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Ronda Rousey stole the show at WrestleMania

Commentary: Ronda Rousey's in-ring debut went way better than anyone expected. Now, for the first time ever, the WWE's biggest star is a woman.


Ronda Rousey wasn't wrestling for a title at Sunday's WrestleMania 34, but the former UFC champion was the biggest winner of the night.

Rousey teamed up with Kurt Angle, an Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler, to take on and defeat Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, arguably the two biggest antagonists in wrestling today.

It was the most promoted match on the show: The bout WWE was hoping would attract the most fans to its WWE Network, on which WrestleMania exclusively streamed.

Rousey signed a WWE contract in January, and has since made many brief TV appearances. But this was her first proper professional wrestling match. Fans waited with bated breath -- could Rousey actually perform? Wrestling fans are notoriously harsh on real-world celebrities, and one in-ring slip up could have been catastrophic for her superstar aura.

Thankfully for her, that didn't happen, which is great news for WWE, a company that in the last few years has started pushing its women as serious athletes rather than pin-up models. Now, for the first time ever, the biggest pro wrestling star in the world may just be a woman.


A rowdy WrestleMania 

The expectations of many fans going into WrestleMania was that Rousey's time in the ring would be limited. It's her first match ever, so, the logic went, most of the match would be carried by veterans Triple H and Kurt Angle, with Rousey coming in for only brief spots.

In the end, the mixed-tag match went over 20 minutes. It was the longest match on the show. And while it's true that Angle and in particular Triple H did most of the heavy lifting, Rousey got an impressive amount of in-ring time. Wrestling fans loved it.

She was intense and crisp, hitting convincing-looking punches and integrating fierce grappling. It makes sense -- she is a UFC legend, after all. Rousey showed great fire and made few mistakes, if any, en route to one of the best celebrity performances in WrestleMania history.

But what's next?

Rousey's WWE status is not yet clear. She's signed to what was described as a "full-time" contract, but it's not known how often she'll wrestle. It could be every week on TV or, like Brock Lesnar, three or four times a year.

Regardless, it takes two to tangle in pro wrestling, which means Rousey needs other star women to wrestle if she's to reach her box office potential. With Stephanie McMahon potentially out of the picture, Rousey needs new opponents.

Earlier in the night, Charlotte Flair retained her Women's Championship by defeating Asuka, ending the challenger's 914-day winning streak. The message there was clear: Flair is the woman to beat, which means eventually, she'll end up in Rousey's path.

Flair told ESPN last October that she hopes to one day main event WrestleMania with Rousey. It sounds unlikely, with women in WWE over the past decade being presented more like lingerie models than serious athletes. But mainstream women's MMA fights also seemed like a pipe dream once, and then Rousey became one of the UFC's biggest box office draws ever.


Long story, new chapter

As terrific as Rousey's match was, it wasn't the main event. The show closed with Brock Lesnar wrestling Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship.

Since 2014, the company has tried to build to Reigns to replace John Cena as the face of the company. This was originally meant to culminate at WrestleMania 31 in 2015, where Reigns challenged Lesnar for the WWE Championship. The plan was for Reigns to win, but the fans rejected him en masse, leading to a last-minute change of plans. Since then, WWE has done everything it can to have the fans accept Reigns.

It was meant to culminate, again, with Reigns vs. Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania. But the fans weren't having it. Again.

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It was reported by the Wrestling Observer last June that the WWE's plan was to have Reigns topple Lesnar at this year's WrestleMania in another attempt to coronate Reigns as the company's leading man. With UFC President Dana White telling media Lesnar would soon be returning to the octagon, the fans accepted their fate: Reigns would be beating Lesnar at WrestleMania.

"This is awful," they chanted. They batted beach balls around the stadium in protest. The match was brutal, with high-impact move after high-impact move, and Reigns bled excessively after being cut by an elbow. Still, the crowd wasn't interested. 

But there was a shock finish, with Lesnar defeating Reigns to regain the Universal Championship. The plan had changed. Again.

It's not clear, however, if this is the WWE giving up on Reigns or just going in a different direction. Or if this means Lesnar isn't going back to UFC after all.

One thing was clear after watching fans react to WrestleMania's main event: Thank goodness for Ronda Rousey. 

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