It’s far from uncommon to have a celebrity match at WrestleMania. The inaugural Mania‘s main event featured Mr. T. Since then, everyone from Floyd Mayweather to Snooki has thrown down on the Grandest Stage of Them All. This year’s WrestleMania 34 did feature a newcomer stepping into the squared circle for the first time, but this time, it was different.
Ronda Rousey, former UFC Bantamweight Champion and the woman who proved women can draw every bit as much money as men in MMA, is a lifelong wrestling fan who hasn’t kept her love of WWE secret. Hell, even when she was on top of the MMA world, she issued a challenge to then-Divas Champion Charlotte Flair. She had a relationship with WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, who bequeathed the moniker to Ronda. Unlike many has-beens who turn to pro wrestling as a last resort to cash in on their dwindling name recognition, WWE was never a last resort for Ronda. It was the goal.
But leading into her debut match at Sunday’s WrestleMania, there were legitimate reasons to question if that was going to be enough to get wrestling fans on her side. The WWE Universe is notoriously cagey when it comes to outsiders stepping into their world, especially if it’s perceived that they are "taking a spot" from a more deserving talent. (In a predetermined sport, the only metric to judge who’s worthy of top spots is not how much talent they have but how much money they draw, but I digress.) If it turned out she wasn’t any good on top of that, she would have been dead in the water — especially since it’s no secret how Ronda Rousey handles adversity.
Thankfully, that was not the case by a long shot. Rousey not only held her own in her mixed tag team match with Kurt Angle against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, she thrived in it. Rousey looked crisp, was lightning quick, and didn’t look one bit out of place in a pro wrestling ring, even as she squared up against The Game himself.
Of course, it wasn’t only thanks to Rousey that the tag match was as big a success as it was. Stephanie McMahon made her million dollar investment look worth every penny, really selling the agony of every arm bar and reversal the Rowdy One locked in. Kurt Angle looked better than he has in WWE in 12 years, avenging his dodgy performance at TLC late last year as a fill-in Shield member. And Triple H…well, he’s Triple H, one of the greatest of all time. He was predictably great.
WWE clearly sees something huge in Rousey. The company has shied away from intergender matches or even segments in recent years — any physicality between men and women is usually portrayed as an accident. It’s been almost a decade since we’ve seen any intentional man-on-woman violence on WWE programming, but that all changed when Triple H locked Ronda in the Pedigree position. That’s not to suggest that WWE is suddenly exploring portrayals of domestic violence — far from it. It’s to suggest that much like Chyna in her day, WWE is portraying Ronda every bit as strong and capable as any man on the roster, including its COO.
The WWE fans have been very accepting of Rousey, surprising even Rousey herself. As she recently told ESPN, "I owe the WWE Universe an apology, because I thought they were going to boo me out of the building from day one. They really accepted me from day one. Hopefully, I satisfied a lot of skeptics tonight."
So while it’s easy to hate on outsiders coming into the world of WWE, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so with Ronda Rousey. Not only is she willing and excited to put in the work necessary to become a wrestling star, she signed a full-time contract — something fellow former MMA star Brock Lesnar can’t say — meaning she’s truly one of the girls.
That Ronda, a woman branded as a sore loser by the media, was fully expecting to face resistance from wrestling fans and was eager to work hard to change their perception as she climbed from the bottom rung, is telling. She’s got the knowledge, she’s put in the training, and she’s already showing results. Ronda Rousey is where she belongs.