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The mistake WWE already made with Ronda Rousey

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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.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WUX1Gajy5s&w=560&h=315]

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.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61G3tDZQNhg&w=560&h=315]

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.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnPiHn3QeOU&w=560&h=315]

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.

For more Pro Wrestling coverage, visit FightBoothPW.com

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

WWE

Looking at Braun Strowman vs. Tyson Fury

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Last week, at a press conference in Las Vegas, the WWE announced two mega match-ups with Brock Lesnar set to defend his championship against former foe Cain Velasquez, while Braun Strowman will square off against current boxing heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury in Saudi Arabia for the Crown Jewel pay-per-view at the end of this month.

Usually, sports stars that make in-ring cameos are reserved for Wrestlemania, the biggest show on the WWE calendar, but the propaganda campaign that the Saudi government pays for is more profitable so with roughly a month of build up, these bouts will be presented on a Thursday afternoon when much of the domestic audience won’t be able to watch it live for what is basically a glorified house show. As trivial as this might sound, I must note that these type of big matches being used for the overseas events instead of the United States, where the majority of WWE shows are held could be a major misstep, simply because the time slot doesn’t allow for the most exposure to the biggest markets. Would Mr. T’s appearances in the 80s have been as effective if his in-ring bouts aired on a Thursday afternoon? In some respects, it seems like management is cashing in now instead of using this celebrity association to propel the product in the future.

Still, one of the current heavyweight champions in boxing signed for a WWE match is a story and opens the door for some intriguing scenarios if this bout goes well. I penned an article about the upside of Cain Velasquez’s involvement last week, but the Fury equation is a very different situation. First, Cain and Brock have a history to build up that sets up for a natural rematch between the two so the angle was already in place before Velasquez showed up, which allows for a much easier path to get to the match. Arguably the more important aspect is, Cain is well-known for his time as UFC heavyweight champion, despite the injuries that derailed much of the momentum he generated throughout his UFC career. Also, Cain began training for professional wrestling early last year and did well in a pair of recent matches for AAA in Mexico.

On the flip side, Tyson Fury has none of that going for him ahead of this contest with Strowman. A fan since his youth, Fury’s eccentric and charismatic persona suggest that he would fit very well with the world of sports entertainment, but there are a few hurdles to clear for Crown Jewel. Undefeated in 30 fights, Fury has 29 victories and just one draw, a razor-close bout against fellow champion Deontay Wilder last December, on his boxing record. The British heavyweight made his name when he defeated the legendary Wladimir Klitschko for a collection of belts via unanimous decision in 2015. It was the first blemish on Klitschko’s record in nearly a decade as he reigned as the most dominate heavyweight in the sport for much of the previous ten years.

The victory should’ve marked the beginning of a run for Tyson, but months after he claimed the title, a Klitschko rematch was cancelled when Fury tested positive for cocaine. Subsequently, he vacated the belt and his future in the sport was in doubt. Along with the drug test, erratic behavior had many concerned for his safety as well. Tyson took nearly three years away from the ring to seek professional help for mental health issues and drug problems.

Remarkably, Tyson reemerged inside the ropes clean and in better shape with a win in June of last year. He followed that up with another win a few months later before the previously mentioned draw against Wilder late last year. In 2019, he has two victories, including a bout last month that saw him suffer a nasty cut near his eye, a laceration that many thought would cause the fight to be stopped, but Fury pushed forward to get the unanimous decision. Despite the cynical nature of boxing negotiations, the anticipated rematch with Wilder is expected to be inked for early next year.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E3-rP_dr-A&w=560&h=315]

That entire situation is one of the problems for WWE, Tyson Fury simply isn’t a well-known commodity in the United States because of his extended hiatus from the sport after the title win and his limited exposure in America. Secondly, other than Braun’s “get these hands” catchphrase, there’s really no logic behind an angle with Fury. Perhaps, the biggest problem is that Tyson has no experience at all in sports entertainment, and his punches that missed by more than a mile during the recent confrontation on Raw are proof of it. Granted, it’s understandable that Fury wanted to be cautious as to not injury the security, but it might be an indication that the match at Crown Jewel could be a train wreck.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQpNlWn4LLc&w=560&h=315]

At a time when the company is trying to refresh its presentation, is it a wise move to book this match when it will probably garner coverage from other media outlets? If the contest is a total botch, is the potential negative press from it going to help the image of the product? Furthermore, is it really that important to book sports celebrities for the Saudi government?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jzxtzac04Dc&w=560&h=315]

Don’t get me wrong, I hope Tyson Fury does well in the squared circle, and in many respects, he is a tremendous success story, but this particular performance has too many red flags that could led to a disaster if the match is too sloppy. Keep in mind, Fury is not only still a regular competitor in boxing, he also has a mega payday ahead of him for the Wilder rematch. Obviously, he will make millions for this Saudi contest, but he’s still risking legitimate money if he gets injured against Braun Strowman. Hopefully, he can get the chance to practice the sequences of the match prior to the pay-per-view, but with just a week until the show, how much can he realistically train for pro wrestling?

Reportedly, Fury will make an estimated $15 million for the Saudi match, but the return bout against Wilder will earn him even more than that so it’s a tough situation when he and Braun have to at least have something that can be considered a match, but not anything that might jeopardize the boxing payday. All things considered, much like this entire pay-per-view, this match-up is more about what the Saudi government wants than anything that will have an effect on WWE. The deal that brings the heavyweight champion to the country is basically because there’s an initiative to get more boxing there, as another heavyweight title bout with Andy Ruiz vs. Anthony Joshua will take place in Saudi Arabia in December. As much as Fury’s involvement could be used to push Braun, make no mistake about it, Tyson Fury’s angle is nowhere near the same level as Mike Tyson’s storyline two decades ago.

Depending on how this contest goes, it’s very possible that Fury’s persona would translate well to the squared circle for more than a one-off match after he retires from boxing, but at just 31, he will probably continue to pursue his original sport for at least a few more years. In truth, it appears that WWE brass more or less shoehorned Tyson Fury into the pay-per-view to maintain status quo of the mega paydays from these stadium shows. As mentioned, there’s no direct angle or history for Fury in WWE, and there’s no logical reason to risk the millions of dollars on the table for the Wilder rematch other than the major Saudi money for this event.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

For more Pro Wrestling coverage visit FightBoothPW.com

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What Cain Velasquez brings to WWE

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This month marks nine years since Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar for the UFC Heavyweight championship via TKO in the first round. Since the bout where referee rescued Brock from further damage and declared Velasquez the winner, each athlete took different paths, but ironically found the same destination.

For Lesnar, the devastating defeat was more or less the beginning of the end of his stint in MMA, as a combination of diverticulitis and an aversion to punches to the face led to the conclusion of his UFC career with a record of 5-3-1 in the sport. Still, Brock was a very wise businessman and often used the potential of an MMA return as a bargaining chip to get a better WWE deal. As I’ve discussed before, the Brock experiment has yielded mixed results and arguably diminishing returns. The repetitive move set and routine set up for angles were stale.

The concept of Brock as a continuously dominant champion the past few years with limited appearances became an excuse for the lack of intriguing booking otherwise. The most important aspect of this scenario is, did the investment into Brock’s hefty contract pay off? More specifically, how many other performers were made bigger stars after they worked with him? Remember when Lesnar mailed in a match at Wrestlemania 32? How about when Brock’s mega push was supposed to pay off and finally get Roman Reigns over as the top star? Does Seth Rollins draw more money since he beat Lesnar twice this year?

The title switch during the Fox debut was more to pay lip service to the network to create some buzz at the start of the $1 billion TV contract. As mentioned previously, the modern era has a lack of legitimate money-drawing stars on the current roster, and Kofi Kingston’s title run is essentially a prime example as to why the ratings boost from nostalgia acts aren’t retained the following weeks with the current product.

Kofi’s moment at Wrestlemania 35 was a very memorable moment that he earned with over a decade under contract. After that win, he was paired against Dolph Ziggler, an entertaining athlete, but used as a glorified enhancement talent in between sporadic pushes so that didn’t do much to elevate his status as WWE champion. His run also played second fiddle to Brock’s MITB win and cash-in. Plus, a few average matches against Orton leaves Kofi’s title reign basically just that tremendous moment at WM. The point being, in the six months that he was champion, Kingston wasn’t spotlighted as the featured star at any particular point during that run. I’ve seen some on social media claim that the flash victory, similar to fast KOs in MMA, paints the defeat as a fluke. I completely disagree for two main reasons. First, one of the advantages that sports entertainment has over MMA is that pro wrestling can make sure the fans get a show instead of a lackluster fight if a contest is one-sided.

Second, if the fluke victory was designed to make sure Kofi wasn’t squashed then there would be a set up for a rematch, but it’s doubtful that happens and it does, would there be any chance management would book Kofi to beat Lesnar? The most simplistic explanation is usually the right answer, and the harsh reality is that WWE brass probably doesn’t have more main event plans for Kingston any time soon. This is emphasized when you consider that the story from the Fox debut is Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar, not a Kofi rematch.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RG75bcKtjPI&w=560&h=315]

Speaking of Cain Velasquez, prior to and after his dominate win over Brock, he looked to be on the path to become the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport. A smaller, but still powerful heavyweight, Cain’s amateur wrestling background gave him technique and speed that he blended with boxing skills to have a well-rounded style that had no major flaws. But, in the nine years since he claimed the UFC belt, injuries completely derailed his momentum throughout his career in the cage. Shoulder, Knee, and back injuries put him on the sidelines for extended periods of time and saw bouts delayed or cancelled. After two and a half years outside of the octagon, Cain returned to the UFC this past February for a contest against Francis Ngannou on ESPN. Velasquez was clipped with a punch that led to a stoppage in just 26 seconds of the first round. The defeated prompted questions about his future in MMA. Still, Cain is a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion with a 14-3 record.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4C6d2-KcN4&w=560&h=315]

A well-known wrestling fan, Cain made headlines last year when he trained at the WWE Performance Center, fueling speculation that he could make the transition to the squared circle. Eventually, Velasquez did make the jump to the ring when he debuted for AAA at their Triplemania event in August and then followed that up with another match last month. Despite it being his start in sports entertainment, Velasquez did well and garnered rave reviews for his performance in Mexico. The Rey Mysterio attack on Raw was very well done and proves Lesnar could put it into a second gear if he wants to really deliver an impactful segment. That set up very well for the Velasquez debut on Smackdown, as it’s the popular Mexican heavyweight that’s a true fan of lucha libre showing to save the Mexican legend.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEgfm9zlHeE&w=560&h=315]

The contract situation of all this get a little murky. Cain was signed to at least a three-match deal for AAA, but the group cancelled its scheduled Los Angeles card where Velasquez was supposed to wrestle a match. Perhaps the cancelled event voids the deal? As of this writing, the former champion is still under contract to the UFC, but he withdrew from the USADA testing pool last week so it’s very possible that he will retire from MMA. Even if Cain still has a deal with UFC, it wouldn’t prevent him from inking a WWE contract. If Velasquez retires from MMA, he could sign for other projects, but would simply still be under UFC contract if he decides to return to the sport. The WWE side of negotiations get more complex, as depending on their plans for him, Cain might be signed for a Goldberg deal or something more full-time for the company.

Similar to Ronda Rousey, Cain’s notoriety from the octagon makes him a commodity, but if he signs for any major length of time, his inexperience might be considered to avoided exposing any weaknesses. Considering his accomplishments and history with Lesnar, Velasquez can’t logically start his career squashing Jinder Mahal every week on Smackdown. If this is a brief deal then a few well-planned matches are all that are needed, but if WWE is going to put him over Lesnar at any point, you can bet they wouldn’t want him to be able to take that momentum elsewhere. At 37, Cain probably isn’t the next top Hispanic star that Rey Mysterio passes the torch to, but his addition to the company gives them a very valuable boost as the organization starts their major TV contracts.

How much Velasquez can do in the ring and how he develops as a potentially full-time wrestler could answer many of the possible questions about this scenario. The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer speculated that the Lesnar vs. Velasquez match could take place later this month in Saudi Arabia because of the amount of money the Saudi government would be willing to pay for the bout, but let’s hope that’s not booked, simply because most of the viewing audience wouldn’t watch it with the random afternoon time slot. If that is the scheduled match then Brock/Cain is basically a one-off match because the momentum of the “rematch” wouldn’t be utilized for the majority of WWE’s audience. Despite the financial aspect of the Saudi shows, Wrestlemania is still the biggest show of the year and could have a bigger impact on the rest product than a random Saudi show.

Cain Velasquez vs. Brock Lesnar should happen at Wrestlemania, but it remains to be seen how management could stretch the feud six months, especially without a match before that. I have to be honest, I was very surprised that Velasquez showed up on Smackdown because I thought he would work regularly for AAA for a while before he made any type of move in sports entertainment. At a time when the show needs it, the former UFC champion brings a lot of star power to the table and gives viewers a reason to watch on Fox. Hopefully, this won’t become a Hogan/Warrior situation where Velasquez was brought to WWE so that Lesnar could “get his win back” so to speak. Unless this angle will be designed to launch Cain as a full-time wrestler, I’m not sure where it goes from here.

Lesnar has worked with and defeated almost everyone that would be considered a credible opponent on the WWE roster, and new stars haven’t been made during that process so what other opponents are there for him? The initial Velasquez vs. Lesnar match will be major money and publicity for WWE, but unless Cain goes over, management will be back to this situation where Brock doesn’t have fresh opponents. If a series of makes with Lesnar solidifies Velasquez in sports entertainment then it creates an entirely new scenario for the product That said, this adds a fresh dynamic to WWE and more importantly, its something new for Lesnar since his run has been stale the past few years.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

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UFC 234 pre-fight press conference live stream

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via UFC: Ahead of UFC 234: Whittaker vs Gastelum, the UFC will hold a press conference featuring Dana White, Robert Whittaker, Kelvin Gastelum, Israel Adesanya, and Anderson Silva.

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