While breaking the news that Ronda Rousey had agreed to be a full-time wrestler with the WWE, ESPN’s story Sunday claimed that the former UFC champion “shocked the crowd” by appearing at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center at the end of the women’s Royal Rumble match.
It’s actually fair to say many wrestling fans were far from shocked to see Rousey use Sunday’s event to certify that she will, in fact, be a WWE performer. Nevertheless, her much-anticipated arrival in the company provides further evidence that her MMA career is almost certainly over, adds a dose of star power to the pro-wrestling behemoth and — as Rousey silently made clear after she entered the ring — sets up a major story line heading toward April’s WrestleMania 34.
“This is my life now. First priority on my timeline for the next several years,” Rousey said to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne of signing with WWE. “This is not a smash-and-grab; this is not a publicity stunt.”
Rousey said that when she first met with WWE executive Triple H, “I told him, ‘There are other things I can do with my time that’ll make way more money, but I won’t enjoy nearly as much.’ ” Long known to be a fan of pro wrestling, Rousey appeared at WrestleMania in 2015 and helped Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson oust Triple H and his wife and fellow WWE official, Stephanie McMahon.
On Sunday, though, Rousey made a point of shaking McMahon’s hand during the event and, after the arena cleared out, was all smiles with her new bosses. She wore a shirt bearing her name in lettering that paid homage to former WWE superstar “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who died in 2015 — Rousey had already been using the “Rowdy” moniker herself as an MMA fighter — and she said her leather jacket had been owned by Piper and was given to her by his son.
“It’s funny — it’s kind of like acting, in that it was something I always wanted to do but I never thought was in the cards for me,” Rousey said to Shelburne about having dreamed of being a pro wrestler. “And now that I realize I really do have this opportunity, I feel like my 6-year-old self would totally kick my ass if I didn’t take it.”
It has been an opportunity months in the making, after reports in August had Rousey beginning to train to learn wrestling moves. She was spotted conferring with Triple H around that time at a taping for an all-female WWE tournament, then appeared in a “work,” a staged confrontation, for the company the next month.
Reports emerged in December that Rousey was “finalizing details” of a contract with the WWE, but it was noted at the time that she was also set to film scenes for a movie, “Mile 22,” through February and thus would likely be limited in her wrestling tasks until afterward. On Sunday, Internet sleuths noticed that Rousey’s social media accounts, which were used infrequently over the past couple of months, had suddenly sprung to life recently with several posts that could be interpreted as suspiciously emphasizing the fact that she was shooting the movie in Colombia — and was thus in no position to show up in Philadelphia on Sunday, right?
Wrong. The fact that the WWE made the women’s Royal Rumble the final match Sunday, instead of the men’s version, struck some as huge hint that Rousey was set to close the show in some way, but as she told Shelburne, it took a “team effort” to keep her appearance as much of a surprise as it was. Rousey said it required her to fly commercially from Colombia to Florida “without being seen,” then be whisked by private jet to New Jersey, driven to the arena and shepherded to a “back elevator,” adding, “I’ve just been Rapunzel in a tower, pretty much, for the past 24 hours.”
No sooner had Asuka won the match than WWE champions Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss entered the ring. The high-powered trio did not have long to exchange pleasantries, though, when the arena began blaring Joan Jett’s “Bad Reputation” before showing Rousey’s name and then the woman herself.
“I’m happy for her. This is something she has always wanted to do,” UFC president Dana White said in a text to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “Ronda continues to achieve everything she has ever wanted.”
White has long expressed doubt that Rousey, with whom he is close, will participate in any more MMA fights, all but urging her to pursue a full-time acting career. Having attained superstar status while starting off with a dominant, 12-0 record in MMA, the former Olympic bronze medalist in judo lost her last two UFC fights by knockout, puncturing her aura and leaving her psyche wounded.
In an interview with Shelburne that was recorded before the Royal Rumble, Rousey left open the possibility of returning to MMA, noting that she never formally retired from judo, either. “All I know is that I really want to devote 100 percent of my time to wrestling right now, and whatever people want to call that, they can call it,” she said.
Rousey is hardly the first MMA fighter to jump to pro wrestling, or vice versa — previous examples have included Brock Lesnar, Ken Shamrock, Dan Severn and CM Punk. The WWE has also has made overtures to another UFC superstar with a talent for self-promotion, Conor McGregor.
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