WWE Hot Take of the Week: Rousey vs. Bella Is a Setback for Women's Evolution

Anthony Mango@@ToeKneeManGoFeatured ColumnistOctober 13, 2018

Credit: WWE.com

Welcome to another Hot Take, where no complaints are off limits. And even when WWE has the best intentions, there are still elements to nitpick and expose.

Such is the case with WWE Evolution, the company's first all-women pay-per-view. Oct. 28's event is an acknowledgement that the female Superstars are deserving of more than they have received in recent years.

It's perhaps an overdue decision, but the event's card has opened up a different can of worms.

Ideally, the best and brightest WWE has to offer should be showcased to prove any doubters wrong from start to finish. This pay-per-view should be one of the best of the year.

But if that's the case, why is Ronda Rousey defending the Raw Women's Championship against Nikki Bella?

This was rumored for a while, and when the tag team match featuring the Bellas and Rousey against The Riott Squad at Super Show-Down was booked, it seemed WWE was heading in this direction. Receiving confirmation of it Monday was less than surprising, and the bout does have some reasoning behind it.

Nikki is one of the most popular women on the roster, and having her face Rousey is something that has crossover appeal for mainstream media outlets. Rousey's MMA success will always make her a worthwhile story for sports-oriented outlets, while Nikki Bella stars in two reality shows and is the longest-reigning Divas champion of all time.

Sometimes, WWE plays the media coverage game to get more eyes on the product outside of diehard fans who will be paying attention regardless of what's going on.

On paper, this is a high-profile match: a reality TV star and former champion against the former queen of MMA. But matches that look good on paper don't always work out once the bell rings.

Rousey is a natural athlete and has impressed quite a bit with her relatively few in-ring performances, but she's still pretty new to this, and her style doesn't work well with everybody. She's done well with short matches in which she's dominated, but she works best when she's with someone who can help put the match together and dictate the flow of things, which has never been one of Nikki's strengths.

Bella has improved since her debut in 2008, but she has never been a ring general who can bring down the house with any opponent. So, having her be the veteran to work opposite Rousey isn't a guaranteed recipe for success.

The booking of the match could also be an issue. Nikki is synonymous with the Divas era of wrestling, while Rousey perfectly represents today's greater focus on athleticism and in-ring work. The Divas era has its critics, but Nikki was pushed as a big star in the division during her record-breaking championship run, and having Rousey dominate her could unintentionally disrespect an entire era of women's wrestling. In August, former SmackDown women's champion Carmella spoke highly of the women who paved the way for the high-profile opportunities the women receive now in WWE.

If The Bella Twins go through this feud as the heels who are representing that era and they're made to look like fools, it will give validation to the outlook of the Divas division as weak. While WWE's booking of its women for much of the Divas era was questionable, the likes of Paige, AJ Lee, Beth Phoenix, Kaitlyn and even Charlotte Flair showed that women deserved to be treated more seriously as wrestlers and helped start the women's revolution.

One way or another, WWE is in a bind. Nikki's lack of athletic success outside of wrestling makes it hard for her to be taken seriously as a threat to a former MMA champion in Rousey. But if she is presented as more of a reality star than longest-reigning Divas champion, it feeds into the impression that we aren't fully separated from the women's division of the mid-2000s.

It's similar to the run of matches John Cena had with Brock Lesnar following the latter's return to the WWE after his time in MMA. Cena was WWE's biggest crossover star at the time but didn't have the athletic accomplishments on his CV that his opponent did, but he was given a puzzling victory over Lesnar in their first encounter before being destroyed at SummerSlam two years later.

The reaction to both matches was mixed, and the profit for the Rousey-Bella match could largely be dependent upon people caring enough about their popularity more than their in-ring work, which flies in the face of what everyone has been trying to accomplish.

However, it's been rare of late for WWE to book the best in-ring talents in main events of high-profile pay-per-views. At WrestleMania 34, for example, it was Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns in the main event while the likes of Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura competed further down the card. 

For the women, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair will be on a mission to prove how things have changed by electrifying the crowd with their Last Woman Standing match. The final of the Mae Young Classic isn't as big of a deal as the Raw Women's Championship contest, but it will be another display of in-ring excellence.

But the main event of a show is typically what it will be remembered for, and the importance of this show for the perception of women's wrestling puts an enormous amount of pressure on a relative newcomer in Rousey and the recently returned Nikki Bella.

                                               

Anthony Mango is the owner of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment and the host of the podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.

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