Aside from Brock Lesnar and Connor McGregor, the only other UFC fighter to generate more than 1 million pay-per-view buys is Ronda Rousey. And now that she has clearly left the world of mixed martial arts behind, Rousey will attempt to forge a second career as a professional wrestler.
This multi-year deal -- for who knows how long it is for -- represents as a needed shift in WWE strategy. WWE is big already, but could stand to be bigger. After all, Raw and Smackdown shouldn't ever be either losing or barely doing better than political talking head shows.
There's no shortage of bankable stars in WWE these days, especially in the Women's Division. Given the right marketing and presentation strategy, Charlotte, Sasha, Bayley, and Becky could be the standard bearers of the company. However, WWE probably feels that there's some sort of hump in the way of that; and instead of rectifying whatever shortcomings there may be creatively, they decided to make a big splash and pull in one of the highest profile female athletes out there.
Rousey needs WWE and, in a way, WWE needs Rousey. For Rousey, this gives her a shot to do something that she would be truly happy doing. And it will also boost her longevity and value as an entertainer. For WWE, the promotion could do attempt to do something that I felt has been hinted at for the past couple of years -- shifting the focus to the Women's Division.
Yes, shifting the focus to the Women's Division. As in, the women supplant the men as the primary protagonists of WWE programming.
Some of you might consider this a stretch; some of you might consider me crazy. But WWE would not bring in Rousey if this isn't something that the company was considering doing.
And from my vantage point, it is a smart move. WWE brass know that they do not have a male wrestler on the roster that could really succeed John Cena has a reliable top draw. Reigns has had so many attempted coronations its not even funny; Lesnar has finally ran his course; Balor isn't going to draw 4 million viewers a week; and Braun Strowman can only maim and destroy so many before the shelf life on his act expires.
With Rousey, the company has a 30 year old (31 on February 1) performer with an enormous fan base that is largely happy to go down whatever road she goes. Rousey has a mainstream appeal to truly expand the WWE's audience in a way that only Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock were the only ones previously able to do. WWE will never do Attitude Era numbers again (just the reality of television, period), but she brings a degree of value and credibility that WWE believes it has been missing and doesn't feel that they could generate it internally.
Rousey can draw. After all, she is the only female athlete this century to draw 1 million pay per view buys for a professional combat sports event. Her popularity has waned with her last two devastating losses, but she comes to WWE with a profile higher than what Brock Lesnar's was when he came back in 2012. With the strongest Women's Division the WWE has ever presented, the company feels that they can give this direction a shot even if it takes months and months to truly come together.
This is not necessarily new; TNA loosely experimented with it during the original incarnation of The Beautiful People, where Velvet Sky and Angelina Love's segments were usually brought the highest quarter-hour ratings for Impact. (And as a snarky aside, this remains the best idea Vince Russo has ever come up with in the wrestling business.)
WWE desires to solidify itself as a bonafide genre of entertainment on its own; on par with the way we would see the television, movie industries, and professional sports (oh the irony). WWE is a behemoth as they effectively had cornered the wrestling business as the industry's only real major promotion in North America; they have largely already won over the enthusiast base with a resurgent NXT and Smackdown, and now they are wanting to appeal to casual fans that either a) used to watch pro wrestling in its heyday and abandoned it or b) never cared much for pro wrestling, but they may get into it.
There are indeed valid concerns here.
For one, WWE has to strike a very delicate balancing act. Rousey is extremely green and she was totally fangirling during last night's appearance at the Royal Rumble. And who could blame her? This was something she dreamed of doing and now she's a part of it. WWE has to balance working with Rousey's inexperience versus showcasing her properly in the lead up to Wrestlemania.
Rousey's acting ability has been previously criticized; thus, would she be able to make the best of the material that she's given to work with? She's going to be featured prominently in high-profile angles and will be expected to not only be a major driver of the Women's Division, but a cornerstone of all WWE programming. A major issue with WWE Creative is that they often craft angles that require a higher degree of acting ability that a wrestler would normally have (see the Bella vs Bella feud and Jason Jordan as Angle's son). Could this be a detriment that we have to worry about?
While there are conflicting rumors in what's going to be in store for her immediately, Rousey's first legitimate professional wrestling performance will be in a WWE ring. She may have been training her ass off in at the Performance Center, but fans are going to tire quickly of armbar tap out finishes in less than a minute. However, if the rumor with Charlotte is to be believed (the more likely one, in my opinion), how good will Rousey look in a bout with one of the three best all around performers in WWE?
This is risk, but it might be worth taking. Rousey is still popular enough to where WWE can experiment with making her -- and the Women's Division -- the focal point of programming. As I said, this will not be immediate. But this is something that is clearly coming. And as someone that has been watching pro wrestling for nearly 20 years, I never thought I would see the Women's Division get to this point, despite the trailblazers such as Trish Stratus, Lita, Jazz, Gail Kim, and Jacqueline Moore.
I want Rousey to succeed and I think she will. She's a long time fan and I considering her adulation for the late Roddy Piper, I can tell she's serious about this. But as with anything, we shall see.