Jonathan Coachman has a unique perspective on WWE. He worked for Vince McMahon for almost a decade, and is now in a high-profile position where he comments on the worlds of sports & entertainment for ESPN... a company he helped bring into partnership with WWE.
For his job at ESPN alone, his “hot take” on Ronda Rousey’s future coming out of a devastating loss to bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 last night (Dec. 30) was going to get a lot of attention - especially after he correctly predicted a Nunes knockout and dominating victory. Factor in some first-hand knowledge about how the powers-that-be at Titan Tower think, and it’s a good starting point for a conversation a lot of WWE and combat sports fans are having this morning:
Will McMahon still want to sign Ronda for a WWE run after she looked that bad in the Octagon?
Coach is as emphatic on this point as he was with his pre-fight prediction about Rousey/Nunes:
Sorry no chance. You can't bring in her at any point. Perception matters. That performance mattered. https://t.co/0HGPgVNLod— Jonathan Coachman (@TheCoachESPN) December 31, 2016
The counter-arguments for many are that she’s still a valuable name WWE could use to pop ratings and sell pay-per-view (PPV)/Network subscriptions. Eric Bischoff’s kayfabe assistant isn’t buying it:
Michael listen to me. It will NEVER happen. They are not in the business of bringing in a broken star and rebuilding her. https://t.co/JUOAVig2ov— Jonathan Coachman (@TheCoachESPN) December 31, 2016
Another analogy we’re hearing a lot on this topic is Brock Lesnar, who was coming off a similarly one-sided UFC defeat (coincidentally also on a Dec. 30 PPV) when he returned to WWE in 2012.
On the one hand, Lesnar had an impressive track record - in and out of WWE - as a professional wrestler before heading to mixed martial arts. Fans knew what to expect from the Beast Incarnate in the squared circle, and the company didn’t need to teach him to work. Outside of a WrestleMania 31 hip toss of Stephanie McMahon, fans don’t have that with Rousey, and we’ve no idea how she’d look in even a brief scripted exhibition.
To Coachman’s point, while WWE fans could look past Alistair Overeem punching a diverticulitis-depleted Lesnar into a first round TKO loss because they remembered him F5-ing Big Show, it’ll be more difficult to get the image of a wobbly Rousey grabbing the cage while taking another Nunes punch to the face out of the audience’s mind.
And that doesn’t get into the differences between how Ronda and Brock “took” their losses. Refusing to do press amidst talk of being mentally broken - something the past year has made as much a part of Rousey’s story as her 2012 - 2015 dominance of the sport - makes for a bigger public relations hill to climb than WWE ever had with Lesnar.
Still, image (re)building is what pro wrestling, and WWE, does. Part of the McMahons pitch to Rousey should be “we’ll make the world remember you as a badass”.
For a one-off appearance, I think people will tune in to see what Ronda Rousey does next. If she’ll sign a Brock-like part-time contract or jump on board for the full schedule, there are a ton of stories you can write for her - either as a comeback hero or a bullying heel.
Nobody knows for sure what’s gonna happen, but for Coach to so strongly come down on one side of the debate is worth noting.
What do you think the future holds for Ronda Rousey and WWE?