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Any celebrities considering a crossover to professional wrestling, take note: When it comes to pro wrestling debuts, there’s a new leader in the clubhouse.
Ronda Rousey grew up a pro wrestling fan. She used the things she saw on television as inspiration for her rise to the top of mixed martial arts: She took her nickname from “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and used pro wrestling-style promos to carve a place for herself in the sport’s history book. She was, for a time, perhaps the most popular mixed martial artist in the world and one of the more popular in the history of the sport. She was its first true mainstream superstar. And still, she kept on loving wrestling so much that she regularly attended the cult-like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla promotion’s events in Reseda, California.
So when her fighting career came to a sudden and violent end, Rousey’s transition to the ring was the natural path.
There was apprehension surrounding Rousey’s tag team match at WrestleMania. She’d had, to put it kindly, mixed results in her Raw appearances leading up to the match. Would her superb athleticism translate over to the scripted stuff? Would she come off as the absolutely terrifying force of nature that she was during her UFC tenure? Or would things just be a little awkward?
Turns out, Ronda might be something of a natural at this pro wrestling thing.
WWE WrestleMania @WrestleMania
ROWDY @RondaRousey is PLAYING THE GAME!
The record books will show that Rousey and partner Kurt Angle beat Triple H and wife Stephanie McMahon in one of the featured events of WrestleMania 34. Lost to history, perhaps, will be just how good Rousey was in her debut. It was her first professional wrestling match, and she was good. Not just passable, and not just good for a celebrity. And her match was the best one on the whole show. And it was largely because of her.
No, Rousey was just plain good.
She was believable, with an offense based (of course) around her feared armbar. I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t yelp just a little bit when Rousey rolled through a takedown on Triple H, came up on her feet and then squatted him. That was cool.
And the finish—with Rousey methodically slipping in the armbar while taunting Stephanie—was perfect.
It wasn’t just Rousey, of course. All four in this match did exactly what they were supposed to do. For a non-wrestler, McMahon is pretty good. Angle can’t turn his head without turning his entire body thanks to his neck injuries and other pro wrestling-related issues over the years, and yet he’s somehow able to perfectly play his role in wrestling matches. And Triple H is, of course, one of the best to ever do it.
But Rousey deserves the lion’s share of the praise here. She could’ve just mailed things in and cashed in on her name; instead, she spent the last half-year training to do the one thing she’s loved her entire life. Instead of going the way of other celebrities who have decided to try their hand at pro wrestling only to go half-speed in the ring and flame out quickly, Rousey went along the same path chosen by Mike “The Miz” Mizanin. She’s not pretending to be a pro wrestler for a lark. She is a pro wrestler, or at least she’s on her way.
Everything she did was believable and crisp. She wrestled for an extended period of time, far longer than most onlookers figured she would. In her first pro wrestling match, she looked like she belonged with the best female wrestlers on the entire roster. The big spots were excellent—particularly her hurricanrana on Triple H, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention again just how cool her roll-through and squat of Triple H was. The small spots were all well-executed and played a big part in telling the story of the match.
And the armbar, as we all knew it would be, is her finisher. The move she used to rack up win after win in mixed martial arts. If there was one quibble I’d have with the match, it was that McMahon was allowed to resist and escape the armbar as much as she was. The armbar should be special. It should be like Brock Lesnar‘s F5 or Hulk Hogan‘s leg drop: It should be an automatic finish. McMahon shouldn’t be able to fight it, and neither should anyone else. Not for a long time, anyway.
I was one of the voices out there who was skeptical about Rousey’s chances at being a good professional wrestler. We’ve all been silenced. Rousey put on one heck of a performance, and if Sunday night was any indication, it’s going to be fun to see just how far she goes in a World Wrestling Entertainment ring.