It finally happened.
At the 2018 WWE Royal Rumble, Ronda Rousey—the Olympic bronze medalist in judo and the former UFC bantamweight world champion who is the producer behind our show Why We Fight—was received with deafening applause. She said nothing, but she smiled and pointed at the WrestleMania sign suspended above the ring. That evening, WWE confirmed that Rousey had signed a full-time contract to perform with the company. She'll be competing in-ring for the first time at WrestleMania 34 in April.
Rousey isn't the first person to leap from competitive sport to scripted combat. Lawrence Taylor main event-ed WrestleMania XI, after all. But unlike other athletes, Rousey says she's in this for the long haul; this is no publicity stunt, and she wants to earn the WWE fans' respect.
Judging by Rousey's history, we're inclined to believe her. Here's a brief accounting of her dedicated, long-lasting WWE fandom.
She Wanted a Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy When She Was Three
When she was younger, Rousey suffered from apraxia, a neurological disorder; she was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. As a result, until she was six years old, Rousey had difficulty forming complete sentences. And this led to a lot of frustration.
When Rousey was three years old, she wanted a Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy, but she couldn't enunciate the name; she could only refer to it as "Balgrin." Eventually, after wandering up and down the aisles of Toys 'R' Us, her family figured out what she meant. The Hogan Buddy was Rousey's first sparring partner; she kept ripping the doll's arms out until her mother sewed them back on with dental floss.
She Used WWE Video Game Music as Her Childhood Soundtrack
In an interview with ESPN, Rousey recalls that when she was a kid, her family didn't have a stereo, so she and her sister would use WWE video games instead. They would switch between the characters/menus, which would switch the in-game music between different themes.
Rousey's current WWE entrance music is Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation," the same music she used in UFC. Vince McMahon is infamously reluctant to license outside music; that Rousey is permitted to use this song is an excellent, positive indicator.
Her Mentor, Gene LeBell, Is a Pro Wrestling Icon
Gene LeBell was the national heavyweight judo champion from 1954 to 1955. And like Rousey, he also made the sports-to-sports entertainment transition. He was trained by grappling legend Lou Thesz and was an NWA heavyweight champion. He would later spar with and teach martial artists such as Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
LeBell is also longtime friends with Rousey's mother, AnnMaria De Mars, a former judo world champion herself; LeBell has known Rousey since her birth. Another LeBell protege, Gokor Chivichyan, was Rousey's first MMA coach.
She Received Roddy Piper's Blessing To Call Herself "Rowdy"
LeBell mentored and inspired many professional wrestlers. Daniel Bryan, for example, uses the Yes Lock as his finisher; but its original name was the LeBell Lock. But LeBell's most famous WWE pupil was former Intercontinental Champion and WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, who looked up to LeBell as a father figure.
Early in her career, Rousey acquired the nickname "Rowdy," but she did not use it in public out of respect for Piper. LeBell, however, arranged a phone call between his two pupils, and Piper gave his personal blessing to use the moniker. When he died in 2015, Rousey dedicated her 2015 title fight against Bethe Correia to his memory.
She and Her MMA Girlfriends are "The Four Horsewomen" of MMA
Rousey and her three MMA girlfriends—Jessamyn Duke, Marina Shafir, and Shayna Baszler—refer to themselves as The Four Horsewomen, a tribute to the legendary, Ric Flair-led Four Horsemen of NWA lore. As she did with Piper, Rousey asked Flair for his blessing to use the moniker, which he approved.
Last year, Rousey, Duke, and Shafir were in attendance at WWE's Mae Young Women's Classic to cheer on Baszler, who made it all the way to the tournament finals. Their cameo appearance, as well as their tension with the WWE women backstage, furthered speculation that Rousey was in negotiations with WWE.
Rousey 'Practices' Some Pro Wrestling Moves
Back in 2014, footage circulated of Rousey and Baszler playing around in a boxing ring and performing professional wrestling moves, including a reversal into an armbar and a headlock takedown.
Remember: this was four years ago, and she's improved since then. Even when Rousey still had an undefeated MMA record, she entertained the dream of becoming a professional wrestler someday.
Rousey Flipped Triple H at WrestleMania 31
In an extended in-ring segment with The Rock at WrestleMania 31, Rousey performed a hip toss on Triple H, and then grabbed Stephanie McMahon's arm. The Chief Brand Officer screamed bloody murder before heading for the hills.
Since then, WWE has consistently left the door open for Rousey to return. In an interview with USA Today in December 2016, Stephanie McMahon stated in regards to Rousey, "We would welcome her with open arms."
Reporting To the WWE Performance Center
After back-to-back losses against Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes, Rousey left MMA in her rearview mirror and focused her energy on WWE. In October 2017, the dirt sheets reported that Rousey had arrived at the WWE Performance Center to begin training.
Rousey is accepting no favors; she's starting from WWE's bottom rung, as any new superstar would. Eye-popping spots grab attention, but they cannot maintain that attention. And the more Rousey works on her fundamentals, the longer her wrestling career will be.
Debuting at the 2018 Rumble
Asuka had just won the first women's Royal Rumble. She, Alexa Bliss, and Charlotte Flair stared each other down in the ring. And then suddenly, "Bad Reputation" blared over the speakers, and Rousey strutted out in an oversized leather jacket.
There's a reason the jacket looked two sizes too big. It was "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's actual jacket. WWE contacted his son, Colt Toombs, and he gave it to Rousey backstage before she walked out into the Wells Fargo Center.
The Game Gets Driven Through a Table
At February's WWE Elimination Chamber, Rousey had an in-ring WWE contract signing. And rather than shying away from Rousey's two UFC losses, WWE decided to lean into them. Kurt Angle blurted out that Stephanie thought Rousey was "washed up," and that's when things got ugly.
Rousey put Triple H through a table, and the crowd went ballistic. It's rare to see a male wrestler take a table spot from a woman; back in the old days, this would have been the kiss of death for the man's career. But as Rousey has proven throughout her life, she's the exception that proves the rule.
And yesterday evening on Raw, Rousey gave the WWE fans another teaser of what's to come; she lifted Stephanie with a fireman's carry, and she slammed her to the mat with a Samoan drop. WWE also made it official: Triple H and Stephanie McMahon will fight Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 34. Never mind "Suplex City." "Armbar City" is coming to New Orleans.