By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
I really, really liked the women’s War Games match at Survivor Series.
There. I said it.
Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t. But those ten wrestlers worked their asses off. Yeah, there were some bumps in the road – and a very unfortunate Iyo Sky spot – but it very much felt like everyone involved had one goal in mind and that one goal was to steal the show. When you get everyone on the same page like that in a wrestling ring, magic can happen.
Perhaps just as impressive (but more overlooked) was the reality that all the participants came from only one WWE brand. I know, I know. The brand split feels all but dead anyway (for now, at least), but a quick cursory look at who stepped into that gigantic toy-looking cage Saturday night reveals that everyone involved came from the Raw brand.
There were actual stories involved – stories that have been written for months. Bianca Belair and Bayley have been tied together for a while now. Asuka and Iyo appear to be working their way toward a showdown. Nikki Cross is back to being Fun Nikki Cross. Becky Lynch returned after being away for a few months. There was a lot of stuff going on that made for an intriguing battle that proved not just to be entertaining Saturday night, but also had an eye toward the future and what happens next for a lot of those women.
And yet for as much as I enjoyed the women’s War Games match … not everything involving females that appeared on the Survivor Series card delivered.
Or, well, rather than pussyfoot around the issue, let’s boil it down to two words: Ronda Rousey.
She seems like low-hanging fruit anymore and to some extent, I don’t think it’d be unreasonable to feel a little bad for her, but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what’s not working between Rousey, WWE and the WWE fanbase. When she first came into the pro wrestling arena, she came with more fanfare than any other woman who’s ever step foot in a ring. She was an MMA star. She was a pop culture star. She was also a noted pro wrestling fan, which, yes, is important to us pro wrestling fans.
Then, when she debuted, she actually tore the house down. I was there in New Orleans at WrestleMania 34 when she teamed with Kurt Angle to face off against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. Not only did she hold her own, but she impressed pretty much anyone who had two feet and a heartbeat. She eventually became a women’s champion. She helped carry the women’s roster to its first (and only) all-women pay-per-view. She gave WWE a very specific level of star power that very few have been able to grant the company since or before then.
But then she went away. Had a baby. And in the wake of as much, there were some rumblings about the way she dropped her title at WrestleMania 35. Then, she decided to go on the record and speak about her feelings regarding WWE fans, and it turned out those feelings weren’t the most complimentary. When she came back from her sabbatical, it was met with a relative shoulder-shrug when compared with her initial debut. She landed a title back around her waist right quick and she’s since done very little to stand out in the crowded WWE landscape.
Case in point: I didn’t even know who the hell she was supposed to wrestle at Survivor Series until I turned the show on and someone said, “Later on, Ronda Rousey will defend her title against Shotzi.” To which, I thought …
Turns out, my ignorance might have even been warranted because that match was easily the worst match of Saturday night. I’m not going to be one to point fingers and talk about failed spots or questionable effort because what do I know? Nothing. The answer is nothing. What I am going to do, however, is wonder for a second about how far and how fast Rousey has fallen from the top level of the WWE pantheon.
Which ostensibly means, how can Raw have 10 women on its roster who can get together and put on a hell of a match and yet it seems like SmackDown is scraping the bottom of the barrel just to find formidable opponents for Rousey? All due respect to Shotzi – I love her to death and her time in NXT was far more compelling than whatever they’ve done with her since calling her up – but there was a less than zero percent chance that anyone with a working brain walked into Saturday’s match thinking our green-haired hero had a chance to win.
I understand WWE has been hit hard by the injury/sabbatical bug in its women’s division, but if you have ten formidable wrestlers on one side of the aisle and on the other, you can’t even come up with a real challenger for your champion … perhaps it’s time to shake things up. Now, if the rumors are to be believed (and the wrestling rumors never lie, you know), we’re working our way toward Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, and if that’s the case, God bless everyone involved.
But here’s my question: If the plan for Ronda has been to toil away on Smackdown without making any waves as a performer until she has a showdown with Big Time Becks, what are the chances the match – a match that many have considered a dream match for a little while now – actually defines Becky down because she’s working with such an ice-cold Ronda Rousey?
Lynch has shown her ability to ramp things up whenever she’s called upon to ramp things up. At this point, she’s probably the best women’s superstar in the world (however that’s defined, I do not know), and she still has a fervent fanbase while also knowing how to tow the line and keep die-hards interested in whatever she does. On top of that, well, she’s also a really good wrestler. But Rousey is on such a cold streak at this point that it’s becoming increasingly hard to buy into the notion that this supposed dream match would actually live up to its dream match status.
So, what’s the problem? Did Ronda shove away WWE fans when she mouthed off about them for all those months? Is this to the point of no return on an interpersonal level? Or, maybe, has Ronda petered out as a wrestler? She hasn’t really made much progress as a performer since she debuted and I’m not so sure she’s ever shed the “Athlete pretending to be a wrestler” label that was once fine – but only fine because she was expected to ultimately shed that moniker and move into “Athlete who transitioned into being a wrestler” territory.
Right now, it feels like it’s a combination of all those things. And while “hopeless” is a strong word, it doesn’t feel incorrect when it comes to her turning things around. I hope I’m wrong, of course – maybe all she needs is a roster shakeup, a good program and some legitimate hype around a match in which she’s about to wrestle. But if I’m not wrong, and interest in her will be impossible to course-correct, I might reconsider Becky’s plans for WrestleMania (assuming those plans currently involve Rousey).
Lynch is a generational talent. Charlotte Flair has the pedigree, but she doesn’t have the relatability that Lynch has. Bianca is a fantastic champion and a tremendous athlete, but playing the all-smiles role only gets you so far before the fan base decides those smiles are just a little too cheesy. Bayley hasn’t quite been Bayley since she came back, and I’m not sure why. Sasha Banks is somewhere doing something, but who knows what that something is. Lynch, meanwhile, has become the face of the women’s division and, in a lot of ways, the face of women’s wrestling in America. If she can pull off a program with Ronda that gets everyone’s attention, she’ll be able to add another line to her GOAT status.
If she can’t, though … umpf. The fallout could be career-altering.
For now, though, Ronda needs to find something to do – and not just pal around with Shayna Baszler. Or, perhaps more poignantly, she needs to wake up. I don’t care if she wants to hate all the wrestling fans and I don’t care if WWE has done a poor job evening out the Raw and Smackdown rosters. Rousey has the ability to change her trajectory if she really wants to change her trajectory. The only question? Does she actually want to change her trajectory?
And sadly, merely having to ask that should give us all a clue as to what the answer might be.