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31 Days of Wrestling (12/10/18): Wreck It, Rowdy (Wrestlemania 34, Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon)

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2018 produced for us.




Ronda Rousey, Olympic bronze medalist in judo, former Strikeforce Women's Bantamweight Champion, Former UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, first female UFC Champion, Armbar Aficionado...

...professional wrestler.

There's a vocal majority among the MMA fanbase that scoffs at the art of pro wrestling, dismissing it as nothing more than fake, play-fighting, and reserved only for kids. And yet what's funny is that there are numerous MMA fighters who are fans of pro wrestling, and are unashamedly vocal about it, too. 

Enter Ronda Rousey, one of the most polarizing figures in the sport of MMA. She's brash and unapologetic, and she totally doesn't give a damn about her bad reputation. She ruled her division with her mastery of Judo and her deadly proficiency with the armbar. She was at the top of her game. So when she suffered back-to-back knockout losses and eventually announced her desire to pursue professional wrestling, many fans were vocal about their opinions towards her decision. 

Despite all her accolades, all the medals and the belts that she won, the pro wrestling ring is still a different animal. Forget about a low-pressure start as well, as her first in-ring match was booked at none other than WrestleMania 34. What was everybody thinking?! Even when we factor in that she would be teaming up with a Hall of Famer in Kurt Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, it was still a daunting task for any wrestler. And this was for her debut.



But then a magical thing happened. Ronda Rousey did not suck. Yes, smarks. She was actually pretty decent in her debut match. Of course, there will be debates over this being a result of her being carried by her partner and their opponents' level of experience. But at the end of the day, Rousey really looked like she belonged in a WWE ring.

Major props do go to the other three wrestlers in the match. Her fellow Olympic medalist Kurt Angle and Triple H had an amazing reunion in the ring. It was an absolute treat seeing Angle dish out his patented suplexes over and over. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, amazing entrance and all with that motorcade, absolutely played up the tease for the Ronda tag. Time and time again, the power couple worked on Angle to keep Rousey away from facing Stephanie. But when it did finally happen, bah gawd, was it so much more fun. It's hard to see Judo in a pro wrestling ring because a good majority of the moves overlap with most other grappling arts, especially wrestling. But Rousey just makes it her own. When she does a throw, you know it's Judo.

The only gripe, the only thing that someone could ever complain about here, would have been how Stephanie McMahon was able to defend the armbar for so long. That's it. It seemed too unrealistic. With how many arms Rousey had taken in mere seconds, this should have been the death touch. But this is pro wrestling after all, and these are Stephanie McMahon's stomping grounds. Let's just chalk it up to experience.

BUT HOT DAMN, THIS MATCH WAS FUN. There were way too many spots to single out as the best, but seeing the double submission from the Olympic team was a thing of beauty. When tones of rivalries past between Angle, Triple H, and Stephanie made itself known, it showed that this match wasn't just about Rousey's debut.

In the end, the predictable finish happened. Rousey was finally able to isolate Stephanie McMahon and make her tap out to the armbar. But this match was way more than that. It was entertaining from start to finish and did not at all feel the least bit dragging. Was it the greatest match during WrestleMania? Not at all, but it was a performance that deserved its place on the card.

So what made this match special, even more so in 2018? It has to be that pro wrestling and MMA can definitely mix. They have done so for years. And yet, a vast majority of MMA fans have put blinders on whenever the topic of the art is being discussed. Rousey making the jump into the squared circle shouldn't be viewed as fleeing to safer waters, where her past opponents can't catch her anymore. 

She is a vocal fan of pro wrestling, and that shouldn't be held against her. What she chooses to do and where she chooses to place her talents should not be at the whim of fans. Lest people forget, there was someone else in that ring who did pretty much the same thing. There was someone who eventually chose to pursue a path that others in the same field turned their noses at. It was none other than her tag team partner, Kurt Angle. 

So yes, this match was a middle finger to those who laughed at her decision, and a double-flipped bird to those who made fun of where she chose to go. And she didn't care about her bad reputation.




***
31 Days of Wrestling is Smark Henry's way of celebrating the matches that helped define wrestling in 2018.

Read our previous entries:

1. Winnipeg Boys Conquer the Tokyo Dome (Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho, No DQ match for IWGP US Heavyweight title, Wrestle Kingdom 12)
2. Roman Reigns Finally Becomes Universal Champion (Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns, SummerSlam 2018)
3. The Man Is Last Woman Standing (Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch, Last Woman Standing match for SmackDown Women's title, Evolution)
4. Kenny Omega, Finally IWGP Heavyweight Champion (Kazuchika Okada vs. Kenny Omega, 2-out-of-3 Falls match, Dominion 6.9 in Osaka-jo Hall)
5. The Resurrection of Daniel Bryan (AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship, WWE SmackDown Live 11/13/18) 
6. Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa, Unsanctioned match (NXT TakeOver: New Orleans)
7. The Lightbringer Has Arrived (Ralph Imabayashi vs. Quatro for the PWR Championship, PWR Live: Homefront)
8. The First Ever Women's Royal Rumble (Royal Rumble 2018)
9. To Surpass God (Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kota Ibushi, G1 Climax 28 Finals)

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