When former UFC Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey made her “surprise” appearance at this year’s Royal Rumble, things changed. When news broke after the Rumble that she had signed a full-time deal, things got interesting.
Rousey isn’t the first nor the last athlete to turn to pro wrestling, but the fact that she is going all in with a full-time deal begs the question: how much should she be used? Where is the tipping point between under utilized and saturation?
After her knockout loss to Amanda Nunes in December 2016 at UFC 207, Rousey went off the grid. You could say she went into hiding, but when she isn’t much of a public person, usually popping up for fight weeks, sometimes talk shows, etc., is it really hiding or just being private? For about a year, she was incognito. Now that she’s in back in the spotlight, this time under WWE’s exceedingly bright bulb, the interest of the MMA superstar being there seems high. Being “gone” for that amount of time is going to be intriguing to casual, hardcore and fans in between.
Now how much do you use Rousey or an athlete that is viewed as a celebrity? You want to use them enough that advertisers and investors are happy, hoping to make more money off their presence. WWE's stock price has been above $30 per share since the beginning of 2018, the highest it's ever been. Who's to say it couldn't continue to gain value with the addition of the "baddest women on the planet" and one of the world's top athletes? But while stock traders might be seeing Rousey as a Monopoly-sized payday, they have to take into account that people watching RAW, SmackDown Live, etc., aren’t going to put up with a wrestling show full of non-wrestling talent. Add to the shareholder's meeting agenda a lesson in tight rope walking while juggling, as this task is not going to be easy.
If I had to guess, I’d say Rousey’s first year in WWE is going to be a sweet spot for her. She and the company can find their collective footing, figure things out as they go, be it week to week or month to month. They would be wise to keep her to a less-than-full time schedule, hitting a sweet spot somewhere in between Brock Lesnar’s schedule and a normal WWE superstar. But I could see them using her a lot to help a new TV rights deal with potential networks, as WWE is looking far and wide for suitors as there current deal expires in September 2019.
To keep someone special, they have to be presented in the right way, the right light, the right circumstance. In the case of Rousey, those boxes can be checked off so far. But with her being a year or two into pro wrestling, weaknesses are there and by not having her appear weekly, bi-weekly even monthly, you can limit the mistakes, missteps, miscues.
Beyond that, who knows. It seems that the shine could wear off of her after her first year, not that it’s an inevitable fate, but it seems possible. A UFC return for a fight or 2 while still a part of the WWE roster could be beneficial for both. But will the ship have sailed and will her time have passed in the octagon if she waits until 2019, 2020, longer?
With a professional athlete, be it Rousey, or New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose connection to Mojo Rawley and comments after this year's Super Bowl keep the Gronk to WWE rumor mill churning, they have a background of training, competition and drive that got them into the octagon or on an NFL field. So there is a foundation from which to build. Perhaps with Rousey, she is better suited with her judo and MMA background, but that’s not to say Gronk wouldn’t be a success. As we’ve seen recently with DeAngelo Williams in TNA, and so many others before for him, football player’s can do the pro wrestling thing, much to the shagrin of some hardcore fans.
In Gronk’s case, there may not be as clear an answer as there was with Rousey, which was pretty much a no brainer to have her be a part of WWE. Sure Gronkowksi could be a ratings grab for maybe a handful of RAW or SmackDown Live episodes, but beyond that? What is he going to realistically do? You can use him at Boston / New England area events, be it house shows or PPVs to pop the crowd, but his WrestleMania 33 spot with Rawley and Jinder Mahal showed that a brief showing of the 6’6’’ monster tight end is for the best.
Having a celebrity / professional athlete in a wrestling promotion isn't a decision that's always a good or bad decision. Some stars may work out, while other don't. If it seems beneficial from both sides, then take the shot. But there should be realistic expectations for a promotion going into working with an athlete.
We may never see what Gronk’s wrestling chops look like and the jury is still very much out on Rousey. Only time will tell. But a being a Super Bowl champion or one of the most dominant MMA fighters doesn't mean you'll be a killer promo or a 5-star match machine. Things are going to be difficult for those venturing into pro wrestling, and probably more so for those who will get trained and then most likely thrown right into the fire of Raw or SmackDown Live.
If things go well with Rousey, I think we could see WWE trying to grab more big name athletes and use them on their programming. But there would be a ceiling to that approach, though. I don't think the proverbial flood gates would be opened and WWE would have it's talent roster filled Olympians, pro atletes and the like. Let's put it this way: anyone concerned that we might have a WrestleMania with matches like Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg or Gronk and Tom Brady vs. Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell have nothing to worry about.