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Ronda Rousey will begin the next chapter of her life when she steps into a WWE ring as a competitor for the first time at WrestleMania 34 on April 8. It’s been a long time coming for the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion who became a pop-culture megastar during her torrid run. But back-to-back losses had Rousey reconsidering her future and led to her inking a deal with the pro wrestling entity that she grew up admiring.
After making her surprise debut at the Royal Rumble, Rousey is slated to team up with Kurt Angle in a mixed tag-team match against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon as one of the marquee matches at this year’s Showcase of the Immortals. Before she makes her in-ring debut, Rousey sat down with Yahoo Sports to talk about her journey to the WWE, carrying on the legacy of the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and how Stephanie McMahon’s slap compared to some of the strikes she absorbed in mixed martial arts.
You’re making your in-ring debut at WrestleMania, Shayna Baszler is competing for the NXT women’s title the same weekend. Marina Shafir is engaged to NXT talent Roderick Strong and Jessamyn Duke is also training for a career as a pro wrestler. Could you have fathomed that the Four Horsewomen would be tied to professional wrestling?
The funny thing was that we never called ourselves the Four Horsewomen, the fans started calling us that. But I was looking at the girls one day and was like “Dude, we’ve gotten too many hints from the universe. We’re literally getting whacked over the head with this. We’d be willfully ignoring it if we didn’t follow the signs and pursue it.” I can’t say the words fate or destiny enough, but in hindsight, everything was leading to this point. It was the common theme throughout our whole lives. It was like looking back at “Fight Club” and being like “Oh my God! He was Tyler Durden the entire time!” That’s how our movie would play out except that our Tyler Durden was the WWE.
How important was it to live your life out of the spotlight, get married and just enjoy what life was without distractions before making the decision to join the WWE?
It really was myself and Travis [Browne] planning on settling down that made me decide that I needed to go for it. We’re ready to start having kids soon and I was thinking about what I’ve left unfinished in my life because I want to entirely focus on having kids when that time comes. I took a long look at my life and thought that if I don’t try and take a shot with the WWE, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I want to be an example to my kids about pursuing your dreams and being able to do anything. I guess this is my way of nesting and getting ready for children. I’m trying to prove to my unborn babies that they can accomplish any dream that they want to go after.
Take us through the day you made your debut at the “Royal Rumble.” There was a lot done to throw people off the trail that you had signed with the company.
Well, my neck hurt from looking down for two days [laughs]. They had to walk me around in a hoodie looking down a lot. They put me in full-on Rapunzel mode where I couldn’t see anything or anyone. They had to deliver room service to somebody else’s room so delivery people wouldn’t see me. Leading up to the “Royal Rumble” they had to put me in a car that took me to a place where the rendezvous point was a bus. Then I got in the bus and it drove me somewhere else. It was some real Super Mario pipes and tunnels stuff going on. I just remember feeling that I just wanted to get outside and breathe some air. It was cramped. But I can’t describe what it’s like hiding your face and not interacting with anybody for days and then suddenly you walk out to this giant arena of people freaking out. Having that contrast made that moment so much more special.
When you made that entrance, you wore “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s jacket and the lettering on your shirt emulated Piper’s. How special is it for you to have the ability to carry on his legacy and introduce him to a new generation of WWE fans who may not have known who Piper was?
There are probably plenty of kids who never had a clue who Roddy Piper was and if I can encourage them to research and see how great he was, that makes me extremely happy. It’s not as much as a service to Piper as it is to the person who watches him. A generation of kids who are wrestling fans who don’t know who Roddy Piper was would be ashamed after they saw him that they had missed out on his greatness. I’m doing everything I can to prevent that from happening.
What was it about Piper that inspired you as a competitor and bring that pro wrestling edge to women’s mixed martial arts?
Back when I started, I was really studying women’s MMA to gauge what it was that they were lacking. What was it exactly that the men were doing that the women weren’t? I noticed that all of the girls in MMA were trying to be babyfaces and there was no stories that engaged the viewer. It was just a match. I wanted to research the best heels in pro wrestling and in doing that research who else are you going to come up with? “Rowdy” Roddy Piper! I obsessed over him and went down every possible rabbit hole of Piper interviews. I didn’t want to plagiarize him too much but I wanted to emulate the way that he would talk. He wouldn’t pause for dramatic effect. He was very much like “Everything I’m saying is brilliant and if you don’t catch it, too bad for you.” He was so himself, but so different than anybody else in pro wrestling. What everyone else was doing, he did the opposite of that. For some reason, he was the one that I was most drawn to and wanted to emulate in my press conferences. I wanted to be my own version of him.
Back in 2014, you made headlines on TMZ when you showed up to a Pro Wrestling Guerrilla show and chopped current NXT superstar Oney Lorcan. That was probably the first signal that a pro wrestling career could be in your future. What do you remember about that?
People bring it up that it was such a stiff chop! But I didn’t know what kind of chop he wanted. I didn’t know if he wanted a karate chop or a judo chop. I did a hybrid chop so I could make everyone happy. But I learned that I needed to work on my chops and I have been since. That was literally the first chop I ever did on a pro wrestler and I hope I can give you guys a much better chop at WrestleMania. I’ve been working pretty hard at it.
Well, Stephanie McMahon gave you a pretty stiff slap. You’ve been in some fights but how does Stephanie’s slap compare?
I’ve never been slapped before. Anybody who has ever been slapped tells me that it hurts more than you think. Man, when she hauled off and whacked me, my first thought was “Wow, that really hurt way more than I thought it would.” Everyone was right. Slaps suck and there was a loud noise followed by the crowd’s “Ooooh!” I didn’t see that coming at all.
How much do you look forward to paying her back for that slap when you step into the ring with her?
Oh man, I can’t wait. As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold and I cannot wait to serve her the coldest dish at WrestleMania.
Speaking of WrestleMania, you’ve hardly been able to hold back your smile since debuting but it’s serious business when you and Kurt Angle step into the ring against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania. How are you going to deal keep the emotions in check when you step on that stage?
It’s hard to guess what a moment like that is going to be like. I just really hope that I take the time to absorb it. When I did the short cameo at WrestleMania 31, it was very much about doing everything right and not messing up. I don’t know if I’ll be at the point where I can just absorb things and not be focused on the task at hand at this WrestleMania but I know I’m going to working non-stop until WrestleMania next year. Maybe by then I’ll be comfortable enough to experience everything and not have to think so much about it.
Wait, so this won’t be a one-off?
Nope. This isn’t a smash and grab. I plan on being here.
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