Ronda Rousey Was Born A WWE Fan — Now She's Their Star

PHoto: Courtesy of WWE.
"The days of treating the women's division like a peripheral act are over," Ronda Rousey tells me over the phone. She sounds thrilled. After all, she's the reigning Raw Women's Champion and, since signing with WWE World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., in January 2018, part of the ongoing evolution in the WWE women's division. Once fodder for "bra and panty" matches, the women's division now boasts a full-fledged roster of formidable female wrestling talent. The term "Divas," as the women of the WWE were previously called, has now been replaced with "Superstars," the same moniker that their male counterparts enjoy. In other words, Rousey's foray into sports entertainment and her exit from the Ultimate Fighting Championship's octagon couldn't be better timed. Just as she cemented her place in the history of women's mixed martial arts, she's primed to do the same in WWE.
But, to think that Rousey decided to switch to wrestling on a whim, or simply didn't want to return to the UFC after back-to-back loses, would be a mistake. Throughout her life, WWE has been a presence, either as a source of entertainment or one of inspiration for her work and performances. In a recent conversation, Rousey told me all about WWE's influence on her — and how she hopes to leave her mark on the company.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You're a longtime WWE fan — tell me about your personal history with wrestling before you became a Superstar.
"I have no idea how I became obsessed with wrestling as a kid. No one ever put it on TV as far as I know. I don’t remember ever seeing it on, but I was completely enthralled with Hulk Hogan, before I could even talk or say his name. I had a motor speech disorder as a kid called apraxia. I knew what I wanted to say, but when I spoke, I didn’t sound very intelligible. So, before I could even talk, I knew for my birthday I wanted a ‘Balgrin.’ It turned out that ‘Balgrin’ meant ‘Hulk Hogan.’ That was how I said 'Hulk Hogan.' My Hulk Hogan Wrestling Buddy was the only birthday present I wanted. I ripped his arm off a good 20 times, to the point that my mom was sewing it back on with dental floss. I didn’t want Barbies. I wanted to beat the crap out of Hulk Hogan...
"Once I got older and more into judo, I fell out of [wrestling]. I started doing MMA and I was trying to look at what the women weren’t doing that the men were doing, because they had good matches, but there wasn’t really any interest. I was trying figure out my plan of action for making women’s MMA take the world by storm, which was my great plan. There was no story in any of the matches. All you learned was that this person’s better than that other person. The fights needed to be made personal to the people sitting on the couch at home. I needed to figure out a way to be a polarizing figure. I needed to figure out a way that that match on the TV screen incited debate in everyone’s living room. I needed it to mean more than like, ‘That girl’s better than that other girl.’ So I was trying to think, Okay, how can I be a heel? Who are the greatest heels of all time? And Rowdy Roddy Piper was my favourite, so I studied up on him. I watched everything that he did to drive people into that prematch fervor. He was so great at promoting, and the women in MMA at the time were really missing that promoting aspect, so I tried to steal from him as much as I could.
"It’s kind of funny — it’s not like I was born into all of this. I just kept getting hints from the world that this was meant to happen. It was at WrestleMania 31 that I got an opportunity to show up and do a little cameo. I was like, 'Oh, that was really cool,' but I never thought that it would be an ongoing career move. It’s such a specialized skill that takes so many years to learn that I thought that I didn’t have the years to spare to spend on it, so it was just kind of like, I can check it off the bucket list. It wasn’t until I started planning to have a family with my husband that we were thinking, 'Okay, what are all the things that we would want to do before we settle down and have a family? Is there anything we left undone?' And I thought, You know what? I would love to go and be a WWE Superstar. Let me go and do this for like a couple months.' But when I approached [WWE] with that, they were like, 'Well, we would actually like to have you around for more than just a few months.' I thought that I would be done by now, honestly, so this has organically blossomed into so much more than me or anyone else dreamed it could be."
In addition to checking a career in WWE off your bucket list, what else moved you to stay on after those initial few months?
"More than just the bucket list, more than just enjoying and being a tourist, before I could settle down and have kids, I really just wanted to be that example that I feel like my children [will] need of being able to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and succeed no matter what the situation is."
Who have you looked to in the women's division for guidance since joining?
"It’s hard to pick one person, because every single person on the roster has been a teacher to me at some point. I’ve learned something from everyone. Nattie’s [ed. note: WWE Superstar Natalya] been amazing to me from day one, when I was just training with Brian Kendrick in secret. Nattie knew I was training and she had just finished a South America tour. She had been all over the place, and instead of coming home, she flew all the way out to L.A. and stayed at my house and came to train with me. Now that I’ve been traveling around with them, I’m like, 'How could you ever have taken some of your home days and spend them on me?'

I’ve learned so much from every woman that I’ve ever been in the ring with.

"[WWE Superstars] Sasha [Banks] and Bayley have taught me so much. [They] have been these great examples of being effortlessly great at what they do. They’ve also been a great resource and made me feel so comfortable about coming to them and asking them questions. I’ve learned so much from every woman that I’ve ever been in the ring with. Nia Jax was my first singles match and if I didn’t have her as my partner, I don’t know if it would have been as good as it was. It was extremely intimidating that my first ever singles match was for the Raw Women's Championship and she was just a great mentor and guide through that whole process. The people you are against [are the ones] you spend the most time with and you learn the most from. There isn’t a single woman in the locker room that hasn’t been instrumental to my success."
Given how much you’ve learned from your fellow Superstars, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten so far?
"The one consistent thing that everyone keeps telling me, across the board, is just have fun. The last thing I always hear before I go out there is, 'Have fun. Make sure you have fun.' It’s almost like a sign off — 'Have fun' is how you end your advice. 'Have fun' and 'take your time.'"
People who aren’t familiar may assume that any kind of fighting is still just fighting. What's the major differences between mixed martial arts and wrestling that you've noticed since signing with WWE?
"Here’s a good analogy: MMA is like being a pirate. You are a pirate. You do the pirate thing: You’re out there, on the ship, pillaging. You’re a pirate. WWE is like you are the star of Pirates of Penzance. Being the star of Pirates of Penzance is a lot of work, and it’s very very difficult, and you might have to learn a lot of pirate-y things, but it’s not the same as being a pirate. One is the actual subject and one is paying homage to the subject."
What's one milestone you haven't hit in WWE yet, but want to?
"We’ve never had women headline WrestleMania and I would love to be one of the women to do so, or at least be one of the women watching when it happens. It’s that one 'first' that has still been kept away from us that every single woman on the roster is ravenous for."
Wow, seriously, what would top that?
"Nothing [laughs]. WrestleMania, what’s up?"

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