It was November 2015 at Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium when the famed MMA career of Ronda Rousey came to a screeching halt. Rousey entered Melbourne undefeated, feared by all opponents and respected by all fans as one of the greatest fighters in history, one who may never be beaten. When she left Melbourne, she left as the laughing stock of an industry, a false idol whose flaws were left completely exposed to the whole world.
With a convincing knockout loss to little known challenger Holly Holm, the aura of invincibility that surrounded the pioneer of Women’s Mixed Martial Arts was gone, and her career in the business was effectively dead. After another decisive loss to Amanda Nunes in under a minute a year later, Rousey’s fighting days came to a close, and it seemed that she may be seldom seen or heard from again. Her media appearances and movie deals dried up, and it seemed the legend of Ronda Rousey would be lost to time.
Fast forward another year, and Rousey has undergone a career change. In an effort to reinvent herself and revive her reputation, Ronda Rousey turned her hand to the world of professional wrestling, in hope of once again being recognised as a pioneer in an era of change. After her debut match last week in New Orleans at WWE’s Wrestlemania 34 event, it seems that she has made the right choice.
In making the switch to WWE, Rousey is once again stepping into a man’s world. Women in WWE have long been considered afterthoughts, seen as little more than sex objects whose talents meant nothing compared to their looks. Hallmarks of professional wrestling throughout the 2000s were matches such as gravely misogynistic ‘Bra and Panties’ matches, in which the first woman to strip their opponent’s clothes off would be declared the winner. Other women not featuring in these matches were relegated to little more than love triangle storylines and positions as scantily clad managers to their male counterparts. It was somewhat reminiscent of another industry in which women were also not taken seriously, that being Rousey’s old world of Mixed Martial Arts.
In 2011 before Rousey came along, UFC President Dana White was asked whether a woman would ever fight in the UFC, to which he answered “never.” In 2015 during the buildup to Rousey’s Melbourne fight, White said in a press conference that he had been proved dead wrong.
“This whole women’s power movement that’s going on right now is crazy. Ronda has been the whole thing. Ronda is the one that launched this whole thing. I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for Ronda. She’s the one that convinced me to do it, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said.
The efforts of the former Olympian Rousey were enough to see the president of the company she worked for admit he was absolutely incorrect. Rousey’s dominating performances saw her fame rise beyond expectation, as she smashed box office records and broke new ground by being the first Women’s Champion in UFC history.
In 2011, women who wished to appear in a UFC octagon were limited to bikini wearing ring girls. By 2015 they were headlining major shows, with fans turning up to cheer their female heroes in their thousands, and buying their shows in their millions. Rousey changed MMA forever, and with her latest change of career, she looks to be on her way to doing the same thing.
The role of women within the WWE has expanded significantly within the last couple of years, with female wrestlers having headlined shows and received much greater time on television to share their wrestling talents to the world. Rousey has come into the WWE during an era of change, and in her very first match has pulled off perhaps the most significant feat of any woman who came before her in the wrestling industry.
Wrestlemania is generally considered the greatest annual showcase of wrestling the world has to offer. Every year up to 100,000 fans travel from across the globe to watch the show, and millions more stay glued to television screen worldwide to tune in. For over three decades this event has run, each year being dominated by men, with women’s wrestling barely receiving a few minutes of attention each year. This year things were different. This year it was a woman who stole the whole show.
Rousey’s debut performance has won praise and attention. High profile wrestling newspaper Wrestling Observer rated her match as the best on the night, a first for matches involving women at Wrestlemania. Historically, for a female wrestler to receive over twenty minutes of television time in her debut match on such a big stage in shocking. For the match to be largely considered as the greatest of the whole night is unbelievable. Years earlier, female wrestlers used to parade their sex appeal across the ring, now they parade their wrestling talents in front of rabid fans cheering for their success.
Rousey’s match was among four women’s bouts on the card, an unprecedented number compared to previous years. Last year there were just two women’s matches on the card, which ran for less than twenty minutes combined. This year, Rousey’s match alone ran for over twenty minutes, with all of the matches in the women’s division combining to make up nearly an hour of television time. The match between Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair and her challenger Asuka is perhaps the only other match that could challenge Rousey’s as being the most entertaining on the night, proving that the women have solidified their spot on the big stage. In a years time, it may be Rousey and Charlotte Flair that become the first women to main event a Wrestlemania event. That is a spot that has not been given, it is a spot that has been earned.
WWE dubbed their movement toward giving women’s wrestlers opportunities as the ‘Women’s Evolution.’ In 2015 this movement started, and in 2018 it seems to have finally come to an end. Led by Rousey, a generation of strong, talented, and inspiring women are leading the line as outstanding role models for young females across the world. According to the WWE, over 40% of their viewers are female, and finally these viewers have competitors to look up to. The movement to take women’s wrestling seriously need not continue. In recent years female wrestlers have finally been given a chance to take part. They haven’t just taken part, they’ve taken over.
The reputation of a superstar that seemed to be destroyed beyond repair in Melbourne has finally been restored. The legend of Ronda Rousey lives on, and again she has changed an industry for the better.
According to Herald Sun reports, WWE is set to host a 100,000 seat show in Melbourne in October of this year, with Rousey set to feature in a major role. If that were to come to fruition, it would finally see Rousey vindicated for her failure so long ago. She would finally leave Melbourne the same way she arrived in 2015, as a hero.