by Tracy Chiles, who you can follow on Twitter here: @TracyChiles
Estimated read time: 8 minutes
If you haven’t watched women’s wrestling in the past few years, your opinion of it probably isn’t very high. There’s good reason for that. Ever since its birth, women’s wrestling has been treated as an afterthought. Simply put it was used as a breather match in between the big fights which were reserved for the men. Women were touted as “divas” and put into degrading matches to entertain the male portion of the audience. They were treated less like a threat and more like eye candy.
Enter 2017. Long gone are the days of women being the bathroom break of the night. Instead of divas, we have badasses and believe me when I say they’re legit. (Like really, these girls could break me in half.) The roster, despite being split between two brands, is stronger than ever. So how did we get here and who are these wrestlers I’ve tried so hard to talk up?
The Four Horsewomen
The women’s revolution was not something that happened overnight. It was a slow and grueling process that took place over many years. Unfortunately WWEs track record of having a pulse on the fans is lackluster to say the least. That being said there were certainly women who showed us signs of hope throughout the wait. Chyna, Mickie James, AJ Lee, and Paige are some names that come to mind. However when talking about the women’s revolution there is only one place to start: the four horsewomen.
In 2011, WWE’s 3rd brand was on the rise. NXT was a brand new developmental system set in place to train young talent. Primarily receiving wrestlers from proper independent promotions, NXT quickly got a cult following of fans. After creating their first women’s star (Paige), NXT had a novel idea: to build a whole division of women treated just as serious as the men.
Four stepped up to the challenge. Becky Lynch, a wild redhead with fighting spirit made herself stand out with a blitz of different grappling techniques and powerful slams. Outside of looking like a confused pilot, she’s a great talker and can more than hold her own on the mic. The boss, Sasha Banks, took the role of being a great submissionist but sometimes leans more towards being a high flyer. Next in the lineup is Bayley. Bayley is a well balanced wrestler who’s personality stands out more than anything. She’s this weird mix of being both a nerd and an optimist. All you need to know is she’s a fantastic wrestler and everyone absolutely loves her.
Lastly, there’s Charlotte. The self proclaimed queen is arguably the best women’s wrestler EVER and unarguably the face of the women’s revolution. She’s the daughter of Ric Flair but you don’t have to know that to know she’s a big deal. Her ring work is often flawless and her mic work has really come into its own in the past few years. Her cockiness may make her dislikable but her skill demands respect.
The four horsewomen have now made their way onto the main roster (Charlotte and Becky on Smackdown, Sasha and Bayley on Raw) and have made an impact on the entire wrestling landscape. In the past year all four women have held titles, Sasha and Charlotte became the first women to to headline a main pay per view event and collectively they are putting out the best content in the history of the division. Through hard work and superb match quality they are forcing us to take notice. For the first time ever, women are at the forefront of the product and these four girls are the ones you should thank.
The Next Generation
The four horsewomen may have started the revolution but there’s a group of new women who will be helping carry the division for years to come. While I could tie you to a chair and force you to learn every single person on the roster, I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to introduce you to the three women who have benefited most out of what the horsewomen built.
First up is Naomi. The current smackdown women’s champ has a lot of work to do building her character. That aside she’s a freak athlete. We know his because we’re reminded of it every two seconds on commentary. Her is mic work good and she has done a great job winning over the fans.
Next is Nia. Nia Jax is “not like most girls.” At 6 foot 240 pounds she is the beast of Raws. Despite that, she is still in the same boat as Naomi as far as her character work goes. Her mic work is noticeably bad but she definitely plays her part in the ring. She admittedly has a lot of work to do before they put the belt on her. Despite that it it’s only a matter of time before she becomes the top villain in the division.
I saved the best for last, Alexa Bliss. Alexa unexpectedly rose to the top of the batting order after being prematurely called up to the main roster. She’s a former Smackdown women’s champion and the current Raw women’s champion. At 5 foot, she’s not the type to absolutely dominate opponents. Instead, she does something better: she outsmarts them. Often using distractions and roll up pins, her brain is truly her best weapon. In a title match on Smackdown she even popped her elbow out place as distraction and then popped it back in to steal a win. Her ring work is fantastic and her mic work follows suit.
This group is vital to holding the division where it is. Feeding off the momentum of the four horsewomen, they have all thrived in their roles. Alexa and Naomi are currently at the top of the card and Nia is soon to follow. The work this group is doing is arguably just as important as what was built in the past. It is imperative that in the next few months these women continue to shine.
The last woman you need to be introduced to is Asuka. Asuka is the most important women to not debut on the roster yet. She is so damn important she gets her own section of this article. Asuka is vitally important and here’s why.
Sometimes in wrestling the build of a character is more important than anything done on the mic. For example Goldberg went 173-0 despite being a poor wrestler and lackluster on the mic. Despite this, he felt larger than life and when he came down the ramp, you knew immediately that what you were watching was important. A lot of parallels can be made in between Asuka and Goldberg. Asuka has recorded over 150 wins without a loss in NXT, which is insane. She’s the longest recorded NXT women’s champion and when she walks down that ramp you know it’s important. The big difference in between the two is the fact that Asuka can actually goddamn wrestle.
Her hard hitting pace is not only exciting, it actually adds some legitimacy to her character. Coming from Japan, her accent stifles her promo abilities but honestly it doesn’t even matter. From the mask she wears coming out to her wild facial expressions, everything about her is intimidating. When she comes out you think, “wow she’s going to murder this poor girl”. Fans literally chant “Asuka’s gonna kill you” during her matches.
All of this is what makes her impending debut SO important. She adds a legitimacy that can be near impossible to find. Her persona is overflowing with character which draws both hardcore and casual fans in. When she comes to take one of those main roster belts, all hell is going to break loose.
Where We Are Now
So why am I telling all of this? Is it because I think this will convince you to watch wrestling? Is women’s wrestling really better than men’s? Not quite. Not yet.
The truth is I wrote this because it’s important to me and it’s important to these women to be treated with respect. This is one of those rare scenarios where wrestling is imitating real life. The stigma of women coming second is fading and when wrestling, one of the most barbaric forms of entertainment, is recognizing change then you know real progress is being made. In Wrestlemania 19 back in 2003, the women on the roster were given a bra and panties match. Fast forward to 2016, the women put on the best match of the night during Wrestlemania 32.
But much like real life, we can’t settle on the progress that has been made in the past. We have to keep pushing. But there’s still work to be done to level the quality between women’s and men’s wrestling. The storylines the women are given are often poorly written and quickly thrown together, the belts are passed around like candy, and the lack of depth in their division often disconnects them from the male main event status.
Women’s wrestling is no longer the butt of a joke. It’s no longer an intermission. It’s no longer a just spectacle for men. Tune in and you’ll see a bunch of goddamn badass women making a name for themselves. Keep watching, and women’s wrestling will continue to grow into something truly special.