So now that the dust has settled from my trip , I’m beginning to think what my favourite moment from Wrestlemania weekend was. Whilst the Shinsuke Nakamura/Sami Zayn match was incredible and the Shane McMahon dive off the cage was breathtaking, the most iconic moment is rather not a return, or a match, but instead a change in direction for an important group of roster members.
First some history. WWE – in a way to avoid athletic laws – has always tried to distance itself from being professional wrestling. As such, it calls itself “Sports Entertainment”, and it’s wrestlers “Superstars”. It’s a way to brand it to be different, and they are very very careful about how they brand them.
However, their women’s division, which began again in around 1998 after a break of a few years, has been referred to in a different name for the last few years: “Divas”. Although it’s branded as such, it’s generally seen as a bit of a derogatory term, as generally unless you’re Mariah Carey, nobody wants to be called a “Diva”.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only thing that has held back women’s wrestling, as the hiring policy has seemed to value looks over athletic talent. Wrestlemania – the pinnacle of the pro-wrestling world, has generally seen the “Divas” compete in poor, nothing matches, usually seeing the #1 contender be whoever posed in Playboy for their “Wrestlemania Special”. That is when the “Divas” title had been defended. Often there has been matches, usually involving Z-List celebrities, or battle royales which lead to nothing and generally terrible and throwaways. Although the company has referred to these matches as “Divas matches”, the colloquial term amongst the fans due to the fact these matches are often placed between two other more marquee matches has been to refer to these matches as “The Piss Break”.
However, whilst glorified models had been stinking up the main roster, NXT saw something grow – really good women’s wrestling. True athletes were given time on shows to wrestle great matches. Lead by Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley, women’s wrestling became the highlight of these shows.
Although talent such as AJ Lee, Emma, Natalya & Paige existed on the main roster, it was often in throwaway matches and occasionally at the expense of less talented women. It came to a head on February 23rd, 2015, where Paige and Emma took on The Bella Twins in a match that lasted under 30 seconds. In a three hour show. This came after a match on NXT a few days earlier where Sasha Banks took on one of Indie Wrestling’s top female stars Leva Bates’ non-Cosplay character “Blue Pants” in a feature match on the card, and the fans finally snapped. Shortly after #GiveDivasAChance trended on Twitter, and WWE had to act.
It was a stop/start push. There was a half decent tag match at Wrestlemania 31, and Paige had some good matches with the rapidly improving Bella Twins and Alicia Fox, but it came to a head on July 13th of RAW when Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks debuted on the main roster. Whilst well received, the WWE saw fit to rebrand this as a “Divas Revolution”, and whilst matches received more focus, nothing really changes – the matches were still not hugely focussed, and they were still Divas, competing for a title that looked like a bad tattoo from a drunken weekend in Ibiza.
This all changed in the Royal Rumble at the beginning of the year, when Charlotte and Becky Lynch had one of the strongest matches on the card. This match – that saw Charlotte retain the Divas title in an absolute clinic, saw the return of Sasha Banks (who had been booked impeccably since her debut), and the venue came unglued.
It was a validation to three quarters of the four horsemen, and they were put into a marquee match at Wrestlemania 32 in Dallas. The three women wrestlers were put on the front cover of the programme, with a genuine storyline (that isn’t built on who was sleeping with who, but on respect and wanting to be the best in the world), and generally given a huge opportunity.
And boy, it was a marquee match.
All three got special entrances, Lynch got a steampunk entrance which fit her character, Sasha Banks got her cousin (Snoop Dogg) rapping her to the ring, and Snoop Dogg was referred to as Banks’ cousin, not the other way around. And Charlotte was given fireworks, a robe that borrowed heavily from her daddy, and looked majestic and every bit a star. They were all stars, and had an incredible match that became only the second women’s match in WWE history that lasted over 10 minutes (the other one? The women’s match approximately 90 minutes earlier on the pre-show of Wresltemania 32). After 16 minutes of probably the best match on the card, Charlotte beat Becky Lynch to become the first ever WWE Women’s Champion.
Yes, they dropped the “Divas” moniker which pidgeonholed female athletes. As I’m writing this we’re on the way to WWE Extreme Rules (one of the next big show after Wrestlemania), there are two genuine feuds, and one main evented the lead in Raw to the Pay Per View. There isn’t just one shoehorned in.
So, the moment for me for Wrestlemania is that women’s wrestling is something to be proud of. Sure it will have a few bumps down the road, but how WWE has handles the closing of the “Diva’s Revolution” and the beginning of the “Women’s Wrestling Era”, has been absolutely superb.
I’ll end with this tweet from Max Landis. Showing why it matters to millions of fans around the world.
Why Women's wrestling is important in one picture: pic.twitter.com/rjX8iYbk29
— Max Landis (@Uptomyknees) April 4, 2016
Also published on Medium.