By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
142 matches. Five years.
If Saturday’s “MMA Rules” match (whatever in the good hell that was supposed to mean) ends up being the final pro wrestling match for Ronda Rousey, those numbers will be on her trading card. She first appeared as she walked out to conclude the 2018 Royal Rumble, where she received an uproarious ovation. Her first match was at WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans – where she received almost universal praise for her performance. And then on Aug. 5, 2023, she passed out at the hands of her best friend in seven-and-a-half minutes in Detroit. And that’s it. That’s the career.
Oh, but if only it were that simple.
Last week, I wrote about CM Punk merely just being another guy on the AEW roster these days, but Rousey isn’t even just another gal on the WWE roster – she’s a complete non-factor. Or, at least that’s what she’s been. It’s hard to tell who’s more forgotten in the WWE Universe – Rousey or Dana Brooke, who can’t even get the little bit of help a few NXT appearances grant any wrestler living in Then/Now/Forever/Together purgatory. The hate. The ambivalence. The unexplained universal rejection. Nobody asks for that. Yet sometimes, wrestling fans have no problem producing it.
I can’t figure out what happened. A month ago today, The Sportster’s Tony Parker wrote a story with the headline, “There are a lot of possible reasons why WWE fans hate Ronda Rousey.” Among those possible reasons, the author cites entitlement, her beef with the fans and her potential role getting in the way of a Four Horsewomen WrestleMania moment. Well … Maybe? I guess? I don’t know. Sure, those are reasonable arguments to make, but to go from the highest-profile women’s signee in the history of the business to the much ballyhooed Island of Irrelevance this hard, this quick … it can’t be that simple, can it?
If it is, then I hate to break it to you, but Rousey isn’t to blame. Instead, it’s time to bring out that popular F-word (fickle) when it comes to wrestling fans. One day, you’re the savior of an entire division; the next, you’re getting dragged on Twitter … er, I mean X … for … not sounding authentic enough in a five-minute promo? Botching a spot with Shotzi at a Survivor Series? Come on, now. Your new favorite wrestler LA Knight just made an ass of himself on national television when he got a little too rambunctious while leaping onto the top rope, but everyone seemed as pumped as they ever were to see him win the SummerSlam battle royal the next night. Let’s not wade into hypocrisy here.
Instead, let’s revisit something Rousey said back in 2021 on Twitter:
“I’ve seen you same ‘fans’ chanting #WeWantWyatt last night chanting ‘We want beach balls’ over @WWEBrayWyatt performing. If the @wwe treated him like he was expendable it was because you ungrateful idiots did first.”
And then, after we do that, how about we go back even earlier, to 2020, when Rousey hopped on Steve-O’s podcast and said this:
“What am I doing it for if I’m not being able to spend my time and energy on my family, but instead spending my time and my energy on a bunch of f-ing ungrateful fans that don’t even appreciate me? I love performing. I love the girls. I love being out there … but, at the end of the day, I was just like, ‘F- these fans, dude.’ My family loves me and they appreciate me, and I want all my energy to go into them. So that was my decision at the end of the day. It’s like, ‘Hey girls. Love what you’re doing. I’m gonna try and take all my momentum and push you guys as far as I can. Fly little birds, fly! I’m going f-ing home!’ And that was basically it.”
To paraphrase someone on the other channel, tell me where she’s telling lies?
OK, I concede that’s a bit much. There are a million ways to make the points she tried to make without calling fans idiots or ostensibly telling them to pound sand. And it’s not really the best look to say, “I’m only going to work if you appreciate me, damn it!” Because, let’s be honest: I’d venture to guess that at least nine out of every 10 working people in this world feel like they aren’t as appreciated as they should be, but they still get up, go do their jobs and find a way to make things work. So, let’s not get carried away.
But, still. Her point about fans engaging in the inexplicable isn’t wrong (and it’s also not the first time it’s been said). Plus, remember: This is pro wrestling. For all we know, she could have been setting up heel work for the future when she said those things. On the other side, if it wasn’t that, and she really was pissed, it’s hard to blame her there, too. Cheers, relevance, adulation, support – those things are drugs in the performance industry. If they’re taken away from you for reasons never quite explained, you’re going to wonder why and you’re going to be a little salty as a result of it. She’s only human.
And, for that matter, so are fans. Being human means we forget things, and here’s something I’ve been trying not to forget while considering Rousey: Bad Bunny wasn’t landing Code Reds five years ago. Logan Paul wasn’t going for Buckshot Lariats on a big stage in 2018. I’m not going to say Ronda Rousey is responsible for upping the game of pseudo celebrities (yes, we all know Rousey was an athlete first, so settle down) coming into the wrestling world. But I’m also not going to say she didn’t lay forth a path that others since her haven’t at least tangentially traveled.
We were led to believe, be it from WWE, wrestling media types and even Rousey herself, that Ronda was always the biggest pro wrestling fan. She paid homage to Roddy Piper in her act. She nearly cried when she first stepped through the curtain. She set herself apart from other one-and-done celebs by “taking it seriously” – which is a phrase thrown around way too much now when it comes to famous people stepping into the wrestling space anymore. Her wrestling fandom humanized her and it invited other fans in to root for her in a very easy way. She wasn’t just The Baddest Woman On The Planet; she also possessed an Iron Sheik LGN figure from 1989. Or at least that was the narrative.
Rousey also helped push the WWE’s women’s division so far up the priority chain that those ladies got their own pay-per-view. As I said while speaking with Jason Powell on last week’s Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast, I don’t know if 2018’s “Evolution” happens if Ronda Rousey doesn’t take the leap into WWE (case in point: It never happened again). It was the right person at the right time for the right roster. It was a perfect storm only deemed perfect because of Rousey’s presence. She didn’t just come in, work a match or two and head back to hashtag-famous-people-life.
And you know what? Maybe that was half the problem. Maybe that’s why I’m writing what I’m writing now. You either die a hero or live long enough to become a villain and after a while, Rousey felt like just another member of the roster. The constantly adjusting her ring gear thing went from endearing to “come on, man, figure that stuff out.” The less-than-stellar promos that were once kindly forgiven were now picked apart by taste-makers and critical fans alike. She never quite progressed the way people wanted to see her progress. The character didn’t much change. The kinks were never quite worked out.
And so it must be asked: If she only just would have wrestled alongside Kurt Angle at that one WrestleMania and sporadically stuck around through October to help see the women’s division through Evolution before heading back into the sunset, who’s to say that she wouldn’t be getting the same credit a Logan Paul or a Bad Bunny gets these days? Who’s to say she wouldn’t be known as one of the first in the modern era to “take it seriously” and be lauded for it? Don’t forget: She worked house shows. Head over to cagematch.net and you’ll see that Rousey was making the towns, completing the loops, teaming in tags to get her feet under her. I mean, she actually showed up to some small arena in Bangor, Maine, in the middle of October 2018 just to prove she was in it for real. It might not be easy to remember, but it happened.
And it mattered. Or, at least in my mind, it should matter. Ronda Rousey could have collected a few paychecks, went off to start a family and stayed away from the pro wrestling business, but even if she never quite played nice with the fan base (and the fan base quickly stopped playing nice with her), you can’t deny that, well, she actually did come back. And she did try again. And she didn’t just coast off a name and a celebrity that is unmatched in women’s combat sports. She did what she could. She didn’t cower away from the challenges. She didn’t back down from those “ungrateful idiots.” For better or for worse, she stuck around long enough to become a villain.
That said, I don’t think it’s particularly fair for her to go out under these circumstances, shunned by the cool kids wrestling fan table and dismissed as a nobody in this line of work. If SummerSlam ends up being her final-ever match in a pro wrestling ring, you can’t deny that in five years, Ronda Rousey had a significant impact on women’s wrestling and she did it in the biggest pro wrestling company in the world. And in the middle of all that, she even had a baby, to boot. For that, she should be celebrated, not derided.
So, good luck, Ms. Rousey. Here’s hoping you find peace and happiness in whatever you do next. If it was up to me, I’d be sure the lights are kept on for the day you might want to come back to pro wrestling. Because as far as I’m concerned, there’s always time to write a simple ending to an otherwise complicated career.