It was the Royal Rumble’s worst kept secret.
But when the 30th entrant in the inaugural women’s event was revealed to be the returning Trish Stratus, it seemed the prospect of global megastar Ronda Rousey entering the fray was over.
Not until Auska had won the event and was standing in the ring with current champs Charlotte Flair and Alexa Bliss did Joan Jett’s ‘Bad Reputation’ blast out and ‘Rowdy’ strolled casually into view.
In the days and hours leading up to the event, widespread agreement was on the former UFC champ entering the Rumble at number 30, cleaning house and booking herself a one-way ticket to Wrestlemania.
However, WWE will always do what’s best for business – to coin a phrase.
The only way Rousey would have seen in-ring action is if she had been completely ready for a place in the January showpiece widely regarded as the second biggest night in the WWE calendar. A sketchy performance, albeit a winning one, would have irked fans and fellow talent alike – drawing ire on those running the show who have not been afraid of pushing celeb talent for a cheap pop in the past.
As it was the stage was set perfectly.
As Rousey entered the ring, she followed in the footsteps of many with the obligatory pointing towards the Wrestlemania sign hanging from the rafters.
The territory was certainly marked, the only thing that could have cemented things further was her turning her gaze to the aforementioned Flair and truly laying down the gauntlet.
Instead, a tentative handshake was shared with WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon before heading to the back with the biggest of grins on her face. Stephanie, of course, is all too familiar with what Ronda can do in the ring after being on the receiving end during a segment with The Rock and Triple H at Wrestlemania 31.
At that time, Rousey was an undefeated UFC champion, darling of the US chat show and starting to establish herself as a star on the small and silver screens.
Fast forward a little over 20 months and the landscape is very different.
Two crushing defeats to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes have ended the Rousey MMA mystique. Her reaction to those reverses have been stark. An almost reclusive withdraw from the limelight that left many wondering about her mental state and where she would turn to next.
With the appetites of WWE brass whetted by the Wrestelmania 31 reaction, it was always considered that there could eventually be a foray into the squared circle. And it’s the perfect fit for all concerned.
Rousey, is a life-long wrestling fan. And this will go a long way when it comes to garnering both the support of fans, but also those fellow athletes in the back who will more than frown upon talent who have not paid their dues or know little about the industry.
The fact Rousey, who signed a full-time contract with WWE, didn’t call out Flair also gives options.
If her in-ring work can reflect her athletic prowess and background, then a match against one of the leading lights in women’s wrestling would be a huge draw.
If there is a worry that Charlotte would be too much for her – then the prospect of reigniting the feud with Stephanie would also be a mouthwatering one.
Either way, Rousey is box office.
She takes WWE to a whole new audience. She’s a mainstream blockbuster with the ability to fill arenas and sell pay-per-views.
The build up to this year’s Mania will be like nothing we’ve ever seen.
Within seconds of her entrance Ronda was trending worldwide on Twitter, media had gone into overdrive, and you can only anticipate the rush to get her on American daytime TV.
We have on our hands all the pulling power of a global phenomenon paired with the biggest brand in sports entertainment.
And that, is best for business.
WWE has signed Egyptian boxer Mohamed Fahim to a developmental contract. The 28-year-old has been boxing competitively since 2007, winning championships at university level as well as gold medals in national events.
He is also an accomplished kickboxer, winning a national competition in 2014. His MMA record stands at 1-0.
Fahim clocks in at 6’1″, weighing 220 pounds.
The signing comes after Fahim impressed WWE talent scouts during a four-day tryout in Dubai last year. Along with Fahim, several other prospects who were at the Dubai trials have been signed to the WWE recently. Shadia Bseiso of Jordan was the first female Arab to join WWE, while Nasser Alruwayeh became the first Kuwaiti man to sign.
Kavita Devi led a trio of Indians into the WWE by becoming the first woman from the country to join, with Rinku Singh, the former baseball player who was famously the subject of Netflix movie “Million Dollar Arm”, and Indian TV star Saurav Gurjar following Devi’s lead.
The WWE sees the Middle East as a key growth market and is on the lookout for the next big global superstar – that’s according to the man helping bring some of the best fresh talent to the company.
Triple H, executive vice president of Talent, Live Events & Creative, is one of the legends of WWE but is now synonymous with nurturing young prospects since his move into the boardroom.
Abu Dhabi plays host to the larger-than-life superstars this week as they entertain crowds at Zayed Sport City Tennis Centre, but it could soon be homegrown talent that is taking centre stage.
Earlier this year, WWE held open tryouts in Dubai to try and discover new stars, and has since signed Jordanian Shadia Bseiso – the first female talent from the Middle East.
Now Triple H says he can see a day when the WWE has a performance centre in the region, helping develop local prospects.
“I can definitely see a performance centre being based in the Middle East, I can envision it globally,” he said. “It was the vision that we had when I first started this and I spoke with Vince (McMahon, WWE Chairman). It’s something that takes time and a lot of effort, but I am a big believer in our product and I am of the mindset of ‘if you build it they will come’.”
Now ‘The Game’ wants to forge a clear pathway for aspiring superstars.
“We are increasing the interest in markets such as the Middle East, India, even in the UK, but there really wasn’t a direct pathway to WWE before,” he said.
“If you weren’t in the US it was really like a pipedream to make it to the WWE. That was one of our goals, to create a pathway and pipeline that would allow these great talents and great athletes to make their way to the WWE.
“And that’s what we are still doing, whether it’s in the UK, Middle East or India. I am looking to find a grouping of talent who are interested and have the ability to make it, and then we can work training the talent, get them performing locally in markets and eventually become a WWE superstar.
“You could start them locally but then grow them to becoming the global household name that we all hope they will be.”
Triple H will step back into the ring on Friday night, December 8, when he takes on Roman Reigns in a repeat of their match at WrestleMania 32. It will be the first time he has performed in the UAE. He was a late addition to an already stacked card, with some of the company’s top talent in tow.
Tickets for WWE at Zayed Sport City Tennis Centre, December 8 and 9 are still available at https://abu-dhabi.platinumlist.net.
— Sport360° (@Sport360) December 3, 2017