Former UFC fighter Ronda Rousey finally had her chance to step into the WWE ring Sunday night when she made her highly anticipated pro wrestling debut at WrestleMania 34 — and she did not disappoint.
Rousey, best known as a champion mixed martial arts fighter, faced off against Stephanie McMahon and her husband, Triple H, in front of a crowd of thousands at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
But Rousey, 31, didn’t show up alone: in her corner was her tag-team partner and WWE legend Kurt Angle, an Olympic gold medalist who transitioned from martial arts to pro wrestling more two decades ago, as Rousey is doing now.
After an entertaining matchup, Rousey — who sported a “rowdy” athletic top for the event — and Angle defeated their opponents after the female MMA legend forced McMahon to tap out.
But McMahon and Triple H still had their moment to shine, entering the arena on personalized motorcycles before the match.
Though there were four people in the ring Sunday, the most pressure was on Rousey, who rose to prominence when she won 12 MMA fights in a row, with six coming while she was signed with Ultimate Fighting Championship. But she looked strong fighting against heel McMahon Sunday evening, in a match complete with hair-pulling and plenty of fierceness.
“I’m beyond excited,” Rousey has said of the chance to compete in Wrestlemania. “It’s one of those things that can only be understood if you actually experience it.”
Rousey, who also won an Olympic bronze medal in judo during the 2008 Olympics, routinely won fights in the first round, and because her fights were often over so quickly, many of the matches were shown in their entirety in short clips on Twitter and Instagram. This helped Rousey become a social media attraction as she cemented her UFC legacy as well.
After going undefeated, Rousey, 31, experienced back-to-back losses, first to Holly Holm in November 2015, and then to Amanda Nunes in December 2016. Since her last loss, Rousey hasn’t stepped into an UFC octagon for a professional fight.
But Sunday technically wasn’t Rousey’s first time in a WWE ring. She made her first appearance on WWE programming when The Rock invited her into the ring during WrestleMania 31 in 2015. The duo proceeded to beat and toss Triple H and Stephanie McMahon from the stage — leaving McMahon grabbing onto her injured arm as her husband led her to safety.
While becoming employed by the WWE might not have crossed Rousey’s mind at that point (since she was at the height of her success while in the UFC) her cameo did prove she could hold her own in front of a crowd of 76,000 next to three of WWE’s biggest personalities.
Her turn as a WWE wrestler might not come as a surprise to some, as Rousey has dabbled in entertainment in the past, having first appeared in The Expendables 3 in 2014, then in Furious 7 and Entourage.
Leading up to WrestleMania, Stephanie McMahon — the daughter of WWE CEO Vince McMahon — spoke to PEOPLE about what she was doing to prepare for the big matchup.
“My last match was four years ago, and prior to that was 11 years ago,” McMahon told PEOPLE ahead of her upcoming feature on PEOPLETV. “We’re talking basically 11 years since I was a regular doing anything in the ring, so I’ve had to recondition my body . . . big time. I’m just going to try and give Ronda a level of competition that will play at WrestleMania, that will be entertaining, rewarding and exciting.”
Facing Rousey, McMahon admitted, would be a little intimidating (though she would never reveal that in the ring).
“She’s a formidable force,” McMahon said. “She’s a beast. If you’ve ever seen her train, I mean, you talk about an athlete. She really is one of the world’s greatest athletes.”
With Sunday’s match in the books, only time will tell if being one of the world’s greatest athletes will translate into being one of sports entertainment’s lasting superstars for Rousey.
- With reporting by ANTHONY KANE and JOHNNY DODD