Thirty-two women competed in the Mae Young Classic. That’s 32 individuals from over a dozen countries, representing some of the wrestling industry’s top talent from 20-year veterans to two-year prodigies.
The ludicrous release schedule for the show means that we don’t know much about the matches, although spoilers are out there if you want them. And in the absence of actual wrestling news to talk about, this tweet from the tapings was the one that raised eyebrows.
— Triple H (@TripleH) July 13, 2017
Ronda Rousey was at the Mae Young Classic. You could argue that it makes sense for her to be there, supporting her friend and MMA fighter-turned-wrestler Shayna Baszler. She’s also the kind of high-profile figure WWE loves to show off at their major events. (“Look at this cool person who likes our stuff!” they shout as the people who spend actual money on shows and merchandise roll their eyes.)
Given her prior history with the company, including her physical altercation with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania, her appearance has also reignited the old rumours that Rousey could turn to pro wrestling. Per Cageside Seats this weekend, she is likely to get involved with WWE at some stage, and it may well culminate in a singles match against Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania in 2018.
Now, I like Ronda Rousey. I think she’s an incredibly talented MMA fighter (though she needs a better coach if she’s going to come back again). I also think she has genuine star quality which, combined with her undefeated streak, helped to make her one of the most bankable and marketable stars in sporting history. She is not, however, a professional wrestler, and that’s how it should stay.
Whatever Rousey does with WWE, I very much doubt that she would take a long-term wrestling contract. The chances are she will be brought in for a few select appearances to build up to a match, for which she will be paid more money than several of the top female performers in the company will earn that year. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t money to be made from having her there; Rousey is probably worth more as a star attraction to draw a massive gate at one show than as a regular feature whose aura would diminish with every Smackdown.
So suppose she does have a match against Charlotte at WrestleMania, the biggest show of the wrestling year and one of few where performers actually get extra money for appearing. Booking that match ensures that the female performers working hard every single night to earn a place on the Mania card will be sidelined in favour of a non-wrestler earning several times what they get for the same gig.
It’s well documented that even in this ‘Divas Revolution’/’Women’s Evolution’/’We Want to Take Credit for Fixing the Sexism Problem We Created’ era, all the women on the Mania card have been shoved into awkward multi-woman matches for the sake of getting them on the show. The last women’s singles match at a WrestleMania was in 2007. This year Alexa Bliss was literally billed as wrestling every available woman on the Smackdown roster for her title.
A women’s singles match at Mania, when it happens, will be a milestone – a pathetically basic milestone, but a testament to the work of the women who made it happen. Rousey vs Charlotte puts all the focus on the wrong people. Audiences will see it as Rousey’s achievement; not even Charlotte will get any credit, damage that may not be offset by the exposure to mainstream viewers the match would give her.
If Rousey vs Charlotte is the match to buck the trend, it will be disrespectful to the work done by female performers all year round as they change perceptions of women’s wrestling and work their way towards the main event. Inevitably, when the rest of the women are shoved into more multi-woman matches or even bumped down to the pre-show, that problem will be compounded. In a worst-case scenario, that match could hold back women’s wrestling in the WWE, as the performers might have to prove that they can draw as well as Rousey before they get their moment in the sun.
There are ways I think Rousey could be made to work in WWE. Her appearances could be linked to Shayna Baszler, a prodigiously talented wrestling newbie who the Fed would be mad not to sign. But Baszler needs to keep the heat gained from the angle, because she will be the one sticking around in the company who can use it to advance women’s wrestling.
Some of my objections could be quelled if Rousey was brought in to lose. It could make Charlotte a much bigger crossover star, attract huge mainstream attention and help to put WWE’s women on the map. That’s just not going to happen. Celebrity cross-over appearances all end the same way, because how do you get a non-wrestler through the door only to lose – especially if it’s someone like Rousey, for whom it’s obvious wins and losses really matter?
I didn’t mind Rousey laying hands on Stephanie McMahon, because Stephanie isn’t a wrestler. She arm-dragged Triple H and I laughed, because he shouldn’t be wrestling either. The scene where she and The Rock took on the power couple two years ago was an overlong but entertaining WrestleMania Moment ™. But if the quest to draw a massive gate with Rousey’s next WrestleMania Moment ™ means throwing the women’s division under the bus, keep her out of that ring.