It’s been close to a year since Ronda Rousey made her surprise debut at the inaugural women’s Royal Rumble. The former UFC Bantamweight Champion came out to a huge ovation when “Bad Reputation” played for the first time.
In the month that followed, she exceeded expectations, eventually becoming Raw Women’s Champion. However, the crowd reaction to Rousey has been gradually changing since that night at the Wells Fargo Center.
In reality, there was a mixed reaction to Rousey’s foray into professional wrestling. She isn’t the first MMA fighter to join the WWE, but some fans still see them as outsiders or novelties. Besides the usual gatekeepers, some fans also took offense with her varying political and social stances over the years. She had ironically gained a bad reputation with some people. Her messy “fall from grace” after UFC didn’t help.
Still, Ronda is a star. She garnered raucous cheers at live events. That just started to change leading up to Survivor Series.
Ronda’s promo work is steadily improving, but some of her material left a lot to be desired. In the build-up to their championship match, she said some scathing and borderline sexist remarks about Nikki Bella. It seemed low for a babyface. It probably wouldn’t have gone over as well if some fans didn’t have such disdain for the Bella Twins.
Case and point, when she used the same tactics against a more popular wrestler, Becky Lynch, fans weren’t as amused. When the two started their war of words to promote their champion versus champion match, Ronda already had an uphill battle to climb. Calling Becky a millennial, and an oversensitive snowflake, left even Ronda fans scratching their heads. It made it that much easier for “The Man” to come out on top with her superior promos and savage Twitter posts.
Then there was the icing on the cake, Team SmackDown’s invasion of Raw. The SmackDown Women’s Champion and women’s team stood tall in what would become a star-making moment for Lynch. She wasn’t just one of the most popular women on the roster, anymore. She was becoming one of the most popular wrestlers, full stop. It’s impossible not to see how her rise in popularity has affected Rousey’s reception.
Still, Survivor Series was the first time it became clear. Charlotte, who replaced Becky, turned heel after she and Ronda put on an excellent match. Then something strange happened. The fans cheered for Charlotte and booed Ronda, who was supposed to be sympathetic. It obviously took the “Baddest Woman on the Planet” by surprise. When she stopped at the top of the ramp before going backstage, she couldn’t hide the anger and humility on her face.
This Sunday, Ronda got her revenge at TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, costing Becky and Charlotte the championship. Her actions were justified but she was still jeered the following night on Raw.
Is Ronda becoming a tweener? She’s not a heel but she doesn’t always act like a babyface either. This also begs the question: is this intentional? To add to that, she seems to be getting annoyed with the boos she’s getting. Monday, she said she didn’t owe anyone an explanation, which is a stark contrast from the smiles and waves she usually offers them.
Ronda Rousey will go down as one of the best rookies in WWE history. But her second year with the company could be the real test. Will they embrace some of her natural heel tendencies or will she become more ambiguous? Either way, she’s set to be a more complex character in 2019.