Ronda Rousey, Charlotte, Auska, Alexa Bliss, Stephanie McMahon.
The combinations and permutations for potential Wrestlemania matchups have been discussed wildly since the dramatic close of this week’s women’s Royal Rumble.
But one name being left out of that equation is that of Carmella.
Her stock has been gradually rising, but the thought of her featuring in a high-profile match at the Show of Shows? Slim.
Unless she goes into the event as the Smackdown Women’s Champion.
And this week’s show reminded us, that is still a possibility.
Threatening to cash-in following the Riot Squad’s attack on Charlotte made us remember the briefcase, which Carmella has been in possession of since the end of June, is still relevant.
Admittedly, this is probably just a smokescreen to throw the whole scenario into greater confusion, but the more names thrown into the mix, the faster the level of intrigue will increase and more hyped the build-up will become.
The absence of Rousey at both Raw and Smackdown has spoken volumes in terms of maintaining the levels of ambiguity when it comes to her Mania role.
Her in-ring and mic skills have a huge question mark over them, and WWE won’t risk exposing her too soon – could this mean stringing things out further until and having result from the Elimination Chamber clarify the picture?
Ever since the close of this week’s Royal Rumble, Ronda Rousey has been the name on every wrestling fan’s lips.
While we were made to wait for her in-ring debut, the segment at the end of the women’s Rumble match was more than enough to whet the appetite and start thinking about who she could face on the grandest stage of them all.
Despite an announcement on Monday confirming Rousey had signed a full-time contract with WWE, the fact she did not feature in person on last night’s RAW will only fuel speculation.
Following the Rumble the two names that jump out as obvious opponents would be Charlotte Flair, and Stephanie McMahon – and she has history with both.
We all know what went down with Rousey and McMahon at Wrestlemania 31, and the prospect of that conflict being reignited is intriguing.
Stephanie, however, is now 41-years-old, and hasn’t featured in a match since 2014 so the chances of her taking on a wrestling novice on the company’s biggest night of the year must be pretty slim.
Stephanie teaming with husband Triple H, to take on Rousey and The Rock – Wrestlemania 31 all over again – would be incredible, but a lot of stars would need to align for that to come off.
Which leads us to Charlotte.
First the background. Rousey is a well-known wrestling super fan, listing Roddy Piper as the man she got her ‘Rowdy’ nickname from.
In her MMA days, she headed up a group of fighting friends who labelled themselves the Four Horsewomen – a clear hat-tip to the Four Horsemen famously fronted by Charlotte’s father, and wrestling royalty Ric Flair.
Charlotte, along with Bayley, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch would also display the famous four-finger salute in their NXT days.
This all led to a backstage confrontation between Rousey and Flair and co at the Mae Young Classic, when then Rowdy one was in attendance to support fellow Horsewoman-turned-wrestler Shayna Bayzler.
And this takes us to Sunday.
With RAW’s Auska having won the women’s Rumble, the natural thing would have seen her challenge current champ Alexa Bliss. In the same way Shinsuke Nakamura challenged fellow Smackdown star AJ Style following his win in the men’s event.
This would have left the door wide open for a Rousey/Flair showdown that would be box-office.
As we know, this didn’t happen so ambiguity reigns supreme. And that’s how the WWE would like it.
Even down to how someone runs their Instagram account.
First she posted a picture of her and Auska with the caption ‘Streaks are meant to be broken.’
So Auska switches to Smackdown and challenges Flair for the strap? Leaving the door open for Rousey to take on McMahon, or even RAW champ Bliss?
She later followed up with a pic of herself and Rousey, this time with ‘The @WWE Women’s division is where EVERY woman in sports and entertainment wants to be. Congratulations to every woman in the #RoyalRumble Match and @WWEAsuka for her victory. And as for @RondaRousey…. #ToBeTheWoman’
That last hashtag is the key. Taken from a famous line from Flair senior, who would command: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.’
So Charlotte/Rousey is back on, and Bliss takes on the winner of the freshly announced women’s Elimination Chamber?
That would make more sense, but unless Rousey rocks up on Smackdown tonight the wait for a little clarity is sure to continue.
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.