Ronda Rousey went some way to silencing her critics with an all-action performance on her WWE debut at Wrestlemania that bodes well for her future in sports entertainment.
The former UFC bantamweight champion wowed the watching fans inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans with a showing that perfectly combined the physicality and natural charisma that made her such a force in MMA.
Displaying phenomenal athletic ability with some much-needed showmanship, Rousey was arguably the standout star of Wrestlemania too. Teaming up with Kurt Angle, the pair put on a fine display to see off Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a high stakes debut bout.
The pressure has been on Rousey to deliver the goods and silence the naysayers that previously suggested the UFC star had taken the easy way out with a move to WWE. Rousey’s UFC career was effectively ended by destructive back-to-back defeats in the Octagon but, on the basis of this, she’s lost none of her fighting spirit.
Wrestling, or sports entertainment as it is increasingly known, may well be fake but it still takes carefully orchestrated planning, sheer athleticism and natural charisma to pull off well. Rousey has just proven she can deliver on all of those counts and the future is suddenly looking a lot brighter.
It was a great night for Stephanie McMahon and Triple H too, who have made good on their promise of giving female wrestlers a more prominent role in the organisation. The success of Rousey was fundamental to those plans. With WWE ditching the WWE Divas tag, the pressure was on to integrate more female stars into the mainstream in a way not seen since the days of the late great Joan Laurer, aka Chyna.
Rousey was the perfectly star to lead that charge. An established tough-as-nails fighter capable of taking on any of the male wrestlers out there a name that carries a cache unlike any other woman’s in the fighting business.
It was telling that her tag team partner Angle, was returning to WrestleMania for the first time in 13 years, but still played second fiddle to Rousey, who enjoyed an incredible standing ovation on her way to the ring.
That set the tone for what was to come and put Rousey at ease – here was a crowd willing her on to succeed, rather than the semi-hostile response she previously dealt with in UFC.
Yet it was Rousey’s in-the-ring ability that will have won round some of the sceptics who may have seen the move as a publicity stunt. Punches flew, there was an impressive Hurricanrana move and it was fitting that Rousey finished off the match with an arm bar that had Stephanie tapping out.
As big an event and win as fans have seen in the WWE for some time, this could be the start of a beautiful friendship for all involved and one that might just help readdress the gender balance in wrestling once and for all.