Ronda Rousey shined in her WWE debut, and finally shed her dark UFC past

On Sunday, the old Ronda Rousey, the woman the MMA world came to know so well, was back.

It wasn’t so much her performance Sunday in a tag team match at “WrestleMania 34” in New Orleans as she partnered with Kurt Angle to defeat Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, though wrestling fans seemed to love it.

No, it was more that she seemed like the Rousey who had rocketed to fame during a dominant run in MMA.

Since she unexpectedly lost to Holly Holm at UFC 193 on Nov. 14, 2015, in Melbourne, Australia, Rousey’s public countenance has mostly been to scowl, hide her face or somehow seem angry at the world.

Being a celebrity is no easy task, and it has to wear on even the most patient souls. Rousey, though, far too often came off as bitter, ungrateful and a sore loser. She returned to Los Angeles from Melbourne with nothing to be ashamed of, given how hard she’d competed even when it was clear she was being outclassed on that night.

14 PHOTOS
Ronda Rousey through the years
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Ronda Rousey through the years
SAN JOSE, CA - JUNE 5: Ronda Rousey (in blue) competes with Grace Jividen in their 63 kg match during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Judo on June 5, 2004 at the San Jose State University Event Center in San Jose, California. In winning Rousey made the US Olympic team. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - APRIL 01: Ronda Rousey of the USA happily displays her first World Cup gold medal during the Fighting Films Birmingham Women's World Cup on Saturday, April 01, 2006 at the National Indoor Arena, Birmingham, England, UK. (Photo by David Finch/Getty Images)
CHICAGO - APRIL 14: Martial artist Ronda Rousey poses for a portrait during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Media Summitt at the Palmer House Hilton on April 14, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
United States Ronda Rousey (blue) and Germany's Annett Boehm compete in their women's -70kg judo bronze medal match of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 13, 2008 in Beijing. US Ronda Rousey won the bronze medal. AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
US Ronda Rousey poses with her bronze medal on the podium for the women's -70kg judo competition of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games on August 13, 2008 in Beijing. Japan's Masae Ueno won the gold, Cuba's Anaysi Hernandez won the silver, US Ronda Rousey and Netherlands Edith Bosch won the bronze medals. AFP PHOTO / OLIVIER MORIN (Photo credit should read OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 11: Ronda Rousey poses for a portrait on August 11, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kari Hubert/Zuffa LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Fighter Ronda Rousey attends the UFC On FOX: Live Heavyweight Championship held at the Honda Center on November 12, 2011 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OHIO - MARCH 2, 2012: Ronda Rousey weighs in during the Strikeforce Tate v Rousey official weigh in at Columbus Convention Center on March 2, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 03: Ronda Rousey prepares to walk to the cage for her bantamweight championship fight with Miesha Tate during the Strikeforce event at Nationwide Arena on March 3, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 03: Ronda Rousey stands in her corner before facing Miesha Tate during their bantamweight championship fight during the Strikeforce event at Nationwide Arena on March 3, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Esther Lin/Forza LLC/Forza LLC via Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 12: UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey of the United States holds an open workout for fans and media at Federation Square on November 12, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Amanda Nunes (right) lands a punch to the face of Ronda Rousey during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
December 30, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Ronda Rousey reacts following her TKO defeat against Amanda Nunes during UFC 207 at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
LAS VEGAS, NV - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon, MMA fighter Ronda Rousey and WWE Executive Vice President of Talent, Live Events and Creative Paul 'Triple H' Levesque appear on the red carpet of the WWE Mae Young Classic on September 12, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for WWE)
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Many others would have been out long before she was, but she kept pushing the pace trying to win against Holm until the now-famous head kick ended the match.

Rousey became a recluse, coming off the plane with her hood up, large sunglasses on and a pillow shoved in her face. It was as if she couldn’t accept a loss, even though she competes in a sport where it’s pretty much inevitable that one will lose. There are so many ways to win – and lose – in MMA that it happens to everyone.

When it was her turn, she couldn’t seem to accept it. And time didn’t heal those wounds. When she returned to fight Amanda Nunes 13 months later at UFC 207, she did so on the condition she didn’t need to speak to the media, as if the media had somehow done her wrong.

Of course there was some negativity, but Rousey always had the best of it and had received largely glowing media attention. Even after the Holm loss, when she agreed to go to the Marine Corps ball with a Marine who had asked her out online, the coverage was flattering toward her.

When Rousey drove an RV to South Dakota to support protesters at the Dakota Pipeline, the media coverage was flattering.

She clearly didn’t see it that way, though. Something was bothering her. She was snarky and not at all pleasant doing a series of interviews at ESPN to promote her appearance in “WrestleMania.”

But Sunday, she performed on the big stage like she’d so often performed in the Octagon. She rose to the moment and was the star she’d been in the UFC. She smiled, the crowd roared and she was far better than anyone could have expected in her debut.

She’ll do for the WWE what she had done for the UFC from 2013 through 2016 – was it that brief? – when she became the face of MMA and the biggest star in the sport.

She was not only a great and dominant fighter who had a streak of three matches in 2014 and 2015 in which she needed a combined 64 seconds to defeat Alexis Davis (16 seconds), Cat Zingano (14 seconds) and Bethe Correia (34 seconds), but she was a terrific interview who gave thoughtful and well-phrased answers to questions.

Her fame as a fighter led to extraordinary opportunities outside the ring. She appeared in several major films, wrote a New York Times best-selling book about her life and became a regular on major talk shows. “Good Morning America” cared enough about her that the UFC broke the news of one of her fights on it.

34 PHOTOS
Professional wrestling through the years
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Professional wrestling through the years
Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura (R) argues with wrestler "Triple H" as he referees the championship match of the World Wrestling Federation's (WWF) SummerSlam event at Target Center in Minneapolis, August 22. Jesse "The Body" Ventura is a former wrestler and commentator for the WWF. He has donated his $100,000 payment for refereeing to charity but is expected to make up to one million dollars in royalty payments from the Pay-Per-View event. EM/HB
NEW YORK, NY - 1987: Randy 'Macho Man' Savage signals number one during his WWF match with Sika circa 1987 at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
383804 01: The Rock And Stone Cold Steve Austin Star In 'Wwf Smackdown.' (Photo By Getty Images)
1985: Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat wrestles with Don 'The Magnificent' Muarco during their WWF match circa 1985. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
Former heavyweight boxing champion champion Mike Tyson (R) approaches World Wrestling Federation star wrestler "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (C) as he is held by opponent Shawn Michaels (L) during a promotional appearance in Boston's Government Center, March 26. Tyson kissed Austin rather than hit him when he reached the wrestler. Tyson will appear with Michaels and Austin in the WWF's "Wrestlemania XIV" broadcast live from Boston's Fleetcenter, March 29. TYSON
1987: Randy 'Macho Man' Savage poses for a portrait before his WWF match circa 1987. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON -- Pictured: (l-r) Professional wrestler Hulk Hogan during an interview with host Johnny Carson on June 15, 1982 -- (Photo by: Jospeh Del Valle/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
1987: Randy 'Macho Man' Savage lies on the mat bloodied with Ricky 'The Dragon' Steamboat during their WWF steel cage match circa 1987. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, UNITED STATES: Minnesota Governor and former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura (L) is adorned with his former trademarks, sequined sunglasses and a feather boa, by wrestler Chyna during a press conference at the Target Center in Minneapolis, MN 14 June 1999 where he announced that he will return to the ring as guest referee in the SummerSlam wrestling event 22 August 1999 in Minneapolis. Governor Ventura said that 'There's no rule that says a governor can't have fun. There's no rule that says a governor on his own time can't be a human.' AFP PHOTO/CRAIG LASSIG (Photo credit should read CRAIG LASSIG/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 09: WWF reigning Women's Champion Sable signs autographs at Irwin Toys showroom at 1115 Broadway (Photo by Robert Rosamilio/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO - JULY 12: New cruiserweight champion Rey Mysterio Jr acknowledges the crowd after defeating Jericho during the WWE Bash at the Beach event at Cox Arena in San Diego, California on July 12, 1998. (Photo by Elsa /Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: World Wrestling Federation (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
CANADA - DECEMBER 28: Seka (above) is big 'n mean; but when Ricky (The Dragon) Steamboat is hot there are few foes in the World Wrestling Federation who can take the heat. At right; Seka feels the The Dragon's wrath; much to the satisfaction of Maple Leaf Gardens fans; below. (Photo by Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
New York - JANUARY 1 : WWF Wrestler (L) Jacques Rougeau puts a drop kick on Smash of Demolition during a WWF match on January 1,1988 at Nassau Coliseum in New York, New York. (Photo by: B Bennett/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 17: World Wrestling Federation (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
370782 03: World Wrestling Federation's Wrestler Rock Poses June 12, 2000 In Los Angeles, Ca. (Photo By Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 18: World Wrestling Entertainment Wrestlers Kurt Angle (L) and Triple H attend a media conference announcing the all-star lineup of WWE WrestleMania XIX at ESPN Zone in Times Square March 18, 2003 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images)
WWE Owner Vincent Kennedy McMahon (c) flanked by superstars The Undertaker (l) and Brock Lesnar (r) (Photo by Simon Galloway - EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - DECEMBER 2: (U.S. TABLOIDS OUT) WWE wrestlers Rey Mysterio (in gold) and Chris Jericho perform on stage during the '1st Annual Video Game Awards' at the MGM Grand Garden Arena December 2, 2003 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The show premieres on Spike T.V. Thursday, December 4 at 9:00PM ET/PT. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 31: Big Pappa Pump celebrates victory over Test during the WWE Raw Aggression Tour event at Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne Park July 31, 2003 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
HOUSTON - APRIL 05: Triple H retains the WWE Championship belt after defeating Randy Orton at 'WrestleMania 25' at the Reliant Stadium on April 5, 2009 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/WireImage)
HOUSTON - APRIL 05: Triple H hits Randy Orton with a sledgehammer during their WWE Championship match at 'WrestleMania 25' at the Reliant Stadium on April 5, 2009 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/WireImage)
HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 5: (L-R) Actor Mickey Rourke celebrates with Ric Flair after beating WWE Superstar Chris Jericho during WrestleMania 25 at Reliant Stadium on April 5, 2009 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bill Olive/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 31: General view of the WWE Monday Night Raw Supershow Halloween event at the Philips Arena on October 31, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 31: CM Punk attends the WWE Monday Night Raw Supershow Halloween event at the Philips Arena on October 31, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 31: Big Show attends the WWE Monday Night Raw Supershow Halloween event at the Philips Arena on October 31, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 31: Big Show and Alberto Del Rio battle during their WWE match at the WWE Monday Night Raw Supershow Halloween event at the Philips Arena on October 31, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Moses Robinson/Getty Images)
A moment of the show during the WWE Live in Turin. (Photo by Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
A athletic position during the wrestling match of WWElive in Turin (Photo by Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
Alberto Del Rio in a moment of the show during the WWE Live in Turin. (Photo by Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
John Cena in a moment of the show during the WWE Live in Turin. (Photo by Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto) (Photo by NurPhoto/Corbis via Getty Images)
Wrestlers fight during a show at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris, as part of the WrestleMania Revenge Tour, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) European tour, on April 22, 2016. / AFP / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Wrestlers Ryback and Kalisto fight during a show at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris, as part of the WrestleMania Revenge Tour, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) European tour, on April 22, 2016. / AFP / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Roman gestures during the WWE show at Zenith Arena on may 09, 2017 in Lille, France. / AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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Perhaps doing all of that was too much, and it wore on her. She’s only human and the demands on her time were extraordinary.

Whatever, she wasn’t the same person publicly after losing to Holm as she had been prior.

Until Sunday, when it seemed like the old Rousey had returned. After the bout, she spoke to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, and she finally seemed at peace with her defeats in the UFC.

“I thought I would never say this, but I’m so happy I lost those [final UFC] fights because it led me here,” Rousey told Shelburne.

She doesn’t owe anyone a thing, of course. No one is forced to do interviews. Her stance toward the media, and ergo her fans, was difficult to grasp given how accessible she was during the good times, only to change 180 degrees with one defeat.

If landing in the WWE and fulfilling a long-time dream of becoming a professional wrestler has made her happy and at peace, it’s great for her.

Sunday was then like a transition. She’d never addressed her losses and assiduously avoided talking about the UFC after she’d been beaten. It was like she filmed a cliffhanger movie and then refused to show the denouement.

But whatever weights were on her shoulders were lifted after she looked happy and in her element at “WrestleMania” on Sunday.

With that match and her words afterward, it’s as if her MMA career is finally allowed to be committed to history. She’ll be remembered as a trailblazer, a pioneer and, yes, one of the greatest and most popular fighters of all-time.

She has moved on. MMA has moved on. Stars such as Amanda Nunes, Rose Namajunas, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Valentina Shevchenko and Julianna Pena have emerged in her absence.

The challenge for any celebrity is to withstand the test of time. Rousey was a huge hit in her WWE debut.

With the pressure of feeling she needed to carry the women’s division in MMA finally removed from her back, she can now go about trying to help the women in WWE the way she did her ex-peers in the UFC.

And MMA fans can enjoy her matches without ever having to wonder if, or when, she’s coming back.

Ronda Rousey is a full-time wrestler now, and finally, MMA fans can embrace her in the WWE with no qualms.

The next stage of the Rousey Legend has begun, and it’s sure to be as entertaining as the first.

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