By Will Pruett
For the most part, I spent the week after WWE’s first ever Women’s Royal Rumble praising the Rumble match, the great storytelling, and the joy it brought to my heart. What I avoided saying much about was Ronda Rousey. While the biggest story coming out of the Rumble was Rousey’s major debut, I wanted to take some time to put together my complicated thoughts on this.
The Positive: Ronda is a huge get for WWE. While many guest stars and current stars have come into WWE and brought mainstream attention with them, I can’t think of a single woman that has done so. Ronda brings major attention to every woman on WWE’s roster. Being part of a peer group with Rousey should mean something.
It’s hard to argue that WWE has a bigger star with crossover/mainstream appeal than Rousey. Brock Lesnar’s time has come and gone (and should have ended over a year ago). John Cena is making the other transition from wrestling into the mainstream. The Rock definitely still exists, but he isn’t about to start wrestling for WWE in anything more than a one-off.
The Middleground: WWE has told us for a long time that WrestleMania season is for part time wrestlers coming home and getting a top spot. Undertaker has done this for over a decade and fans still get excited for his returns. One of the key things missing from WWE has been a part time woman coming in to elevate the women’s matches at WrestleMania.
Last year we had a six-way match and a four-way match for the full time women on WWE’s roster. It was disappointing. Rousey brings with her a dedication to the division and a dedication to treat women with the same care men get. While this means the women’s roster will likely fall victim to the part-timer jamboroo that WrestleMania is for men, it also means women’s matches will be higher on the card. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see Ronda Rousey main eventing WrestleMania next year.
As odd as it sounds, this is a form of equality. WWE would likely justify making almost every men’s match at WrestleMania more important than women’s matches saying those men are special attractions. While they’ve chosen not to have their full time women be special attractions, they don’t have an option with Rousey. She is a special attraction. She will bring the special attraction attention to the women at long last.
It’s one of WWE’s worst storytelling habits, but at least women can benefit from it for once.
We also don’t know how good Rousey is as a wrestler. While she’s been training in WWE’s Performance Center for months, could she be ready for a major match at WrestleMania this year? Will anything but a major match in her debut for WWE really matter? I have a lot of doubts about her transition into wrestling.
The Negative: While Rousey is a special attraction, she is hardly coming in at the height of her mainstream power. After decisively losing two UFC fights, Rousey comes to WWE after a year out of the public eye. While many people have heard her name and may have watched her fight, it remains to be seen if she’ll have mainstream impact at the level she would have in 2015.
Rousey is also a problematic figure. She became a de facto symbol of female empowerment, but made statements calling other women “Do Nothing Bitches.” Heck, she made t-shirts with the phrase and sold them. Rousey isn’t exactly a feminist icon. Making her a focal point of WWE’s renewed commitment to women’s wrestling could backfire.
When she made her debut, Rousey was dressed as someone else. While it was a touching tribute, it was an odd atmosphere for it. Rousey seemed like she was playing at wrestler, not being a tough badass wrestler.
The Conclusion: I want WWE’s Ronda Rousey experiment to succeed. I want her to be a great star for WWE. I want WWE to use her to make more of their women into household names. I believe, if the best possible timeline plays out, Ronda could help lead to an amazing shift in the landscape of wrestling towards true equality between men and women. Add in WWE stocking up on women in developmental and things are looking up.
I could also see a flame out. I could see one match exposing the mystique of Rousey and leading to WWE deciding they made a huge mistake.
If I had to bet, I’d say she ends up being a net positive, but could take some time to develop into one. People will be quick to write her off if her first performance is poor, but WWE is showing a longterm commitment to main event women’s wrestling for the first time in their existence. This is a positive no matter what.
What I absolutely positively love in wrestling this week:
Asuka vs. Bayley from the February 5, 2018 Raw – Bayley has struggled to find herself on WWE’s main roster, but Monday was a major step forward. We saw the version of Bayley that refuses to go down without a fight on Monday and she’s still awesome. We also saw Asuka in a good, long, competitive match for the second week in a row. WWE seems to have changed directions with Asuka, realizing competitive matches will lead to major affinity for her as a wrestler. This is a positive change. Asuka is going to be great going into WrestleMania.
What I absolutely positively love in the world this week:
Dunkirk – I know I’m late to the party here, since this movie was released months ago. I had no interest in seeing this movie until it was nominated for Best Picture. It was the last of the nine nominees I saw. I generally enjoy Christopher Nolan movies, but rarely seek them out. I don’t believe the world needs another World War II movie. Dunkirk changed my mind. It’s two straight hours of intensity. It’s emotional. It’s a very slim script with stunning visual storytelling. Dunkirk looked like a movie custom made for me to dislike it, and I was completely surprised by how great it was.
SSMGOTW (Superfluous Shane McMahon Gif of the Week):
Always a classic, and basically what watching Smackdown written by Brian James feels like.
We’re Done Here:
I’m still recovering from the best wrestling weekend in history a couple weeks ago. I’m also still in awe of living in the future where we can see so much great wrestling in so little time. While complaining about wrestling will always be en vogue, it’s always fun to remember how good we have it.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video series “What I Love About Professional Wrestling” subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.