The rise of the WWE Women’s Revolution

A revolution like no other

2016 saw the resurgence of women’s wrestling in WWE. The WWE Divas Championship was cast aside in favour of the prestigious Women’s Championship. Though this Women’s Championship does not share the same lineage as the one that preceded it, it marked a massive change in the way that females were presented in the ring by the WWE.

One has to look back at the beginning of this revolution to see how it has evolved and changed in such a short amount of time. A simple hashtag marked a change from the 2-minute matches on live TV every fortnight and the lack of any real feuds - #GiveDivasAChance.

Before the female wrestlers of the WWE were referred to as Superstars, just as the men are, they had their own brand and were known as Divas. This term could be considered quite sexist looking back, but it allowed the WWE marketing machine to try and appeal to the male demographic of 20 to 30-year-olds.

It was more about the talent’s look and sex appeal than actual wrestling ability. Though Lita and Trish Stratus did get a chance early on to express their talent in the main event of Raw, this was short-lived. Not to mention the fact that both of them started in the stereotypical management roles for the male Superstars.

This approach worked back in the late nineties and early noughties. The problem was, as we entered an age where women were becoming more prominent in sports such as UFC and football/soccer, WWE was sending out the wrong message about what they were capable of.

They were behind the times, which isn’t really like WWE. If this ever became a problem in any other department, they rectified it. Nothing proved this more than the transition into the Attitude Era, as childish, gimmick based programming became stale.

Women in WWE became increasingly less important as time went on and talent such as the Bella Twins, Summer Rae and Alisha Fox could get no real TV time, no real feuds and were becoming a distant memory for the WWE.

Paige dominates developmental

Paige was the first ever NXT Women's Champion

NXT formed as a developmental brand in 2012 and it was wholly in Triple H’s hands. He could see the talent that the women possessed and more than likely spurred on by his wife Stephanie McMahon, set about rebuilding the female division from the ground up.

Women from all over the world entered the NXT scene and began to impress. Paige is probably the most famous of this initial batch of Superstars that were finally given a stage to show what they could do.

What was amazing about this is how the crowd responded to 20-minute matches from the female division, feuds that meant something and an NXT Women’s Championship that felt as prestigious as the NXT Championship.

Paige captured the NXT Women’s Championship in 2013. The tournament drew a lot of attention and was helped along by established Divas on the roster, such as Tamina Snuka.

The fact that the women were now more respected in the developmental territories than they were on the main roster and the main weekly broadcasts of Raw and SmackDown, was beginning to create a buzz among the general audience.

As NXT continued to build talent with Emma, Sasha Banks and others, the Divas division of the main roster was led by AJ Lee.

AJ Lee leads the WWE Divas to the spotlight

The true beginning of a real revolution

AJ Lee was the absolute pinnacle of female representation before the beginning of the revolution in 2015. When she first came to prominence, she was involved in a romantic storyline with Daniel Bryan and actually cost him the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 28.

However, despite this relationship not lasting long, AJ Lee was not out of the spotlight.

She aligned herself with many Superstars such as CM Punk, John Cena and Kane. Her segments were quickly becoming the most entertaining parts of the weekly broadcast. She had become Raw General Manager during this time, which only increased her airtime and allowed her to develop her character into a ‘crazy’ woman who used mind games to get what she wanted.

It was the first time in a while that a woman was able to use the time she had on TV to create a character that the audience could become invested in. WWE finally had a woman that was capable of carrying the top title and making it mean something. She captured the Divas Championship at Payback 2013 against Kaitlyn.

AJ Lee went on to hold the title for a total of 295 days, which at the time, was a record-breaking reign. When she lost it to Paige on her debut, it began the next chapter in the revolution of women’s wrestling. It was the combination of what Triple H had built in NXT and the crop of Divas that were still struggling on the main roster.

Paige debuted on the main roster and captured the Divas Championship on the same night. She was the youngest Divas Champion at the tender age of 21 but massively experienced nonetheless, having wrestled all over the world since the age of 14.

NXT was still in the early stages of building a foundation for the main roster to capitalise on. With Paige coming up to the main roster as early as she did, WWE thought they had cracked it. However, it would soon become clear, that the foundation was not strong enough to carry over onto the main roster.

There was not enough talent and not enough women to support the initial step. I applaud WWE for wanting to change the landscape of the female division and they could not have tried to do this with anyone better than Paige but it was a shame to see it backfire so quickly.

After a feud with AJ Lee, which Paige lost, Nikki Bella actually captured the Divas Championship from AJ Lee as Paige’s initial momentum began to wane. At the time, Nikki Bella was not considered a good wrestler, nor was she considered good enough to hold the Championship.

I remember watching the title win, wondering what on earth WWE were thinking.

The Four Horsewomen

The second wave of female NXT talent

Meanwhile, NXT was experiencing a second wave of revolution with their female Superstars. With the call up of both Paige and Emma, NXT had lost two of its biggest female Superstars, but with the arrival of more and more talent and the reputation of the brand as a great way to showcase wrestling skill, more talented females were not far behind.

Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte and Becky Lynch, were all taking NXT by storm. They were selling tonnes of merchandise, having amazing matches and building what was to be the true foundation of the women’s revolution in WWE. They referred to themselves as the Four Horsewomen and that title was well deserved.

In the summer of 2015, three of the Four Horsewomen debuted on the main roster as Stephanie McMahon called for a women’s revolution, following heavy backlash from fans on the 23rd February 2015 episode of Raw.

It all started with a Divas tag team match which pitted Paige and Emma against the Bella Twins. The match lasted approximately two minutes and it was at this point that the WWE Universe decided to voice their discontent with the short matches on weekly television.

The audience wanted to see more from the Divas. Because of NXT, everyone knew that these women could put on a show and it was time to give them the big stage to prove it.

The WWE Universe created the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance and it became viral. Vince McMahon confirmed over a tweet that they (WWE) had heard the calls and were to set about making improvements to the division. When the audience kicks up enough of a stink, WWE listens. It happens time and time again.

Though people may criticise the company and let’s face it, it’s hard not to, they do what they feel is best for the audience at times.

The debut of the Horsewomen was the perfect way to kick-start the women’s revolution and the woman that was to become the leader, Charlotte, would capture the Divas Championship from Nikki Bella at Night of Champions 2015. She was to be the final Divas Champion.

Over in NXT, towards the end of 2015, Sasha Banks went back to finish her rivalry with Bayley in a 30-minute iron man match at NXT TakeOver: Respect. This match set several records. It was the longest women’s match in WWE history and the first ever female iron man match.

It was absolutely amazing.

It was fantastic to see women in the main event and to see them captivate an audience for such a long time. The match was critically acclaimed and showed that women were finally ready for the main event. NXT had done all it could do to progress women in the WWE and in the wrestling business as a whole.

It was time for the WWE to take all it had learnt from its developmental programme and run with it.

Divas become Superstars

A new title fora new era

At WrestleMania 32, Lita had the honour of revealing a new Women’s Championship to replace the outdated Divas Championship. This signalled the true end of women being held back in the WWE and changed the way that women were perceived in the company from then on. They would no longer be referred to as Divas but as Superstars.

Charlotte retained and as a result, became the last Divas Champion and the first ever WWE Women’s Champion.

Charlotte is still undefeated to this day at pay-per-view events ( at the time of writing, the abomination that was WWE Fastlane 2017 hadn’t transpired) and her nickname, ‘The Queen’, is well deserved as she truly has led the women of WWE with authority since joining the main roster.

Since the brand split, she has been a focal point of Raw programming.

Her rivalry with Sasha Banks has actually led to a few Raw main events, with her losing the title each time to The Boss. The storylines are that good, and the characters are now so well developed, that the women sometimes get louder cheers than the men.

It is no longer the ‘toilet break’ it once was on the main roster and they can hold an audience in awe as they did (and still do) in NXT.

Some may not agree with the way that Charlotte and Sasha Banks traded the title like a hot potato, but I feel it only added value to the feud and the Championship. It wasn’t being passed around because WWE didn’t know what to do with it, as was the case with the Intercontinental Championship many years ago.

It was being passed between The Queen and The Boss to represent the fact that they are both at the top of their game and that on any given day, one can beat the other for the gold.

It is easily my favourite female feud of all time and I will not forget it in a hurry. It’s a series of matches I’ll be able to tell my kids about and introduce them to, thanks to the WWE Network. It really does feel like I’ve witnessed something special and Charlotte and Sasha have only begun their journey.

With Bayley now being added to the mix and gaining her first Women’s Championship, it has opened up a whole new host of possibilities with what they can do in terms of creative feuds and matches.

The entire division on Raw seems so measured and so carefully planned out. It’s very hard to fault it.

SmackDown Live gets a fully-fledged female roster

SmackDown Live has a deep female roster

SmackDown Live gained its own selection of female Superstars including Alexa Bliss, Naomi, Carmella and Becky Lynch to name just a few. They have been doing fantastic things on the blue brand and it is safe to say that the brand split did not derail the women’s division, if anything, it made it stronger.

The introduction of a brand specific title also made it easier to create new main event calibre Superstars. Alexa Bliss has really grown into a great character since she joined SmackDown Live and after beating Becky Lynch for the title, she has been carrying SmackDown Live’s women’s division with ease.

Naomi has rebranded, and some of the more experienced women such as Natalya and Nikki Bella have been given a new lease of life. There is a completely new generation to feud with and thanks to NXT, they are already characters that people are invested in, so more time can be put into feuds and storylines than character development.

The women of SmackDown Live have also main-evented, so that’s another tick in the list of the to-do list of the women’s revolution. After main-eventing an NXT pay-per-view, the next natural step was main-eventing the weekly episodic broadcasts of Raw and SmackDown Live and they have transitioned into these roles perfectly.

They have dealt with that pressure and made the matches so special that I don’t really bat an eye if they are in the main event anymore, it just seems natural.

They have battled in cages, Hell in a Cell, iron woman matches... you name it, and they’ve probably competed in it. There seems to be no way of holding this revolution back. What really hammers this point home is the fact that the roster is so deep and varied.

There is no chance of them getting left behind again, especially when you think about NXT.

The developmental machine doesn’t stop and right now there is a new generation of females just waiting for their opportunity on the big stage. Ember Moon, Asuka and Peyton Royce are just examples of what is to come next. WWE may need to expand to another brand at this rate.

They are all still flying the flag and pushing the boundaries of what women are capable of, all the while breaking records. Asuka recently hit a 150-match win streak. Unbelievable stuff.

What’s next for WWE’s female Superstars?

An awesome display of talent on the biggest stage of them all WrestleMania

This brings us to the big question: Can women main event a major WWE pay-per-view?

I feel I’ve put a big enough argument forward for the answer to this to be a big fat yes, but it remains to be seen if the momentum can be kept going. I think it’s very unlikely that the women will fade away again as they did after Trish Stratus and Lita left the company. I also think they’ll continue to main event weekly shows and NXT pay-per-views.

However, even at this time, I think it would take a lot for the WWE to put the Women’s Championship ahead of the WWE Championship or even the Universal Championship.

The feud would have to be out of this world. There would have to be a pop at the mere mention or thought of the two competitors getting it on in the squared circle. The next step for something like this would be a non-important pay-per-view and by that, I mean not one of the Big Four (Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, Survivor Series and WrestleMania).

I’d be very comfortable seeing the female Superstars of the WWE carry a pay-per-view on their back and I think they would do an amazing job as they have done with every other opportunity they’ve been granted.

Women could indeed main-event a WWE pay-per-view, and I for one, hope they do it very soon!

Send us news tips at [email protected]

Quick Links

Edited by Staff Editor
Be the first one to comment