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Ronda Rousey’s WWE Debut, Plus Ponderings From the Royal Rumble and Raw

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

“The landscape has changed.” That’s one of their go-to lines, isn’t it? Whenever something supposedly big happens, somebody has to say: “The landscape has changed.” It doesn’t really make sense, does it?

But last night the landscape did change, didn’t it? At least as far as women’s wrestling is concerned. Ronda Rousey is apparently now a full-time performer with WWE. What exactly “full-time” means for her has yet to be determined. Somehow I doubt she’ll be making all the house shows. She may end up being the female equivalent to Brock Lesnar. But one way or another, this is happening. Ronda Rousey is a professional wrestler.

People can say what they want about how Rousey last few fights went. But this woman is a legit superstar, and a true trailblazer in the world of women’s sports. Would the so-called “women’s revolution” in WWE have even occurred if not for what Rousey did in the world of MMA? The answer is no. What’s more, she’s a legit wrestling fan. This is apparently a legit passion project for her. Look no further than what she was wearing when she showed up after the Women’s Royal Rumble Match last night. A clear homage to Rowdy Roddy Piper, whose nickname she adopted in the UFC as “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. That leather jacket legitimately belonged to Piper.

I always hesitate to use words like “legitimacy” or “credibility” when it comes to pro wrestling. This stuff is worked. It’s not the same as what Rousey did in the UFC, and it never will be. But a superstar like Rousey choosing to devote the next chapter of her career to WWE lends the business an amazing level of credibility. It’s a message to the world at large about what wrestling is and what it means to our popular culture. It’s also a hell of a shot in the arm for women’s wrestling overall.

We may be in the midst of a women’s revolution. But Ronda Rousey is about to start a revolution of her own.

Ponderings From Raw (with some added from the Royal Rumble):

Shinsuke Nakamura wins the 2018 Royal Rumble Match, challenges AJ Styles for Wrestlemania. Simply put, this was the best Royal Rumble Match in years. And not just because the right guy won. The Philadelphia crowd was hot, and they milked the drama so perfectly during those last several minutes. It’s been a long time since a wrestling match has actually made me nervous. But when we were down to Nakamura, Reigns, Cena, and Balor, my heart was in my throat.

What’s more, they’re giving us a match truly worthy of Wrestlemania: Shinsuke Nakamura against AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. Depending on how much time they have, these two could make magic. This was the career moment Nakamura needed, and the smart bet is he’ll have yet another one at Wrestlemania.

Rey Mysterio Jr. returns to WWE as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble Match.  As I type this, the YouTube clip of Ronda Rousey’s appearance has almost two million views. The clip of Rey’s return? Almost five million. That should tell WWE all they need to know about whether to bring him back. Supposedly they want him to work a full-time schedule and he’s not up for it. I can’t say I blame him. The last time we saw him in WWE he looked tired and beat up. He’s earned the right to some breathing room.

Stephanie McMahon brings out Women’s Royal Rumble winner Asuka at the top of the show. An Elimination Chamber Match for the Raw Women’s Title is made for the upcoming pay per view. Sasha Banks challenges Asuka to a match, which is made for later in the night. When Asuka started speaking in Japanese, I wondered if they needed to give her a translator. But I’d say she got her message across just fine…

The Women’s Royal Rumble Match itself worked out fairly well. The right woman won, obviously. And despite my general distaste for Sasha Banks, I give her a world of credit for being out there as long as she was. Ditto for Becky Lynch.

However, the match did suffer for featuring several women who were either relatively inexperienced, hadn’t wrestled in a long time, or weren’t necessarily qualified to be wrestlers in the first place. While former stars like Trish Stratus and Beth Phoenix looked outstanding, I could have easily done without Vickie Guerrero, Kelly Kelly, and Torrie Wilson (despite the pop she got). The biggest problem this match had was its need for bodies. They were filling space for the sake of filling space. It’s forgivable this year. But next year they need to do better.

Jonathan Coachman rejoins the Raw announce team full-time. Given Coach’s experience with ESPN, this was a nice get for WWE. I appreciate that he’s in an analyst role, as opposed a lead announcer. He’ll certainly do better than Booker T, whose commentary had long since gone off the deep end.

At least it’s not David Otunga.

Braun Strowman overturns part of the Raw stage on to Kane during a Last Man Standing Match to earn a spot in the upcoming Elimination Chamber Match. At this point, Braun is essentially WWE’s answer to the Hulk. Every week he performs some kind of superhuman feat of strength, leaving a trail of destruction behind him. That’s not a bad role to have. People love the Hulk, don’t they?

Gotta love Kurt Angle yelling at Braun about the whole thing. Um, Kurt? You booked it…

Elias def. Woken Matt Hardy, with an assist from Bray Wyatt, to advance to the Elimination Chamber. It’s been several weeks since we first saw Woken Matt on Raw, and my interest is tapering off. It doesn’t help that he’s been losing more than winning. The whole reason for Matt’s awakening in the first place was that he couldn’t win a match. So where does that leave him now?

The Miz def. Roman Reigns to retain the WWE Intercontinental Title. Why would Miz try to chop him? Roman Reigns wears a damn vest. Think, you idiot! Think!

Good match, though. These two have better chemistry than you would think, given how different their backgrounds are.

The Revival def. Heath Slater and Rhyno. You know what I wouldn’t mind seeing? The Revival against a babyface Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Titles. Sounds like a Wrestlemania match to me.

The Dudley Boyz announced for WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2018. I still say it’s a shame Bubba and D-Von never got to hold the tag belts again after they came back. Even so, this is obviously well-deserved. They’d never tell you this on Raw, but the Dudleys are the only team to have won championships in WWE, ECW, TNA, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. They’re one of the most widely popular tag teams in wrestling history. This has long since been an inevitability. Congrats, gentlemen.

Asuka def. Sasha Banks. I expected to see Bayley during this match after Sasha tossed her out of the Rumble last night. That’s the kind of thing that’d make you think a Bayley heel turn is coming. Personally, I’d rather they do babyface Bayley right.

Loving all the talk about Asuka’s streak potentially ending. We need more of that. The streak is on the line every time Asuka steps in the ring, and with each victory it grows.

Between the Rumble and this match with Asuka, Sasha’s had a hell of a weekend. It looks like they’re finally working toward a heel turn for her. Works for me. I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m done with her as a babyface. As a heel, though…

Whether hero or villain, she needs to stop those damn dives. This wasn’t the first nasty fall she’s taken with one of those. She’s tough as hell for getting up and continuing the match, and it was obviously a hell of an effort from both ladies. But enough is enough.

The Miz, Finn Balor, and John Cena cut backstage promos using handheld devices. I ADORE this. Scripted or not, it comes off so much more naturally. And by God, they’re looking into the camera! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

The Bar def. Titus O’Neil and Apollo Crews to retain the Raw Tag Team Titles. Corey Graves said something during this match about Dana Brooke being the missing ingredient for O’Neil and Crews. As unlikely as it is on paper, that seems to be the case.

Crews was a stud out there this week. Eve after taking that nasty Power Bomb from Sheamus. He’s so explosive. Like a damn human super ball.

John Cena def. Finn Balor to advance to the Elimination Chamber. There’s no shame in losing to John Cena. Cena certainly puts enough people over in his own right. I just wish they’d let Balor pick up some steam. He’s one of the coolest acts on the roster, and he puts on great matches consistently. But he just keeps losing. This guy can headline Wrestlemania this year if they wanted him to. But he just can’t seem to bust through the glass ceiling. What gives?

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Ronda Rousey’s UFC 207 Loss, Plus Ponderings From WWE Raw

Ronda Rousey, UFC 207By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I find it somewhat odd that I’m commenting on yet another UFC fight, as I’m a pro wrestling guy through and through.

Then again, maybe it’s not so odd. Ronda Rousey changed the world. She’s a bonafide superstar that opened doors for women not just in MMA, but athletics at large. Her impact has been felt more in pro wrestling than most sports. The “women’s revolution” we’ve seen in the last few years didn’t happen because WWE suddenly changed their minds about how to portray their female talent. The popularity of Ronda Rousey opened the door for Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, etc.

Given all this, it was very jarring to see Rousey sustain yet another quick loss at UFC 207. I’ll never claim to be a UFC aficionado. But you don’t have to be one to see she’s looked like a different fighter in there.

Twitter trolls were pretty hard on Ronda that night. There was a lot of talk about Rousey retiring, and even trading in her fighting gloves for pro wrestling tights. There’s been some debate about how much of an attraction she would be now that she’s lost twice. My response to that: Brock Lesnar had sustained losses in the UFC prior to his WWE return. Now he’s arguably the biggest attraction they have. And even after CM Punk’s UFC loss, I don’t doubt they’d kill to have him back. Rest assured, Rousey would do just fine in WWE.

But frankly, I’m hoping Rousey doesn’t retire just yet. Her career has meant too much for her to pack it in after a couple of rough losses. If MMA is something she’s still passionate about, she’s earned the right to stay in the octagon. And I know there are plenty of people who’d still pay money to see her.

Don’t listen to the haters, Ronda. Go out on your own terms.

WWE Raw, January 2, 2016Ponderings From Raw:

Stephanie McMahon announces Chris Jericho will challenge Roman Reigns for the United States Title in the main event. Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins is made, with the loser being banned from ringside in the main event. Toward the end of this segment, Steph mentioned how Smackdown beat Raw in the ratings last week, and that Raw has a ratings war to win. I wouldn’t exactly call more Owens/Reigns/Rollins/Jericho a winning strategy. It feels like we’ve been watching the same matches for months. In fact, this same title match took place on Raw a month ago.

Meanwhile, Mick Foley had yet another verbal gaff during this match. Oh Mick…

Seth Rollins def. Kevin Owens via disqualification. Owens is banned from the main event. It’s a shame Rollins does’t have more momentum as a babyface. He’s so damn athletic. What a horrible missed opportunity it was to not bring him back as a babyface last year.

Karl Anderson def. Cesaro. As soon as Gallows and Anderson’s music hit, I figured they were dropping the fall here. When they announced Anderson was in the match, it was virtually a guarantee. And then low and behold, Karl Anderson pins Cesaro. Imagine my shock. Great looking neckbreaker off the top rope. But spoiler alert: Gallows and Anderson ain’t gettin’ the tag belts.

Braun Strowman, Sami Zayn, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Braun Strowman def. Sami Zayn in a Last Man Standing Match. I wish they’d saved this for the main event, or at least the top of the third hour. You could have built the entire show around this match. It’s a great David vs. Goliath story. Loved the backstage brawling. It’s been refreshing to see them get back to that in recent weeks.

I wish we’d seen a match like this earlier in Zayn’s main roster run. It would have done wonders to establish his character.

WWE hypes the premiere of Bring It to the TableThis actually looks pretty good. One of the questions they hyped for it was about whether Hulk Hogan would ever return to WWE. The fact that they even said that on television means he’s coming back, most likely around Wrestlemania.

Titus O’Neil auditions to be a member of the New Day, loses to Xavier Woods. I liked this audition segment. Titus got to be entertaining and show off his personality. He took his share of criticism in 2016. But he’s better than a lot of people give him credit for.

Stephanie McMahon tells Bayley she never wanted her on RawI don’t say this about Steph’s segments very often, but I loved this. It fit her character perfectly. And you can potentially pay it off down the road with a Bayley/Stephanie match. I’d love to see more.

Drew Gulak, Cedric Alexander, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Drew Gulak def. Cedric Alexander. There wasn’t much to this one. I can only assume Alicia Fox will eventually turn on Cedric and go with Noam Dar.

Roman Reigns def. Chris Jericho to retain the United States Championship. I couldn’t help but tune out of this one a bit. That’s no reflection on the talent these two have. But we’ve seen them wrestle so many times that the novelty has just worn off. Still, seeing Reigns smack the ring post on that attempted Drive By was cool.

Interesting that Jericho did that Eddie Guerrero spot with the implied strike with the title belt. He’s obviously supposed to be a heel. But longtime fans have happy memories of Eddie doing that.

TJ Perkins def. Brian Kendrick. I was legit surprised Perkins won. I feel like it’s been months since he got a win on television. I guess statistically it had to happen.

Rusev and Jinder Mahal def. Big Cass in a Handicap Match. It’s nice to see Jinder has something to do as Rusev’s run-in buddy. Dude’s looking jacked these days, to the point where people were making wellness policy jokes. I won’t go that far. Innocent until proven guilty, folks.

Nia Jax, Bayley, WWE Raw, January 2, 2016Bayley def. Nia Jax to earn a Raw Women’s Title Match at the Royal Rumble. What is Nia Jax’s bodysuit made out of? Is it actual leather? Is that a stupid question?

@TheMarkySmark on Twitter posted something funny when Sasha Banks came out to post Nia the match: “Watch out Nia Jaxx, a 90lb woman is coming after you!” (sic) She makes a good point.

The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels announced for Raw next week. I got goosebumps when they announced ‘Taker would be appearing in New Orleans for the first time since the Streak ended at Wrestlemania XXX. This feels like a big announcement. Could it even be the announcement that Wrestlemania XXXIII will be his last go-around? I hate to even put that out there, considering we’ve been speculating about that for 17 years. But it gets more likely every year…

Bill Goldberg appears on the inaugural edition of the Kevin Owens Show. Goldberg and Roman Reigns hit a double-spear on Braun Strowman. Chris Jericho threw his name in the hat for the Royal Rumble Match. Given the likelihood of an Owens/Jericho match at Wrestlemania, does he actually have a shot at winning?

Braun Strowman should have a strong presence in the Rumble Match. I’m curious to see where he goes as we get closer to Wrestlemania.

Roman Reigns, Goldberg, WWE Raw, January 2, 2017Nice to see Goldberg and Kevin Owens share a ring. The presence Owens has out there matches well with Goldberg’s superhero aura. Seeing Goldberg and Jericho out there together also bring back interesting memories. I doubt we’ll see Reigns and Goldberg wrestle, but there’s obvious intrigue there.

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