Less than six months since making her debut as a professional wrestler, Ronda Rousey will be competing for her first championship, the WWE announced on Monday.
During the NBCUniversal Upfront presentation in New York City, which featured Rousey alongside fellow WWE Superstars Charlotte Flair and Nia Jax, the former UFC star was challenged by Jax, the current Raw women’s champion.
The match, scheduled to take place at the “Money in the Bank” pay-per-view event next month, will be Rousey’s first singles competition since her debut and her first official in-ring match since she teamed up with Kurt Angle to face Stephanie McMahon and Triple H at “WrestleMania” this past April.
While Rousey’s star power is undeniable, putting her in a championship match just months into her WWE career is an interesting decision and one that has a high-risk, high-reward outcome for the WWE.
Why Rousey getting this opportunity makes sense
As mentioned, Rousey’s celebrity and crossover appeal are unparalleled in the current WWE women’s division and arguably the entire company. Since she debuted in January at the “Royal Rumble,” Rousey has been booked as a powerful figure, gotten an overwhelmingly positive reaction from fans and has lived up to her “Baddest Woman on the Planet” moniker.
If the WWE is going to continue to push Rousey as this unbeatable figure – much like she was for a period of time in UFC – having her go over on Jax, a powerful champion, makes complete sense. Rousey brings an intimidating aura to the ring and using her patented armbar to submit Jax in a championship setting would be convincing. WWE works best when the product in the ring is believable and, in Rousey’s case, a victory over Jax is not out of the question.
From those perspectives, having Rousey not just face Jax, but win as well, would be a smart move and could set up a possible main event-caliber match at WWE’s “SummerSlam” event in August.
What could go wrong with Rousey getting this shot so early?
Here’s where things get tricky: To this point in her WWE career, Rousey has been marketed as a “face,” or good guy. Jax, who won the Raw women’s championship at “WrestleMania,” recently wrapped up a feud with Alexa Bliss and since her title reign began has also been a face – meaning this angle currently lacks the traditional “heel” role that generally divides fans during a match.
While both women being faces isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, it’s hard to imagine WWE would book Rousey to lose her first singles match. Rousey losing at “Money in the Bank” would diminish much of the credibility the WWE has built up around her and seemingly remove her from the main-event picture for the time being.
Although Jax doesn’t necessarily need the title to succeed in WWE, having her successfully defend against Bliss only to drop the belt to Rousey would also diminish her status as one of the more popular wrestlers and take away from the anti-bullying platform both she and the WWE have been working hard to promote over the past several weeks.
There’s also the question of how ready Rousey is both in and out of the ring. Rousey was surprisingly impressive in her first bout, but a singles match is very different than what she was a part of at “WrestleMania.” It’s worth asking if Rousey has the skills to perform across from Jax, whose style features powerful moves and throws, and – should she win – be comfortable in more speaking roles on television.
The final component here is the issue WWE currently has with Raw’s top title, the universal championship. That belt’s owner, former (and perhaps future) UFC star Brock Lesnar, is on a part-time contract and the title isn’t defended on every pay-per-view nor is it present on most episodes of “Raw.” While it’s likely a Rousey win would result in her being present on nearly every show, the similarities between Rousey and Lesnar may be too much for WWE fans to ignore.
What probably will happen in Rousey’s match
There’s a decent chance this match doesn’t have a clean finish. Rousey has been teaming with fellow WWE superstar Natalya in recent weeks and the two have been very vocal about their friendship and how they train together. Outside of the Riott Squad and Alexa Bliss, the Raw women’s division is devoid of true heels and Natalya played that role at the end of her run on Smackdown Live.
Should Natalya turn on Rousey and cost her the match, it would protect Rousey’s aura, set up another feud for her, and preserve her status as a top contender for Jax’s belt.
If not Natalya, another possible outcome would be interference from McMahon, who has been absent from WWE television since Rousey put her in an armbar on “Monday Night Raw” immediately following “WrestleMania.” McMahon is perhaps the WWE’s biggest heel and would keep both Rousey and Jax in fans’ good graces.
Regardless of how it plays out, WWE putting Rousey in this position shows the faith they have in her at this point in her career. The only thing that remains to be seen is if she can deliver.
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