UFC star Ronda Rousey could be on her way to WWE, and if her interactions with Charlotte, Bayley and Becky Lynch during the Mae Young Classic provide any clues, she will wrestle her first match in the world of sports entertainment sooner rather than later.
When she does, she will bring clarity to a long-running debate of whether a mixed martial artist can leave the confines of the Octagon and find sustainable success in WWE.
A History of Crossing Over
Over the years, some mixed martial artists have made the jump to WWE—to varying degrees of success.
Ken Shamrock was a significant part of the WWE roster during the Attitude Era. He was typically positioned in the upper-midcard, just one step away from the heavyweight title scene. His work with Shawn Michaels, Vader, The Rock and Chris Jericho stands out in a career that was short but explosive.
Shamrock had previous pro wrestling experience, though, having wrestling in South Atlantic Pro Wrestling late in the 1980s.
Shamrock's peer Dan Severn did not experience the same success in the WWE rings that he did.
The Beast was technically proficient but lacked natural charisma, and soon WWE fans were tuning him out rather than investing in his ground-based submission skill set.
Matt Riddle was a contestant on UFC's The Ultimate Fighter and amassed an impressive winning streak for himself inside the Octagon. He entered the squared circle in 2014 and has ascended to the top of the independent scene, becoming one of the hottest free agents in the industry.
With that said, he has yet to step inside a Vince McMahon-owned ring and showcase his skills to the masses, though that day may soon come.
Finally, there is Shayna Baszler, Rousey's closest friend.
The Queen of Spades developed as an in-ring performer on the independent scene after a so-so fight career. In 2017, she appeared in the Mae Young Classic and made it to the finals, where she lost to Kairi Sane.
Rousey watched from ringside, tears filling her eyes when Baszler's shoulders were pinned to the mat.
To suggest mixed martial artists find varying degrees of success in the squared circle of WWE would be accurate. Typically, a lack of personality ultimately hurts them, as does their ability to adapt to the entertainment and performance side of things.
Wrestlers, on the other hand, do not necessarily suffer the same fate.
Brock Lesnar may not have a sparkling MMA win-loss record, but he became the biggest box office attraction in UFC—an ass-kicking machine who talked a big game and infuriated the purest MMA fans. He pounded opponents into jelly, disappeared for months, returned and did it again.
When he did lose, fans were overjoyed, but even then they could not deny the buzz he created around whichever fight card he appeared.
Though former ECW champion Bobby Lashley has not had that level of success, he has proved to be a talented fighter, amassing a 15-2 record for various promotions, including Strikeforce.
Like MMA, not every Superstar to leave the WWE ring has found success in the Octagon.
CM Punk was among the top stars in all of professional wrestling when he abruptly quit in 2014 and focused his attentions on making his MMA debut.
He proceeded to get his ass handed to him by Mickey Gall.
What If Ronda Rousey Fails?
Rousey is entering a company full of performers who take their work very seriously and do not hesitate to defend it in the face of MMA fighters who disrespect it.
In 2016, Connor McGregor made headlines for a controversial tweet in which he threatened to "slap the head off" the entire WWE roster.
Conor McGregor @TheNotoriousMMA
I didn't mean no disrespect to the @wwe fans. What I meant to say was that I'd slap the head off your entire roster. And twice on Sunday's.2016-8-7 07:13:00
The response from Superstars both past and present was overwhelming and proved the extent to which they will go to protect their industry.
So much talk for a guy who fights 15 min matches twice a year...... Good for you Conor McGaiver.2016-8-7 17:38:47
Ric Flair® @RicFlairNatrBoy
After Diaz finishes you again, I dare you to try guys like Dolph, Brock, or Fit. Oh you're welcome for your gimmick https://t.co/0qziVjlMav2016-8-7 18:13:58
I think McGregor could do well in the featherweight division......if the WWE had one. https://t.co/90XGpSICS92016-8-7 17:39:22
Roman Reigns @WWERomanReigns
Your the size of my leg. Shut up. https://t.co/fBVEdf8hE12016-8-7 14:56:11
Kurt Angle @RealKurtAngle
@TheNotoriousMMA @WWE very funny little guy. Why don't you get your head out of Dana White's ass2016-8-7 14:30:43
Chris Jericho @IAmJericho
Sorry pal no disrespect to u, but my fights are legit, unlike the fixed fights u have in @UFC. I’ll embarrass u. https://t.co/X5WCyeHYbf2016-8-7 18:03:52
Rousey has been in the front row for several pay-per-view and televised WWE events in the past, most notably SummerSlam 2014 and WrestleMania 31, where she physically confronted Stephanie McMahon. She is a fan of the sport and thus likely respects it more than McGregor ever will.
With that said, she will still face an upward battle.
She will likely have no problem with the physicality or athletic elements of the business. Where she may struggle is exuding her charisma and connecting with audiences. She is a straight-forward badass, but wrestling fans often demand more.
This is not the same WWE that Shamrock walked into and immediately found success back in 1997.
Wrestling fans do not appreciate athletes from other worlds walking into WWE and enjoying a push because of who they were somewhere else. They want their Superstars to have paid their dues and develop a passion for the sport.
If Rousey fails, she not only supports the idea that MMA fighters cannot make the transition to the entertainment world of WWE, she also proves right those fans not so eager to see her make her debut and potentially go over their beloved Superstars.
What If Ronda Rousey Succeeds?
If Rousey succeeds, WWE has a potential box office attraction on their hands. She could do for women's wrestling what Lesnar did for the male side of things, immediately bringing a credibility to the product that sucks the most casual fans into watching her highest profile battles.
Her prospective matches with Charlotte, Lynch, Bayley and Sasha Banks would receive top billing, her star power enough to convince fans that her matches could be legitimate main events. It would benefit the Women's Revolution and give women's wrestling its greatest profile to date.
Above all, though, success for Rousey may open the door for other UFC fighters to make the jump to WWE. It validates the idea that a real fighter can do "that fake stuff" but a choreographed fighter cannot necessarily conquer the MMA game.
It would be a blow for those still wrapped up in the WWE vs. UFC debate who believed WWE Superstars are superior to those MMA castoffs who try their hand at the business.
An Antiquated Debate
The idea of WWE vs. UFC, at this point, is irrelevant.
Fighters and wrestlers have each crossed over to the opposition's realm and experienced success of some sort. Even those who have failed have had the intestinal fortitude to step out of their comfort zones and essentially start from scratch.
The fact of the matter is that there have been pro wrestlers that have been very good for the mixed martial arts world and fighters who have benefitted the sports entertainment world.
To argue over which is better and why is a waste of time.
Will Rousey find success in WWE? With the marketing machine and a strong push behind her, of course she will.
Should MMA fans be upset that the woman who helped revolutionize female mixed martial arts and laid the foundation for Amanda Nunes, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Holly Holm (among others) to showcase their skills is heading to the world of sports entertainment?
No. She left UFC better than she found it. Few athletes can ever make that claim about the organization for which they ply their craft.
Should WWE fans unjustly criticize her for not having the background of a pro wrestler?
No. Some of the greatest stars in wrestling history have come from backgrounds that did not include working in front of 12 people in an armory somewhere. John Cena, Roman Reigns, The Rock and Kurt Angle exploded on to the scene and found themselves in main events despite not having the "indie cred" most fans value today.
Fans should be excited that an athlete known the world over is coming to their favorite pastime, where she has the opportunity to bring more attention to the industry and, finally, put an end to the stupid debate of WWE vs. UFC—a debate that makes no sense and has no definitive winner, but has a clear history of both sides benefiting each other.