Ronda Rousey: A Booking Balancing Act

From a business perspective, Ronda Rousey is a pretty straight-forward acquisition. An established brand, Rousey is likely to bring new eyeballs to the product and more than that, adds a marquee name to the women’s division. On the other hand, Rousey’s booking presents a slightly more complex scenario. Through 3 PPV matches, we’ve already seen a handful of different approaches and with the title now over her shoulder, it feels pivotal for Rousey to find a balance and consistency that’ll allow her current momentum to continue.

In-ring, this journey began at the usual place for a debut: the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania. In all seriousness, Rousey was obviously well-prepared for the occasion and surrounded by veterans, she found herself in safe hands too. Stephanie McMahon may not be a revered technician but she’s a veteran performer with an established character and that only helped Rousey’s transition. It kept her part of the story simple and limited the physicality’s range too, maximizing her strengths whilst the match’s more polished pair led the way.

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Ronda’s presence was undeniable either way, she projected big and seemingly had an immediate understanding of the importance of body language too. Her reaction was universally positive also and considering that she took part in what was arguably the night’s most enjoyable match, Rousey’s in-ring debut had quite clearly been an absolute home run. In pro wrestling though, there isn’t often much time to bask in the glory. Instead the circus just keeps on rolling, chaotically going from one TV to the next with a wild exuberance that can befuddle even the most seasoned viewer.

For Rousey though, the live crowd’s support just wouldn't waver, with the WWE’s newest star soaking up the acclaim until her direction shifted in an instant. After being paired with Natalya, Ronda was seemingly set to stand opposite the duo of Mickie James and Alexa Bliss but at a New York press event, that programme would be dramatically delayed. Instead, RAW Women’s Champion Nia Jax challenged Ronda Rousey to a title match, putting her belt on the line in a PPV bout that emerged out of nowhere.

The build-up wasn't flawless and the match itself had many understandable concerns surrounding its quality but under the bright lights, Rousey and Jax eventually produced a quite startling affair. At WrestleMania, there were some critiques regarding McMahon’s ability to defend Ronda’s famed armbar but here just two months later, even more trust was put into Rousey’s versatility. In what was just her 2nd televised match, Ronda sold almost exclusively, making the absolute most of Jax’s powerhouse offense and selling at a stunning level considering her almost non-existent experience.

It would’ve been one thing to have Rousey play Goldberg but trusting her with a match of this length and quality was a totally different vote of confidence. This may not have been the same undefeatable Rousey that once took the world by storm, but it was one that had legitimately given the audience their money’s worth regardless. Taking part in a genuinely dramatic title tilt, Rousey had rocked the live crowd once again and with the Alexa Bliss cash-in finish, her direction had become clearer than ever too.

Whilst Jax had proven a tremendous physical match for Rousey, Bliss was the perfect character to allow Rousey to flourish in her babyface role. There was now much less pressure on her during promo segments and with Alexa dictating that portion of the programme, Rousey was able to focus directly on beating people up, much to the crowd’s delight too. There were always challenges surrounding the eventual in-ring encounter though and more specifically, Rousey’s presentation within it. Bliss is a far more competent leader than some assume but stylistically, this was a tough task.

It was one thing to see Ronda struggle against Jax but both in size and style, Alexa was a much more difficult sell. Though incredibly impressive thus far, Rousey was still brand new and it felt important to maintain at least some of that aura that had once made her such a special part of the sporting world. At SummerSlam, that’d come to fruition too, with a far more dominant Rousey easily defeating Bliss to become champion in a rather brief affair. Considering Alexa’s cowardly presentation, it’s hard to argue with that decision even if the layout itself may not have been perfectly paced.

I don’t think Rousey’s transition to titleholder has been particularly easy for creative either. Ronda has had two RAW matches now and I think in an ideal world, that number will stay relatively low too. It feels important to keep Rousey matches special and by design, that does limit her booking in some ways. If she’s not wrestling on TV often, there’s only so much Ronda can contribute on a weekly basis, especially considering that she’s unlikely to ever be the focus of overly long in-ring talking segments too.

Nonetheless, Rousey is a star and sometimes, things have to be sacrificed in order to protect an asset that’s worthwhile. However, Ronda’s in-ring presentation is now going to be more important than ever as she solidifies her spot as the division’s centerpiece. This Sunday at Hell in a Cell, Rousey takes part in her rematch with Bliss as this booking balancing act continues. Modern WWE crowds always feel a moment away from maddening, and that makes the booking of this particular match rather interesting to me.

After seeing these two produce a relatively lengthy and competitive match at WWE’s live event in London, I had a feeling that we’d get something similar at Hell in a Cell and after seeing Rousey’s rib injury established on-screen, that feels more likely than ever. If that indeed is the case, there will undeniably be some criticism regarding Rousey’s lack of immortality but in the same way, there’s certainly a chance that too much dominance would also backfire with the live crowd. It feels as though there should be a wariness in that sense, an attempt to keep Ronda matches dynamic and exciting rather than comical or farcically lopsided.

Alexa may not be the foe to test that range with but in the long-term, it feels like a necessary shift. Rousey remains incredibly popular but it’s her in-ring showings that initially built up much of that hype. At WrestleMania and Money in the Bank, Ronda thrilled the live crowd and proved that she well and truly belongs. With that established, Rousey then got a coronation spotlight at SummerSlam and understandably so. Now as champion though, it’s time for Ronda to tackle a whole new set of tasks.

This experiment has been so successful thus far that honestly, it seems as though there’s a possibility that as long as Rousey keeps winning, there’s no such thing as a wrong move. On the other hand, wrestling fans can be a fickle group at times and considering that, it feels like the powers that be should tread carefully as this booking balancing act looks to lead Ronda Rousey to the main event of WrestleMania.

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