PHILADELPHIA — Ronda Rousey has ditched UFC for WWE.
Once the most dangerous women in MMA, Rousey officially made the anticipated jump to WWE on Sunday night with a surprise appearance at the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia.
The former UFC bantamweight champion also told ESPN that she’s fully committed to wrestling and not just planning cameos at WWE’s biggest events.
"This is my life now. Yeah, they have first priority on my time for the next several years," she said. "This is not a smash and grab, this is not a publicity stunt."
Rousey appeared to roaring fans Sunday night after the women’s Royal Rumble in Philadelphia, and pointed to a WrestleMania sign — scheduled for New Orleans in April — as Joan Jett’s "Bad Reputation" blared through the arena.
Rousey smiled when Royal Rumble winner Asuka slapped her hand away on an offer for a handshake. Rousey left the ring and walked over to WWE executive and Royal Rumble commentator Stephanie McMahon. Rousey shook hands with McMahon and left without saying a word. She slapped hands with fans at ringside.
Rousey fed into the surprise with a little misdirection before one of wrestling’s biggest pay-per-view events of the year. Before getting in the ring, she had ruled out an appearance at the Royal Rumble in an interview and even posted an Instagram video over the weekend of herself in Colombia enjoying a night out with the crew filming her latest movie, the action thriller "Mile 22" with Mark Wahlberg and John Malkovich.
Still, she had frequently met with WWE executive Paul Levesque, better known as wrestling superstar Triple H, to discuss her interest in a deal that finally came to fruition.
She has not fought since she suffered a 48-second loss to Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 in December 2016. Rousey (12-2) lost two straight bouts in 13 months and took a break to extend her entertainment credits, including a stint as team coach in the reboot of "Battle of the Network Stars."
WWE fans have been clamouring for Rousey to make the move and speculation (correctly) ran wild on a Royal Rumble appearance at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Rousey has made cameo appearances on WWE programming the last few years and even trained at the company’s performance centre in Orlando, Florida.
It’s unclear whether Rousey plans to fully give up on the UFC and mixed martial arts, and she would not commit to saying she’s retired when asked directly by ESPN.
"That’s what everybody else seems to say — I mean, I never retired from judo. So that’s what you guys want to think," she said. "All I know is I really want to devote 100 per cent of my time to wrestling right now and whatever people want to call that they can call it."
UFC President Dana White said Rousey will never fight again for the company, and Rousey said she hasn’t followed MMA in the past year.
Rousey adopted the "Rowdy" nickname from WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. She wore a "Hot Rod" shirt to the ring Sunday at the Royal Rumble.
Rousey notably stood side-by-side with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as they fought off the villainous Triple H and McMahon in a segment at WrestleMania in 2015.
Rousey also appeared at WWE’s Mae Young Classic. Rousey and fellow MMA fighters Marina Shafir, Shayna Baszler and Jessamyn Duke were known as the Four Horsewomen — a tribute to the nefarious Ric Flair-led Four Horsemen stable of the 1980s and ’90s. Baszler now wrestles for WWE, and the rest of the Horsewomen stable confronted WWE stars Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Bayley at the female wrestling tournament.
"Name the time. Name the place," Rousey told the WWE stars in a tense standoff.
Rousey could lead her Horsewomen against a WWE faction at WrestleMania on April 8.
"I think with her main eventing in UFC, she obviously opened the door for us to be taken more serious as superstars," said Flair, daughter of WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair. "It’s one thing to show up one night. It’s another be a WWE superstar. I’m on the road with all the other girls, all the men and women who are on the road 270 days a year. We bust our butts to be called WWE superstars.
"She’ll have to put in the work if she wants to be a part of what we do."
The best scenario for WWE could be Rousey being used sparingly and steamrolling every opponent, much like she did early in her MMA career to earn the reputation as the Baddest Woman on the Planet.
"Ronda Rousey should go out there and just smash everybody. Ronda Rousey’s matches should look like her early UFC career where she was out there for a minute, 2 minutes, just submitting everybody," UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier said.