The Rise and Fall of Ronda Rousey

11/21/2023 4:57 AM

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The Rise and Fall of Ronda Rousey

The Rise and Fall of Ronda Rousey

November 21, 2023 4:57 AM
The Rise and Fall of Ronda Rousey
WWE News

How Ronda Rousey's second WWE stint killed her star power and momentum.

When Ronda Rousey made her official WWE debut at the 2018 Royal Rumble, fans immediately got goosebumps over the prospect that the baddest woman on the planet was going to make her mark in professional wrestling. At the time, the former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion was one of the hottest athletes in sports.

The first-ever UFC Bantamweight Women’s Champion was a dominant force within her division. Ronda Rousey proved that women can be a draw in sports, and soon, her popularity shot up quickly throughout the mainstream. Then she suffered a huge loss against Holly Holm at UFC 193. That defeat was the beginning of the end for Rousey’s MMA career.

Rousey returned a year later to try and reclaim the UFC Women’s Bantamweight belt, but Amanda Nunes was just too strong of a champion for Rousey to beat. That effectively ended her MMA career, though the 36-year-old was still a hot commodity because of her huge contribution to sports. 

During her time in UFC, Rousey never hid her love for professional wrestling. She was a huge “Rowdy” Roddy Piper fan and made sporadic appearances in WWE. Her biggest one was at Wrestlemania 31. The Rock called the former UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion into the ring and fans got excited over the UFC veteran having a future match inside of the square circle. Rousey was simply perfect in this segment: she was cool, calm, and felt like a genuine badass. That segment was a huge success, as it currently has 58 million views on YouTube.

And Rousey’s success in WWE continued in her very first match. The build leading up to her WrestleMania 34 was hit-and-miss because the former UFC star isn’t the greatest on the mic. Still, she had an aura that was different from every other woman on the roster. That led to Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon being the best match at WrestleMania 34.

Rousey was working with professionals who brought out the best in the former MMA star. Plus, the crowd was simply perfect here: they loved Rousey and were genuinely excited to see her wrestling inside the squared circle. It was arguably one of the best WWE debuts ever made. Rousey was riding high from her WrestleMania performance and her success continued early in her WWE run. 

Rousey exceeded expectations and had great matches with anyone she stepped into the ring with. It wasn’t just the fact that she had amazing matches. It was also that Rousey felt like a breath of fresh air in the women’s division. She felt unique for a good period of time. However, there was a notable issue with the way WWE was booking Ronda Rousey. She was booked as unstoppable. She was given the John Cena treatment. Actually, John Cena struggled somewhat before he went over his opponents. Rousey ran through most of her opponents. Most fans don’t like it when a babyface is given such a super strong characteristic.

These characters are typically boring. Stone Cold had Vince McMahon. Hulk Hogan had Andre The Giant. Trish had Lita and vice versa. Rousey needed an adversary that was on her level. Unfortunately, WWE made it clear that NONE of the women on the roster was a match for the former UFC star. It also didn’t help that Rousey just wasn’t good on the mic. It was obvious and yet, Vince McMahon and company weren’t doing anything to hide her weaknesses.

Rousey was losing what made her so special in the first place. So when the fans turned on her at Survivor Series 2018, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Despite having a great match with Charlotte Flair, fans were just tired of how Rousey dominated the women’s division. So when Flair went crazy and attacked the former WWE Women’s Champion, it was a refreshing sight to see her be so vulnerable. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. 

WWE was wise to turn Rousey heel in the months leading up to WrestleMania 35. There was nowhere else her character could go as a babyface. Plus, there was no way that fans would cheer her over Becky Lynch. Rousey's first stint in WWE wasn’t perfect, but it was generally a good run. Her matches were consistently entertaining and her heel turn opened the doors for something more interesting down the line. 

Then Ronda made her return three years later at the Royal Rumble. As a babyface. You can see and feel the disdain on her face for the audience. She didn’t forget about the fans booing her. And that translated throughout her promos and body language. Rousey would course correct because WWE was adamant about keeping her as a babyface, which was disappointing because her heel run had some much potential. 

Ronda’s return still had a glimmer of hope because she was the Royal Rumble winner; meaning that she got to choose who to face at WrestleMania 38. Becky Lynch was the RAW Women’s Champion at the time. And she was a heel. It would've been great to explore the different dynamics between these two characters three years later. Plus, Becky Lynch is fantastic on the mic. Ronda needed a great adversary here. Unfortunately, Vince chose Charlotte Flair, who isn’t particularly good on the mic and didn’t have a strong enough character that was over like Stephanie McMahon or Becky Lynch. Ronda’s feud with Flair did more damage than good. The story just wasn’t connecting with the audience and the journey to their match was quite boring. 

Their match at WrestleMania 38 was fine, but it didn’t have the magic that Rousey had in her first run. Ronda’s run didn’t get any better. Creative put her back in the power position as a babyface, but this time, she didn’t have any compelling opponents once her feud with Charlotte ended. Ronda was reigning over a Smackdown division that was extremely thin in terms of characters, personalities, and wrestling ability. Ronda needed a Becky Lynch. Or even Bianca Belair, Asuka or Rhea Ripley. Yet, they were all on RAW.

You can tell from Ronda’s face that she wasn’t feeling her second stint in WWE. WWE had a chance to course correct when she dropped the belt to Liv Morgan at Money in the Bank, but somehow, Triple H killed Morgan’s babyface run in the process. Rousey turning heel this time around didn’t work because there weren’t any strong babyfaces on the Smackdown side. Her feud with Morgan cemented that she wasn’t on the former UFC star’s level. There’s a reason Liv Morgan’s singles push stopped after dropping the belt at Extreme Rules. Ronda’s entire title run was forgettable, though at no fault of her own. At this point, she was overexposed and no longer felt special. Plus, she wasn’t given any stories to really sink her teeth into. 

The best story Rousey had was her final one against Shayna Baszler. But that feud came riddled with problems. The events that kicked off their rivalry were confusing and nonsensical. Both characters were heels, and Rousey didn’t treat Baszler any differently once they won the belts. 

Baszler was never a sympathetic character. And Ronda stopped being sympathetic a long time ago. The build to their Summerslam match was a mess. Shayna had one strong promo that grabbed the audience's attention, but the dynamic between the two characters wasn't clear. Audiences didn’t know who the babyface or heel was in this feud. The final UFC-style promo video documenting the story of these two was incredible. There was some solid acting in this video and for the first time, character motivations were clear. But it was too late by then. The Baszler turn was rushed and these two desperately needed more time to tell their story. 

It’s a big reason why their match flopped. It didn’t help that the match was under MMA rules. Professional Wrestling has tried to incorporate MMA in the past and it never works. It was a flat end to a career that started so hot. Ronda’s first run had the better set of stories and matches, but the booking of her character turned her into a boring and overly dominant babyface. The second stint was just bad story, after bad story, after bad story. And the matches weren’t particularly great either. 

The magic of seeing Ronda Rousey in a wrestling ring was gone. She felt like another WWE wrestler. Her matches were no longer must-see, and despite a much-needed heel turn, the booking didn’t get any better for the former UFC star. When all is said and done, Ronda Rousey will go down as one of the better pro wrestling transitions because her first stint was so strong. It’s a shame that her second stint was a bust. It killed whatever momentum she had as a star and it’s not surprising that her name isn’t the hot commodity that it used to be.