Ronda Rousey’s Legacy Will Be Determined By Her WWE Performance
If there was one word to describe the reception of Ronda Rousey, it would be polarizing.
During the peak of her reign as bantamweight champion in the UFC, Rousey was known to be somewhat of a villain: arrogant, brazen, and always ready with quick-wired digs that she used against her foes. Many didn’t appreciate her style back then, but the level of disdain towards Rousey exploded exponentially after her 2015 loss to Holly Holm, the first in her professional career.
Many were glad to see Ronda pulled from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, after a loss that was not only devastating, but brutal. The head kick delivered by Holm has been called “the head kick heard around the world,” by the media, since it caused such a large outcry in the worlds of combat sports and sports media alike.
It might be hard to believe, but there was a time we’re Rousey stole the hearts of many, particularly of women and young girls. There was an aura of confidence around her that attracted girl power-types from across the world.
I myself found out about Ronda Rousey from her autobiography “My Fight/Your Fight,” in October 2015 (about a month before her fight with Holly Holm). I remember from the first few pages being instantly impressed and in admiration of the strength, intelligence, and poise that Rousey had in her words. One of the things that charmed me the most about her demeanor was her sense of self-belief and unstoppable fortitude; even when she was being laughed out of gyms while training as an amature (Edmond Tarverdian, I am looking at you), living in her car, and working 3 jobs just to make ends meet, she knew that she’d be a world champion. She knew that all of her hard work would pay off. Women are often not socialized to have this type of self-confidence, so seeing someone like Ronda not only possesses it, but successfully leverage it into money, power, and fame, felt special.
Honestly, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen anything like her or her story. A woman who was not only dominating sports, but the most male-dominated of all of them. A woman who was making it not only acceptable, but attractive, to be tough. A woman who was making the same, if not, more money than her male counterparts in the industry. A woman who was being celebrated for being everything women were told that they never should be: strong, arrogant, proud, independent, demanding, dominant, unapologetic, and loud.
Ronda Rousey sent shockwaves through our culture, dismantling everything that we knew to be true about women in sports and women in general.
Of course, not everyone thought that her power or stardom was a positive. Many felt that she was too cocky, violent, or masculine in her demeanor. This kind of unique zeitgeist led Rousey to be a constant presence in the headlines, on talk shows, and of course, as an attraction on big fight cards. Weather you loved her or loved to hate her, you were tuning in.
In fact, Rousey herself even acknowledged this juxtaposition, saying that she wasn’t at all concerned with her likability...she just wanted to be seen. “I like to think of myself of more like the heel, like the bad guy you somehow, sometimes you root for, you can’t help it a little bit,” she explained during an interview on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast back in 2015. “I’m not trying to have everyone like me — I’m trying to have everyone care what I’m doing.”
This attention-seeking attitude has been Rousey’s greatest achievement and opposition; what she did for women’s MMA only happened because she was able to create a successful platform and engage an audience. Without being so poloriing, she would have never captured the eyes, or hearts, of many fight fans. However, by the same token, she would have never had so much animosity thrown her way upon suffering her first loss as a mixed martial artist if she wasn’t controversial. She would have not had to endure the memes, the mean tweets, or the media backlash that quickly surfaced after being knocked out by Holly Holm.
Fast forward to 2018: Rousey is moving from MMA to professional wrestling in the WWE. Just when the noise around her starts to die down, this big move sends an uproar through the world of combat sports. This very sense of polarity has once again reared its ugly head, with many fans excited to see Rousey returning to life as a public figure, while many critics question her mental strength and culpability post Holm and Nunes.
The controversial nature that Rousey has is likely to propel her to a new level of stardom in the WWE- no one doubts that she will be a big, if not one of the biggest, draws to the sport. But, there’s one factor that remains to be seen that will likely determine our culture’s appetite for Rousey post-undefeated record: will she have the confidence to deal with an unpredictable crowd that may boo, jeer, or taunt her? Will she be able to dismantle women with something as simple as a nasty glare? Can she muster up the same courage to remain fearless, after having to face some her greatest fears? Will she be the smart, sassy Rousey that we remember? Or will she be someone else? Someone without the cross of controversy to bear?
And if that’s true- will we grow tired of her? Will we be bored without the intimidation factor that Rousey is known for?
These are the questions that Rousey must answer in her return the spotlight. Her legacy depends on it. Everything that follows, will be derived from this.