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Ronda Rousey’s Most Memorable WrestleMania Moment
Make no mistake: Ronda Rousey plans to one day main-event WrestleMania.
“It’s definitely a goal of mine to be one of the first women to headline WrestleMania,” said Rousey. “But who that would be against or even if that would be a possibility is yet to be seen.”
The uber-competitive Rousey, who defeated Alicia Fox in the Raw main event this past Monday, was the first woman to headline a UFC pay per view, a feat she accomplished five years ago at the age of 26 at UFC 157. Rousey won that fight, forcing her opponent, Liz Carmouche, to tap with eleven seconds remaining in the first round.
No stranger to firsts, Rousey made a lasting memory at her ‘Mania debut earlier this year in a tag match with Kurt Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. The iconic image of Rousey smiling after she passed through the curtain was her first WrestleMania memory, and that moment was an idea that came directly from the mind of Vince McMahon.
“I usually walk out and I’m all business, but Vince specifically told me to go out and allow myself to feel everything that I was feeling and not hide anything,” revealed Rousey. “And not to try and go out and be the tough girl, but to allow myself to smile, to enjoy it because, according to Vince, when I smile the whole world wants to hug me.”
Rousey made Stephanie McMahon tap to win the match, but the part of the night that meant most to her happened after the match.
“The most memorable moment of WrestleMania was right after I won,” said Rousey. “I was looking around trying to find my husband and our two boys in the stands. When I did, being able to tell them I love them and share that moment with them was one of the best memories I have because, despite all my previous successes, this was the first time I had my own family there to share it with me.”
In addition to her work with WWE, Rousey has also partnered with Twizzlers to promote a brand that allows her to show off her dynamic personality.
“I think it’s funny when people have this impression of me being one of the meanest and most serious people on the planet, because I used to have a really hard time keeping a straight face in my staredowns,” said Rousey. “I’d crack up and giggle every single time.
“My ‘mean’ face is something I had to practice and learn. It’s hard for me to stay serious in general. It’s something I had to train just like anything else. And with Twizzlers I could finally crack up and joke around and it wouldn’t be a screw-up. For once I was doing exactly what I was supposed to.”
Rousey, who challenges Alexa Bliss for the Raw women’s title at SummerSlam, has built an incredible following through hard work, authenticity, and her fighting spirit. She noted that partnering with Twizzlers feels right because it is a product she genuinely enjoys.
“Twizzlers is the perfect fit for me because the only thing that can break my concentration in the middle of a staredown is wiggling Twizzlers in my face,” said Rousey. “Moderation is the key to anything. I think so much perfection will make you crazy. Trying to always be perfect and always trying to eat perfect is no way to live. It’s important to treat yourself and to seize the moment. Let the treat be a treat, and not a constant.
“I enjoy sweets so much more when I feel like I’ve worked hard and earned them, as opposed to if I’ve been eating them all. That’s no reward for yourself, but I feel like if I work hard and am feeling happy and healthy, then I can give myself a treat as a reward.”
The candy also has sentimental meaning for Rousey.
“Twizzlers has always been a favorite of mine mostly because of my mother and her love for Twizzlers,” she said. “I always remembered having them around. We would usually go grocery shopping once a month, so we kind of had like seasons in the house. Twizzlers was like my little Wolverine stash in the winter. That big bag of Twizzlers was like Old Faithful. For me it was like a secret stash, if all else fails, go for Twizzlers. This campaign about how you can’t be serious with Twizzlers, really hits close to home for that reason.”
Rousey’s WWE aspirations have served as a bookend to her UFC success, with an induction into the UFC Hall of Fame this past July serving as an opportunity to reflect on the magnitude of such remarkable achievements in mixed martial arts. Rousey takes a great deal of pride in the way she succeeded, accomplishing feats that were previously only dreamed of in MMA in her own unique manner.
“I’m most proud of the innovation it took,” said Rousey. “My mom says all the time that ideas are a dime a dozen, and I think that I’m not the first person that had the ideas that I did, but I’m the first person that acted upon them in the way that I did. It would have been nice if there were a path already cleared for me to tread but then again, it wasn’t meant for my journey to be easy.
“I was meant to be the one that clears that path, the one to make the journey a little bit easier for everyone after me so they can keep clearing paths for those behind them. It’s almost kind of like we can all only go as far as we possibly can and make it a little bit easier for the people after us so that they can go a little farther than we did.”
Coming Soon: In-Person coverage of New Japan’s G1 Climax
Beginning this Friday, I will be covering the final three days of this year’s G1 Climax at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo.
In addition to stories on SI.com, I will also post updates and interviews on my Twitter page.
The G1 Climax represents a significant stretch in New Japan, as the winner receives a shot at the IWGP heavyweight championship at Wrestle Kingdom in January. Similar to what we are witnessing with WWE’s Money in the Bank contract between Braun Strowman and Kevin Owens, the winner of the G1 can lose that title shot to another competitor before Wrestle Kingdom.
The G1 is a grueling, 10-match tournament in the heat of the summer for 20 different wrestlers who are broken up into two blocks—Block A and Block B. Two points are awarded for every win, with one point gained for every draw (in the event a match reaches the 30-minute time limit without a winner). Only the August 12 finale does not have a time limit.
Last week’s action included memorable matches for Hangman Page, who had an entertaining match with Togi Makabe on August 2 and then a much more physical affair with the legendary Minoru Suzuki on August 5. Kota Ibushi bested Los Ingobernables de Japon leader Tetsuya Naito on August 4 in a must-see match, and the most outstanding match of the tournament took place on August 4 when “Stone Pitbull” Tomohiro Ishii defeated Kenny Omega. All of Omega’s matches in the tourney are non-title, but his loss to Ishii sets up an inevitable clash after the G1.
Hiroshi Tanahashi leads Block A with 14 points, followed by “Switchblade” Jay White and Kazuhika Okada, who both have 12. Block B is led by Omega, who has 12 points, but he is trailed closely by Naito and Ibushi, who each have 10.
G1 action continues on August 8 with the B-block, including pivotal matches for Omega (vs. Toru Yano), Naito (vs. fellow LIJ member SANDA), and Ibushi (vs. Tama Tonga).
The winners of each block will be determined on August 10 (Block B) and August 11 (Block B), with the finale on August 12. Omega and Ibushi are set to square off on Saturday, which has the potential to be the match of the year.
Follow Sports Illustrated for coverage of the remainder of the tournament.
In other news...
• In addition to a sensational tag team main event between The Bar and the New Day on SmackDown, WWE’s week has been highlighted by Ronda Rousey’s debut match on Raw, Paul Heyman’s emotionally riveting promo, and the build to Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz at SummerSlam.
Wrestling fans see a lot of wrestling. There is no off-period in WWE. Week after week, month after month, year after year, we watch—with the desire to witness great storylines, matches, and genuinely feel for the product.
Heyman’s promo felt as real as reality. Rousey’s match on Raw, in the eyes of this writer, was highly anticipated—and I never imagined her in-ring work would be so good this early into her WWE run. Also, the match between Miz and Bryan means so much more because fans have been invested in both of their careers—including the feud between the two—for years.
For those who recall Mike “The Miz” Mizanin on MTV’s Real World in 2001, it is outrageous to think that he is now one of WWE’s longest-tenured and recognizable stars. Bryan has also had a rollercoaster of a career with WWE, culminating in his WrestleMania 30 title win (which also included a win earlier in the card against Triple H), and an emotional return to the ring this past year at ’Mania.
The feud has been one of the most compelling parts of WWE programming. The Miz also makes some salient points; he is not entirely the villain. Miz, like Bryan, is an underdog story of someone who made his dreams come true, and an added element into this story arc is that the bad guy may not be all that bad.
SummerSlam now offers the opportunity for The Miz to show that he can hang in the ring with Daniel Bryan, but also a chance for Bryan to highlight that he is one of the most elite wrestlers in the world.
• Jon Robinson’s newest book, Creating the Mania: An Inside Look at How WrestleMania Comes to Life, has hit bookshelves and delivers an outstanding look at WWE’s star-studded event.
The 45-year-old Robinson grew up in San Francisco attending shows at the Cow Palace, and he was riveted by the likes of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat.
“I’ve been hooked ever since,” said Robinson. “As a huge wrestling fan, I’ve always been fascinated about what really happens backstage and behind-the-scenes, so to have the opportunity to track the biggest show of the year throughout the entire process, from the creative team to the superstars to the business side of WrestleMania, it was a story I was lucky enough to tell.”
Robinson’s roots with wrestling journalism also run deep. During his time as an undergrad at San Francisco State University, Robinson interned at video game magazine GamePro, which was where he pitched a cover story on WWF War Zone.
“I ended up interviewing The Rock, Stone Cold, Mankind, Triple H, and Chyna for the story and it ended up being one of GamePro’s best-selling issues,” said Robinson. “Even cooler, after the issue came out, The Rock called me up and invited me to a show. For the next few years, Rock would bring me backstage and we’d hook up video games and I’d sit there and play against guys like Rock, D-Lo Brown, Mark Henry, Edge, and Christian. It’s funny thinking about it because back then, I had even better access than I do now.”
The modest Robinson also worked to gain phenomenal access to this year’s WrestleMania.
“When the book was first being pitched, though, I was a little apprehensive because I honestly didn’t think WWE would grant me the access I needed,” said Robinson. “There has never been a WWE book like this before, so I kept asking the book editor, ‘Are you sure the creative team is going to speak openly about this? They’re going to tell me the truth, right?’
“And what’s funny is, almost every interview I did, the subject would stop and say something similar like, ‘Am I going to get in trouble for saying this?’ or ‘Are we really allowed to talk about this?’ A few even stopped the interview to get approval from someone at WWE before speaking so openly on the subject. I felt like I was part salesman, pitching them the idea of the book, then talking everyone into giving me all the details while at the same time reassuring everyone they weren’t going to get fired.”
Some of the WrestleMania revelations Robinson unearthed even surprised him.
“Roman talking about a potential match with The Rock at WrestleMania 35 is great, especially the way he talks about Rock’s ‘slap punch,’ but to me, listening to both AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan tell stories of trying to coax Shawn Michaels back for one last match was really interesting and really sent my mind spinning about what amazing moments those could’ve been,” said Robinson. “I was also really thankful about how openly and honestly Daniel Bryan spoke about his battle with concussions and his attempts to get back in the ring. I didn’t expect him to go into as much depth as he did, and it was another moment where he stopped and said, ‘I’m not sure if they’ll let you print this, but...’”
WWE fans are well-versed in the knowledge that the card is always subject to change. Robinson also covers planned matches that were scrapped, like a singles bout between Vince McMahon and Kevin Owens.
“The more I thought about Kevin Owens wanting a match against Vince McMahon, the more I wanted to see it, not only for the spectacle but for where that would take KO’s career and the storyline,” said Robinson. “What if Shane interfered on Vince’s behalf, but Triple H stepped in to help Owens and it sparked a family feud for control of WWE. Maybe it would lead Triple H to build a stable of former NXT talent.
“Who knows, but I think it could’ve led to some intriguing stories. One match I would’ve loved to have watched is New Day versus The Usos in a TLC match. Their feud was amazing, and to see them get the time to shine on the biggest stage, I’m sure they would’ve stolen the show.”
Though the book was published by WWE, Robinson still had to sweet-talk his way into getting a few interviews.
“When I started the project, I’m sure WWE knew I’d want to do a lot of interviews, but by the end, I did more interviews for this book than any WWE book they’ve ever released, and my access was unprecedented throughout the ‘Road to WrestleMania,’” said Robinson. “But that doesn’t mean there weren’t hiccups along the way. I remember having to talk my way backstage before a Raw in San Jose in hopes of interviewing Roman Reigns. I didn’t have a pass, and when I found Roman, he had another interview to do before me, so I was just standing in a hall waiting for him. In the meantime about five security people came by and asked me what I was doing and where was my pass, so I’m basically fast-talking my way into not getting kicked out.
“Next thing I know, I hear all this commotion, and I look up and Vince McMahon is strutting my direction. It wasn’t the Mr. McMahon strut turned up to 10 that you see on TV, but he was feeling good and had the swagger at about eight. I felt like a kid in school who was somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be and the principal was walking toward him about to hand him a detention slip. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but Vince just strutted by, said, ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and kept right on walking. It’s funny because when I wrote for ESPN, I was lucky enough to interview everyone from Michael Jordan to Mike Tyson and I was never nervous, but something about seeing Vince McMahon walking my way still puts me on edge.”
Robinson is an incredibly talented writer. His skill in both reporting and capturing the moment are both on display in his newest book.
“Buy the book, I got kids!” said Robinson, using a phrase that would make Heath Slater smile. “Seriously, though, this is the most behind-the-curtain book WWE has ever published, and if you’re at all curious about how decisions get made, why certain people are pushed, or even how they actually select a city to host WrestleMania, this book is for you. I’m really proud of how it turned out.”
• The All In brain trust of the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes made a major announcement this week regarding the show’s broadcast plans.
The show will air on pay per view, FITE TV, and Ring of Honor’s HonorClub streaming service. There will also be an hour-long pre-show, Zero Hour, on WGN America airing directly before the event.
There are now seven matches for the main card, including Cody Rhodes vs. Nick Aldis for the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship; Rey Mysterio, Bandido, and Rey Fenix vs. The Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi; Kazuchika Okada vs. “The Villain” Marty Scurll; Stephen Amell returning to the ring to wrestle Christopher Daniels; and Jay Lethal defending his Ring of Honor world title, which he will put on the line during the main card after a new number one contender is decided during a 15-person battle royale on the preshow.
Two talents whose opponents have yet to be announced are Kenny Omega and Pentagon.
A match pitting the IWGP heavyweight champion against the current Lucha Underground champ could certainly serve as main-event worthy for All In.
• “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan returns to action this Friday for Big Time Wrestling in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, at McCoy Stadium, which is home to the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.
The show also includes Kevin Nash, Mick Foley, Tenille “Emma” Dashwood, Billy Gunn, James Ellsworth, and even more stars.
“That card is almost a who’s who of professional wrestling,” said Duggan. “So you know Big Time Wrestling puts on a good show, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get a card like that. And they’ve been around and have a huge stable of great young talent. It’s a high-quality show.
“This is going to be a fun night out. There is a huge crossover between baseball fans and wrestling fans. This is a lot different than the commercial shows. Here, you’ll get a lot closer to the wrestlers, and you almost feel the ring bounce around.”
The WWE Hall of Famer just returned home from the Bell County Comic Con in Texas, where he appeared with longtime friend Jake “The Snake” Roberts, who was a groomsman at Duggan’s wedding over 30 years ago.
Duggan will also be in Boston on Thursday night, performing his one-man show at the Laugh Boston comedy club at 8 p.m.
“If you want to hear some funny knock-knock jokes or jokes about your grandmother, then go somewhere else,” joked Duggan. “I tell wrestling stories, ones about wrestling Andre and traveling with Jake. Then we do a Q&A for the audience, and it’s a really fun night.”
The late Nikolai Volkoff, who passed away this past July 29 at the age of 70, was a rival of Duggan’s but also one of his closest friends during their time together in the World Wrestling Federation.
“Long before WWF, I wrestled Nikolai hundreds of times,” said the 64-year-old Duggan. “Down in Mid-South Wrestling, Nikolai and Krusher Kruschev knocked me out and shaved my beard. Of course, I did WrestleMania III with Nikolai and the Iron Sheik when they were working with the Killer Bees. We had the Pontiac Silverdome chanting, ‘U-S-A! U-S-A!’ And Nikolai is a big part of that memory, and he was also a friend.
“Nikolai was the real deal. He was a renaissance guy, he could cook and he could sing. He was a standup guy, a good man, and we’re all going to miss him.”
Duggan has been a part of the wrestling business for more than three decades, and he is still passionate about appearing at shows.
“This has been a wonderful business for me,” said Duggan. “I was able to put two daughters through school and I’ve been able to travel the world. I owe Fritz Von Erich, the guy who opened the door for me in professional wrestling, a debt of gratitude. He opened up a whole new world to me, and I’m proud to be part of it.”
• “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard” and co-host Conrad Thompson returns this Friday at noon ET with a new podcast looking at Hulk Hogan’s run in 1989 and 1990.
“I want to look at Hulk Hogan right after he dropped the belt to the Ultimate Warrior,” said Thompson. “Hogan has the angle with the Earthquake, and their storyline, to me, felt like the real main event at SummerSlam ’90.”
The Hogan-Earthquake match at that SummerSlam finished in a count-out win for Hogan, which highlighted the difference in the way business was conducted in 1990 to today in 2018.
“I’ll ask Bruce about that booking decision, but if I know Bruce, he’s going to say it’s because they were running Hogan-Earthquake on the house shows,” said Thompson. “Pay per view was used to prop up the house show business, so obviously it’s a very different era. If you wanted to see a finish, you had to go to the house show.”
Thompson is particularly interested in learning more about the Hogan-McMahon relationship.
“We’ll also cover Hogan at his height of WrestleMania V and his movies,” said Thompson. “Plus passing the torch to the Warrior. I want to pick Bruce’s brain on what Vince was thinking: did he want to make Warrior the main guy? Or was Hogan just too big of a brand to be number two in the company? This feels like it was the first time the wheels came off in their relationship.”
Thompson also co-hosts “83 Weeks with Eric Bischoff”, which has a new episode posting next Monday looking at the “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s first year in WCW.
“We’ll talk about how Eric signed him and how that process came to be,” said Thompson. “WWE business in 1994 was anemic, and Savage saw the writing on the wall and saw the opportunity to make more money.”
The complicated relationship between Savage and Hulk Hogan, through the eyes of Bischoff, will also be explored, as well as his value to WCW in terms of marketing.
“Savage was a larger-than-life character, and I’m also looking forward to examining Eric’s comment about how he basically got Savage for free because of the Slim Jim contract,” saw Thompson. “We’ve had such a good time talking about the business of the wrestling business and how that relates to contract values, so it will be interesting to really look at the Slim Jim deal.
Tweet of the Week
The Rock’s touching tribute to the late Brian Christopher was somehow both uplifting and heartbreaking.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.