MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – Did WWE Make a Mistake by Signing Ronda Rousey? The Winner’s Curse…

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Welcome back to the pro wrestling column that Mr. Tito built exclusively here at LordsofPain.net / WrestlingHeadlines.com. Holy cow, Wrestlemania 34 is just around the corner and the REAL QUESTION now is “what match will be the final match of the show (i.e. the Main Event)?”. Obviously, candidate #1 is Vince McMahon’s DREAM of finally putting over Roman Reigns against Brock Lesnar. To avoid this match’s reaction blowing the rest of the show out of the water, John Cena vs. Undertaker might be a good idea to go on last. However, there is legitimate discussions backstage at WWE production meetings about placing Triple H/Stephanie McMahon vs. Kurt Angle/Ronda Rousey on last as the legitimate main event?

Why would a mixed tag match headline Wrestlemania? Well, you have to respect Triple H vs. Kurt Angle… That match, ALONE, would be interesting to headline any show. But the real reason why this mixed tag match could headline is because of Ronda Rousey.

She was WWE’s prized signing for 2018 with the hope that her ability draw for Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will translate into automatic drawing power for the WWE. The thinking is that she’ll become a “female Brock Lesnar” but in fairness to Brock Lesnar, he was a WWE superstar from 2002-2004 and was actually a member of the WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental system as being trained by Jim Cornette and Danny Davis, veterans of the business. A potentially better comparison could be to Ken Shamrock or Dan Severn who tried to become full-time WWE wrestlers after their UFC tenure (I’m aware that Ken Shamrock tried pro wrestling before UFC).

Question, though, regarding Ronda Rousey is “how much is the WWE paying her per year?”

By comparison, the WWE paid Brock Lesnar $5 million per year from 2012-2015 and have been paying him $3 million per year for 2015-2018 (contracts expire after Wrestlemania). I’ve tried to ask Dave Meltzer a few times for details and he never responded. The only details that I’ve seen by scanning news sites is that her deal requires her to work more dates than Lesnar but only television and Pay Per Views. If Rousey is able to skip the houseshow circuit, then she is already seeing more perks than most WWE wrestlers on the roster. Reviewing several news stories regarding salaries, there does not exist a female performer in the Top 10 list for highest paid wrestlers. From what I could find, it appears that Nikki Bella was once the highest paid female but was well under $1 million as a downside guarantee followed by Natalya, Paige, and then Charlotte Flair.

Ronda Rousey went into a lengthy period for negotiations… She did NOT start out with NXT like much of the “Divas Revolution” talent who took much lower salaries to work the developmental system and might still be locked into those contracts. The fact that she “negotiated” her WWE job tells me that an agent was involved and concessions were made such as bigger Pay Per View payouts and larger cuts of merchandise using her name. WWE needed some outside star power, notably with the threat of Brock Lesnar leaving. It is safe to assume that something between $1 million to $3 million is in place as a guarantee with performance and merchandise bonuses on top of that. That, and I wouldn’t doubt that a WWE Films project could be in place?

So if the WWE is paying her millions, which would make her to become the FIRST female to draw that salary… Was she worth it? And no, I’m not talking about her gender… If you can draw, you can draw. She was a former top star in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and you can easily see that with HUGE buyrate numbers for the last 3 shows that she headlined (MMAPayout.com as my source):

UFC 190: 900,000
UFC 193: 1,100,000
UFC 207: 1,100,000

UFC 207 was her last UFC fight and UFC Pay Per Views have yet to draw above 1,000,000 Pay Per View buys ever since. In fairness, Conor McGregor has not appeared on Pay Per Views since as well as he ventured into Boxing. McGregor has the ability to break 1.3 million buys…

Her last fight at UFC 207 was on December 30th, 2016 and between that and when she joined the WWE… What did she do during 2017?

And that’s what I want to discuss in today’s column… Can we consider Ronda Rousey a successful cog in the UFC machine and that WWE possibly overpaid for her? Or quite possibly, did her brand diminish after enduring 2 straight tough losses and her reaction to those losses? So far, we’re not seeing any ratings “pop” for her appearances on RAW despite being placed in a high profile feud for Wrestlemania. In fact, the RAW where she didn’t appear has drawn the strongest of the Rumble to Wrestlemania season.

But first, let’s discuss an economic theory… During September 2005, I wrote possibly my best column of all time regarding Viacom‘s television contract with WWE during the year 2000 titled Winner’s Curse – Did Viacom Make a Bad Investment in the WWE. There, I discussed how Viacom may have overpaid for the WWE’s television contract during the year 2000. As you’ll recall, the WWE made the jump from USA Networks to Viacom’s TNN Network which would be revised to SpikeTV. This was a major financial deal and I argued that, in hindsight, that Viacom overpaid for a declining product. If you look at ratings data during the year 2000, viewership numbers began to drop quickly following Wrestlemania 16. Here are the average ratings:

April 2000: 6.6
May 2000: 6.6
June 2000: 6.2
July 2000: 6.0
August 2000: 5.8
September 2000: 5.3

Viewership numbers were trending down in the aftermath of Wrestlemania 16 and the promotion still had the Undertaker and Stone Cold Steve Austin returning soon. Didn’t matter… WWE had peaked in viewership through May 2000 as the numbers show. Yet, Viacom didn’t see this early trend and overpaid for the WWE’s television rights. In fairness to Viacom, even with the WWE’s declining viewership through the time that the TNN/SpikeTV deal began, it was still the highest rated television show on Cable by a margin and they made money off of the deal.

Point is regarding the Winner’s Curse economic term which I first heard about taking an “Economics of Sports” elective class when I was in college. Specifically, that course talked about one television network overpaying for Major League Baseball one time and another overpaying for the Olympics. They didn’t project the trends that were suggesting viewership declines during their tenures and the expected advertisement money didn’t arrive as expected. If you look at Viacom, not only did they fail to anticipate WWE’s viewership decline but also the damage done by the Parents Television Council (PTC) to advertisers. The PTC was a conservative television group that challenged networks regarding ideal content and heavily criticized UPN for hosting WWE Smackdown on Thursday Night’s primetime line-up. They soon began going after WWE’s advertisers and one-by-one, they left the WWE and cost them and Viacom lots of money. In the end, it cost WWE more money long-term because ad rates went down or just didn’t grow as expected because of this trouble. Hey, does “going after advertisers” sound familiar these days? PTC was well ahead of its time and the WWE actually sued them for damages.

Winner’s Curse, according to most economics texts, is defined as a winner of an auction who may outbid others for a particular asset, despite having incomplete information, and later learns that the value of that asset was lower than expected. In the case of Viacom during 2000, they outbid NBC/Universal for the rights to host WWE while not anticipating the major viewership declines to come, the PTC advertiser attacks, and wrestling as an overall brand beginning to decline. After all, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) were on the brink of destruction by late 2000. You also had a looming Economic Recession, too, for 2001 that also had a hand. Furthermore, WWE’s Creative Team was about to see a major change with Stephanie McMahon becoming lead writer by late 2000.

So how does the Winner’s Curse apply to the WWE as it relates to their signing of Ronda Rousey?

Because the brand of Ronda Rousey since late 2016 has declined.

Consider the following facts:

(a) She did not return to UFC. One could suggest that she didn’t want to return to UFC but her last 2 appearances on UFC shows pulled in over 1,000,000 buys. But 2 straight losses is a sign of something and maybe the issue was that Dana White would no longer let her headline?

(b) Hollywood roles… Not drawing. Expendables 3 did less than $40 Million in North America which was, by far, the worst of the franchise. Then, she had a heavily promoted appearance in the Entourage film which only did under $33 million in North America. You could give me Furious 7 but that was the 7th installment of the Fast & the Furious franchise. After those roles, there really isn’t much on the schedule to be released soon. Nothing worked on during 2017, the year she had off between UFC and WWE.

(c) Did not take UFC losses well, at all. Telling Ellen during 2016 following her first UFC loss, “Honestly … I was sitting in the corner [of the post-fight medical room] and was like, ‘What am I anymore if I’m not this?’ I was literally sitting there thinking about killing myself.” Then after her 48 second loss to Amanda Nunes, which stills of her taking punches were turned into internet memes, she quickly exited the arena without taking any interviews. In the past few weeks, she has been salty with any sportscaster trying to bring up those losses.

I believe that it’s point (c) that is the most damaging of her brand. She took those UFC losses HARD and that was after UFC pushed her as the face of their brand. After all, they didn’t see Women’s MMA fighting as much of a draw for their promotion before Ronda Rousey began fighting for them. Suddenly, UFC had McGregor drawing strong for the men one month, Rousey drawing for the women the next. It allowed UFC to have ultimate drawing flexibility with its roster of various weight classes and genders. That and she was marketed as the “most dangerous woman” and everybody believed in that hype. Then, she lost once… Admitted that she was suicidal and then gets destroyed in her follow-up fight in 48 seconds. She has not tried a MMA fight ever since and those Hollywood roles aren’t coming along. In most cases, UFC promotes its brands over fighters… But they were shipping Rousey to many media events as something contrary to previous practices. Then, when she lost not once but twice, that house of cards dropped quickly.

WWE still sees value in her because unlike UFC, Rousey can be protected by WWE Creative and be kept from actually losing. The McMahons, notably Stephanie, is enamored with her because of the Wrestlemania 31 appearance where she joined the Rock in the ring to confront Triple H & Stephanie McMahon. Yet, Wrestlemania 31 was during late March 2015 and was actually BEFORE Ronda Rousey endured her first UFC loss during November 2015.

The biggest part, for me, is how the WWE had a growing and successful Women’s Division already in place in spite of needing any outside help from Ronda Rousey. Furthermore, it was 100% homegrown with in-ring performers and personalities that the WWE could groom to their own liking. They didn’t need agents negotiating deals and each lady was fully trained through WWE’s developmental system to be ready to perform on the main WWE roster.

Worse yet, it is WHO Ronda Rousey is facing off with first which spells doom for the future… Stephanie McMahon is seen as a bully who can actually physically handle herself against any female WWE competitor despite only having a few actual wrestling matches. Just a few years ago, she was highly competitive against Brie Bella despite Stephanie haven’t wrestled a match in long, long time and Brie Bella being a full-time performer. Stephanie is not afraid to confront any female competitor and nobody dares to challenge her physically (except Brie Bella, but she has since backed off). Thus, if Ronda quickly dispatches Stephanie at Wrestlemania 34, she already has one-up on the entire women’s roster who appear to be mostly afraid of Ronda Rousey.

Ronda is not a fully trained in-ring performer for the WWE to properly take the bumps, endure the pain of a full schedule, and also to develop chemistry with fellow wrestlers. Who has taught her psychology? While she was good at trash talking in the UFC, the WWE is a different matter. How would she react to a terrible script handed her way? Furthermore, how would she react if her scripted opponent mocks her for something, like those UFC losses?

THAT is why she’s a major gamble here… WWE already had a great Women’s wrestling division in place that had lots of homegrown talent. If you were a big fan of NXT from 2014-2016, you saw most of the female performers climb the ladder to where they are today in the WWE. With Ronda Rousey, she’s a hired gun that gets in the way of that relationship as a wrestling fan. On top of all of that, WWE immediately has her pushing around and likely defeating Stephanie McMahon. After that, what’s next? She’ll have to go against fully trained pro wrestling women and that could look bad if Rousey can’t mesh well with other performers.

When I attended Smackdown LIVE on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, PA, they had the entrances of Becky Lynch and Ruby Riott and then went to commercial. During that commercial break, the WWE Titantron aired promos for RAW regarding the Ronda Rousey/Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon/Triple H feud with Ronda getting much of the hype and focus. In the ring, I could see the body language of both Lynch and Riott to be just groaning… Becky Lynch has been wrestling since 2002 (!!) and she clawed her way to the WWE with many hurdles to jump on the way there. Ruby Riott has been a performer since 2010. Both ladies had to EARN their way to the WWE while Ronda Rousey is there due to outside celebrity causing the WWE to recruit her and probably pay Rousey a much higher salary than Lynch & Riott combined… And then some!

You’ve been pushing Asuka as being undefeated and Nia Jax as being physically dominant. Are they just pawns for Rousey to defeat or how will you have Ronda selling for them? I would question the rest of the female roster but again, they all cower to Stephanie McMahon with total fear. Thus, if Ronda dispatches of Stephanie, she is already seen as a dominant force.

Time will tell on whether the investment of Ronda Rousey is going to payoff or not. Early on, the RAW ratings are not showing favorably for Rousey. One RAW featuring Rousey in that 3rd hour dropped below 3 million viewers while the best RAW of the Rumble to Wrestlemania season didn’t have Rousey appearing live at all. Viewership data has shown Braun Strowman seeking a tag partner can draw more than a former UFC superstar in the WWE.

It all depends on how much Ronda Rousey wants to be a WWE performer and isn’t ashamed of her professional choice. I think part of her anger towards sportscasters about her past UFC losses is from a stigma that she is “settling” on WWE because she can no longer win in UFC.

If she has “settled” for the WWE because UFC won’t take her back, she doesn’t want to lose again in UFC, or if the Hollywood roles have dried up… We’re in trouble. Winner’s Curse will very much happen for the WWE.

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THE LAST WORD

If you go to any Junior Sports event these days, especially in the younger years, you’ll find that they don’t keep score. For Tee Ball or Soccer games, they often don’t keep score for kid’s games and try to get every child participating in each game despite skillset. Then, at the end of the season, everybody gets a participation trophy.

Well, WWE wrestlers are grown adults and they do NOT need participation trophies.

With that said, let’s look at a handful of Wrestlemania 34 matches:

– Andre the Giant Battle Royal
Fabulous Moolah Women’s Battle Royal
– Bludgeon Brothers vs. New Day vs. Usos
– Rusev vs. Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Bobby Roode
– The Miz vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Balor

Getting on Wrestlemania should be a reward for WWE wrestlers who had a good previous 12 months and not a participation trophy. Sure, there is lots of money to pass around as the WWE will probably make a ton of money on tickets, merchandise, advertisements, and from the city hosting the event… But why not hold it as a “brass ring” for the roster to earn?

Case and point, I’m baffled at how Jinder Mahal should get a spot on this show after a horrible 2017 that caused Smackdown to lose viewers and have some bad attendance in stretches. Then, the Bludgeon Brothers. Exactly what have they proved as a tag team? Luke Harper proved himself as a singles wrestler and in my opinion, he gave Randy Orton one of his best matches in years. But what has Erick Rowan done besides being the obvious Wyatt Family punching bag from the previous years?

And then you get into the many participants of the 2 Battle Royals. Lots of underwhelming midcarders thrown in there.

Look, I don’t want to deny paydays to wrestlers but I also want to uphold Wrestlemania in terms of quality. These multi-person matches serve as LAZY BOOKING but also not much of an incentive for performers to improve. If the Wrestlemania payout is guaranteed, why work for it? If a wrestler is OK entering Andre’s Battle Royal year after year, why improve?

I keep making this point but until you show me where Boxing or UFC has a multi-person match for titles, especially where the Champ can LOSE their title without being PINNED or TAPPING OUT… It’s a joke to book multi-person matches. It just doesn’t look credible. While in some cases the multi-person match boosts the fun factor, it can also hurt 2 wrestlers developing chemistry between each other to build a longtime rivalry. Would Rock vs. Steve Austin be great if they had other wrestlers shoved into their matches? In my opinion, Triple H vs. Rock lots its heat when they had Big Show and Mick Foley shoved into their Wrestlemania 16 match. Oh yeah, 4 McMahons, too… 3 is a Crowd while 8 is Octomom.

Wrestlemania should be a REWARD for anyone achieving certain specific developmental goals during the year. Getting denied that Wrestlemania payout could push a wrestler to improve for the next year’s show. In the end, everyone wins in the long-run. Wrestlemania improves its quality, wrestlers strive to improve, and WWE can actually pay the wrestlers making Wrestlemania MORE money for making the show. The big money pie is divided more ways if you have to pay more wrestlers appearing on the show.

SO JUST CHILL… ‘TIL THE NEXT EPISODE!

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