“They talk about women’s revolution or the women’s wrestling revolution, that’s been going on for decades.” –Melina
I’m currently sitting in my usual little writing space, where I write all of these articles that you have seen from me, in the background I currently have the Women’s Evolution documentary that WWE created for the WWE Network playing, but I can’t help but feel like there are a lot of inaccuracies when it comes to their depiction of women within their company over time, whether good or bad. So I’d like to write about what I consider the women’s evolution in WWE, and an insight into the history of women within the company.
Early Moolah Years
Although she wasn’t wrestling exclusively in WWE at the time, due to it being recognized by the company I’m going to go into the early Moolah years.
On September 18, 1956, Fabulous Moolah competed in a 13-woman battle royal to win the vacant World Women’s Championship. The rights to said title would later be purchased by the World Wrestling Federation, now known as WWE, from Moolah herself in 1983, when she did begin appearing exclusively for the company, and became their first Women’s Champion. WWE history would have you believe that Moolah held the World Women’s Championship for almost 28 years, however that’s not quite the story. When WWE purchased the rights to the title, they decided to only recognize Moolah’s reign, meaning if she lost the title during those years, which I’ll get into next, they were just going to ignore it.
In fact Moolah lost the championship on four occasions. First, she lost the title to Bette Boucher in September of 1966, but later regained the title in October of that year. Next she would lose the title to Yukiko Tomoe in March of 1968, she would win back the title the following month. The timeline for this next one is somewhat unknown, however in 1975, Sue Green beat Moolah for the championship, this reign isn’t recognized by the NWA as well as WWE, Moolah regained the title again that same year. Finally she would drop the title once more, this time to Evelyn Stevens in October of 1978, but would win it back two days later.
Something else that WWE would have you believe is that Moolah was a saint to the world of women’s wrestling. However, that is not the case either. Over the years with the internet becoming as huge as it is in society, many stories about the fabulous one have come to light, pitting her as an extremely shady and vulgar character.
Moolah in the late 1950’s began training women to wrestle, however the women were often times not trained by her. They were severely underpaid with Moolah taking a percentage of the booking fees from everyone, whilst having to pay her rent and utility fees. They were sent off to promoters to participate in sexual favors, with many stories of Moolah pimping out the trainees, with many being underage. Women under her tutelage were being raped and drugged in order to control the women’s wrestling scene. They were told how to look, act, dress and who they could and couldn’t date. She also refused to book some of the trainees if they went against her, meaning they earned nothing, and held back pretty much all of the female talent at that time, stopping anyone but her from being on top.
The point is WWE can act like the Moolah era was full of women doing incredible things, and say she was innovative in the history of women’s wrestling, but the truth is, she wasn’t a good person, and held back many talents for her own benefit, whilst almost completely destroying the women’s wrestling scene. It’s incredible how many fans still to this day, are unaware of the amount of seediness behind the name of Fabulous Moolah due to WWE feeding people the “she is a legend” story, especially considering they are the only ones who believe it.
Rock n’ Wrestling Connection to a Screwjob
Before I delve into the era of awful haircuts and strange fashion trends I’d like to make a comparison. If you ignore the wrestling aspect of the Rock n’ Wrestling connection period, because most of it was god awful, it truly was the Total Divas of its day. Now before any of you log into Twitter and send me numerous hate tweets, let me explain myself.
Total Divas has managed to bring in a fresh audience in recent years, which I will go into later on, with most having either never watched wrestling before, or did as a child and stopped years ago. Rock n’ Wrestling did that except via music stars and pop culture icons. When Cyndi Lauper showed up on “that wrestling show” those music fans began to tune in, to see what the hell she was doing there, which in turn caused wrestling programming to become more mainstream. So whether I dislike this era or not I have to respect the fact that this little movement WWE pushed did put a big spotlight on not just wrestling, but the women also, specifically Wendi Richter.
Wendi Richter was trained by Fabulous Moolah, and has since given her own version of events on the above statement on Moolah. However during this time, she became the opposing figure to Moolah in the women’s division. The pair began a feud way back in 1984, which revolved around Lauper being brought into the WWE to engage in a verbal feud with Lou Albano, who had appeared in Lauper’s music videos, the most popular being the “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” video, where he played Lauper’s somewhat angry father. Due to confrontation in the ring never being able to happen between the two, Richter and Moolah each chose a respective side in this feud, so with Lauper in Richter’s corner and Albano in Moolah’s corner, the storyline was set.
The pair would go on to have numerous matches against each other including a main event match at The Brawl to End it All where Richter became Women’s Champion, and at the very first WrestleMania. However the feud would take a turn for the worst when the original screwjob would come about.
At the inaugural WrestleMania, Richter defeated Leilani Kai to become Women’s Champion for a second time. Eight months later Wendi was due to defend her championship at Madison Square Garden against a mystery opponent who was masked. The referee would make a fast three count, despite Richter kicking out of it, the bell was rung. The masked opponent was revealed to be The Fabulous Moolah. Due to this decision to unfairly take the title away from her, Richter quit the WWE and is said to have never spoke to Moolah again afterwards.
Now if that isn’t seriously shady, I do not know what is. Richter had helped bring in this new audience to WWE during this time, and was pushed aside for Moolah to once again be on top, without even being told about it beforehand. This method was later duplicated during the much more widely controversial and popular “Montreal Screwjob”. But Richter deserved better than this, so much better.
“It looked too good! You can’t go out there throwing punches like that, or taking bumps like that, that looks better than some of the guys! You can’t do that!” –Michelle McCool
Managers and Valets of the 80s
Whilst the Rock n’ Wrestling connection was ongoing, there was another area in which women were on TV for the WWE, however they were not actually competing. The female managers at first began to compete, not in ring, over the right to offer their services to Randy Savage. His manager would later be revealed as Miss Elizabeth, who would later become instrumental in a number feuds the Macho Man would have in WWE, most notably the storylines with George “The Animal” Steele, where he fell in love with Elizabeth, or during the Mega Powers where Savage’s jealousy got the better of him over Elizabeth when he turned on Hulk Hogan, the latter of which Elizabeth ended up siding with.
This would cause Savage to become aligned with Sensational Sherri, a former Women’s Champion. The duo would feud with Elizabeth and Hogan, and later Sherri would lead Macho Man into his retirement match against the Ultimate Warrior at the seventh annual WrestleMania. However she turned her back on Savage after he lost the match, which lead to Elizabeth throwing her out of the ring, so she could later embrace Randy in an emotional moment that had actual fans in attendance crying, in true soap opera fashion.
The use of valets or managers in wrestling is something that has often intrigued me, we see it still happening today with the likes of Lana managing Rusev, but back in the 80’s even up to the early 00’s, they felt different somehow, like they had a purpose. The storyline with Savage and Elizabeth made people feel something, and got them invested in them being separated. Now, valets tend to sometimes speak for the superstar they’re representing but ultimately do nothing. I’m not saying it’s the best way to implement women into the programming, but it’s interesting to see how despite not wrestling, Elizabeth managed to get people to care about what happened between her and Savage based on just pure storyline.
The First Phase Out
In 1990, WWE made the decision to deactivate the Women’s Championship and phase out its female talent roster who competed in ring. The valets or managers mentioned earlier however stayed on with the company and remained on-screen. The Women’s Championship was deactivated with Rockin’ Robin’ being the last person to hold the title at that time.
It’s a strange decision to completely eradicate your female stars from television, minus the women who don’t wrestle, as a wrestling company. This is something WWE would never dream of attempting today, especially with women everywhere rallying for equal opportunities to their male counterparts. It’s quite the opposite to the pro-feminism that they are currently pushing today, yet for some reason, fans seem to forget about issues like this one.
“You saw the women trying to fight and fight. There was a lot of frustration with that. It was a part of why I decided to move on from WWE.” –Eve Torres
When 1993 rolled around WWE clearly had a change of heart when it came to the female athletes who stepped between the ropes and actually got physical with each other. One woman was set to revive the division and bring women’s wrestling back into the lives of WWE fans. That woman, was Alundra Blayze.
Blayze was athletic and would remain the face of the division throughout her duration with WWE. In December of 1993 however, Blayze won a six-woman tournament to be crowned Women’s Champion. She would later defend the championship at WrestleMania 10 against former Women’s Champion, Leilani Kai who had previously been briefly involved in the Rock n’ Wrestling Connection storyline.
Many feuds centered around Alundra, including her facing off against Luna Vachon, Bertha Faye who would hold the Women’s Championship for just 57 days in 1995, Aja Kong who was brought in during the WWE’s talent exchange with AJW. But probably her most notable feud was with Bull Nakano, who also would hold the Women’s Championship on one occasion.
Nakano was easily the better competitor of the two, and could have probably achieved way more within the division, if they weren’t so set on having Blayze look like a superhero who could beat anyone. This is something WWE still struggles with today, only allowing a select amount of women, usually between one and four, strive in the women’s division.
It did somewhat work for Blayze in the eyes of the fans at the time, as her challengers always looked like they were far more dominant than her, so people naturally rallied behind her to overcome them so to speak.
However, she wouldn’t be known as the ringleader of the division by the end of 1995.
The Women’s Championship was vacated and shelved, whilst the women’s division that was around, became defunct yet again. Linked to financial issues that the company as a whole was facing at the time, and also due to Alundra Blayze who was the star of the division, being released from her contract and jumping ship to WCW, which as I’m sure we’re all aware at this point led to the infamous title in a trash can segment.
For some reason, Alundra, or Madusa as she would become known, has been praised as the years have gone by, perhaps not the company or the people within it, but certainly by fans. People have even referred to it as the “beginning of the war” between WWE and WCW. But how can you praise something that not only weakened the prestige of the very championship she was happy to hold, but also every woman before her who had held it as well. I guarantee you, if this were to happen today with someone like, let’s say Eva Marie, she would be universally hated by fans, they would go crazy about this, so why do we praise Blayze for doing it?
This moment was not favorable for WWE, or it’s women, past, present or future.
The Second Phase Out and… Divas?
Times were changing. The women who we had witnessed wrestle on television may indeed have been taken away from us, but something else was beginning.
1995 wasn’t just the year of throwing the Women’s Championship in the trash can, it was also the year the term “Diva” was coined within WWE, when it was placed on valet or manager, whichever you wish to use, Sunny. She still is considered the first ever Diva.
I know right? Amazing! The term Diva was not actually created when the, and I quote “stupid butterfly title” was introduced, or when the show Total Divas began. Who knew?
Sunny was used mainly as “eye candy” and was heavily over-sexualised. Something that now, knowing the Sunny of today, I’m fairly sure she was okay with, but looking back as a fan, it’s not a good look.
So within months the women on television that you would see wrestle and had actually put on good matches, were gone. The women who replaced them for the next few years, included Sunny, Sable, who I’ll get into later and Terri, or Marlena as she was previously referred to as, were all used as sex symbols.
There’s nothing wrong with this of course, if it is done correctly, something WWE did not do. Pandering to the fans, or listening to Jerry Lawler frantically scream “puppies” on commentary, which also turned into a chant that I’m sure all of the women hated, all caused this use of sexuality to look incredibly seedy and sexist.
Even if the company hadn’t phased out the Blayze division, I believe that the women who were there at that time, would not have remained once the Attitude Era kicked in. That division was purely for wrestling purposes, and it would have been extremely strange watching the likes of Blayze attempt a wrestling match in a swimming pool, or competing in an evening gown match. It wouldn’t have worked.
“Once you train really hard and you go through all that hard work, the last thing you wanna do is go throw a pillow at somebody, so it gets frustrating.” –Candice Michelle
Someone who would cause a stir within WWE however was Chyna. Chyna made her debut in WWE in 1997 at the In Your House 13 PPV. Joining D-Generation X as an enforcer or bodyguard, Chyna was everything that previous women in WWE were not. She was incredibly strong, was a giant of a woman, and had a dominating presence whenever you seen her. Not quite the same as Marlena seductively smoking cigars at ringside.
Chyna broke gender barriers within a company that quite frankly, has a ridiculously sexist outlook in most areas, despite them trying hard to cover it up nowadays. Chyna was a pioneer in a division that was busy selling sex, whilst she was giving people, especially younger fans, something or someone to look up to and respect. Chyna challenged regular femininity and beauty standards, all whilst kicking ass.
Not only could she hold her own against any woman in the division easily, but she could give any man a run for his money, something not many people who have been in the WWE women’s division, during any of its various incarnations can say they did.
Entering the Royal Rumble, becoming Women’s Champion on one occasion, becoming Intercontinental Champion twice, Chyna was a trailblazer, and someone who this current division today, should be proud of.
Yes, over the years Chyna has been a controversial figure, however when you take a step back and solely look at her career within wrestling, you’ll see just how important she actually is in the whole evolution of women in the company. If only WWE would acknowledge her significance more often, or even at all.
An Attitude To Start With
1998 saw the Women’s Championship reintroduced in WWE with Jacqueline defeating Sable for the title, which made her the first African American to win the championship, a significant moment that has helped influence many people over the years, because representation is important, even in wrestling. A moment WWE should recognise more often.
The Attitude Era was in full swing at this point, and thus the women’s division would also follow suit in becoming a more edgy version of the product.
When women previously would simply go out there, wrestle a match and pull off feuds from simply that, this era allowed to women to participate in backstage segments, they were given actual characters, or played a more heightened version of themselves, but it also saw the introduction of stipulations, and oftentimes not good ones.
I can’t tell you the amount of bra and panties or pudding matches I’ve witnessed from this time and over the course of the next few years, because I truly believe the limit does not exist. The women were put in a difficult position.
There was of course some from this time who benefitted from these kind of matches due to them not actually being able to wrestle or they had limited skills inside the ring, whereas women such as Jacqueline or Ivory looked out of place. They were wrestlers, they weren’t there to parade around in their underwear or throw pillows at each other. However, did they go along with it for the sake of their job? Of course. Does this mean they wanted to do it? Absolutely not.
The Women’s Championship would also take a knock due to these rather repulsive stipulations. A title changing hands in an evening gown match? Making the women wrestle in a swimming pool to become champion? It’s not exactly helping the prestige that WWE act like the title had. Although people tend to forget about this for some reason.
Not only that but some of the worst reigns happened during the Attitude Era, including The Kat winning the title in a gown pool match. Hervina, which was actually Harvey Wippleman dressed as a woman, won the championship in a lumberjill snowbunny match. Finally we had Debra, winning the title in an evening gown match. It really was a bizarre time.
We are very lucky that we don’t see things like this today, however even I can’t deny that these segments or matches were hugely popular with the crowd and viewing audience, due to the demographic WWE was targeting at the time. It gave the women exposure, I’m just not sure it was the correct kind.
Somewhat of a side note, or a fact to finish off about the Attitude Era women, this division was the first to be told NOT to put on good matches by WWE, something that would continue until recently, apart from the odd occasion. Many of the previous women have spoke out about this issue, declaring that it was a way to make sure the women didn’t look better than the men.
“There was certainly a preconceived notion of what a female athlete could do. So we had to prove to people what we got. It was a big turning point when finally Victoria and I turned the “we want puppies chants” into “holy shit” chants.” –Trish Stratus
The Ruthless Change
In the year 2000, there was soon to be a shift in the landscape of how women were perceived in WWE.
The division managed to gain the talents of two of it’s brightest and greatest stars of all time, Trish Stratus and Lita. Neither of these two women were aware of the impact they would eventually have at that point. There were of course various other women who played a vital role in helping those two get to where they needed to be, but no one can deny that those two were what kicked it off.
The 2000’s were filled with the same characteristics of the Attitude Era despite eventually being under the moniker of Ruthless Aggression, or sometimes the Golden Era in regards to the women only. We seen women main-eventing RAW and SmackDown, we got actual stipulation matches, alongside the various ridiculous ones, and there were real storylines that people could actually relate to and become interested in.
A critical moment from this era that is somewhat forgotten is the women winning titles that were predominantly held by male superstars. For example as mentioned earlier, Chyna is a two time Intercontinental Champion, Molly Holly was once Hardcore Champion, and Jacqueline managed to win the Cruiserweight Championship on one occasion. Although these reigns weren’t necessarily great, the fact women got to hold these titles at all, was a huge step forward.
The stipulations previously mentioned such as bra and panties matches were still around, however so were cage, hardcore and hair vs. title matches, just to name a few. These were only used sporadically but them being used at all is important in helping build toward this current revamp we are seeing today, and most certainly has assisted in getting Charlotte and Sasha the upcoming Hell in a Cell match.
The roster was continuously expanding with shows such as Tough Enough and Diva Search bringing in new women, alongside the likes of Jazz coming in from ECW or Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler jumping ship from WCW, when both companies were purchased by WWE. Sable would also later rejoin the company in 2003 after leaving in 1999, which was quickly followed by her filing a sexual harassment lawsuit. This era between 2000 to 2006 was the most populated the women’s division had ever been at the time.
Trish and Lita were, however, the stars of the division.
The reason that these two have given over the years as to why they worked well with each other is because they wanted to make each other look better. Whilst other women from this time have stated the division as a whole had this goal. Regardless Trish and Lita were back then, the Charlotte and Sasha of today, except much better, with way more storyline and character development. You also didn’t get bored watching them face off as every match felt different to the previous one, something the current women struggle with often times when their feuds last a long period of time, with little to no creative direction, which of course, isn’t their fault.
The duo would main event RAW together, which is sometimes wrongly praised as being the first time this had happened for women, it wasn’t. Lita had previously been in a main event match with Stephanie McMahon for the Women’s Championship, which she won. But like every other time the women main event, their moment was extremely paramount, especially because people were very keen to see whether or not they could pull it off, and they did.
Trish must have attracted crazy people because two other storylines she was involved in that stand out in my mind, involved her being the obsession of both Victoria and Mickie James. Victoria’s storyline came first and was almost like a rough draft of what would eventually come years later with Mickie. The storyline connected with some fans, but others didn’t care for it. I personally think it was Victoria’s best work.
The Mickie James storyline however is somewhat legendary when it comes to women’s wrestling. Mickie and Trish had undeniable chemistry both in ring, and out of it. Their segments had comedy with a blend of crazy, and fans wanted Trish to get rid of her, instead the pair managed to build a new star in the division that would help out once the two golden girls were gone. This feud developed over six months which meant the women were on TV every week.
Lita on the other hand struggled with injuries, many of her championship reigns were cut short, she held the title on four occasions and all of them combined only lasted 160 days. She also didn’t really have any other standout feuds with the women, but did participate in many storylines, such as her baby with Kane, or the feud with Edge and Matt Hardy where she was a very prominent figure.
These two would have a rivalry that WWE probably wishes they could duplicate with other women today, but they haven’t quite found that spark as of yet.
I wish I could go over in detail every single significant moment that happened during this era, but honestly there is way too much, I’d be here writing until next year. This division is highly regarded as one of, if not the best it has ever been for the women, with many fans thinking everything after this went downhill. I do believe the next few divisions suffered and had some moments of struggle, but I also think that individual years, for example I loved 2007, really were amazing for the women.
It’s also a bittersweet time because as much as I loved this era, I do wish other women besides Trish and Lita could get their praise for what they contributed, but I can also recognise why those two are viewed so positively compared to others.
Regardless some really important moments happened during this era that has helped get the Women’s Evolution to where it is, and no matter who you praise, you’re right in doing so.
Life After the Golden Girls
2006 saw the retirement of both Trish and Lita, which did cause the division to feel somewhat empty without them. However WWE are incorrect when they say the women weren’t involved in matches once they were gone.
Talent within the division was not an issue, but timing was, in more ways than one. Women’s matches have somewhat always been short since the relaunch in 1998 until recently. The women were a sideshow attraction and thus they were lucky if they got over four minutes. But this era particularly struggled with short or repetitive matches that ultimately turned the fans away. It’s also probably what caused people to believe the earlier statement of everything going downhill after Trish and Lita. Truth is, they too competed in short matches, but because sometimes they did get time to wrestle on a rare occasion, it’s overlooked.
Despite this, they did the best they could with what they got, even if sometimes what they got was over in a flash.
Mickie James greatly benefitted from her storyline with Trish and became the face of the division. Whilst Melina was the natural heel. The pair would feud over the Women’s Championship, which produced some incredible matches between the pair, including the first ever Falls Count Anywhere match between women in WWE.
The division still had Victoria there as the kind of veteran, who often was used to put some of the newer girls over, it worked. Whilst the likes of Candice Michelle and Michelle McCool improved their in-ring abilities, with Candice holding the Women’s Championship in 2007, and Michelle becoming much more prominent in the next few years, eventually becoming a champion in her own right. Beth Phoenix was re-introduced to the division as a powerhouse, something that was really needed as they lacked a dominant force who you felt could overpower everyone, she was a real threat.
With the program slowly starting to transition into a more PG friendly product, the bikini contests that the women were made to compete in, began to drift away, and once again in-ring content that granted was short, became the focus. The women were still being told to “dumb down” their wrestling, but at least we got to see them actually wrestle.
The women of this era definitely helped towards this evolution or revolution, whichever you wish to call it. With the WWE Network, it’s easy to access content from particular time periods, I would definitely recommend to a lot of fans who only believe the evolution documentary WWE produced, to go back enjoy this era today, it would probably change a lot of people’s perceptions.
From the end of 2006 to roughly 2012, all of the issues mentioned were a running theme, but there was sometimes a small glimpse of hope. The glimpse of hope for this era happened in 2010 when Laycool faced off against Natalya and Beth Phoenix in a tables match.
Not only is this the first time the “Divas” had been in a tag team tables match, but it’s also one of those matches that people forgot about eventually, but was really good. An underrated moment, the division finally got a stipulation match and all of the women performed well, yet for some reason, it hasn’t happened since.
The division later went through somewhat of a drought when a lot of the women all quit or were released around the same time. Michelle McCool, Maryse, Gail Kim, Melina, The Bella Twins, Beth Phoenix, Kharma and Kelly Kelly all left between 2011 and 2012.
The division struggled but the likes of Eve and AJ Lee managed to keep it somehow alive, even if it was hanging on by a thread.
“Whether it’s two minutes or twenty minutes on TV, I’m beyond grateful for that, because there are millions of people that wish they could get two minutes in that ring, and they can’t. But do I think Divas should get more time on TV? 100%.” –Nikki Bella in 2015
I wasn’t even going to include this portion of the article, due to the fact I feel ridiculous having to defend the introduction of the Divas Championship. But I feel as if it is needed in helping people understand where “Divas” came from, and got to.
So, as I’ve previously stated, the term Divas was brought about in 1995. The Women’s Championship was still the main title up until it being retired in 2010, with Layla being the last champion. However the Divas Championship was introduced in 2008, so that both RAW and SmackDown could have a championship for the women. Similar to how with the superstar titles, the Intercontinental Championship would be on one brand, whilst the US Championship would be on the other.
Now, I don’t know about you, but having more than one title for women to me, seems like a much needed aspect to the division, it even works today. But especially when the past would prove that using only one title, caused issues such as particular talents not being used, or being made to feud over nothing.
“Diva” itself was simply used as a marketing term, a way to brand the women, similar to how the men were called superstars for many years, however no one complained about them being labelled that for some reason. I will say that currently the gender neutral use of superstar for everyone on the roster is something that was needed. Times are moving forward nowadays and it’s good to see the company move with the times instead of sticking to old habits.
There’s mixed feelings on the Divas Championship and the terminology from previous women, however it’s interesting that a lot of the negative feelings towards it comes more so from people who didn’t even hold the title.
I also previously mentioned how the Women’s Championship went through a stage of being occupied by some rather strange characters and reigns that were just ridiculous. That did hurt the prestige of the title, yet it’s the Divas Championship that is viewed as unworthy, despite all of the women who held it being worthy of holding it, for whatever reason.
With all that being said, was the Divas Championship ugly? Yes. It was a poor design and relied way too heavily on what is perceived as feminine. Does it deserve to be thoroughly discredited and have it’s brief history tarnished or even erased? Absolutely not.
Total Divas, Paige and AJ Lee Era
In the Summer of 2013, a new reality show that was centered around the “Divas” of WWE began airing on E!. This show would give you an insight into the personal and professional lives of the female talent in WWE, and would ultimately become a hit.
The show has a rotating cast and storylines set for each individual person like most reality shows, but the added aspect of wrestling makes it entirely different from other shows.
Soon after the program began, many people, women more so than anything, started tuning into WWE programming in order to see what happens when the Total Divas step inside the ring. The show crossed over to a mainstream audience. Many celebrities have also expressed that they are a fan of the show.
The main players are The Bella Twins. Although the other cast members have been involved in some great moments during the show, such as Summer Rae’s fight with Natalya, which is a personal favorite moment of mine, it’s the twins who have took this show in their stride entirely. Building their own brand off the back of Total Divas, the pair now appear on Total Bellas simultaneously.
Many feel these reality shows hinder the WWE product, and have also blamed Total Divas for the reason the Divas Revolution flatlined. When really, it’s just a show. It has no affect on anything WWE do with the women. It also does not make any of the women involved with the show “models” or just out to be famous, which is another negative connotation sometimes hurled at the show.
On the total opposite end of the scale from Total Divas, is AJ Lee. The former Divas Champion on many occasions expressed her disinterest in the show, and the women involved with it, which only heightened the negative feelings some fans had or still have about the show.
This of course ultimately lead to a feud between the Total Divas and the “real” Divas, which the name given to the storyline alone is ridiculous. Regardless, this ended up being one of those moments in the women’s division that had so much potential to be great, but ended up being sub-par.
The actual story of the jealous champion annoyed with other women’s success outside of WWE, is rather intriguing and would have felt fresh, instead of just “I hate you, let’s fight each other”. However due to the lack of time and effort given, it turned out to be just a complete mess.
Creative really could have done so much better than this, but instead it got reverted back to the old days of two minute matches, only a select amount of talent being on show, only individual women being used and a title reign that was too long and boring.
This should have been the start of the change, and it wasn’t.
AJ Lee later left the company, but no matter what you or I think about her, you can’t deny that she did play a role in helping the division, and she deserves to be recognized for doing so. It would be interesting to see how she would fit into this current division today, but I guess we will never know.
AJ also helped kick-start the career of Paige on the main roster, as the two feuded for months, and then eventually began teaming up together, it went through many twists and turns that it almost felt like you had whiplash by the time they were finished. Not the best feud ever, but it made Paige popular with the fans at that point, and that’s what she needed.
Nikki Bella would go on to become the longest reigning Divas Champion of all time, which we now know is a record that can’t be broken, unless someone backstage hits their head and re-introduces the title for whatever reason. The reign was well deserved as Nikki managed to put the division on her back after the departure of AJ Lee, and would be a significant factor in the change in WWE.
Brie Bella not to be outdone by her sister managed to pull off a feud with none other than Stephanie McMahon, who had been out of the ring for over ten years, the pair had a great match at SummerSlam that was better than anything anyone expected it to be. It also elevated both Bella Twins, and put them into a feud against each other, but ultimately their storyline together would flatline.
These four women were the stars of the show during this time, and no one can deny that. Other “Divas” were somewhat left out of the loop and were only used on a few occasions which is something WWE have always done, but it was particularly bad in this era.
All four should be praised for doing the best they could with what they got, but I think I speak for everyone when I say they deserved better.
The NXT Step
If you were to inform me a few years ago, that a WWE developmental system would provide arguably the best entertainment as far as women’s wrestling goes, I probably would have either laughed, or told you that you’re crazy. Because if that effort can’t be given to the women on their main shows every week, why would they give it to up and coming talents? But it did happen.
NXT started out as a reality show-esque idea, similar to that of Tough Enough or Diva Search, but eventually molded into what FCW or OVW was a real developmental system.
The women of FCW crossed over to NXT and were put on television eventually, however not many people were clued into it at the time, mainly due to the WWE Network not being around. Since then however NXT has grown into somewhat of a monster, that has unbelievable levels of talent on show every week.
But no one can deny that the women’s division, helped in it being so popular.
The story is simple, you had Paige, Emma and Bayley as the face talent, whilst Summer Rae, Sasha Banks and Charlotte were your heels, known as the BFFs. There were of course other women on the roster, however these six were the originals who made an impact.Paige started out as the most popular Diva in NXT and her primary foe was Emma, whilst the BFFs would target Bayley and later just about anyone who got in their way.
NXT is the home of great Summer Rae matches, it’s the home of the many TakeOver matches that caused people to take an interest in the division, starting out with Paige vs. Emma at Arrival which has been called the beginning of the Divas Revolution. It’s the home of the rise of Sasha and Bayley as it’s biggest stars to date. It’s where Charlotte improved her craft and got her to where she needs to be. It’s also created everyone’s favorite lass kicker Becky Lynch. Plus all of the current division who are striving.
NXT has managed to create various stars as far as the women are concerned and thus has a catalog of women’s matches, which are incredible. The iron man match between Bayley and Sasha being arguably the best one yet, with a wide variety closely following it.
I believe it’s the impact that NXT created that caused WWE to see where they were going wrong with the women’s division on the main roster. Although they have yet to duplicate the same amount of great moments on the main roster, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will eventually see it happen.
“If I was an NXT Diva, I would not want to come up to the main roster, because they get so much time down there. When it comes to TV we get so frustrated because it’s hard to tell a story in three minutes. It’s a three hour RAW and you can’t give more time to the Divas?” –Brie Bella in 2015
Give Divas A Chance
After a 30 second tag-team match on RAW between The Bella Twins, Paige and Emma, fans reacted in sheer disgust at the fact the main roster women were being treated poorly.
For three days straight, somehow, fans managed to get #GiveDivasAChance trending on Twitter. Hashtags like this one had been attempted previously, but none reached the success this one did.
Fans were rallying behind the entire division and giving their own reasons as to why the women of WWE deserve better. They expressed anger over the lack of representation for women on the main shows. But also made it clear they wanted more than just longer matches. They demanded WWE’s creative team actually develop compelling storylines for the women, and to give them characters people could become invested in.
Many of the people within the division began to tweet the hashtag, which was probably the turning in point in it just being viewed as fans complaining again. Another key moment that made fans believe that this was working was Vince McMahon joining in with the hashtag.
Somewhere along the lines however this fan movement was misconstrued as being about NXT, where the women were in fact striving, and receiving all of the things the main roster women were missing out on. Naturally people became annoyed at this and tried to get the point across that it wasn’t about NXT, but it didn’t work.
Nonetheless, this hashtag is what boosted everything that is going on right now. Without it, I honestly believe we would still be sitting through thirty-second matches or segments that have no purpose. It’s genuinely shocking that WWE actually did somewhat make good on their promise to do something about fans’ pleas, even if it did only last a small amount of time, it showed they were in fact paying attention to what people wanted.
It also leads to the three teams of women storyline, and the two women’s WrestleMania matches, so I can’t complain, this would not have happened years ago. We got very lucky this year.
A Chance Given?
As I’m finishing up this article we are nearing closer to Hell in a Cell, where RAW Women’s Champion Sasha Banks will take on Charlotte inside of a cell. I’m stating that because usually when women face off at these stipulation PPV’s, it’s usually just a singles match, but not this time. In the biggest stipulation we have ever seen given to the women, it’s sure to be an entertaining match.
I have mixed feelings towards it. I’m very happy for both women that they get to show off what they can do inside a cell, but I’m even more happy at the fact WWE are moving forward with the women and re-introducing stipulations to the women’s matches.
However part of me is incredibly sad about the way in which this match has been handled. Many women over the years begged and pleaded for these kind of matches, and they were ultimately denied them, whilst being laughed at, aka something WWE should definitely acknowledge. It also pains me to see that the cell is only being used to create a historic moment, and not because this feud is worth it. In fact the build up in this feud, that has gone on far too long in my opinion, has been stale.
Meanwhile the Carmella and Nikki match at No Mercy was teased to be a no disqualification match, and instead it was just a singles match. A stipulation that has been done before can’t be given, but a cell match that has never been tested, can?
I do think the brand split has somewhat helped both divisions, particularly SmackDown who have managed to incorporate all of the women, making the likes of Alexa Bliss and Carmella look like stars, despite being poorly used in NXT.
RAW has been somewhat unfortunate with the suspension of Paige who probably would have played a big part in the division. They are also failing to use talents such as Summer Rae and Alicia Fox correctly, whilst Nia has been demoted from RAW to Superstars faster than the speed of light. The impending debut of Emmalina is the last, small amount of hope I have for RAW.
I do like the natural build they are giving Bayley by making her face local talent weekly, as a way to keep her on television, the inclusion of Dana Brooke is also rather interesting as I had her set to feud with Charlotte when she’s finished with Sasha.
I don’t believe we have seen the best of the women’s division from both brands yet, but I do think it’s coming.
“It was cool the first couple of nights with the NXT girls coming up. It was something new and fresh. Then we kind of went back to this stale state of having tag matches. We weren’t telling a story.” –Paige in 2015
WWE has gone through so many stages with the women that could be deemed “awful” or “poor” and most of the time, it’s the women who were in those divisions that are blamed for it. The truth is most of the women who stepped between the ropes, wanted to make a change, they wanted things to be different. However without the company backing them, it just wasn’t possible.
Sometimes even the men were more prominent in the women’s division than the actual women were. For example the dreadful “Miss WrestleMania” Battle Royal, which I personally view as being the lowest WWE ever placed the women, it should have never happened.
The women wanted to wrestle, they wanted to compete with the men, they wanted stipulation matches, they asked for all of these wonderful things to help make the women’s division better, and until recently they were laughed at and told no.
When they were attempting to battle against the pillow fights, bra and panties matches or any other degrading stipulation WWE came up with, people continued to tune in for those segments, making them popular, so WWE would make them do it again and again. How that somehow translated into the fans’ minds that it was the women asking to do these kind of matches, I will never understand. A lot of the former women have since stated that they didn’t like those kind of segments, yet people still believe it’s their fault.
WWE will never acknowledge these things; they will never state they were wrong for making the women look bad, or degrading them as human beings. But they did, it’s part of their history.
Something that I did pick up on from watching the Women’s Evolution documentary on the Network, is just how much this evolution caters to the younger audience who watch the product. Many young girls who are WWE fans, can now see powerful women every week on television. They can see women doing exactly what the men do, and become inspired to perhaps not only follow in the footsteps of the likes of Bayley, Naomi or whomever they feel inspired by, but they can relate to these characters, which will in turn no doubt help someone along the way overcome whatever it is they’re feeling, or even just make them feel joy for a few moments whilst watching RAW or SmackDown.
WWE have a tremendous responsibility in the fact that they’re a PG product. When you look at it from that perspective, that it is probably helping a kid who maybe isn’t sure about who they are, what they want to be, or is maybe struggling in school or at home, wrestling can become their escape. So watching Sasha Banks and Charlotte main event is a huge deal for the women competing, those backstage who wish to be there alongside them, but it’s an even bigger deal for the young girl sitting at home watching it.
That’s what is crucial when it comes to the women in WWE. That is what should be the focus.
“We’ve got all of these different personality types, and you can find someone to either identify with or aspire to be.” –Lita in 2016