What transpired at the "Royal Rumble" pay-per-view Jan. 28 once again showed that while WWE is making major strides in regard to how it presents its female performers, the company also continues to make major missteps.
On the positive side, the first women's Royal Rumble match went on last -- meaning it headlined the show. That's a huge step forward for a company that just a few years ago was referring to its female wrestlers as "Divas" and WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon was telling his creative team (of which I was a member at the time) that "fans don't want to see the girls fight like the guys."
As far as the match itself, the women's Rumble was entertaining, as it brought back former stars such as Trish Stratus, Lita, Kelly Kelly, Torrie Wilson and even Vickie Guerrero, among others. The match was laid out pretty well, and Asuka winning was absolutely the right call.
Having "SmackDown" Women's Champion Charlotte Flair and "Raw" Women's Champion Alexa Bliss enter the ring and stand alongside Asuka was a nice touch, as Asuka now has a decision to make as to which one of them she will face at WrestleMania 34 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans April 8.
If the show had ended there it would've been perfect. But then "Bad Reputation" by Joan Jett played over the sound system, and out came Ronda Rousey to steal the spotlight. Like a lot of fans, I was expecting the former UFC star to appear on the show as a surprise entrant in the Rumble match.
Instead, Rousey came down to the ring and pointed at the WrestleMania sign hanging from the rafters. Just like that, all the attention shifted from Asuka (and to a lesser extent, Flair and Bliss) to Rousey. Some of the spotlight also went to Stephanie McMahon, who sat in on commentary during the match and shook hands with Rousey.
While in the ring, Rousey extended her hand to Asuka, who slapped it away. Rousey showing up and sharing a tense moment with Asuka would make sense if they are going to face each other at WrestleMania, but I don't think that's the case. My guess is that Asuka will challenge for one of the women's titles at WrestleMania, while Rousey either participates in a mixed tag match against Stephanie McMahon or wrestles in a singles match against Flair.
As expected, WWE got massive mainstream coverage from Rousey's appearance and the ensuing announcement that she has signed a "full-time" contract with WWE, but the same result could've been accomplished without taking away from the other women. For example, WWE could've saved Rousey's surprise appearance for the next night on "Raw."
The historic women's Rumble match should've been all about the 30 women in the match, especially the winner. But for all the progress WWE has made during the past couple years as far as gender equality, the decision-makers just can't stay out of their own way.
When the announcement that there would be a women's Rumble match was made by Stephanie McMahon on "Raw" in December, it was done so in such a manner that made it more about Stephanie than the women wrestlers who were in the ring with her. It was just like when the "women's revolution" officially got underway in 2015 by Stephanie introducing Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch to the main roster rather than having the women debut on their own. Stephanie isn't giving the women a rub; she's taking away from their shine.
And let's not forget about how horribly booked the first women's Money in the Bank ladder match was this past summer. The person who pulled down the Money in the Bank briefcase wasn't any of the participants in the match. It wasn't even a woman. It was James "Freakin'" Ellsworth, who tossed the briefcase to Carmella. Yes, a man literally handed the victory to a woman in a women's match. That decision was so poorly received that WWE did a do-over of the match on "SmackDown Live" a week later.
Getting back to Rousey, it goes without saying that her signing with WWE is a big deal, but I'm not certain just how much of a big deal it is. It's certainly not as big a deal as it would've been a couple years ago when she was UFC's biggest draw and undefeated in the Octagon. It seems to me that Rousey lost a lot of her luster and mystique after being completely overmatched during her final two fights, which were both early-round knockouts.
I think it's going to be a tough sell to portray Rousey as the baddest woman on the planet in WWE. I know some will make the comparison to Brock Lesnar, who returned to WWE in 2012 after losing his last two UFC fights by TKO in the first round. But, pardon the pun, "The Beast" is an entirely different animal.
Lesnar has such an intimidating aura, physical presence and freakish athleticism that no one will ever doubt how legitimately tough he is, regardless of those losses. Rousey doesn't have any of those qualities.
It will be interesting to see how Rousey is received by WWE's fan base going forward. Her appearance at the "Royal Rumble" got a nice pop, but it wasn't as loud as the one Lesnar received in 2012. And when Rousey's name was mentioned on "SmackDown Live" Jan. 30, the crowd in Philadelphia booed.
As for the other women in WWE, there will be another history-making moment Feb. 21 when WWE presents the first women's Elimination Chamber Match at the "Elimination Chamber" pay-per-view. Let's keep our fingers crossed that WWE won't do anything to overshadow the women in the match.