Ronda Rousey Faces Uphill Battle to Become WWE Success Story

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2017

IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR WWE - WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon, left, Ronda Rousey, center, and WWE EVP of Talent, Live Events and Creative Paul
Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Associated Press

Ronda Rousey is on her way to WWE, if reports from USA Today's Martin Rogers prove accurate, the next UFC great to try her hand at the bright lights and enormous stage the biggest sports entertainment empire has to offer. But as she is already finding out, she faces an uphill battle to become a success story in an industry she has long been a fan of but lacks any experience in.

Though her fame will carry her, as will the company's desire to capitalize on her star power, she will find that setting foot inside the squared circle comes with criticism, preconceived notions and a learning curve she may not be prepared to encounter.


Public Perception

Rousey is a transcendent, mainstream athlete known to fans around the world. She built on the foundation laid by Gina Carano and made women's mixed martial arts an enormous part of UFC. She became a star on par with Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar. She was a crossover, and her pay-per-view fights earned considerable coverage.

Her first loss, to Holly Holm in November 2015, was one of the biggest sports stories of the year thanks to the aura of invincibility she had built for herself.

The idea that someone who had been such an immensely significant part of the history of one sport leaving it behind to take part in a scripted art form considered "fake" by many outside the business has proved difficult to wrap minds around.

Mia Khalifa of Complex News made headlines when she was heavily critical of professional wrestling and Rousey's potential involvement in it, insisting, "this is where her career will go to die." (Video is NSFW.)

That is likely the start of the criticisms the submission specialist is likely to hear regarding her involvement in an industry looked down upon by so many fans of "real" sports and athletes.

Some will inevitably look at it as a step down for Rousey, whose status in the sports world was just shy of royalty. Others will perceive her work in WWE as a last-gasp effort to remain relevant. Still, others will lose respect for her earning a paycheck with a company that play fights rather than actually braining someone with a roundhouse kick.

The outside criticisms from the media, former fans and colleagues who do not understand her latest professional venture will undoubtedly weigh on her, but they will not be the toughest task she faces on her prospective journey to sports entertainment success.


Learning Curve

Rousey may be a natural athlete, and her submission skill set will certainly help her bridge the gap to an extent, but the idea that she will step into WWE and be able to pick the artistry of professional wrestling up after a few training sessions is as far-fetched as they come.

Yes, fellow former fighter Shayna Baszler has enjoyed a successful in-ring career to this point, even making it to the finals of the Mae Young Classic in 2017. With that said, it was not without dedication and hard work.

Baszler garnered knowledge for the better part of two years, and more importantly, she earned the respect of fans by working independents and discovering a very real love for the business. Her experience, though shorter than most, put her in the position to star during the aforementioned WWE Network tournament that introduced her to a new audience.

Rousey will almost certainly be thrown into the mix, presumably as soon as WrestleMania 34, before she is adequately trained to succeed.

That will do more damage to her connection with fans than anything.

As is almost always the case with crossover stars looking to make a name for themselves at the expense of the Superstars who have committed themselves to the sport, they're doomed to the negativity of an audience unconvinced they deserve the opportunities they receive.


Fan Backlash

There are few things fans hate more than watching Superstars they have followed through both the best and most tumultuous points of their career overshadowed by celebrities or special attractions brought in specifically in hopes of popping a rating or generating interest from a more casual audience.

There will be the inevitable backlash from fans who see Rousey's potential involvement with WWE as a cash grab by all involved.

The moment she is put in the ring with Charlotte or Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks or Bayley, and wins a match, the criticism and complaints will rain heavy and fast. She will be villainized for something that is not necessarily her fault and will find it very difficult to leave a positive impression on the WWE Universe.

Say what you will about John Cena or Roman Reigns, but they are of the wrestling business and have at least earned the respect of the audience, regardless of the negative reactions that greet them in arenas across the globe.

Rousey is an outsider who has not put in the work or formed a connection with fans beyond her brief appearance at WrestleMania 31. On that March night in 2015, she received a raucous ovation as an unexpected celebrity appearance who momentarily silenced The Authority.

As a legitimate in-ring competitor who will be booked opposite full-time workers, winning matches she probably has no business winning, the reaction will likely not be as strong as it was.

With that said, there is a silver lining that she can lean on as she confronts her uphill battle.


Silver Lining

Rousey is a legitimate badass and can benefit from history repeating itself.

Like Rousey, Lesnar made his way back to WWE after becoming one of UFC's biggest box office attractions. He was an enormous draw for the company, at the forefront of its promotional efforts. He was a legitimate star whose ability to kick someone's ass in real life was important to his overall presentation.

If WWE makes the concentrated effort to promote Rousey as a big-fight performer, whose real-life ass-kicker aura is at the heart of her character, it will help her chances of being accepted by the WWE Universe rather than introducing her as a cocky, arrogant former UFC fighter who is trying to take titles from more popular, more beloved wrestlers.

She will have every possible opportunity to find success in WWE. She will be highly touted, significantly marketed and heavily pushed. If she can shake off the outside pressures and early fan disdain, and display a genuine love of professional wrestling, she will find success in one form or fashion.