It has been often and well documented that “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey was bequeathed her name by Roddy Piper, the late, great all-time talker of the North American wrestling scene. In her MMA days, it fit surely the mould of what she would become. She was a trash talker’s trash talker, once calling Holly Holm a “fake ass cheap shotting, fake respect, fake humility bitch.” However, as watchers of the 45th President of the United States will tell you, there is a fine line between trash talk and sounding like a deranged monster who will kill us all.
While Rousey has not yet, thankfully, sunk to the standards of the current occupant of 400 Pennsylvania Avenue, she has long ago slipped the moorings of Hot Rod’s tenets of public speech. Everything Piper said was finely calculated to elicit the exact response he wanted from the fans. He said some rum stuff down the years, and I will not condone all of it. However, as he put it when speaking on the Art of Wrestling with Colt Cabana: “The fans were coming to me after Wrestlemania 2 anyways . . . ” Was that the fans, asked Colt? Piper audibly chuckled, “No that was my idea.”
Piper could make a global audience turn on a dime. Rousey, though, not so much.
In MMA Rousey was a killer. She was brutal, she broke arms on a regular basis, she was scary good and changed the perception of both women’s MMA and women’s sport. Then she lost, and lost big. Twice. Her comebacks met with variable success but one of the telling issues was when she was picked as a coach for The Ultimate Fighter. Her trash talk did not diminish in this new role, to the point that she accused the production staff of editing the show to make her look like the bad guy.
When she fought Meisha Tate in the blow-off to the series she was widely booed in the arena. She came off as petty and entitled. So when she decided to try wrestling, she had been a long time fan and was very respectful of the genre. The idea of working in an environment where your perception is controlled to the minutest detail must have appealed.
In the beginning the Ronda Rousey/WWE marriage seemed to be going swimmingly. She won big in the mixed tag at Wrestlemania 34. She started off at the top of the card, and WWE was clearly inclined to keep her there. They wanted a slice of what had made her a huge crossover star and one of the biggest draws in UFC history.
However, her debut showed that we would be getting the WWE version of Ronda Rousey. Smiling and waving full-on babyface Ronda Rousey. Gone was the black gear, badass ring walk, attitude and all-conquering mystique. Steve Austin, one of her biggest fans, put it best: “That was the old man talking.” The old man was Vince McMahon and not for the first time he had a mixed response awaiting his new star.
As she made her rapid ascent to the top of the company, quite quickly cracks started to show in WWE’s plan. WWE fans have been programmed to believe that only WWE matters, which, in a promotional sense, is the right thing to do. However, it does mean that outsiders suffer unless they are in for a one-off. In the long term, hammering home how great someone was when they were somewhere else does them no favours. This is WWE’s fault of course; treating everything inside its own bubble limits the outside pressures of the world. Nonetheless, it doesn’t help people like Rousey, and to get over it you have to be phenomenal. Literally, and Rousey is no AJ Styles.
On top of that perception issue is the fact that WWE is spoilt for choice when it comes to the top of their women’s division. Having drilled and trained their best roster ever, the fans – who, don’t forget, had been taught this was the greatest women’s division of all time – were somewhat aggrieved when this new champion came in and rode roughshod over all of them. The fans were of the belief that with hard work and effort you would get there in the WWE.
WWE’s own narratives quite rightly push this conceit, but is rarely the case, as any good wrestling booker will tell you. So faced with this new star being thrust upon them the fans started off frosty, and then ended up outwardly hostile. Rousey’s online commentary in her run didn’t help, in which she came off as once again ungrateful and entitled. All it would take was a spark to light this powder keg of resentment. Becky Lynch found the match, rode it all the way to the Wrestlemania Main Event, and had enough spark in her coat tails to drag Charlotte along with her.
And so we come to Rousey’s recent interview with Steve O where she said “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.’” Which brings us full circle in the WWE self-own performative dissonance stakes. Now some people will feel that this is a “work” but the thing is, Rousey has shown very little wrestling IQ for such matters, or she wouldn’t have aided her downfall at every step in her career.
From what people say, Rousey has excellent personal relations with a lot of colleagues in wrestling and MMA, but she has skirted controversy her entire career. Her comments on trans athletes are a prime example of wading into a quagmire and making it more of a mess, whilst having awful opinions in the process. She has battled perceptions all her life, but now seems to be on the losing end of them in what should be a slam dunk situation. Ronda Rousey is a born heel, but the fact that WWE couldn’t harness that is not all on Ronda. There is no doubt that she pulls a huge mainstream draw for the company, but there is also no doubt that if she can’t control her own narrative, she is not going to be useful to anyone.
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