WWE's Ronda Rousey Problem

Philip LindseyContributor IIApril 8, 2022

Photo credit: WWE.com

It has been seven years since Ronda Rousey made a surprise appearance alongside The Rock at WrestleMania 31. The then-UFC women's bantamweight champion was still a box-office draw but it didn't take an expert to see that she was also well on her way to success outside of MMA.

As such, professional wrestling seemed like a great fit for the longtime fan after she unofficially retired following her loss to Amanda Nunes. In 2018, Rousey gave the WWE women's division a boost in star power and legitimacy, but interest in the first female UFC Hall of Fame inductee has noticeably diminished.

It's hard to believe as fans once embraced her as a hugely popular celebrity guest and one of the first women to compete in the main event at WrestleMania. However, her SmackDown Women's Championship match with Charlotte Flair at this year's event didn't appeal to viewers like her other appearances at The Showcase of the Immortals.

Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter recently talked about this decrease in fan interest.

"As far as after the show, complete interest levels and everything like that on Google for ‘ManiaCody was No. 1," he said (h/t Connel Rumsey of WrestleTalk). "Austin was No. 2, Roman was No. 4, and Ronda Rousey was not high, which is an interesting one because she'd been so high going in. So the bloom is off the Ronda Rousey rose by the way." 

It shouldn't shock anyone that Cody Rhodes' return to WWE was the most talked-about moment of the weekend. Still, there is no discernible buzz around the former Raw women's champion.

Honestly, there wasn't as much chatter as one would expect around her comeback and women's Royal Rumble win in January, either, and that's a bit concerning.


How Exactly Did We Get Here?

Rousey enjoyed a tremendous rookie year. Her in-ring debut at WrestleMania 34 was better than it had any right to be. Even more, WWE handled her initial pursuit of championship gold well, and she performed even better as a singles competitor.

It seemed WWE finally had a woman who was already a major mainstream star with the potential to build around. One could argue Becky Lynch's meteoric rise around the same time gave them another option, as well. Nevertheless, Rousey's addition to the roster paid off with advancements such as the company's first all-female pay-per-view and the main event of WrestleMania 35.

Even though the 35-year-old exceeded expectations, she was always going to have a tough road ahead. After all, some fans were always going to see her as an outsider or a novelty act and resent her fast track to the top of the card. Even the most well-known crossover stars like Kurt Angle had to deal with this, and Rousey would be no different.

Most fans seemingly welcomed her at first, but she always had vocal critics due to some of her problematic political and social views. Her highly publicized fall from grace didn't help matters, either, because it led some loyal viewers to believe she was only interested in wrestling as a means to make money following her MMA career.

However, WWE fans didn't start to noticeably reject Rousey until Survivor Series 2018. At the event, the Staples Center crowd notoriously booed The Baddest Woman on the Planet in her hometown. This moment clearly took her by surprise, and one could make the case that she has never recovered.

The audience at pro wrestling shows is so fascinating because jeers and cheers can become so infectious. Once the crowd rejects someone, it gets hard to win them over again and it starts to take hold at every venue.

Notably, Rousey's decline also coincided with Lynch's star-making moment on the Nov. 13, 2018 episode of Raw. That visual of The Man drenched in blood as she led the invasion made her an instant fan favorite and propelled her to a women's Royal Rumble win the following year.

It is impossible to analyze Rousey's current status without acknowledging how much the introduction of The Man persona changed everything. Lynch went on to arguably become the face of the company at that time. Meanwhile, the then-Raw women's champion was forced to turn heel as her opponent helped to turn the WWE fanbase against her leading up to their match at WrestleMania.

As such, it was jarring to see The Baddest Woman on the Planet return three years later as a protagonist. It was as if WWE believed fans would just be happy to see her again and completely forget about her exit as an antagonist.

The Sophomore Slump

It doesn't help matters that Rousey is an uninteresting babyface. Her current character isn't engaging and the novelty of her foray into wrestling has died down.

One of the biggest questions heading into WrestleMania this year was how was WWE going to be able to recapture some of the magic of her rookie year. Now the festivities are over, we can say the company has unquestionably failed to do so and something has to change.

To be fair, Flair and Rousey delivered a solid match at The Show of Shows, but the finish was a bit anticlimactic. Lynch vs. Bianca Belair also overshadowed their showdown as the best match of the two-night event.

Nevertheless, WWE has a problem on its hands if it can't figure out a better way to utilize the most recognizable star in its women's division. At the moment, she doesn't look nearly as confident and excited to be a part of its product and that makes it hard to buy into her as a babyface. Her current demeanor is night and day compared to the way she used to come down to the ring and greet onlookers with a big smile and hand out her sparring glove.

The inaugural women's bantamweight champion could conceivably still resent some of the fans for turning on her in 2018. But that's why it was such an odd decision to bring her back as a babyface. Rousey is a natural heel and could definitely use a manager similar to Paul Heyman.

Another turn could be the answer, but WWE has to find a way to rediscover the mystique she initially brought to Raw. Maybe pitting her against her fellow Horsewoman, Shayna Baszler, could offer a fresh matchup and a unique story, as well. Regardless, the company and Rousey have to do something different soon.