the first ever women’s rumble match. While this surprise appearance made headlines, how it was handled, and how it will be handled is a subject for debate.
Taking the “Rowdy” name prior to the start of her mixed martial arts career, Rousey is a lifelong wrestling fan, making her originally appearance inside a WWE ring to do a promo with The Rock at Wrestlemania a few years ago. Ronda actually asked the late, great Roddy Piper for permission to use the nickname, and he graciously granted it.
The endorsement from the WWE legend was the start of a meteoric rise for the 2008 bronze medalist. After her victory in the Olympics in Judo, she transitioned to MMA, making her pro debut in 2011. Over the next four and a half years, Ronda Rousey became one of the most popular figures in sports, winning championships in Strikeforce and then the UFC. In fact, the marketability of “Rowdy” Ronda is what led to the formation of women’s divisions in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
A combination of wild punches and arm bars became a common theme in her fights, which often concluded in a quick and devastating fashion. Along with wins in the octagon came more opportunities outside of the sport. Television appearances, film roles, and an autobiography all fueled the star power of the 135 LBS champion.
On November 15, 2015, the distractions outside of the cage hit Rousey via a head kick from Holly Holm, sending her crashing to the canvas. Ronda previously went undefeated in a 12 bouts before she fought Holm, a multi-time boxing champion. Rousey appeared to assume that she could throw a flurry of punches and overwhelm her opponent as she had done in bouts prior to that. The veteran boxing champion artfully dodged the wild hooks and set up for the kick that changed the course of MMA.
Ronda didn’t fight again for over a year until she was scheduled to fight Amanda Nunes for the same championship. Rousey refused to do any media appearances before the bout, generating questions about how mentally prepared she was to fight again. It took just 48 seconds for those questions to be answered, as Nunes landed nearly a dozen unanswered punches before the referee stopped the contest to rescue Rousey from any further damage.
The comeback that was a major promotional tool for the UFC wasn’t a return to the sport, but rather an exit. After a year hiatus, it was clear that Ronda Rousey hadn’t mentally recovered from the title loss to Holm, and the one-sided defeat in the Nunes fight more or less confirmed that Rousey didn’t want to compete in mixed martial arts again. Don’t get me wrong, Ronda is absolutely a pioneer in MMA and will be known in the history books as an influential sports figure, but all things considered, her time in the spotlight was relatively brief. The devastating KO and one-sided stoppage caused her stock to diminish almost immediately and her scheduled film roles were abruptly cancelled.
Prior to that, she was the biggest draw in the UFC, and the ripple effect of her exit can still be seen today. Without “Rowdy” Ronda to boost numbers on pay-per-view 3-4 times a year, the organization ran short on star power, especially since Conor McGregor earned major cash to fight Floyd Mayweather in a boxing contest and doesn’t seem to be too eager to step into the octagon again.
Still, Ronda Rousey inspired many fans and retained a major portion of those fans so despite the cancellation of movie projects, she maintains a loyal fan base. At 30, she’s still in her prime and has options, but chose sports entertainment because she’s a fan of the genre. It makes business sense for the WWE to sign her to capitalize on her popularity, but how she is presented must be carefully planned.
Unfortunately, WWE brass already made a critical flaw when Ronda appeared at the conclusion of the pay-per-view. The first ever women’s Royal Rumble was deemed important enough to main event the show (also a debatable point, simply because the current number of women signed to the roster doesn’t lend itself to have enough depth for a match with thirty competitors) and thus the winner of the historic bout would have an extra spotlight to help boost their career. Asuka battled through the field to win the match, which earned her a title shot at the biggest event of the year. Asuka is one of the best athletes in the WWE and has delivered quality matches consistently during the undefeated streak. More importantly, she projects an aura of danger and credibility that establishes her character despite her limited English. The bottom line is, Asuka is a star, and management should promote that to the fullest if they want to further establish a competitor that can unquestionable be a legitimate money-drawing character in the women’s division.
Instead of putting the spotlight on Asuka to elevate her status for the historic victory, she was left literally just standing in the background while all the focus was geared toward the debut of Ronda Rousey. The way the entire segment was booked was completely counter productive to anything that could benefit Asuka long-term. Is that Ronda’s fault? No, she’s just doing what she’s told. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Rousey to debut BEFORE the match? That way she’s there to endorse the women’s revolution angle, but it doesn’t take away from Asuka’s win. If management wanted the conclusion of the first ever women’s Rumble to be used as a platform for Rousey, why not book her to win the match?
Again, taking the moment away from Asuka after she theoretically battled through the entire division in exchange for the photo-op of Ronda Rousey pointing at the Wrestlemania sign seems completely counter productive. As soon as the show went off the air, ESPN reported that Ronda signed a full-time deal with the company, which could be another mistake, depending on how it’s presented.
The entire draw for Ronda Rousey in the WWE is that she’s an outside entity. She’s different from everyone else in pro wrestling, similar to Brock Lesnar’s MMA push when he returned in 2012. Ronda isn’t supposed to be a “regular” part of the show, she’s a special athlete, which is the reason she’s a major star in that environment. She should be booked on a limited basis in the biggest scenarios possible because that allows her to maintain her mystic as an outside commodity and emphasizes the importance of the events where she wrestles a match. The possibility of Rousey on Raw or Smackdown “full-time” could create more problems than opportunities. As soon as Ronda appears weekly, she becomes just another wrestler and when she becomes just another wrestler, the elements that make her special diminish. Furthermore, if she makes rare appearances, the writing team could avoid potential pitfalls that could stall her momentum.
With every Ronda Rousey segment, the writing must be up to par to maintain the hype around her. If she’s on Raw weekly, will there be a segment every week that allows for intriguing television? How many times have you watched competitors with tremendous ability and momentum get stuck with a lame TV segment? Remember when Bayley was one of the most over athletes in the company? How about those cringe worthy segments where she was made to look like a naive dreamer that didn’t belong on the big stage?
Obviously, Ronda will appear at Wrestlemania, and it seemed like a confrontation with Stephanie McMahon could be an option after their interaction at the pay-per-view. Along with how the angles are booked, the structure of Rousey matches should be booked carefully as well. If she submits Stephanie within two minutes, it emphasizes her dominance and doesn’t exposure her inexperience. However, if she smashes every woman on the roster on a weekly basis then there won’t be much of an actual division. That’s why a limited number of matches might be the best formula to maximize the Rousey draw without the risk of hindering her status. Paul Heyman is the representative of former UFC Heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar so it makes sense that Heyman could work in a similar role with Rousey. Brock’s contract expires after WM 34 and it remains unclear if he will resign. If Lesnar steps away, the Ronda angle could be a way for Heyman to remain on TV to cut the best promos in the company.
Granted this is just hypothetical, but Heyman as a representative could be used to keep Ronda’s appearances rare and special. For example, after Rousey does a spot at Wrestlemania, Heyman can show up a few weeks before Summer Slam and explain that through contract negotiations, he made a deal for Ronda to wrestle at the next pay-per-view. Rousey is then booked against a specific challenger on the premise that a deal was made for her to compete within a sports context, not necessarily a sports entertainment storyline.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a major opportunity for WWE. Ronda is beautiful, talented, and a humanitarian from the charity work she does. She has a loyal fan base and makes it easy to want to support her. At the same time, she’s a unique commodity that must be protected to maximize her potential within sports entertainment. The flip side of the coin is that the rest of the division can’t be lost in the media shuffle of Rousey or she won’t have many credible opponents in the company.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
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