Successful rookie years in professional wrestling are incredibly difficult to achieve.
Often, the learning curve is such that one has to painfully pay his or her dues, taking beatings and rarely winning as they learn respect for the industry in which they have opted to ply their trade.
There are, occasionally, those remarkable performers who blow away even the loftiest expectations en route to historically great first years. They capture the attention of fans while picking up the art of professional wrestling quicker than they have any right to.
Current Raw women's champion Ronda Rousey is one such performer, but where does her first year as an active competitor rank among the greatest in WWE history?
Rousey wrestled her first match at WrestleMania 34 in April, teaming with Kurt Angle (more on him in a moment) against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H in what was, arguably, the real main event of The Showcase of the Immortals.
Anyone's first match can be a daunting task, but throw in the fact it occurred on the grandest stage known to professional wrestling and the pressure increases exponentially.
Rousey absorbed that pressure and delivered a performance so far above what was expected of her that many touted her match as the best on the WrestleMania card.
From there, the inexperienced in-ring competitor leaned on her MMA background to comprise her move set and carry her through matches with Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Nikki Bella and Charlotte Flair, every one of those bouts better than they had any right to be.
What Rousey did so well was pick up the importance of timing to the overall quality of her performance. Unlike some who have been working for years, she understood when to make a comeback and where to place certain spots in order to pop the crowd. That ability has allowed her to keep fans invested in her matches while she continues to expand and evolve her move set in year one of her blossoming sports-entertainment career.
Only the aforementioned Angle can claim to have picked up the in-ring element of performance as quickly and impressively as Rousey.
The 1996 Olympic gold medalist used his raw athleticism to do things in the squared circle others without his background would never have dreamed up. The speed, agility and timing he used on the amateur mats allowed him to pick up the in-ring game even quicker than Rousey has.
In both instances, a competitive drive led them to excel early and often, neither accepting mediocrity in their new field.
Whereas it is easier for an athlete to pick up the physicality of sports entertainment, it is much more difficult for them to find comfort on the mic, where they are tasked with selling themselves to the masses as a legitimate Superstar worthy of their time.
Angle did not struggle with promos. Very early on, he fleshed out a character that was equal parts intense and comedic, unafraid to make fun of himself when the time called for it and willing to dig deep and find an anger necessary to put over whatever rivalry he was involved in at that point.
A young Rocky Maivia showed flashes of his natural charisma when he addressed the WWE fans in his first year of competition.
Rousey, while very good in the opportunities she has had to address the WWE Universe, has yet to explore the many emotions that go into a strong promo. She has excelled as the intense badass who can sell the hell out of a pay-per-view main event when the time comes. Her confidence goes up with every promo, that much is clear, but she has yet to do anything more than what she is comfortable with.
The real test will come when she has to be funny or emotional. Can she do that? Can she cut the money promo that demands she be more than a qualified badass?
That is when we find out the scope of Rousey's ability to captivate on the mic here in her rookie year.
Rousey could have been the greatest wrestler to set foot in the squared circle but if she did not connect with the audience, her rookie year would have been an unmitigated disaster.
Luckily, that was not the case.
In an industry that often overcomplicates things, Rousey has connected with audiences by being the badass she always has been. She is The Baddest Woman on the Planet and audiences appreciate that. In a day and age when overscripting has plagued more than a few WWE shows, she has created a bond with a WWE Universe that wants to see her kick ass.
As year one comes to an end, with a few months left to put an exclamation point on her rookie campaign, Rousey faces a situation that threatens that connection.
WWE officials programmed her with the red-hot Becky Lynch and now has Rousey on the receiving end of a negative reaction for the first time in her career.
Widely considered the machine's choice for top female in the industry, she is faced with the wrath of fans too stubborn to understand it is OK to like more than one wrestler. They boo her because they want Lynch to succeed, resulting in Rousey becoming the equivalent of a John Cena or Roman Reigns, both of whom were high-profile babyfaces who saw their connection with audiences take on a much more complicated dynamic.
The key for Rousey, as she wraps up 2018 and looks forward to the new year, is to remember that any reaction in today's WWE is better than none.
That is a stark contrast to the environment the aforementioned Maivia found himself in.
Long before The Rock captivated audiences with catchphrases and one-liners, he was a goody-two-shoes whose one-dimensional promos and white-toothed smiles failed to connect with an increasingly attitudinal audience.
Rousey, who has considerable input on the content of her promos, can avoid such a downfall and adapt in ways Maivia and even Angle were not given the creative freedom to do.
Where Does Her Rookie Year Rank?
Until Rousey arrived, the greatest rookie year in WWE history belonged to Angle and thus it is against his that her's should be judged.
Angle was a revelation, a seemingly once-in-a-lifetime Superstar whose abilities between the ropes right out of the gate left many stunned. He was a natural, a wrestling machine whose ability to pick up the mat game as quickly as he did helped him earn the attention of the audience.
His promos and willingness to be the butt of his own jokes only further solidified his spot on television.
It was only a matter of time before he was embroiled in the hottest angle in the industry—a love triangle with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon—and headlining pay-per-views. Within a year, he was the WWE champion and well on his way to being the future of an industry at its hottest.
Rousey has been an enormous source of star power for WWE. Whereas Angle was a few years removed from his Olympic triumph, she still had considerable momentum from her MMA career, even though that ended in disappointment and defeat. She had the name and was treated like an enormous attraction from the get-go.
Her in-ring work has been exceptional.
When Angle finally debuted on WWE television in November 1999 at Survivor Series, he did so with a year of training behind him. He worked live-event dark matches and had familiarity with the ring beyond what his "rookie" status would suggest.
Rousey has accomplished what she has with a few months of training to her name.
From a promo standpoint, she is not and may never be as good as Angle. He was a generational performer as a character and that allowed him to excel on the microphone.
A championship victory, a pay-per-view main event and a ton of marketing and merchandising opportunities have made Rousey more valuable to WWE's immediate future than Angle was when he hit the scene.
With that said, it is difficult to give Rousey the nod over Angle given the sheer amount of legitimate moments he was responsible for so early in his career. Whether he was joining Edge and Christian in a jug band five-second pose or riding a motor scooter and mocking Undertaker, he established himself a significant member of the WWE roster in a way fans still remember today.
Rousey will be iconic, and her first year will go down in the annals of WWE history as one of the best, but for now, Angle's will remain the measuring stick by which all will forever be judged.