What If..... The Women's Revolution Had Never Taken Place?
The Women's revolution was a much needed shift in the wrestling world, but what if it had never happened? In this week's article, Paul looks at the ramifications if WWE had not given Divas a chance.
There have been many monumental moments in WWE, and indeed Pro Wrestling history, that have changed the landscape of the business forever. The Montreal Screwjob is one such example, as is Hulk Hogan Joining WCW, which was certainly a game changing moment, and let us not forget Shane Douglas throwing down the NWA World's Heavyweight Championship mere minutes after winning it and declaring himself the ECW World Champion.
All the moments above and so many more have left an imprint on the business that are still revered to this day, in some shape or form. But one of the most iconic moments in recent history, did not even take place in a ring!
23rd February, 2015, saw a match take place on RAW between the Bella Twins and the team of Emma and Paige. Well, I say a "match", but what it actually was, is a complete shit show.
The match, if you can call it that, lasted barely thirty seconds, and the entire segment lasted no more than three minutes (Wait a second.... Did I just hear myself say, three minutes?!).
Bearing in mind that RAW is three hours long, and taking into account advertising breaks, the show ran for 142 minutes. Meaning that the Women's segment equated to 4.26% of the entire show. Add to that the only other women to appear on the show were Stephanie McMahon, as part of the Authority storyline, and Natalya & Naomi supporting their respective husbands Tyson Kidd and Jimmy Uso, it was obvious that the Women's division and indeed the women themselves were considered an afterthought.
This did not go down well with fans. What happened next was a worldwide reaction to this, as #GiveDivasAChance trended on Twitter for almost two days. Many industry insiders weighed in on this with their support for the movement, as well as several former WWE performers. Even AJ Lee publicly criticised her employers by calling them out via Twitter over unfair pay and unequal screen time for the women. Stephanie McMahon attempted to calm this by also publicly stating that she appreciated AJ's opinion, but still the movement continued.
This prompted the following reaction from Vince McMahon:
Whilst this did indeed show that the WWE Chairman was listening, or at least gave the impression that he was, nothing really changed on either RAW or Smackdown in the next few weeks. Whilst down in NXT, the Women's division was a focal point of the show. With Sasha Banks as the NXT Women's Champion, and Bayley as the chasing challenger, the two were weaving a compelling story throughout NXT television. Add to this that you had Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss and Dana Brooke all putting in strong showings, the NXT Women's division was shining whereas their "main roster" counterparts were barely getting their faces shown on television.
Things took another turn for the worse when, just five days after teaming with Paige and beating the Bella Twins at Wrestlemania 31, AJ Lee announced her decision to retire from in ring competition effective immediately. Given her previous comments on the matter, it seemed likely her decision was fuelled by the disparity between the male and female talent in WWE, as well as the ongoing lawsuits between WWE and her husband, CM Punk.
After her departure however, things began to change. Paige and Renee Young became integral parts of the sixth season of Tough Enough, while Lita was a coach on the show. It was a small step, but it was a significant one. By early July, in a RAW segment, Nikki Bella stated that there were no more credible challengers to her Diva's Championship. This prompted Stephanie McMahon to saunter down to the ring and proclaim that a revolution was going to take place in the Women's division. This happened in the form of two stables:
Team PCB - Comprised of former Diva's Champion, Paige, and NXT call ups Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch
Team B.A.D - Comprised of Naomi, Tamina and the NXT Women's Champion, Sasha Banks
What then followed was a week's long, three-way feud between these two teams and Team Bella, comprised of the Bella Twins and Alicia Fox. Sometime later, after Nikki Bella had beaten the record of AJ Lee as Diva's Champion, she was to lose the title to Charlotte Flair, who was to be the final Diva's Champion. At Wrestlemania 32, a new WWE Women's Championship was unveiled, with Charlotte essentially "retaining" her title by coming away with the win.
From here the Women's division seemed to go from strength to strength. Matches began to go longer on both RAW and Smackdown and increased in volume, angles played out much more similarly to those of their male counterparts, and the term "Divas" was dropped entirely, with the female talent now rightly regarded to as "WWE Superstars". Over time, the Women's division began to main event episodes of RAW and Smackdown, main evented a Pay-Per-View, and then even had an entire Pay-Per-View dedicated to the Women's division Add to that the Mae Young Classic in NXT and the proof was there that WWE was making a real effort to change the perception and relevance of their Women's division.
Superstars such as Asuka, Lacey Evans, Ruby Riott, Ember Moon and many others began to emerge and make names for themselves on the main roster, allowing for a deeper talent pool than ever before in WWE. Fan interest began to increase, as women's angles and matches were no longer considered the "toilet breaks", and became gripping, must see content. We then had the introduction of the WWE Women's Tag Team Championships, with Bayley and Sasha Banks crowned the inaugural champions, and it all culminated in the Winner Takes All Women's Championship match at Wrestlemania 35 being the main event.
More prominence was to come when, for the first time ever, the Women's division was showcased in a match at the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia, a country where women are not permitted to do a great many things. Whilst it was done respectfully, with each woman covered up to respect the traditions of Saudi Arabian culture, the significance of the moment was not lost on anyone. WWE had done what few had been able to do before them in many sports, if ever, and that was put women in an equal place to the men.
Fast forward to now, and the Women's division looks better than it ever has. With the additions of Nikki Cross, Bianca Belair and Shayna Baszler among others, not to mention a rumoured imminent main roster call up for the "Nightmare", Rhea Ripley, plus an overwhelming supply of talent in NXT with Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai, Io Shirai, Toni Storm, Raquel Gonzalez, Mercedes Martinez, Tegan Nox, Shotzi Blackheart.... I could go on and on.
With all of this, it is easy to see that WWE delivered on their pledge to reinvigorate and grow the Women's division into a successful and equal counterpart to the Men's, even if the current state of the division is a little stale. And all it took was one little hashtag on Twitter. Four little words proved to be the spark that turned simmering embers into white hot burning flames of change.
But what if Vince had turned a blind eye? What if he had seen all this uproar on social media and chose to ignore as he so often does with other things? What if Vince had never "Given Divas A Chance"? It could all have been so different....
When you look at things objectively, Vince did not have to do anything with the Women's division. He could have quite easily carried on with it as it was and paid no attention to the movement at all. WWE was not going to stop making money. It's a worldwide juggernaut. No other Professional Wrestling company even gets close to them in terms of annual turnover and profit, and looking back through history (which is another fantastic series of articles, written by yours truly) he did this without putting female talent in prominent positions, at least for the most part.
So, he could have ignored it. What then for all the talented female talent we have now? Well, for one, wrestling's "Four Horsewomen" of Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch may not have been signed at all. Alright, maybe Charlotte, given who her father is, but the rest may have been completely ignored by Vince due to not fitting his vision of "Divas". I mean, this is a man who gave us "Bra and Panties" matches, and made Trish Stratus bark like a dog for goodness sake! Then there was the infamous "Piggie James" angle, which quite frankly, if reports are to be believed, was done because Mickie james had put on some weight which is absolutely abhorrent.
If this had been the case, what would have become of NXT? The WWE Performance Centre plays host to a mesmerising amount of talent all round. From production assistants and ring technicians, to commentators and announcers, not just in ring talent, you have to imagine that without NXT and Triple H playing a significant role in the overall development side, we probably wouldn't see the bigger names in the field on WWE television today. Candice LeRae made her name alongside (say it quietly) Joey Ryan on the independent scene. Would she have fit Vince's vision? Not likely. How about Shayna Baszler? Certainly not. Nia Jax? Forget about it (Well, that would possibly be a good thing...) the point is, WWE would have continued to hire models and fitness types to "compete" in their Women's division.
The message it would have sent to other young women in today's modern, woke era, would have been one of dismissiveness, derision and inequality. No man or woman would have been able to look at their daughters and convincingly say "You can be a professional wrestler if you want to be.", because absolutely no one would truly want that for their child. To be paraded around in next to nothing to fulfill the perverse demands of an old, out of touch, billionaire.
Vince had previously said in the past that "No one wants to watch the girls wrestle over the guys", a philosophy that he believed in, and hey, maybe he still does. But Vince is business savvy, despite what some/all of us may think nowadays. He knew the business opportunity this presented. But again, he could have ignored this. He could have kept giving us pudding matches, pillow fights, and any manner of costume dress up matches.
I would be remiss if I did not mention in all of this that Women's wrestling on the independent scene has been a staple for many years. Shimmer, Stardom, Shine and WSU have all given women a place to ply their craft for many years, but if Vince had chosen to ignore all of this there would always have been that ceiling to their potential. Sure, it is possible that one of those companies or another start up could have forced Women's wrestling into the mainstream, but WWE is the market leader, and so they hold a lot of influence. Had they continued to not showcase Women's wrestling as a consistent, viable equal to the men's game, then the majority of fans probably wouldn't have paid much attention to it either. This would have robbed us all of an AWFUL lot of talent over the last five years.
Whilst the Attitude Era is revered for gritty, barely decent and flying by the seat of your pants action, history has shown that this has not translated to the modern-day product. We all look back with rose tinted glasses as just how great an era it was, and a lot of it was. But there was also a lot wrong with it. Had that sort of product carried on in today's world with the Women's division, you can bet your life savings that there would have been a queue of angry feminists at Vince McMahon's door baying for blood, and rightly so.
Now granted, there were some bright gems in this time. Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly and Gail Kim all proved their ability as wrestlers, but unfortunately, one way or another, they were all put in storylines or positions that did not portray them at their best, especially moving forward from the Attitude Era. There was the Trish Stratus love triangle with Chris Jericho and Christian, Lita and Kane's "baby" being punted halfway to Mars by Gene Snitsky, and Molly's "love story" with Spike Dudley. All of these angles did not portray these women as the great wrestlers they were or would go on to be, but in truth, they weren't designed to be. And that really is the point of all of this.
Shotzi Blackheart has had an incredible year in NXT, she won the Breakout Star of the Year award for 2020, and it is richly deserved. But in a world where Vince's vision remains the norm, there is absolutely no way she would have been signed, much less made an integral part of the division. People like Kacy Catanzaro may have still made the supposed grade, but more for their aesthetically pleasing look than any particular in ring skills.
Fortunately, none of this came to pass. Vince is a shrewd businessman and saw the opportunity to sell his product on an entirely new level. And it has worked out very well for him. for us as fans, it has given more talent to enjoy, and some fantastic matches and angles along the way. With AEW now on the scene providing a competitive Women's division, as well Impact, Ring of Honor, and many others, it seems that the era of Divas and garbage matches is a thing of the past. We have to be thankful for that. But we must also remember where it came from, and ensure that we, as fans, don't give anyone any reason to regress back to those days again.
Women's wrestling has its rightful place among the business now, and long may it stay that way.
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