A Year Later, Part One: Ronda Rousey Looks Back at Her WWE Debut at The Royal Rumble

LaToya Ferguson

Last year at WWE’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Ronda Rousey shocked the WWE Universe and made headlines when she made her official (and of course, surprise) debut at the end of the event.

Now, heading into her RAW Women’s Championship defense against Sasha Banks at this year’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view (January 27, on the WWE Network), RondaRousey.com spoke with “The Baddest Woman On The Planet” about her memories of that night, as well as the lead-up to it and the road so far.

Do you remember your state of mind in the days leading up to the Royal Rumble? What about the day of and the night of?

I mean, I was in the middle of filming Mile 22 at the time, and so I was pretty much stuck in the day-to-day of filming. And I was really, really focused on that, which I think probably helped a lot in that I was not just twiddling my thumbs waiting for the Royal Rumble. I’d probably make myself super nervous or, I don’t know, but I don’t think it really became real until I had to leave, and then we were in super secretive “no one can fucking see me” mode. So I had to get smuggled into Philadelphia.

And yeah, but it was kind of funny ’cause we started out the day, and I’m making clear, “Okay, super secret. No one can know this.” And then we told the greeters, we told everybody, “Make sure we got security picking me up out of my plane when we arrive in Miami.” Everything was planned, and then I would get on a charter from I think once we were in Florida to Philly, and then that would take me into the back door of the hotel, which would take me up the service elevators and take me to a room in the back and all the room service would get delivered to my security person, no one saw me, and the security would bring the food to me.

But it all was fucking planned out. We get to the airport? And the greeter’s standing there with a sign that says “Ronda Rousey” on it.

You guys should’ve thought of a code name.

Yeah, well, I do have a code name.

Is it not just you flip the Rs and it’s “Ronda Rousey” again?

No, it’s a completely different name that I’m not gonna give up… But yeah, I have a couple different aliases that I use, and I can’t give it away here ’cause then everyone will know. I’ll have to change aliases again, which has been crazy. I have had to change aliases ’cause people do catch on, but yeah, so that already fucked it up, so I grabbed the sign from the lady and I crumpled it up. “We need to be really incognito. This is the reason why I’ve got you.”

But it was a miracle no one saw me in Bogota, and then they shipped me off to Miami, and then I got picked up by the cops out of the plane with my head and my hat, hood, glasses, head down, and I really looked like somebody that got caught with drugs that they were trying to escort off.

“The Marshals are escorting you.”

Yeah, exactly, so I had my head down like I was all ashamed and shit, and they were escorting me around the airport, so nobody caught me there. I somehow got to Philly with nobody seeing me or knowing that I left Colombia and I had a couple of my castmates take different photos and videos to post throughout the day.

I remember that.

And just to throw people off more, and then it was the waiting game of it made it a little bit more .. It went from completely out of my mind because I was filming until I realized, “Holy shit, this is becoming real right now.” ‘Cause I had to sit in a hotel room and not talk to anybody and not go anywhere and pretty much just sit and think about the Royal Rumble, which is really good that there was a Planet Earth and Blue Planet marathon on that day, so that helped a lot.

And then once the day of the Royal Rumble came, I had to do the same going down the service elevators, to go into the car that was in the service entrance, and then that car met a bus somewhere at a rendezvous point, and then I did a quick transfer from the car into the bus, and then the bus drove into the back of the venue and I had to sit in this bus for six to eight hours or something like that. I was just sitting in this bus and then thinking about it and not really knowing what was gonna happen at all or whatever.

And then maybe like a few minutes before I went out there, Triple H walks into the bus, picks up a piece of paper and a pen, draws it out, and he goes, “Okay, this is the ring. This is the ramp. This is what we call hard cam—this side—that’s where the cameras are. This is where the announcer tables are. The girls will be standing in the ring like this—one, two, three. There’s a sign up here. It’s a WrestleMania sign. It’s a really big thing, people point at the sign. That’s an important thing that people do leading up to WrestleMania.” I’m basically: “Oh, okay.”

Yeah, we’re heading into “point at sign” season.

Yeah, so he says, “You’re gonna come down here. You’re gonna walk up to the ring. The girls will be there.” and I asked, “What should I do? Should I do anything? Should I shake anybody’s hand? What should I do?” He says, “Just feel it. Do whatever you want. Just, when you go out there, just stay out there, take a moment to just register everything that’s happening. Whatever you’re feeling, just let it show on your face. That’s it.” And said, “Go over there. Stephanie will be over here at the announcer’s table.” I even asked, “Should I go over there? Should I sit here?” He said, “That’s up to you. Whatever you think. Whatever you think. Feel it out.” Again, “Okay.”

And then they gave me this big, giant hoodie, but oh, first off—Colt, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s son, he flew all the way out to Philadelphia and brought his dad’s jacket for me to wear. And so he personally came into the bus and put it on me for me to wear. And so then I had another hoodie to put on on top of that jacket, which you know, Roddy Piper was much bigger than me so … It’s was a big jacket. I had a big jacket and then a bigger jacket over the big jacket. Then I got my hood on and I’m like got head down and I’m following Triple H through. And then they tell me, “Sit down in this chair.” Which is funny, they sat me down behind where Vince McMahon watches everything.

So this was my first experience really going out in the WWE. They sneak me in doing this whole Super Mario tunnel thing. And then I’m crouched behind—I think Shane McMahon was there too. And I was pretty much in the circle of Vince and Triple H and Shane, hidden behind them. And then Triple H says, “Okay, it’s time. We have to go out.” And he tells me, “Have fun,” or whatever. I don’t know what he said. And so I went. And I thought I’d be booed out of the building. I thought the way they had me walk in I was kind of stepping on Asuka’s moment.

But, you know. I came out and I felt it and just kind of—Asuka pointed twice, so I pointed three times. Yeah, yeah, no, I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know what I was doing at all.

The secret’s been revealed.

I didn’t know what I was doing at all. I didn’t know if I was making myself look like an idiot or if I had one of the coolest moments in my life. But it seemed fun at the time.

How does it feel now?

Now it’s like looking back at baby pictures, like oh my god, that was another person ago. And I was so nervous, I don’t know. It was cool to get a warm reception when I was expecting a cold one.

How much wrestling training had you had up to that point?

Up to that point? So I think I was around like maybe starting… No, wait. I went to the [Performance Center] for my bachelorette party, I think it was July or something ’cause I got married in August.

[Brian Kendrick’s Santino Bros. Wrestling Academy] was like, right after I went to the PC that first time—my bachelorette party. My bachelorette party, I gave myself a week-long tryout. I just said, “Hi guys, I’m coming. I’ve got a bachelorette party.” What kind of a weird way to ask for a tryout, right? Okay,  I didn’t really say that. What I actually said was more like, “Listen, I’m getting married after my bachelorette party. And all my girls are out there training. I want to go out there and train with them for a week just to spend time with them for a week. And then we’re all going to take a Cruise America and RV back to LA.”

That’s pretty much it. I was getting myself a real spoiled, rich bitch bachelorette party present. So then after that, me and Jessamyn Duke started going to Kendrick’s. Then Jessamyn moved out to Orlando with Shayna Baszler. And so then it was kind of like me and Kendrick, and he would bring some of the people from Santino’s and stuff to work with me over the next couple of months. But it wasn’t like intense everyday. I mean, it was a whole day ’cause it was like maybe two hour drive there, two hour back, depending on traffic. Could be more. Sometimes it was three hours plus to drive home.

Yeah and so, then that was kind of maybe, I would train a few times a month for throughout—after I got back from my honeymoon to Royal Rumble. And then I went back to finish filming Mile 22, so it was like it didn’t happen. And then the build-up to WrestleMania started and then they flew me out to Connecticut—Bristol, Connecticut—and had me training at the warehouse. I was there for a couple days with Lacey Evans, Dakota Kai, and Sara Amato. We were just kind of throwing noodles at the wall.

That’s a good bunch to have.

Yeah, right? And I was really happy I got to spend time with them and get to know them.

[Sara’s] a genius. She really is brilliant. So they spent a couple days with me just trying to figure out moves and whatever. Lacey Evans was the first person to take a “Piper’s Pit.” We were trying to figure it out. Dakota Kai was the first person to take the “Sup-ladle,” which no one knows is called the “Sup-ladle.” That one I kind of… it’s like suplex and a cradle, right? So I call it the “Sup-ladle,” like a soup ladle.

I had “Sup-ladle,” and “The Backpack” is that one I did to Alexa Bliss and Charlotte with the legs and the arm. And I do the little flip. The wind up and then the flip.

Can you talk more about the process of getting Piper’s jacket that first night and that whole experience?

Well, I didn’t get to know Roddy Piper that much personally. I had a couple shorter interactions with him and then I willed the time to go and do his podcast when he invited me to come on Piper’s Pit. But a few weeks after that, he died. And I really wanted to pay… I always wanted to pay respect to him as much as possible. I always had a fantasy in my head that I would, if I ever did anything WWE, I would love to do something with Piper. How cool would that be? It’s something that I’ll never be able to do in the way that I originally imagined it, but I felt like this was the closest way. I kind of felt like he was a partner with me in all of this. The name “Rowdy” really did come from him and he really did give me his blessing to carry it. And he told me a couple times, just how proud he is of what I’ve done to carry the name. And I wanted to continue that.

And if I couldn’t have him physically with me the way that I felt like I could have him with me in the way that I could is have some part of him that would make everybody else remember him every time that they saw me out there. And he always had this—he always had that jacket on. And that was part of, I always remember, I thought that was cool that he would have a kilt and a leather jacket. And it’s just something so uniquely him.

Uniquely badass, basically. “I’m going to rock a kilt. I’m going to rock a leather jacket. I’m still going to be the baddest motherfucker.”

Exactly. It’s like who else could but that together and say, “I’m a fucking badass right now.”

No one can rock a kilt like Piper. It’s impossible. You can’t. But, that’s obviously, something great that I know I can’t rock a kilt like Piper, but it’s fun to try. I wanted to be able to wear the jacket and I didn’t have any way to talk to the family, but WWE did and they reached out to them and Colt was willing to not just let me wear the jacket but to fly out personally and bring it to give to me himself to wear. And then right afterward, I gave it right back to him for him to bring home. But just to have that moment, to be able to speak to him.

As someone who also lost my father, it’s… It was just, I don’t know, it felt really important to me in a way to be able to talk to Colt. And Piper, when I talked to him for his podcast, I just remember afterward him telling me over and over and over how his son is his best friend. He was just so over the moon in love with his son. That was the one takeaway I could really have from that conversation. I was like wow, he really loves his son. That was how warmly he spoke of him.

It was just one of those kind of things. If anyone knew my dad and he spoke about me like that to them, I would want to hear that. I just have that little… I don’t have any videos or anything of my dad. We have very few pictures. There’s very little of him that I have left. Very little memories and things like that. So if anyone else can bring me a memory of him, it’s so precious and I have one more. So I just wanted to bring Colt a memory of his dad that I had to share with him. It was a very overwhelming moment. Just because, I think with everything else going on, everything disappeared and it was really all about Roddy Piper and his legacy that night. I really didn’t feel like it was about me and my debut. It was about “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s legacy continuing more than anything else. It was like I was walking out to say this isn’t over, we’re still going. “Rowdy” never dies.

You said Triple H pretty much told you, “Just feel it.” when you got out there, but what exactly were you feeling once you got out there in front of the WWE Universe?

I felt like I had no clue what I was doing.

Do you think the crowd thought you knew what you were doing?

Nobody knows. Everybody thinks I don’t know what I’m doing in the ring.

Exclusive: Ronda Rousey doesn’t know what she’s doing.

No clue.

Stay tuned for part two of this interview, in which Ronda talks about the WWE road so far.

You can watch the entirety of the 2018 Royal Rumble pay-per-view (and Ronda Rousey’s showstopping debut) on the WWE Network.

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