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Rousey's WWE deal gets ex-UFC star back in bright spotlight

PHILADELPHIA - (AP) -- Ronda Rousey stayed silent as she pointed from the ring toward the WrestleMania logo that hung in the rafters.

Without saying a word, the MMA great made clear she was signaling her wrestling debut at WWE's signature event. Rousey wants her WrestleMania moment -- and she'll get one in April.

She's already mastered one aspect of pro wrestling booking: the swerve. She tried to fool to fans that she would not appear in Sunday's Royal Rumble in Philadelphia with social media posts from a movie set Colombia. Rousey, who has a role in the action thriller "Mile 22," also lied to TMZ at an airport last week when she said she would not return home from filming until February.

But as the Royal Rumble wound down with winner Asuka celebrating in the ring and flanked by WWE champions Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair, Rousey's "Bad Reputation" theme song blared through the arena, sending fans scurrying back to their seats.

The "Rowdy" one is now a full-fledged WWE star.

Though she refused to officially call it quits on an MMA career, she's all but had her last fight for UFC, the promotion that made her a box office superstar, generating endorsement deals that made her a household name beyond combat sports.

Up next, her future will be addressed on WWE's flagship "Raw" show in Philadelphia on Monday night and then she'll save the April 8 date in New Orleans for WrestleMania.

"This has been a dream of mine since before I could talk and was trying to say Hulk Hogan," Rousey told WWE.com . "This has been a dream of mine since I started MMA and I asked 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper if I could have his name. This has been a dream of mine since me and all my girlfriends, all we would do every night is sit around and watch wrestling together."

The Rousey-wrestling tag team should be a big win for both parties.

Rousey hasn't fought since she suffered a 48-second loss to Amanda Nunes and made a $3 million purse at UFC 207 in December 2016. She stayed in the spotlight to some degree with small roles in movies and a stint as team coach in the reboot of "Battle of the Network Stars."

There's only so much advice one can offer Tootie, Potsie and Six before there are diminishing returns on the interest level of a former UFC fighter.

Now, the 30-year-old Rousey can now stay relevant and marketable in the cartoon world of fake fights without throwing a real punch. While very real injuries still occur on the scripted shows, Rousey can have more control of her physical activity in a choreographed environment.

The deal was an instant smash. Rousey's appearance generated headlines on celebrity and news websites all over the world.

Jason Powell, editor of ProWrestling.net, said it'll still be tough to get UFC fans to follow her to WWE.

"That said, she appealed to more than just the hardcore UFC viewers, so if they can get the more casual viewers who were ordering her fights to make the switch then they will have something," Powell said.

WWE, which reported revenue of $186.4 million and profits of $21.8 million for the third quarter, is banking on Rousey to boost sagging ratings and network subscriptions. WWE said at its 2014 launch it could have between 2 million and 4 million subscribers at $9.99 a month. The company announced about 1.5 million paid subscribers as of Sept. 30, 2017. WWE releases its next set of numbers on Feb. 8.

WWE's 25th anniversary episode last week of "Raw" drew averaged 4.53 million viewers for the three-hour show -- the biggest audience for an episode since March 30, 2015. Rousey could build on that viewership.

Her long-term contract comes at a critical time for WWE. The company's TV rights are up in 2019 and Sports Business Journal reported WWE executives have already met with networks and digital companies, including, Fox, CBS and Amazon. WWE will make around $180 million from its NBC deal in 2017, SBJ said, and the exclusive negotiating window ends in the spring.

How many networks would like to roll out Rousey at the upfronts?

WWE declined to make Rousey or any executives such as chief negotiator Paul "Triple H" Levesque available for interviews on Monday. UFC President Dana White said Rousey will never fight again for the company.

The former UFC bantamweight champion said she's not just planning cameos at big events.

So how to use her?

Rousey notably stood side-by-side with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as they fought off the villainous Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a segment at WrestleMania in 2015.

Rousey also appeared at WWE's Mae Young Classic with three of her "Four Horsewomen" stablemates and confronted three of WWE's top women wrestlers. WWE has pushed female athletes worthy of equal billing as the men the last couple of years and now has enough talent to give them spots in traditional men's matches such as Hell in a Cell and Sunday's first women's Royal Rumble.

WWE wrestler Bayley said more women have flourished with the promotion's developmental system, NXT, introduced by Levesque.

"Finally when NXT wrestlers finally started joining WWE, we were all able to put it together and make magic," she said. "It's been a long time coming. They've been waiting for a women's revolution."

Rousey could lead her Horsewomen again or resume her rivalry with Triple H and McMahon and call up The Rock to make good on a tag-team bout. The Rock and Rousey share an agent, creating the possibility of a big-money match.

The 45-year-old Johnson last wrestled in a competitive match against John Cena at WrestleMania in 2013.

"There's a lot of ways to market Ronda Rousey. I think her love of the wrestling business and the sizzle that comes with it for WWE is something she's very interested in," veteran WWE announcer Jim Ross said . "I don't think it's a payday issue as much as it's a new adventure."

New York Sports