Cast your mind back to March 29th 2015 - Wrestlemania 31 at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara California. 76,976 fans going bananas as The Rock invites Ronda Rousey into the ring for a confrontation with Stephanie McMahon. Rousey - Olympic Gold Medalist in Judo; the highest paid fighter in UFC; the organisation’s current Women’s Bantamweight Champion; undefeated in her 12 professional fights and regarded by many to be the world’s deadliest woman.
Rousey was an imposing, confident presence at Wrestlemania, unaffected by the thousands in attendance at the greatest stage of them all. And why should she be? She legitimately beats people up for a living.
After an almighty stare down, Rousey judo throws Triple H and catches Stephanie in an arm lock, casting her out of the ring. The crowd lapped it up and the segment was over - but the speculation was just beginning.
Would Rousey make the jump from mixed martial arts to sports-entertainment, as Ken Shamrock had done before? The likes of Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar had taken all they had learned from amateur wrestling and gone on to amazing careers in the WWE. Could Ronda Rousey do the same? Did she want to?
She is known to be a big fan of the business, is quoted as saying she had way too much fun at Wrestlemania not to return and when asked outright if she’d pursue a career with WWE she said: “You never know”. With a simple, but thrilling tweet she sent out after her actions at Wrestlemania - “We’re just getting started” - it seems Ronda Rousey is ready for the WWE women’s division. The question now is whether the women’s division is ready for Ronda Rousey.
Although it is currently called the Divas Division for reasons known only unto Vince McMahon, womens’ wrestling in WWE has nevertheless come a long way since the bra and panties debacles from the likes of Stacey Keibler and Torrie Wilson. Ronda Rousey simply wouldn’t have fit into that dynamic. From several photoshoots she has done, the UFC champion enjoys her femininity, but to truly capitalise on the character she would be in WWE, it wouldn’t be believable for her to have been a part of that.
We all know the WWE is sports-entertainment, but the action lives and dies on our suspension of disbelief. We want to believe in these characters and the stories they are telling in the ring and to have had Rousey battling, say, The Kat and it being a fair fight - would that be believable? Of course not. But what about today? With an influx of hungry competitors from the developmental promotion of NXT, the Divas Division, in my opinion, has never been better and hark back to the pure wrestling of the days of The Fabulous Moolah, albeit quicker and with more frequent highspots for today’s shorter attention spans. Nikki Bella vs Charlotte at the recent Hell in a Cell pay-per-view very nearly stole the show and the crowd, while always being somewhat muted during women’s matches historically, are now very much behind the action.
Of course there’s still titillation there in some ring attire and during entrances, but it now comes across as “sexy, smart and powerful” as the Diva’s mantra has it, rather than leaving that uncomfortable taste in the mouth.
Brock Lesnar’s recent run in the business could be a great model for the company’s approach with Ronda Rousey’s character were she to make the jump. Lesnar is having the squash matches where he completely dominates, but he’s having the closer, more hard-fought matches too and they are protecting his character even when he loses - having his opponent’s cheat or win in some other controversial finish.
If handled well, with smart storytelling, Ronda Rousey would fit right in to the current womens’ division picture - Diva or not. So come on, Ronda, finish what you have to do at UFC and sign the dotted line - Let’s get rowdy.