This past Sunday, when Ronda Rousey climbed into the World Wrestling Entertainment ring, it was presented as a spur of the moment incident after an in-ring verbal battle between actor/wrestler Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the evil Authority, consisting of Paul "HHH" Levesque and Stephanie McMahon.
Of course, in wrestling, only two things are real -- the money and the chronic pain.
The spur of the moment actually dated back about seven months, when Rousey and the rest of the Four Horsewomen -- UFC fighters Shayna Baszler and Jessamyn Duke, and new Invicta signee Marina Shafir -- were guests at the WWE SummerSlam show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The ball really started rolling with Baszler, a longtime fan who lists Billy Robinson (a pro wrestling legend of the '60s and '70s) and sometimes pro wrestler Josh Barnett as her coaches. This led to the four of them taking on the name and doing poses like The Four Horsemen of pro wrestling, whose heyday came at roughly the same time Rousey was born. While often criticized for using the name, the truth is that the key stalwarts of the Four Horsemen, Ric Flair and Arn Anderson, loved it.
It was at that show in August that Paul Heyman, the sidekick and mouthpiece for Brock Lesnar, got the women backstage, where they met Stephanie McMahon, the company's Chief Brand Officer, villainess extraordinaire as well as daughter of the CEO of the company, Vince McMahon.
The night ended with Rousey dumping a bucket of ice water on Stephanie McMahon's head as she did the ice bucket challenge.
But that was really just the beginning.
Given Rousey's fame and pay-per-view drawing power, it's natural for those in wrestling to immediately try to come up with ways to fit their new friend into the show. Wrestling uses certain celebrities at certain times. Usually they shy from UFC stars because, even though both groups will deny it, they are in competition for the casual fan dollar. Before WWE got largely out of the pay-per-view business, when a Sunday WWE PPV show followed a Saturday UFC show, the WWE show would be down 15 percent on average from what would be expected. A ton of UFC stars, usually at the end of their careers, have tried to make inroads into WWE, and are usually not given more than the time of day.
Jon Jones, who is probably the only American UFC fighter who is even in the discussion as being a star at the level of Rousey, had his management try to broker him a WWE appearance, and nothing materialized. The kind of combat sports people WWE has used is largely limited to the Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Buster Douglas (as champion), Evander Holyfield, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Ricky Hatton level stars.
The ideas that were given birth in August led to last week's encounter before a near sellout crowd of 67,000 at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. On WWE's biggest event of the year, Rousey ended up being the most talked about subject, with more than 100,000 searches in the last few hours of Sunday night, more than Undertaker, The Rock, or even Brock Lesnar, who was the headliner of the show.
While there was only an agreement in place for this one appearance, sources in WWE confirm that is not the idea.
From watching how the angle went down -- with Rousey and Johnson, who are both in the movie Furious 7, squaring off against The Authority -- it would logically lead to a mixed tag team match. The match would also logically take place next April, when WrestleMania comes to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex. It will be the biggest undertaking in WWE history, as they attempt to set their all-time attendance record. The idea is to announce a magic number topping 100,000 people, whether real or not. That would break the company's self-written historical record of 93,173 fans (also not a real number) set in 1987 for a Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant match at the Pontiac Silverdome.
Just WrestleMania with today's top pro wrestling stars isn't going to do it. They are going to need to bring back stars from the past, like Johnson, and add in celebrities.
The mixed tag team sounds like a good idea. Johnson and HHH are experienced wrestlers who would be able to carry the action, and set up short encounters with Rousey and McMahon, which would likely be the memorable spots of such a match.
But WWE sources say the idea is not a mixed tag, but two singles matches, meaning Rousey vs. McMahon is the match they are looking at doing.
Either way, there are some huge issues involved.
When Vince McMahon tried to put together Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker at the 2011 WrestleMania -- back when Lesnar was still under a UFC contract -- Dana White nixed the match. Historically, the UFC has sent mixed messages about participating in pro wrestling. Josh Barnett this past year was the first Zuffa performer given permission to do a match, and his happened in Japan. Years ago White also gave permission to Mirko Cro Cop, while under contract with Zuffa, to appear on a Japanese New Year's Eve show and kick someone in the head.
On the flip side, Tom Lawlor was told he couldn't participate as a "manager" outside the ring in Ring of Honor, a smaller promotion, after he had garnered publicity for doing so. However, Baszler later participated in a similar role with that same promotion, and Lawlor did once again on March 27.
But the Lesnar comparison is the only one valid here, in the sense it would be a high profile appearance on a major show. The difference is that McMahon, while she has done pro wrestling, is not a full-time wrestler. Rousey has no experience, and having a first match on what is expected to be the biggest wrestling show of all-time in the U.S. has major challenges. Celebrities put into that position in the past have done well in some cases, but they have almost always been put in with very experienced top opponents. And even then, some have flopped miserably.
The positive from a UFC standpoint is that Rousey will expand her celebrityhood. To do a match that high profile she'd also have to appear on WWE television, which reaches millions of viewers each week and she would be promoted like crazy for the last month or so before the show. That, in theory, means creating more fans who may be interested in buying her pay-per-views. That was one of the reasons Mayweather Jr. made a similar move in 2008.
But there are risks involved. While virtually everyone knows pro wrestling and MMA are like the Harlem Globetrotters and the NBA, there are reasons UFC would not want its top star doing pro wrestling that high profile, particularly if she's still an active champion at that point. There is marketplace confusion and even credibility questions to a portion of society that still doesn't connect that MMA really is.
And, even though not real sport, the injury risk in doing pro wrestling is very real. In 2012, when Johnson had his first singles match in more than eight years at WrestleMania, he tore his hamstring. The next year, he tore his abdominals and his adductor, and held up production of the movie Hercules due to needing surgery. And unlike Rousey, Johnson knew his way around the ring and was a great performer. The UFC frowns on its fighters riding motorcycles. But performing in pro wrestling is infinitely more dangerous.
And there are creative issues to a match. Rousey wins most of her fights in one minute in the realm of real fighting. Big pro wrestling matches hinge on building drama, which takes time to put together. They are also supposed to be somewhat reality based. Can a long match with McMahon having a lot of offense come across as realistic, and would UFC want that portrayal? A realistic match would be an armbar in seconds, and while that is fine to an MMA crowd because it's real, it wouldn't work before a pro wrestling crowd.
Still, WWE would have to be confident. Rousey's appearance wasn't advertised, so it didn't sell pay-per-views or live tickets. It was clearly designed for a payoff, not as the payoff. When Rousey grabbed Stephanie McMahon at the end of the segment, she didn't take her down, and she didn't put her in an armbar, which would be the money spot. That was clearly being saved for a match.