Why Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey’s WrestleMania alliance is an even bigger deal than you think
We live in an absurdly fast-paced world. The rapid rate at which we consume media makes almost everything we take in — news, music, sports — feel a bit less special as a result. Bearing that in mind, a quick word of advice: Don’t take Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle teaming up at WrestleMania 34 for granted.
In a landscape where hyperbole runs rampant, especially on social media, the partnership of Rousey and Angle can actually not be overstated. Nothing like it has ever been seen in sports-entertainment or sports at large. It is two transcendent athletes joining together on The Grandest Stage of Them All. Both rose to prominence in Olympic competition, only to cross over into different sports and somehow become even more successful and bigger stars for it.
Angle revitalized Olympic wrestling in the United States during the 1990s. When he won the gold medal in Heavyweight Freestyle Wrestling at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta (the first American to do so since 1984), he put the final cap on an amateur career that saw him amass virtually every accolade possible in the sport. Angle’s Olympic victory would’ve become legendary under any circumstances, but when you factor in that he overcame Iran’s Abbas Jadidi in the Gold Medal Match with a broken (freaking) neck, it’s now rightly remembered as one of the most magical and improbable victories in Olympic history.
However, for as incredible as Angle’s path to claim gold in 1996 was, Rousey’s showing in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing was truly unprecedented. Rousey became the first female American judoka to ever medal in the Games, winning the bronze in the Women’s Middleweight division. Rousey’s bronze was particularly meaningful because she fulfilled the destiny that her mother, legendary judoka AnnMaria De Mars, could not. De Mars was never given the chance to compete for a medal due to Women’s Judo not being introduced to the Olympics until well after she had retired from the sport.
Angle and Rousey both could have easily rested on their laurels following their ascension to becoming real-life American heroes, but neither The Wrestling Machine nor The Baddest Woman on The Planet were willing to stay stagnant. Instead, Angle went on to become one of the most natural — and flat-out greatest — performers in WWE history, and Rousey forged ahead to become a sports icon of unfathomable proportions as she entered into Mixed Martial Arts.
Angle, a four-time WWE Champion who also captured the World, WCW and IWGP Heavyweight Titles, held every championship available during his WWE career, becoming a Grand Slam club member and then some. Rousey shot out of the gates in MMA, amassing an undefeated record en route to becoming the first-ever UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion, winning six consecutive title fights in which her opponent only once made it out of the first round, routinely picking up victories in under a minute.
Angle became synonymous with the Ankle Lock — a move that would become known as the Angle Lock — while Rousey became known for her devastating Armbar, with both maneuvers making their opposition tap quicker than Fred Astaire in his prime.
Kurt’s legacy paved the way for other amateur wrestlers to foray into the world of sports-entertainment, most notably the likes of Brock Lesnar and Shelton Benjamin. The Olympic Hero was the first athlete of the modern era to make the transition from the amateur to professional ranks and prove that it was possible to be ultra-successful, washing away any stigmas that the leap carried with it.
Ronda’s legacy within MMA goes well beyond the sport itself. In many ways, it’s probably still far too early for the impact she had to be fully absorbed or dissected. “Rowdy” Ronda became a cultural phenomenon and a role model for women everywhere. The “once in human history” athlete’s utter dominance created a tangible uprising that was impossible to ignore. “Hot Ronda” became the smoke signal that finally made the world take notice — of her, women’s MMA and women’s sports overall. Her influence knew no bounds; thus, her fingerprints were all over the Women’s Evolution in WWE long before she arrived at Royal Rumble 2018. They are going to teach Ronda Rousey in schools someday.
And that’s why we cannot allow ourselves to think that this pairing is somehow just a neat surprise or a logical fit. No, when this ultimate dream team takes on The Authority at WrestleMania, it will be the very first of its kind. Two sports and pop culture megastars uniting at the event that has united sports and popular culture since its inception in 1985. It’s going to be history. And amazing. And unthinkable. And yeah, we’d best appreciate seeing these two together for the next five weeks on Raw.
So, on the night of April 8, know that you got a steal. Whether you threw down $9.99 for WWE Network or shelled out the price of admission to be there live in The Big Easy, it was money well spent. It will be a school night, but wake the kids when Rousey and Angle begin to make the walk down the ramp. Tell them to put all the devices down; they can wait on those 280 characters or doing it for the Gram. As Rousey and Angle face off against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, urge them to fixate their eyes squarely on The Show of Shows so that they can properly take in every nanosecond of what they’re about to see … they will need to relay this to your grandchildren someday, after all.
What they’ll witness is a WrestleMania moment not to be taken for granted. One unlike any that’s come before it, and a team that, more than likely, they will never see anything quite like again.