The Ronda Rousey Era in Wrestling Has Begun

Ronda Rousey made her WWE debut on Sunday at WrestleMania and it was…spectacular. As a long-time wrestling fan who thought she would be a train wreck, she more than held her own against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. The match was 100 percent “smoke and mirrors” but it was better than it had any right to be.

If you missed any of the action, here are some highlights:

It was somewhat surprising that the match took place early in the card, as many speculated that it would close the show. And had it closed the show, no one would have complained.

Rousey’s debut brought mainstream attention to WWE. ESPN sent Rousey’s personal media mouthpiece Ramona Shelburne to cover the event. Business Insider, US Weekly, USA Today, E! and every other mainstream outlet you can think of had a story on Rousey’s debut.

So, what next?

Rousey’s first match was always going to garner extra attention. A celebrity appearing and wrestling at WrestleMania always brings added attention to the event. Floyd Mayweather’s appearance at WrestleMania 24 boosted pay-per-view sales of that event to over a million. After becoming the biggest action star in Hollywood, The Rock’s return at WrestleMania 28 became the highest grossing wrestling event of all-time.

Thanks to the WWE Network, we won’t know how Rousey’s debut influenced the buy rate. Had it been on traditional pay-per-view, it would have easily done over one million buys.

Here’s the different between Mayweather’s appearance, Rock’s return, and every other celebrity one-off WWE does: Ronda Rousey is a full-time competitor. This was her first of what WWE hopes to be many WrestleManias.

At some point, there will be diminishing returns. We’ve seen it with Brock Lesnar. His return after becoming UFC heavyweight champion led to a box office boost. But the more he wrestled, the less people cared. This match was special because it was Rousey’s first. Ronda Rousey can’t time travel, so she can only have one first.

The good news is that WWE hasn’t done a whole lot with the women’s roster until the last couple of years. They’ve spent the last year “making history” with the women. The first women’s Royal Rumble, the first time women have headlined a pay-per-view, the first women’s Elimination Chamber.

There’s one first they have not pulled the trigger on: the first women’s match to headline WrestleMania.

If it’s ever going to happen, Ronda Rousey would be the perfect person to occupy one of the spots. She broke barriers by headlining UFC events. She could bring that same attention as a WrestleMania headliner.

WWE officials are not dumb. They know that they can’t trot Rousey out there every week and treat her like a regular superstar. They have to protect her in the same way they protect Brock Lesnar.

Sunday night was the peak of attention that Rousey will bring WWE this year. That’s not to say she won’t be covered by media outlets as she continues to wrestle, but wrestling peaks with WrestleMania every year. With or without Rousey, the event brings more mainstream eyeballs. Rousey simply enhanced the product this year.

It might be all downhill from here. But based on her performance on Sunday, the hill isn’t all that sloped and another peak is coming.

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