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Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
Let’s be honest. Ronda Rousey could have tripped, fallen, broken her two front teeth, and cried in her first public appearance as a full time performer of the WWE and the signing would still have been a tremendous success and win for the company. Regardless of what some disgruntled women in the WWE may think, Rousey in WWE equals big business, big dollars, and big spots for other women in the company to be featured in. She may not rise the tide for everyone in the company, but those who work with her will inevitably reach a different level of stardom. That’s the type of pop culture phenomenon she is. She transcends everything. With her in the fold with the WWE, eyes are on the company and business will thrive.
Rousey’s first official moment in the WWE was obviously pegged to send shockwaves through the media and the WWE Universe. That said, in her unveiling at the conclusion of the women’s main event Royal Rumble match, it felt as if the WWE was simply happy to have her instead of intently and meticulously focused on introducing who she would be as a wrestler to the WWE audience. A Rousey success story was on a tee for the WWE to knock out of the park. Instead, they took strike one right down the middle of the plate in her introduction and are now behind in the count.
WWE’s messy and miscalculated reveal began the moment Rousey took her first step onto the entrance ramp. After Rousey’s signature entrance song “Bad Reputation” hit, she appeared on the stage with a glowing look on her face. Her smile was ear to ear and almost bigger than one of the fans sitting in the front row. This was a massive mistake as it was painfully obvious that Rousey wasn’t in character. What’s worse is that the expression on her face made it appear as if she wasn’t interested in portraying a character at all. Characters are the fabric that binds pro wrestling together and are what makes pro wrestling an art form. To outright skip it like she did with this entrance shows that Rousey is greener than we think and stuck inside her own celebrity.
Rousey continued with this misguided approach as she walked down the ramp. She still grinned ear to ear and appeared overwhelmed with the response she received from the Philly faithful. After, she stepped through the ropes and was face to face with three prominent stars of the WWE’s women’s division in SmackDown champion Charlotte, Raw champion Alexa Bliss, and Royal Rumble winner Asuka.
In this moment, Rousey changed her demeanor and worked to play the Rowdy Ronda Rousey role that she mastered in the UFC. The thought and the choice to do so were in good faith, but the execution was sloppy and teetered on embarrassing. As Rousey took slow steps toward the three pillars of the WWE Women’s Division with her game face on, she looked as if she would crack up laughing and at the very least allow that grinning smile to seep through her face. Rousey lost some credibility with that artistic misstep.
If the decision was to alter the demeanor to display a different emotion, it had to be executed to perfection. Rousey coming to the ring smiling, then attempting to be serious, and failing due to being unable to hold the emotion portrayed her has someone that either wasn’t genuine with her feelings or someone who couldn’t step up and perform in the spotlight in a money-making situation. At that moment, the fan in the front row could have executed the program with the same artistic integrity. The highlight of the segment came from Asuka when she slapped Rousey’s outstretched hand instead of shaking it. Initially, Rousey had a nice reaction that displayed toughness and acceptance to the newly crowned number one contender, but with the camera still on her, the smile began to needlessly shine through again.
Then came the point. The dreaded WrestleMania sign point. Look, if you’re going to do the point, make sure you do it right. Both Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura pointed at the sign earlier in the show and did so in a way that highlighted their characters. In contrast, Rousey highlighted how confused and out of touch with the moment she was. After her “hysterical” stare down with the champions, Rousey put one foot in front of the other and pointed toward the sign. The crowd roared in approval because she was relaying a fun message, but the way it looked was beyond off. Rousey’s hair had fallen in front of her face on the hard camera side which made it impossible to see her reactions.
Okay, it wasn’t conveying anything significant anyway, but Rousey needs to know better and be smarter with how she’s performing her steps in the ring. Had she been giving the proper facial expression for the moment she was in, the camera would have missed it because her hair was in the way of the shot. Because of who Rousey is she undoubtedly will be in big moments. She’ll need to present herself better and learn the craft of working in the ring to effectively get across the emotions and allow for the cameras to catch those emotions so she can sell more tickets and carry important segments.
The segment wrapped up with Rousey unceremoniously leaving the ring to confront Stephanie McMahon. The two have minimal history with to justify a confrontation at WrestleMania 31, nothing that would overly make an interaction between them obvious other than the fact that they’re both big personalities. When Stephanie wants to, she can make anyone look like a million bucks, but couldn’t save Rousey from herself in this segment. Rousey approached with the same non-smile/smile that she was wearing in the ring. The two slowly and apprehensively shook hands before Rousey took off while slapping hands with fans at ringside. This moment should have been big and it ended up being dwarfed because of how Rousey played it. Had Rousey been in a character and chosen to interact with Stephanie McMahon as a dominant pro wrestler, the audience reaction would have been big and had significant impact. In reality, the reaction was big, but felt more like a corporate deal being made rather than a moment in which Rousey threatened to eventually put Stephanie in her place.
Ronda Rousey has work to do as a professional wrestler. This performance was one strike for her and the WWE. Rousey adopting and playing a character would have changed her course and the perception of her within the segment. For one thing, if she was focused on playing a character, that focus would remove her thoughts and inclinations to react to the big moment in a personally emotional way.
Playing a character would have also given her direction for future stories and for her overall path in the WWE. Her character would have given the audience a reason to care and buy into Rousey’s mission in WWE. Characters sell. Mark Callaway is not an interesting pro wrestler, but The Undertaker is. Same with Stone Cold Steve Austin, John Cena, Triple H, The Rock, and Ronda Rousey. Ronda Rousey, the person, doesn’t sell. Ronda Rousey, the character, can and will. If she is to succeed on the highest level in the WWE, Rousey has to find that character and bring her to life for the audience to see.
It’s surprising and unfortunate that the WWE would miss on this opportunity so badly. The first impression is always an important one and they missed last Sunday night. As they say, its three strikes, you’re out. WWE and Ronda Rousey have two more left and can surely still hit a massive homerun with the act as she progresses, grows, and becomes comfortable in her new wrestler skin.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: In a must-see match, Cedric and Mustafa make the case for a revamped formula on 205 Live