Performing inside of a WWE ring is a daunting task in the best of circumstances. Most superstars train for years before they get the chance to go in front of any kind of audience, and at that point, they perform regularly and sharpen their abilities on a nightly basis.
There are, of course, exceptions to that rule -- especially when it comes to WrestleMania, WWE's annual supershow and the event at hand Sunday. The Undertaker (likely) comes back for one performance a year at this point in his nearly three-decades-long career, and other legends return on occasion to take part in showcase moments that often play heavily on nostalgia.
Such is the case for one of WrestleMania 34's highest-profile matches, with Paul "Triple H" Levesque and Stephanie McMahon taking on Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey. Triple H and Angle have had occasional matches over the past year, and though this is Rousey's first match in WWE, she has been intensely active in training and competing in MMA and judo her entire career.
While Stephanie McMahon is a former WWE women's champion in her own right, with wrestling experience that dates back to 1999, she has had a grand total of one traditional match since 2003. So when it comes to what will surprisingly be her first match at a WrestleMania, there's a lot of work to be done and a lot of pressure to perform on that big a stage.
"Not only am I getting back into the ring for about the second time in maybe 14 years, but I'm stepping into the ring against Ronda Rousey, one of the world's greatest athletes," McMahon said, during a recent visit to ESPN. "She's an Olympic medalist. She's a judo champion. She's the first-ever UFC women's champion. They created divisions for her. She is an athlete's athlete, and that's not something that I take lightly."
As the chief brand officer of WWE, not to mention her role as an onscreen authority character on Monday Night Raw, time is a limited resource in McMahon's life. Staying in top physical condition is something she and husband Triple H throw themselves into with the same vigor they do most things in their lives, even if it means working out extra early in the morning or late at night.
They often share posts on social media of these exploits, but with the prospect of stepping in the ring hanging over her head, McMahon is pushing the workout regimen to the extreme.
"I've never trained harder in my life than I have for this match. I've been training twice a day now for quite some time," said McMahon. "Not only that, I've been boxing. I've been in the ring three to four days every week just trying to get my reps and get the feel back. "
Late nights, early mornings, day-in, day-out.@WWE is our business, our passion, our legacy. It is ours.@StephMcMahon and I are always ready...especially for @WrestleMania.@RealKurtAngle @RondaRousey, #AreYouReady?#GameTime pic.twitter.com/oU6vQ0DLEL
- Triple H (@TripleH) March 27, 2018
Fans got a small glimpse at how hard McMahon has been training during a recent video montage on Monday Night Raw. Even in the scripted world of WWE, in a match built more on spectacle than in-ring quality, there's a certain expectation for what a WrestleMania match should look like. No one expects McMahon to go blow-for-blow with Rousey, the former UFC women's champion and Olympic judo medalist, but there's a lot that goes into making the match feel compelling in a physical way, as well as an emotional way.
"What I've been working on most is agility and speed. I'm not the fastest animal out there, but I'm certainly gonna try to be," said McMahon. "I've been working on my response time, [and] my strength and conditioning, as well -- my fast-twitch fibers, as Joe DeFranco, our coach, would call it."
She paused, then added with a small laugh, "That, and I would say defense."
On top of the normal pressure of having to perform at WrestleMania, and all of her other responsibilities, McMahon has the legacy of her father and family at large to consider. Vincent K. McMahon purchased what was then the WWF in the early 1980s and took it from a regional Northeast wrestling promotion to a worldwide phenomenon. The biggest push forward came at the first WrestleMania, in 1985 at Madison Square Garden.
"My father created WrestleMania. My parents mortgaged everything that they owned to make WrestleMania I happen and to put WWE on the map," said Stephanie McMahon.
Thirty-three years later, as WrestleMania 34 approaches, WWE has become a billion-dollar company that puts on hundreds of shows a year, broadcast in 180 countries and in 25 languages. As the company's CBO, McMahon would be incredibly busy at this time of year even if she didn't have to appear on TV or compete in the ring in front of a sold-out crowd at the New Orleans' Superdome.
But she's fully intent on dedicating every single second she can spare to train.
"Let's see -- what am I not doing at WrestleMania is the question," McMahon reflected. "Well, from Atlanta, which is where we have the last episode of Raw before WrestleMania, we're going to go to Orlando to the Performance Center and just continue to train and work physically."
Even though WrestleMania doesn't come until Sunday, McMahon and Triple H won't have a lot of time to spend at the Performance Center. With WrestleMania becoming more than a week's worth of events in whichever city the show is held in, and as the face most associated with many of the WWE's charitable efforts, McMahon's presence is required all over New Orleans this year.
"We have a week's worth of activities, [starting with] our community events -- our Make-a-Wish Circle of Champions event, Be a Star rallies at Boys and Girls Clubs, hospital visits," said McMahon. "In addition to that, our Superstars for Hope party, which is a fundraiser in and of itself for Boys and Girls Clubs of America. We do over a dozen community activations.
"[There's] the business partner summit, where I put on my executive hat as chief brand officer and I have the opportunity to represent our brand to our business partners. We'll be doing an exclusive screening of the Andre the Giant documentary, of which I'll be a part. Then, of course, our Hall of Fame, NXT [and finally] the night itself, WrestleMania."
WrestleMania is a family affair more than three decades in the making, with Vince McMahon still directly involved with each and every WWE show, Triple H serving a key role in creative and Stephanie's brother Shane serving in an onscreen role in his own right. The McMahons grew up in the world of WWE, and getting to perform on the show is something Stephanie doesn't take lightly.
Every time she steps into a WWE ring, she carries the McMahon name -- and the legacy of WrestleMania is her family's legacy, which Stephanie intends to carry forward for a long time. And just like there were generations that set the table, another generation of McMahons seems likely to carry on that tradition even further into the future.
"To be a part of that event is not only so special because my dad created the event, but I feel like my grandfather is always there," McMahon said. "I feel like he's always there at WrestleMania. My brother will be there. My mom will be there. My three daughters will be there right in the front row. My nephews will be there.
"I can't describe how special that is. It's so much more than living up to expectations in the ring, which I have to do, too. It's about living up to my family's legacy and, hopefully, exceeding expectations. That's my goal."