Ronda Rousey's Struggles Since Returning Are a Cautionary Tale for WWEApril 30, 2022
Ronda Rousey's current run with WWE just isn't working.
And to her credit, it isn't necessarily all Rousey's fault. In fact, the majority of the blame falls on WWE itself, and not in a simple "they're struggling with storytelling or characters" way.
This problem is a little bigger than Rousey herself, and there isn't a good way for WWE to work around it this time. As WWE calls her, she's an "MMA Legend," and as such, the company won't book her in a traditional manner.
Case in point, the upcoming Backlash event, where Rousey will take on Charlotte Flair in an "I Quit" match for Flair's Smackdown women's title. According to Randall Ortman of Cageside Seats, Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Radio speculated that the company won't allow a former MMA star to actually lose in a match like that.
It doesn't help that the small build to Rousey's big return to in-ring action at Mania led to a loss on that grand stage to flair on Night 1, either. The result is painfully-obvious booking because even if it weren't an "I Quit" match, there's nearly a zero-percent chance WWE would let their big outside investment go down twice that quickly.
On one hand, WWE probably doesn't much know what to do with Rousey. The attempts at a babyface run have been sluggish at best, and while the heel character makes sense, some of the promo deliveries and believability of it all have made it clear she could probably use a manager to help her control crowds and reactions.
This was easy to see coming during her first stint with WWE. That was pleasantly much better than expected in the ring, but the surrounding stuff left much to be desired. Even so, the luster and fanfare of her inaugural run with the company overpowered some of those issues.
There's no hiding from those now, and Mania was a can't-win situation. So too, now, is Backlash.
And as a whole, it's a pretty good lesson that bringing on a former MMA star or other general sports star to headline in WWE is a can't-win situation as well, provided that star's name isn't Brock Lesnar.
One would think WWE might have learned this lesson by now. Remember how meh the whole Tyson Fury thing was? Remember what a flop the botched Cain Velasquez ordeal was?
Again, Rousey's first run was incredible compared to expectations. It was clear how seriously she took it, and the all-in nature reflected in some classic matches. But even for her, it's clear these things have an expiration date unless they are Lesnar—which isn't really fair because one could make a strong argument he's the greatest of all-time outright.
It also stresses that celebrities without this baggage might just be better investments. Logan Paul, of all people, just had a superb Mania match that has fans cautiously wanting to see more. Bad Bunny has been a fun staple of programming for a while now.
With WWE actually handling celebrity involvement seriously and well like this now, those outsiders are free to smash through tempered expectations. They don't carry the baggage of needing certain booking that is somehow elevated above wrestling because they took part in a "real sport."
Fan expectations for Rousey play a part, too. They go into events expecting her to live up to that "Baddest Women on the Planet" reputation on a nightly basis. That doesn't always mesh well with the needs of booking or the character work, though, and that approach was starting to get stale right alongside Becky Lynch's ascension with "The Man" persona.
Were Rousey and the company able to get over this and just let her be booked like any normal member of the roster, some of these problems wouldn't be so apparent. And maybe that's where things go from here, with Rousey getting a title belt that lets WWE capitalize on her brand power outside of wrestling while letting her run wild on a roster as a heel.
But this feels like it has been a long time coming. Rousey's got the talent to win over even the stingiest of fans (which is saying something), but the booking has to let it happen. Bringing her back, having her cut heel promos, only to switch over to babyface and having her lose at Mania before likely winning an obvious one is a sputtering start.
As always, there's time for WWE to dig out of the hole. This particular hole is a problematic one in which the company hasn't learned from past missteps, though. If Rousey—and fans—are lucky, WWE will quickly improve in this "former sports or MMA star" area just as it did with celebrity usage.
Before this "I Quit" match and likely Rousey title run, her latest big stint with WWE is flirting more with the Velasquez tier than the high bar she set during her debut.