The Rise of the WWE Women’s Division – by Mike Sanchez

I think this past week in WWE has been one of the most notable for women’s wrestling. Women’s matches main-evented Raw, Smackdown Live and NXT and all fully deserved to do so. The rise of the Women’s Division shouldn’t be a surprise to many fans and it has rightly taken centre stage on all three WWE shows, perhaps putting some of the men’s storylines and feuds into the shade. But is it right to call this current period the Women’s Revolution, as we hear so often from WWE, or has women’s wrestling always been there, just never pushed to the top of the card or had the depth of talent to keep it as an important factor on WWE programming?

To me, women’s wrestling itself hasn’t made great strides in the last 10-15 years, but has just been booked, structured and viewed differently. The talent has always been there, but for some reason never pushed hard or consistently enough. Is that down to how WWE presented the female stars or how we, the fans perceived it? It’s hard to deny that the move to PG-13 for WWE harmed how some of the office saw the best way to present female athletes. We were never going to see Lita & Edge in a bed on Raw, or another bra & panty match on TV again, such were the limits imposed on what WWE could do with their women’s roster. Something I wholeheartedly agree with, by the way.

There comes a point in the evolution of businesses, especially TV shows, where the same tried and tested formula just won’t be accepted by the mainstream any more. Take a look back at TV shows form the 50’s to the 70’s to get an idea about that. Rampant sexism, racism and domestic violence (jokingly disguised as comedic writing that was deemed accepted back then) were on many TV shows. This was true with WWE in some measures in the 2000’s – especially when you really look back at how women were portrayed on TV. Sure there were really good wrestlers a few years back, but they were mired with the Playboy models and leggy blondes who couldn’t wrestle for toffee but shared that same platform as the athletes who gave top matches for the fans. Think Mickie James and Trish Stratus having to compete for air time with Jillian Hall and Kelly Kelly. If that were today, we know who would be on TV, in the ring and delivering matches. The others would be here for a cup of coffee before being wished well on their future endeavors.

This brings me to a recent Table for Three in which some eyebrows were raised by fans at the comments made by Maryse, Kelly Kelly and Eve Torres. While I’m not going to dump on them here, they did make some comments about how they felt responsible for the incredible women’s roster we have today, like they played some part in it. Sorry, but no. You cannot sit there and say the Charlotte Flairs and Becky Lynchs of this world credit Kelly Kelly with being a big influence to them and paving the way for future women in WWE. Were there women back in the day that paved the way? Of course there were, but they weren’t named Eve Torres or Kelly Kelly. Maryse, to her credit is doing her best work right now and is a fantastic heel and a big part of the Miz’s character, but again, she hasn’t done that much for the wrestling side of things.

There are far too many women to mention who, in my mind, have certainly paved the way for the current crop of amazing female performers we have today. Some made it to the big leagues and got the chance to shine before a worldwide audience, but some names didn’t and aren’t as well known, even if they made massive strides for female wrestlers. To a brit like me, the name Klondike Kate is ingrained into the history of British Wrestling. As a fan of WWE for years, I never saw the older generation such as Mae Young or the Fabulous Moolah in their primes. My first glimpse of women’s wrestlers were; Chyna, Trish Stratus, Mickie James, Molly Holly (such a good wrestler), Victoria, Jackie, Gail Kim and Lita. They were great talents, but as I said had to share screen time with other women brought in purely for their appearance, not their talent. While I firmly believe there was a tremendous talent pool of women’s wrestling back then, it was suffocated by what some of the writers believed the fans wanted to see.

The women we’ve been lucky enough to see this past week on WWE haven’t merely stood on the shoulders of giants, they’ve worked their asses off to be where they are now. Without the vision and support from such wrestling luminaries as Dusty Rhodes among others down in the Performance Centre who drove these talented professionals forward, saw their heart and desire and nurtured them into something special, we wouldn’t be seeing this amazing generation of performers this week.

Upon reflection, perhaps the Women’s Revolution is doing an injustice to the many female wrestlers over the years. They’ve always been there, but have just been part of different eras or dynasties in WWE; from the Attitude Era through to the Divas Division and now into what we currently have. I like the term Women’s Division, especially now that there are two independent titles to be held. The dawn of the new era has long since passed, and we’re now seeing the women match the men on every level. They’re headlining TV shows, participating in MITB Ladder matches and going from strength to strength. Yes, us fans will gripe at some booking decisions, but if we take a step back and see how far women’s wrestling has come in such a short space of time, are we not seeing the Women’s Evolution, rather than the revolution? Whatever label you want to put on it, we are witnessing a new peak in the history of women’s wrestling, a landmark moment in WWE history and it’s fantastic.

What do you think? Has this been more of an evolution than revolution for women’s wrestling? Who were your favourites in years gone by? Do you think the 2000’s suffocated some of the more talented stars? What do you think of the current portrayal of women’s wrestling? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.