Defending Ronda Rousey, the WWE Raw Women’s Champion and Likely WrestleMania Headliner – by Mike Sanchez

As a long-suffering Everton fan here in the UK (soccer, for those who don’t know), there comes a time when you feel your team just isn’t making you happy and following them has become a chore rather than a pleasure. It’s usually during tough times that the true fan will plow on, headfirst through the doubt and despair, forever backing their favorites whilst ensuring the thought of quitting and walking away is the furthest thing from their mind. It usually during such turbulent times that the hard work a never say die attitude of your favorite player or superstar becomes something dear to your heart. Even the least gifted player can become a fan favorite through their sheer grit and determination. I vividly remember a player at Everton who wasn’t the greatest passer, tackler, dribbler or… anything really, but he would run his heart out until he could run no more. Those inside the stadium would rise and applaud him off the pitch, win or lose, purely due to his commitment, effort and desire.

More glamorous players would watch on as so-called ‘lesser players’ would be cheered and hailed as heroes purely due to their drive and effort. This can be translated beyond soccer into many other sports; where fans recognize the hard work some individuals are putting in to benefit the team rather than themselves. Sure, they may not hit the headlines or steal the glory, but their efforts can sometimes be unappreciated by some quarters who don’t see the bigger picture. I’m sure you can name someone on your favorite team who works hard to put the team first whilst sacrificing their own endeavors and who perhaps goes unnoticed by some fans – maybe even unappreciated.

Such praise for certain team members can drive wedges between supporters as many will appreciate the hard work and graft one player has shown whilst other supporters will appreciate the flair and glamour a big name arrival can bring. Friendly banter is one thing, but such opposing opinions can cause fractions within a supposedly united fan base. Such is the case recently in WWE when it comes to fans of the WWE’s Women’s Division.

Lately, there’s been growing unrest among online bloggers, fans, writers, Tweeters and posters about how Ronda Rousey has been treated within WWE. The voices are growing louder and the general consensus seems to be that there’s a growing minority who think Rousey has been favorably treated since her arrival in 2018 and that she is stealing the top spot from more ‘deserving’ women on the roster. I’ll be honest, I initially laughed when I first heard this and thought it was a brief gripe by some fans and that it would soon disappear, but it hasn’t and the volume is being turned up on the issue.

Before I continue, I want to make my position clear on a few issues when it comes to the Rowdy one: I don’t follow UFC religiously and only have a limited knowledge of the sport. I admire the competitors and would like to see more of it, but pre-Wrestlemania last year, I only knew that Ronda Rousey was a badass in UFC, had gone undefeated for quite a while, became a champion, had lost her last two fights in dramatic fashion and was considered one of the most important athletes in the company’s history. I wanted to see her debut in WWE, but I honestly didn’t expect her to hit the heights she has. That being said, she’s not my favorite women’s wrestler in WWE, not even in my top three, but I respect her work, her effort, her energy and her professionalism. I don’t dislike her in the slightest, yet I’m not one who feels the need to lavish praise on her and her success to the point where I put her on a pedestal with the greatest wrestlers of all time.

I think criticism of Rousey and her status within WWE is over the top. Firstly, let’s address her star power. Ronda Rousey is the biggest name in women’s wrestling currently in WWE. That’s not debatable, it’s pure fact. Bronze medal winner at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Silver medal winner in the World Championships (2007), 6th Dan in judo, 14-2-0 record in the UFC, undefeated there for over two years, the first female champion in the organization, one of UFC’s biggest stars ever as a main event draw and the list goes on. Just check out the list of her accomplishments on Wikipedia.

Ronda Rousey is a legit star, not just in the world of combat sports, but through her work and support of women and young girls. She is seen as a figurehead and inspiration for women everywhere and rightly so. To even suggest she isn’t a star in her own right – before she stepped into the WWE – is pure fantasy.

Then comes her ability; considering she’s only been active on the main roster for less than a year (her first official match was WrestleMania last year), she’s been incredible. It says something when people who know professional wrestling compare her work to that of Kurt Angle when he arrived. Praise like that doesn’t come round often, if at all. Yes, we all know her debut match with Kurt versus Triple H and Stephanie McMahon was tirelessly rehearsed, but how good was that match? It was an unexpected highlight for many fans.

Since then, she’s been involved in lots of PPVs, has been a regular fixture on Monday Night Raw and tours the country and world appearing at live events across the globe. Does this sound like someone who has limited ability? Someone who WWE doesn’t trust? Someone who can’t ‘hang’ with the best in the division? Of course not. Her rise has been steady, but to question her ability is crazy. Ask yourselves, how many of the women’s roster would you say have better in-ring ability than Ronda Rousey right now? Three? Four? Not bad for her, is it?

The main criticism I hear is that Rousey’s position at the top of the tree is hampering the pushes of Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Sasha Banks etc. Now, I’m not the most knowledgeable wrestling fan out there and I don’t have detailed recollections of the business in the 70’s and earlier, but I do know that Rousey being top of the women’s division is doing the exact opposite of what some people think for Becky and company. For all the comparisons Becky Lynch is getting with the Attitude Era’s Stone Cold Steve Austin, it’s important to remember that Austin would never have hit the heights he did had it not been for The Rock, Triple H, Mankind, the Undertaker and especially Vince McMahon. No babyface can truly conquer the mountain if they don’t have difficulties (opponents) on the way up. Do I want to see Becky Lynch at the top of the mountain? Of course, but to do that she needs to endure through the struggle – much like the long-suffering sports fan – to make her eventual victory all the more sweeter. She needs to be looked down upon, kicked and cheated by her peers while she ascends the hypothetical mountain all to make her feat that much more impressive.

To berate WWE and Ronda Rousey (who is just doing her job, don’t forget) and claim they’re intentionally disrespecting Becky and the others is ludicrous.

Rousey is perhaps playing her most important role right now in doing what she’s doing. Only by carrying on will others reap the rewards they so richly deserve. Seriously, if you can’t see the domination of Rousey for anything other than the bigger picture of making the women’s division the must-see in WWE, then I implore you to look again, take off the rose-colored spectacles and see how far the women of WWE have come and how far they can go.

Enjoy the ride, folks. I have a feeling Rousey will be part of the biggest movement in WWE for decades and we have a front row view of it all.