As far as WWE goes, Women’s wrestling has never had it so good. Gone are the models struggling with clotheslines just to fill the website with bikini shoots, gone is the tacky ‘Diva’ title for the division, and main events are now becoming common. Mickie James may be accusing people of forgetting her achievements but there is a lot from her previous run that WWE would be better off forgetting. I was once achievement-whoring on a Smackdown game in a packed living room and had absolutely no defence when the time came to win a lingerie match.
Now we have Falls Count Anywhere matches, Iron Man, Cage and the main event of a PPV in a Hell in a Cell match. The much talked about women’s revolution now actually exists. Rather than a collection a three women stables talking about it, matches occur with regular frequency that showcase the change in how the women’s division is now utilised, and thriving. However, this has me concerned.
I, like many of you, have been through false dawns before. Paige finally being brought up from NXT to beat AJ Lee on her first night was one that comes to mind. Instead of two fantastic female competitors being allowed to tear the place down, we ended up with an imitating, friends but not friends feud that overstayed it’s welcome. Paige arrived, the Anti-Diva ass kicker did not.
July 13th, 2015. Sasha Banks, Charlotte (Flair) and Becky Lynch debuted and we were promised something new. It took time, as these things do, but since the split of the brands a year later the women’s title, most notably Raw’s, has flourished. But as we run closer to a year into the split, my nagging, annoying voice in the back of my head has become slightly louder. But let’s look at this week first.
In my Elimination Chamber predictions, I added a note saying Bayley should not have won as it was too soon. Bayley won the title in the main event of Raw. Too soon? I think so. Beautiful moment? Of course it was. Show me a wrestling fan that didn’t enjoy Bayley’s big smile after capturing the title and I will show you a fan who has never known joy. The problem is that many who saw Bayley’s amazing chase in NXT would agree that a lot of money was left on the table having Bayley win so soon, and on Raw. Charlotte always loses the title on Raw. They build her up as the Queen of PPV. It seems hard to believe they would lose 16 months of work building that image up to have it surrendered at the PPV before Wrestlemania. So you would have to assume she is going to get the title back at Fastlane. Which would mean Bayley’s amazing adventure to capture the title was traded off for a month reign. Hardly seems worth it, if that’s what comes to pass.
Then on Smackdown, Naomi, who had just won her title 24 hours before Bayley, stood in the ring announcing an injury whilst celebrating her first title win. Whilst I can’t object to Naomi winning a title, as the claims of her being the most athletic woman on the roster seem to be well founded, her lack of character development shone the moment Alexa Bliss showed up. Comfortable on the mic and clear about who she is, Alexa has grown since winning the title. It has been the making of her, rather than a noose around her neck. I can only hope the same would be said of Naomi but she was on thin ice before the knee brace appeared. Wanting to take the title down the aisle at your hometown Wrestlemania is a nice dream, but wouldn’t a competitive individual want to walk back up the aisle with the title more/instead? And besides wanting to snatch and glow, what do we know about Naomi? Much like Bayley on Raw, there are ominous signs that the title reign will not be a lengthy one.
If neither of these title runs, that occurred within the same day almost, are not to go long, then why were they done? Wrestlemania is a tough time and everyone wants to be involved, but both of the title changes seem like quick changes before resetting for the final push. Hopefully I’m wrong about at least one of them, but Wrestlemania and the titles themselves are part of the foundations of my pesky concerns. Speaking of concerns, did you know that Candice Michelle once held the Women’s Championship? That Jillian Hall is in the record books as a Diva’s Champion? That Kelly Kelly held the strap for more than 100 days? It’s terrifying to think of now. In the last year we’ve had Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, it’s just a better time to be a fan.
The history of the titles is a little sketchy at best, and whilst not all bad, it is clear to see the improvement. What it does point to is the issue that is now starting to raise its head. Everyone in the women’s division gets a turn. Granted, not entirely true but due to the limited numbers, it’s not far off. Take a look at the Smackdown women’s roster. Seven wrestlers by WWE’s own website last time I checked. (8 if you include Eva Marie, but that’s up to you.) One is a multi-promotion, multi time champion, one is a former champion from a wrestling dynasty and the other is the longest reigning Diva’s Champion in history. Since the Smackdown Women’s Championship came to be at Backlash, there have been three holders of that title, all first timers. You’re looking at a roster in which 86% (or 75%, again, Eva Marie) have held a championship.
In the dramatically larger men’s division on Smackdown Live, the percentage is closer to 25% when discussing the top championship. (Two of them being Randy Orton and John Cena.) With title wins, you become part of history. You will, always, at least once, have been a champion. Most tend to stay up at the top end of the card, in and around some form of title picture, with the exception of Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler these days. This is something that can be done in the men’s division as it is almost 4 times the size. The main event picture could feature 6 different competitors throughout the year and it would still have plenty of fresh matches, new opponents and feuds to dive into. (In theory, I know it’s not quite the case.)
I’ve always been of the theory that it takes 8 competitors to make a division, but they will need to be switched up year to year in some shape or form. Smackdown is coming off of a PPV that featured three women’s matches. A first, and all of them were enjoyable or better. The days of the diva’s being thrown out before the main title match so the crowd could take a piss break are comfortably a thing of the past. All three matches featured competitors with a story back up, a reason to compete. It was a success, a testament to the hard work in that division. But take a look at 205 Live. A small roster, already on its fourth champion, with a lot of matches being revisited. Whilst not wanting to be negative against 205 Live, as I’m all for the idea, it has a problem. Whilst not suffering just yet, this is the same problem that faces both women’s rosters.
For every woman to stay relevant, with a developed character, and a strong sense of who they are and what they’re about, they need to be on TV. But with a smaller roster and not that many possibilities, the new opponents run thin quick. Take Smackdown for example. The three matches from Elimination Chamber could be repeated for a couple of weeks and then a few would need to switch. To stay on TV, they would need to be in a program. Becky has feuded this year with Alexa, and now Mickie, and whilst that could go longer, that leaves her only Natalya and Carmella as fresh feuds. Nikki will presumably go to feud with champ Alexa leaving Naomi either out injured or logically in with Mickie James. Great. And then a few months down the line?
I accept I’m being a little pedantic and a bit of a dick, but the work done in the two women’s division has been great and I don’t want to go back to the old days. But they must always be moving forward. When Charlotte and Sasha were feuding, as great as it was, probably best feud on Raw last year, it can’t have escaped everyone’s notice that Sasha would just be off of TV when she wasn’t champion. She would just seemingly disappear from TV, waiting for the next shot. And that was before they started playing up the constant injuries. That cannot be the best way to keep a feud fresh and alive. But then there’s only so many times Dana Brooks can be beat on Charlotte’s behalf before Charlotte loses the title on Raw, before winning it back at PPV. There must be other solutions. Nia Jax tearing through ‘jobbers’ (such an unpleasant term for usually talented individuals) was a positive move, but now the monster has to be unleashed upon the division, which means someone else will suffer.
Take Raw. Let’s assume Charlotte is the Champ. The Raw roster on WWE’s own website still lists Summer Rae and Paige, so let’s stick with 6 as the roster number. Someone has to be built up to take the champion on. Without a credible threat, there’s no money to be made. So that challenger has to beat someone to help with that credibility. So Dana Brooke takes a pin, next week the champ loses in a tag match, and the week after they talk, then the PPV. Charlotte retains and then the next month they rinse and repeat and Charlotte still retains. Now a new challenger has to be built. During the title feud, other women should have been feuding to build up a competitor but Raw’s women’s roster runs so thin that it doesn’t work. Nia has to be built up, but there’s only Bayley and Sasha to fight. Victims of their own talent perhaps. The point is, for someone to be built up, someone must lose, but in a division so small, that loser will likely be next up and their credibility will need to be boosted, and so the trade keeps happening, and no-one is truly elevated. And with a person constantly losing, it means that when the next challenger beats them, it means nothing either. Pedantic yes, especially with the quality that we now get from the women’s locker room compared to previous years in WWE, but my worry is not what is happening now, it is what comes next. There was a time when the Knockouts division in TNA was must see TV as well, remember?
WWE has come a long way in its presentation of the female competitors but this is something it should be proactively trying to address. For all the progress this last year, nothing shows the improvement quite like Wrestlemania. There should be a one on one title match, the culmination of a year’s work, with months of build reaching a naturally brilliant crescendo during the match of Wrestlemania. (This should be true of all title matches at all times but we can’t have everything.) WWE usually gives us an ‘all the females on the roster at once’ type of match, which does nothing for the division. Headlining Hell in a Cell will mean nothing if there’s a tag match at Wrestlemania. Any ideas when the last singles match at Wrestlemania for the Women’s title was? Wrestlemania 23. A ‘lumberjill’ match, on a show that featured a ‘lumberjack’ match, between champion Melina and challenger Ashley. Ashley F***ing Massaro. A match that didn’t last as long as the entrances. 2007 that was, a decade ago. To add perspective, the last time the women’s division was represented by a singles match, the current POTUS had just taken a Stunner.
If WWE is really as serious about promoting women’s wrestling as it has been in the last few months, there needs to be at least one singles match from one of the brands, with a suitable amount of time to showcase what the division is all about. Putting all the women in one match is counterproductive. It just means that there wasn’t one compelling angle in the entire division that couldn’t merit a spot and if that was the case then the question would be, why not?
In fairness to Wrestlemania, it is a bit of a law unto itself. And who can begrudge the payday for current superstars? But it should be the final chapter in a yearlong tale, it should not be Santino Marella winning a battle Royal, or every woman standing around the ring just happy to be on the show. One of the key successes in recent months is the clear goal of every wrestler, they all want to be the champ, and they all want to be the best. That is something not shown in the men’s side of the roster and it has added something to even the simplest of matches. The current landscape of women’s wrestling in WWE is great, but I cannot shrug the niggling feeling that we are watching the peak of an era, rather than the becoming of the new standard.
The next few weeks will be pivotal. Bayley has become champion but what happens next. I’ve read the idea that maybe Stephanie will demand she hand the title back due to interference. Not only would it suit Bayley’s character, and Charlotte’s, and Stephanie’s for that matter, but it would help increase the tension between Bayley and Sasha. It would be a better idea than her just losing it to Charlotte next time a PPV rolls around. Plus, a wrestler feuding with an authority figure, in the way Stephanie drops that she doesn’t feel Bayley belongs, is the true sign of WWE taking an interest (sadly). Bayley even mentioned Steph’s title run before her match. It could work. Whether Naomi’s injury is legit or not, the Smackdown road to Wrestlemania is a little trickier but the talent is there, as is the hard work over the last year to warrant a decent place on the card. But I’m looking forward to seeing what happens, and surely that’s the point?
As well as Bayley’s landmark win, last week we saw the Emmalina character debut, and then apparently die. After reading that it was supposed to be a throwback to the days of Sable and The Kat, I couldn’t be happier. Leave the playboy nonsense alone, plus it’s PG so how half assed would it have been? Emma is a compellingly vicious heel after ditching the awkward dancer tomfoolery and that is what the division needs, and it’s also what it is about these days. (Although I think she’d be better on Smackdown in a switch with Mickie James. Smackdown could do with the remorseless villain and Raw could do with a veteran.)
Ideas such as late 90’s homages admittedly scare me more than the possible direction of the women’s division. And I know I should be able to just enjoy what we now have, rather than worry about what may come, but that’s who I am. I can never truly enjoy the good times because I know they must end. But that’s the rub, these are good times, better than being a fan of WWE has ever been when it comes to female wrestling. But where will we stand in a year? And what is the solution?
The aforementioned jobbers? They could work sporadically, and if wisely used could add a lot to the presentation but they have a finite shelf life (take note James Ellsworth.) Their own show? A theory I’ve seen before but if 205 Live shows us anything its that it’s hard to keep the audience in their seats. Plus if WWE is to really be the global representation of all things wrestling it wants us to believe it is, it has to include everything. The women must be on the main shows. I’m not sure what may happen, as it could literally be anything, but so long as the good times are here I should probably just enjoy them. Notice the difference in the tweets from wrestlers that are happy they’re there and doing what they love. And pray that the days of bra and panties matches, puppies, playboy shots every ‘Mania, pillow fights and mud baths never return. No more bikini models, just role models. People who are good at what they do. And hey, Bayley won the title. We’ll always have that. No matter what roadblocks come up, we can just hug them. The problems that face a division trying to maintain its own lofty standards? Well at least it now has lofty standards. Take that, Diva’s.
Anyone with advice on how to enjoy the good times, or anyone not enjoying the female WWE divisions, as I’d genuinely be interested in hearing why, feel free to agree, heckle, judge, correct or just chat @HeneghanCiaran or [email protected]
Ryno Wrestling Review Episode 76: 3rd Annual RRR Awards Show!
It’s the 3rd annual Ryno Wrestling Review Awards (aka ‘The Hornies’)! Dan is joined by Wil Lewis, Jason Calascibetta, and a few (poorly impersonated) celebrities to hand out hardware in 12 categories: Breakthrough Performer, Promo of the Year, Match of the Year, Card of the Year, Feud of the Year, Tag Team of the Year, Gail Kim Lifetime Achievement Award, FDM Award (D-Bag of the Year), Most Overrated, Most Underrated, Female Performer, and Male Performer! Listen here:
You can also subscribe on Apple Podcasts, or your favorite podcast platform!
Ryno Wrestling Review Episode 74: The Debut of Ryno Roulette!
Dan is joined by Wil Lewis and Jason Calascibetta for the debut of ‘Ryno Roulette’! 12 WWE Superstar names plus one Sasha Banks Christmas hat equals one heck of a show. Listen here:
As always, you can subscribe to the Ryno Wrestling Review on Apple Podcasts here!
Ryno Wrestling Review Episode 73: Becky Lynch Injury, Survivor Series Weekend, & ‘Would You Rather?’
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