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From UFC to WWE: The Resurrection of Rowdy Ronda Rousey Begins

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterJanuary 30, 2018

Credit: WWE.com

The smile on Rowdy Ronda Rousey's face as she strode down the entrance ramp at WWE Royal Rumble 2018 stretched from ear to ear.

Asuka had just won the first women's Royal Rumble in WWE history and found herself in a staredown in the ring with the company's top two female champions, Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss. Then, in WWE fashion, a major surprise interrupted the scene. Rousey emerged from the curtains in a leather jacket and a T-shirt that paid clear homage to the late WWE Hall of Famer Roddy Piper.

The former UFC bantamweight champion seemed to soak it all in, eyeing her new surroundings with excitement and hope.

As the Philadelphia fans erupted around her Sunday, Rousey tried to shake Asuka's hand. The Japanese submission artist defiantly slapped her hand away and glared at the outsider. And with that, Rousey's long-rumored WWE career officially began.

Rousey looked elated and in awe through all of it.

That image couldn't be more different than the one the world saw after the judoka's loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 in late 2016. As Nunes raised her hand in victory, Rousey's head slumped forward. Her face was pink, battered by punches. Dejection held her in place.

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The post-fight scene after Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey.
The post-fight scene after Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey.John Locher/Associated Press

It wasn't just that Rousey lost her second straight UFC fight. She had gone from being the most dominant force in the sport to someone who didn't look like they belonged in the Octagon anymore.  

Rousey ruled the UFC women's bantamweight division at her peak. She was a wrecking ball with grappling gloves, Mike Tyson in the '80s all over again.

Of her 12 consecutive wins in the UFC, only three lasted more than one minute, per Sherdog

UFC @ufc

Stats don't lie for @RondaRousey 👀 #UFC207 https://t.co/zlLATP2Ysi

Rousey beat fighter after fighter in mere seconds. Her armbar was the wall no one could penetrate. It sometimes felt like she was an adult toying with kids on the living room floor.

But then Holly Holm kicked her in the head at UFC 193 in November 2015, and everything changed.

Holm had bullied and bloodied Rousey throughout the two-round clash. Rousey flailed around the Octagon, vulnerable, beatable, human for the first time. A kick caught her on her right side, and she fell.

The loss gave Holm the bantamweight crown, and it broke Rousey.

The California native ducked out of the public spotlight. She hid away with loose teeth and a lip covered in stitches. But things were worse for her than anyone could fathom.

In February 2016 on Ellen, Rousey revealed the loss drove her to the darkest of places.

"What am I anymore if I'm not this?" she said. "And I was literally sitting there thinking about killing myself. And in that exact second, I'm like, 'I'm nothing.'" 

Eventually, she charged back with a comeback attempt against Nunes. She remained quiet and focused and did no media leading up to the December 2016 bout. 

However, it was clear seconds into the fight that the old Rousey was gone.

Ronda Rousey struggles against Amanda Nunes.
Ronda Rousey struggles against Amanda Nunes.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

She couldn't retreat from Nunes quickly enough. She could not respond. As she took punch after punch, Rousey looked like a swimmer caught in a boat's propeller. 

In the waning moments of the matchup, Rousey was staggered, dazed and helpless.

Fighters have been pushed out of their thrones before, but what The Rowdy One experienced was more akin to a nosedive.

Fans and pundits mocked her. Nunes piled on via Twitter:

Amanda Nunes @Amanda_Leoa

https://t.co/1zflrVlJrl

Rousey had gone from the darling of the sports world to an afterthought. Too many were quick to dismiss her accomplishments, to paint over her past with a revisionist brush. The world moved on to rooting for other fighters, to shelling out bucks for the next crop of UFC stars.

Rousey has since furthered her movie career. She's now more celebrity than sportswoman.

Ronda Rousey at The Expendables 3 premiere.
Ronda Rousey at The Expendables 3 premiere.Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

But her days as an athlete aren't over, even if her new platform is a sport of the scripted variety.

With WWE, she has found a path that will rejuvenate her. This is no money grab. This isn't a case of someone seeking the squared circle due to a lack of options. Rousey has long loved this business.

Her passion for pro wrestling is well-known. She took her nickname (with permission) from wrestling legend Piper. She's appeared at WrestleMania alongside The Rock.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

Ronda Rousey wore Roddy Piper's famous jacket in her debut, but he's always inspired her. https://t.co/VXnXFLSnQw

So when word began to circulate that she and WWE were discussing a deal, no one was shocked.

Rousey is tailor-made for the business. She's an accomplished athlete with big-league name power. She's charismatic, has ample presence and is adept at slamming someone to the mat.

After the surprise at the Royal Rumble, Rousey has made it clear she's ready to commit to WWE.

"This is my life now. First priority on my timeline for the next several years," she told ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne. "When I first met with 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.'"

It's an ideal scenario for both the company and the star.

WWE gets a household name to showcase. Rousey gets to reside in a world somewhere between her action movies and the Octagon. She'll get to be a part of an art form she has long admired. Arenas full of fans will chant her name. 

The spotlight of WrestleMania is set to be pointed at her. 

She may team up with Hall of Famer Kurt Angle or mix it up with the leaders of WWE's surging women's division, from Asuka to Flair. She will be the star of many a story. 

She'll undoubtedly get flak from pundits who scoff at WWE for being "fake." Many will view this as a step down. But joining WWE is Rousey's chance to remake herself, to reclaim happiness, to live a dream after waking up from a nightmare.

Rousey holds a pen in her hand as she's ready to write a new narrative, one bodyslam at a time.

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