It’s quite possible that women’s wrestling is about to come into its own as a division within the sport that will see it reach unparalleled success. In fact, the term “Divas Revolution” has been coined to identify a renaissance of the grappling gals who have seemingly grabbed the brass ring and simply refused to let go.
To be clear, this isn’t the first generation of athletes that have had talent. There have been some incredibly gifted ladies to grace the ring over the past number of decades as well. Some have since been inducted into various wrestling Halls of Fame and been credited for their achievements in the sport. So why now? What has happened that has made the environment ripe for the ladies to take center stage?
In part, some might point to the role that Ronda Rousey played in making the role of women in combative sports not only credible but somewhat iconic. With a mere 13 professional MMA fights to her credit, Rousey has created a stir in sports that may never be fully re-created, becoming one of the most recognized stars of UFC. So with the diverse roster of talent under the WWE banner, some of which are second and third generation wrestlers in their own right, can the WWE capitalize on this "revolution" to create a new level of visibility?
15 It Can Work: Formal Acknowledgement Of The “Movement”
Love them or hate them, the internet wrestling community and fans who present their opinions as though they are in the inner circle of professional wrestling have been credited with influencing wrestling in different ways over recent years. Certainly, the “Divas Revolution” could well have been something that first appeared on web forums. However, what gives this idea real credibility is that it is a phrase that has been used by officials that work directly for WWE. Whether it was an official intention or simply a wave of fan enthusiasm that is too large to ignore, the WWE has responded by featuring the ladies in longer matches on television and higher profile on pay-per-views.
In professional wrestling, what happens at the WWE level has a trickle-down effect to the independents, so the WWE spotlighting women’s wrestling creates opportunities throughout the whole sport. The WWE’s endorsement of women’s wrestling is critical to the potential success of women in the sport.
14 It Won’t Work: Chauvinism Still Exists
Unfortunately, while the WWE’s influence creates a ripple effect across the industry, sometimes the wave starts at the other end of the spectrum and it can be hard to overcome. While the WWE is changing attitudes about women’s wrestling, it is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room and that is that sexism still exists in the realm of sports. On the independents, while we have seen some forward thinking and risque matchmaking, including allowing women to challenge for men’s titles and inter-gender matches without any particular rhyme or reason, the media still seems dismissive of women in the traditionally male-dominated wrestling game.
In fact, a Winnipeg Sun article covering an all-women’s tour in September 2015 blatantly suggested that women were too emotionally fragile to be a good fit in pro wrestling. It may take decades to fully change the social culture that surrounds wrestling and create an even playing field for all athletes.
13 It Can Work: Roster Depth
When you compare the conditions for women wrestlers today to prove themselves against a field of their peers, you can recognize that the ladies enjoy much stronger footing than some of the champions of the past. Take Alundra Blayze for example. During her run as WWE Women’s champion, she competed against a field which included lengthy feuds with two or three foes. There simply wasn’t the roster depth at that time to keep things fresh.
Fast forward to the present with more than a dozen women active on Raw, SmackDown and in NXT (and more in development at the WWE Performance Center) and the environment is much richer for the cream to rise to the top. It’s no longer just a women’s match on the card for the sake of spectacle. Instead, fans are getting familiar with each character and are developing an emotional connection rather than merely a passive interest.
12 It Won’t Work: Precarious Relationships
Think about the number of train wreck Hollywood marriages that each of us can readily recite. We might not as quickly equate this to wrestling, but when you step back and look at the big picture, professional wrestling doesn’t boast a great success rate of marriages surviving when wrestlers marry each other. This goes right back to Mildred Burke, the pioneer of women’s wrestling who owns much of the credit for bringing the ladies their first mainstream attention. Burke was married to promoter Billy Wolfe and the tales of domestic violence in that union are plentiful.
In more recent years, many wrestling relationships have dissolved, or a promising career has come to an abrupt end for a popular woman in the ring when her husband’s status changes with the company. AJ Lee had carved out a place in the hearts of the fans when her husband C.M. Punk visibly departed from the WWE, for example, and she followed shortly thereafter.
11 It Can Work: Growing Talent Pool On The Indies
As identified earlier in the list, when the WWE starts to focus in an area, the independents follow suit. When the WWE stole a page from the cult favorite Extreme Championship Wrestling and adopted “hardcore” wrestling to the mainstream, this trend ran amok on the independents almost immediately. When the WWE stepped up its profile of women on the roster, this has encouraged the independents to follow suit. No longer were the gals on the indies just wives and girlfriends of promoters, but instead credible talent that could ascend to the top tier of the sport.
This has included the development of all women promotions in Canada and the United States and the evolution of some of the finest women wrestlers any of us have ever seen. Now, on the indies, which served as a breeding ground for future world champion male wrestlers, fans at the grassroots level of wrestling are clamoring to see future WWE Divas in their earliest matches.
10 It Won’t Work: The Climate Of The Business Leaves Everyone Over-Exposed
The one downside to the modern climate of professional wrestling as it relates to women wrestlers is a lament shared by promoters on the independents. While it is an advantage for the women to become known before the WWE’s audience, unlike the territory days of wrestling, there isn’t an opportunity to move the talent around to keep them fresh and allow them opportunities to grow professionally in other locker room settings.
The term “over-exposed” has been used often to discuss a talent that has been in one place for too long, causing the fans to become complacent about whether they see the wrestler on the card or not. In some ways, even with a larger roster to work with, by not giving fans a break from a wrestler by moving them from territory to territory, fans are forced to opt instead for a break by keeping a wrestler off TV. This, of course, is counter-intuitive.
9 It Can Work: Merchandised As Well As The Men
Where is the Wendi Richter action figure? Wendi Richter was hand-picked to be the face of women’s wrestling when Vince McMahon took the WWE from a regional operation to an internationally syndicated television product. Richter, who succeeded the long-reigning Fabulous Moolah, was initially spotlighted alongside Hulk Hogan with magazine covers, posters and opportunities to rub elbows with entertainment A-listers like Cyndi Lauper. But, simultaneously, Richter was overlooked when the first wave of action figures was released. In fact, the only woman on the roster to get an action figure in the first five years was Miss Elizabeth and she was a manager.
Today, however, a visit to any toy store sees the ladies marketed as dolls alongside their male counterparts. There are more t-shirts marketed for the women as well. Not only are female wrestlers taking their place in the business side of wrestling on the same level as the men, their products are selling – the fans WANT this and are opening their wallets to prove it.
8 It Won’t Work: An Inconsistent History
Some long-time fans aren’t willing to give up their preconceived notions of women’s wrestling based on what they have been exposed to in the past. In the 1970s, not unlike the men’s side of the house, the bodies of women wrestlers looked much different than they do today. Quite simply, the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young were tough competitors, but they weren’t going to be pin-up gals you'd post on your wall and declare fandom of the sport. Inversely, the Attitude Era of wrestling swung the pendulum to the extreme opposite – very attractive women who could readily pose for Playboy, but whose wrestling skill was somewhat suspect.
Now that the sport has found a happy medium – attractive, athletic wrestlers with movie star good looks that have the skill to back it up between the ropes – the fans are struggling to reconcile what they think they know. History is being re-written with every passing match.
7 It Can Work: Cross-Over Appeal
Do not talk to former women’s champions about their feelings on the TV show Total Divas, as you’re not likely to get a ringing endorsement for the manner by which Vince McMahon has chosen to spotlight his female roster beyond the ropes. Regardless of those opinions, what Total Divas has proven to television executives and company shareholders is that the women of the WWE can hold their own against other pop culture fare in the reality TV realm. How much further could the WWE go to help their ladies become household names? What if they put as much creative energy behind Charlotte or Natalya that they have given to Hulk Hogan or John Cena? Very few women in the history of the company have held such a lofty position. Who could emerge as the franchise player of the WWE women’s division if given the right opportunity? That remains to be seen.
6 It Won’t Work: They’re Still Not Key Players In WWE Studios
While the guilty pleasure of Total Divas should be considered a success by the WWE administration, the fact of the matter remains that all of the investment made into film projects has focused on male stars in the company. John Cena has enjoyed the majority of these efforts, but others like Randy Orton, David Otunga, Mike Mizanin, and even Ted DiBiase Jr. have gotten a taste. Trish Stratus has enjoyed headline roles in television and movie projects, but those she secured on her own after her retirement from the WWE fold.
As much as the WWE is invested in elevating the status of women in the company and through all of their networking channels, they have yet to invest in any of their women as a leading lady in a movie production. Surely, if you can invest in “The Miz” there must be someone else in the company worthy of the same treatment who can bring greater value to the company.
5 It Can Work: Access To World Class Trainers
Women’s wrestling in the 1970s was largely a closed system. There were only two schools that were producing students – either you trained in South Carolina with Fabulous Moolah or in California with Mildred Burke. Depending on whose connections offered political stroke in a given territory, that’s how you ascended in the sport. The opportunity has opened much wider, and girls looking to get into the squared circle have access to credible trainers, both male and female, to launch their careers. But more importantly, the WWE’s own in-house training program has contributed to offer today’s ladies an advantage like never before.
At the WWE Performance Center, aspiring starlets are mentored by ring legend Sara Del Ray and Canadian ring veteran Sarah Stock – best known for her own career in Mexico, Japan and TNA Wrestling. Complimenting these outstanding ladies is a team of male trainers, producers and mentors like Adam Pearce, Norman Smiley, Matt Bloom, and Terry Taylor, who each offer their insight to mold some promising future stars as they ascend to the spotlight.
4 It Won’t Work: Fickle Stakeholders
Behind the scenes, it is important to remember that the WWE is a publicly traded company and as such, these unseen influences on the product that we enjoy as fans can take a radical turn without notice. When board members and executives who maybe don’t understand wrestling get nervous about a risque storyline, or panic when the unpredictable nature of live professional wrestling sees the action take an unexpected turn, wrestlers’ careers can be impacted. It could be as simple as a wardrobe malfunction, a social media faux pas, or any number of professional missteps that causes the organization to distance itself from talent.
So far, most of the potentially damaging incidents have involved men, but it’s a dangerous line to walk. We have seen women released from the company as well for infractions that wouldn’t have even made Vince McMahon flinch in the 1980s. Times have changed – for the worse if you’re a wrestler.
3 It Can Work: Ronda Rousey Proved It
There are literally dozens of women competing in the UFC in various weight classes. However, until Ronda Rousey's upset defeat at the hands of Holly Holm, none of the women of mixed martial arts owned the marquee like Rousey. Rousey deserves some credit for the elevation of women in combative sports, and whether anyone in the WWE will admit it or not, that influence has been felt by wrestling. Could Vince McMahon create his own Rousey? Could he produce a flagbearer for the WWE brand that possesses the skill combined with the class and sophistication to become a media darling as well?
As fans hear rumors of plans to elevate the profile of given performers, it appears as though the WWE is looking for the opportunity to find that franchise player among the women’s division. But who will that be? Who could be pro wrestling’s Ronda Rousey? Could it be Ronda herself?
2 It Won’t Work: The Wear And Tear Of The New School
When professional wrestling started to break down the gender roles during the Attitude Era and we saw increased physicality in the women’s division, suddenly we were seeing gals like Victoria headed to the ring with heavy duty knee braces like Steve Austin’s. The ladies aren’t relegated to hair pulls, the giant swing and screeching as was once presented as a women’s match. The modern pace and style of wrestling has proven to have a detrimental effect on both sexes of athletes. The danger is that the schedule required of any wrestler assigned to the top spot could be short-lived due to the nature of injuries that occur. Six months out of the spotlight to rehab an injury could be just enough time to be replaced.
The fans are fickle, and even when the ladies are giving them a level of action that they have never seen before, they expose themselves to greater injury and shorter careers.
1 It Can Work: The Women Today Represent The Total Package
Regardless of the debate on either side of the topic, the one indisputable fact is simply this: The ladies that we are treated to under the banner of professional wrestling today can perform. The matches that we have witnessed in recent months demonstrate a roster of ladies that have spent years perfecting their craft and have paid dues to reach the pinnacle of success. Becky Lynch started as a teen in Ireland and traveled internationally before getting her shot – her pure grit and commitment to her craft shows in a genre that once recruited sports models and tried to teach them the sport on the fly.
The women wrestlers of our modern era can wrestle, they can talk, they understand how to market and promote themselves. Most importantly, they understand their value in the larger scheme of professional wrestling which will serve them well as they continue to lead a revolution for themselves and all who will follow.