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With Becky Lynch improbably emerging as the biggest babyface in WWE, things have become more complicated for Ronda Rousey. Rousey, the RAW Women's Champion, is going to defend the title against Lynch in what will likely be the WrestleMania main event. While Rousey has been a babyface since she first debuted in WWE, she will be the heel at WrestleMania whether WWE wants her to be or not.
The goal for Ronda Rousey was for WWE to leverage her star power as a UFC fighter into new viewers. In that regard, Rousey has not worked out the way WWE has hoped, as she has not shown the ability to bring new fans to the product. Ratings and live attendance on shows featuring her have not had a noticeable uptick, particularly in the female demographic, which was her strength as a draw in UFC. Rousey is popular among WWE fans and her celebrity status does lead to some crossover appeal, but there is little evidence to suggest she has brought many new fans to WWE.
While Rousey hasn't brought in many new fans, she has succeeded greatly in winning over WWE fans. When she first arrived in the company last January, there was a fear that WWE fans would reject Rousey as an outsider, but fans were very vocal in their acceptance and support of Rousey. Over time, Rousey has managed to win over more fans by showing great aptitude in the ring and wrestling frequently. Rousey cannot really control whether or not she brings in new fans, either they were going to follow her to WWE or they were not, but she has done her best to perform at a high standard for the fans who are watching.
However, things began to really change for Rousey over the last couple of months. Lynch began to heat up and superseded her as the obvious top babyface in the women's division. While Lynch vs Rousey was an obvious program for WrestleMania, it was going to put Rousey in a difficult position because no matter how much she smiled or complimented the fans, they are never going to cheer her over Lynch.
Around the same time, a report came out that Rousey was going to finish up as a full-time wrestler in WWE at WrestleMania. The days after that report came out, there was a noticeable uptick in fans booing Rousey when she would appear. Part of what won fans over was that Rousey was very dedicated to WWE, wrestling on house shows and appearing on almost every RAW. With the announcement that she would be done as a full-time performer; I think the worst fears of some fans have come true; Rousey is just a celebrity looking for a spotlight and found it in WWE, but is ready to leave when she is done playing wrestler.
I'm not saying that is a fair way to look at the things, but it's accurate to how some fans feel about Rousey. If fans are committed to wrestlers, they like to think that those same wrestlers are committed to them; and Rousey heading into semi-retirement after one year isn't going to endear her to a lot of fans.
The obvious solution to Lynch vs Rousey is to turn Rousey heel. The natural flow of things has turned Rousey into more of a heel and it makes perfect sense to lean into that. Rousey should pan out to being a monumental heel; she has been booked as a dominant force, she is going up against a fan-favorite, and fans are already looking for reasons to boo her. On Monday's RAW Rousey definitely came across more as the heel in the feud, but it will be interesting to see how her character develops in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania.
A problem with that plan is that it's unclear if Rousey is comfortable being a heel. After being a dominant hero in UFC, Rousey got knocked out by Holly Holm and didn't take the loss very well. She came back and faced new champion Amanda Nunes and was destroyed in spectacular fashion; ending her run as the It Girl of MMA and turning her into a joke to some fans, who mocked her inability to adjust to the evolving women's division in UFC.
As Rousey has been booed more in WWE, she hasn't always had the best reaction. As the crowd booed her on a Jan. 28 episode of RAW, Rousey was clearly rattled and cut one of the worst promos in recent WWE history. Her performance the following week was better, but her odd phrasing and inconsistent delivery hurt the effectiveness of her promo.
When Rousey was dominating MMA, she was a public darling, frequently appearing on talk shows and establishing herself as one of the most popular MMA fighters in history. When she lost her final two fights, she hid from the media. Now, MMA is real a competitive sport and WWE is obviously not, but Rousey throughout her career has had a noticeable difference in her public confidence when she was a winner and beloved by fans; as heel it's reasonable to suggest that she might not have that same confidence.
I think it is notable that this week WWE shifted most of the heel heat away from Rousey and onto Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Rousey did get her little jab in on RAW, but it looks like the clash right now is between Lynch and (surprise!) the heel authority figures on RAW and SmackDown. Part of that may be because the only creative idea WWE has had over the last 20 years is to have an evil authority figure hold down a babyface, but it also could be done to hide Rousey from being the major heel in the angle.
I don't think Rousey has anything to be ashamed about her performance in WWE; she has done amazingly well given her experience-level. However, she has been protected really up until this point; when she is involved in a major match against someone the fans desperately want to see beat her. This isn't a program with Nia Jax or Alexa Bliss, this is a program with a red-hot Becky Lynch, and her weaknesses have been and will continue be exposed. I believe she will still have a spirited performance at WrestleMania and they should have a really good match, but the next few months are going to be trying times for Rousey in WWE.
Jesse Collings appears on the WINCLY Podcast each Thursday to discuss his latest column. This week, Jesse and WrestlingInc Managing Editor Nick Hausman discuss Dean Ambrose and where he may be going when he leaves WWE. The discussion begins at the 59:40 mark of the podcast.
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