Amidst lots of controversy and definite attention, the women in the WWE are in a challenging position as we head towards their first ever exclusive pay-per-views event, WWE Evolution. That stands as a great representation for women’s wrestling in general.
Let me start off by saying that this piece is going to be more of a question to you all reading than an expression of any particular viewpoint of mine. I got opinions about all things pro wrestling of course but this is one of those times when it’s best for us guys to shut up and listen to the ladies who watch the show alongside us. After the promo showdown between Ronda Rousey and Nikka Bella this past Monday my Twitter feed was a very interesting place.
There was a lot of opposition to what Ronda said to Nikki, but there were also some people who found it entertaining and enjoyed seeing Nikki get dragged. I’m not a Nikki fan or hater so I had no fever to see her get taken down a peg, but I’ll admit that my initial reaction was ‘DDAAAAMMMMNNNN!’ I didn’t expect Ronda to go there, and I was impressed that she did a longer promo than I ever expected her to be able to handle. As far as whether it was too much, I’m really not the one to ask about that.
I started out as a fan when things said towards and about women on wrestling shows were far more harsh than that, so my tolerance level is a lot higher than it probably should be in 2018. I was around in 1986, when Jim Cornette went way farther than would ever be allowed on TV today.
OK, it’s storytime everyone…..
Cornette was managing the Midnight Express, who as NWA World Tag Team Champions were pretty much feuding with every face tag team on the roster in Jim Crockett’s World Championship Wrestling. That included Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A, who were being managed by Baby Doll. One week the four men were fighting and Cornette’s men got the advantage.
In a truly sickening image for even 12 year old me Baby Doll ran in to stand between them, the Express grabbed hold of her, and Cornette jabbed her in the stomach (fast forward to the 1:45 mark in the link) with the handle of his tennis racket. It obviously was a work but it looked real as all get out. Needless to say Cornette was getting nuclear heat, even some death threats after that.
But that didn’t stop him from doubling down. In the weeks that followed Cornette went on TV, didn’t apologize one bit, and insulted her further – calling her fat, claiming she slept with all the boys, and saying that no man worth anything would want her.
At one point to get revenge Dusty and Magnum grabbed Cornette, dragged him out of the arena, tied him to the back of a truck, and began to drive off before the Express got him free. The angle culminated in a series of mixed tag matches where Baby Doll would eventually get her hands on Cornette, pummel him good, and pin him.
Uhhh, yeah……….80s pro wrestling, everyone. Women were anything but empowered save for the rare opportunity you got a wimpy manager like Cornette against a woman like Baby Doll, who was not the damsel in distress type and could conceivably come out on top in a hypothetical confrontation.
Fast forward to 2017 and 2018 when Becky Lynch and then Asuka both did a much tamer version of this with James Ellsworth (no assault and battery against her and no horribly misogyny directed towards her in promos) Which brings us to today and a time when more women than ever are employed as wrestlers in the business and not just managers or valets. While that in itself is a big improvement we still have some ways to go as far as how they are portrayed as characters.
In Ring of Honor, the women are as bland as you could possibly get. A few of their women wrestlers cheat, and they don’t all wrestle the same style, but that’s the extent to which there’s any depth whatsoever. There’s very little expression of any personality at all.
I don’t watch Impact Wrestling so I can’t judge them, but they’ve long been ahead of the curve in American women’s wrestling and appear from the outside to be doing well with Tessa Blanchard on board as champ and Jordynn Grace coming in.
But then there’s Scarlett Bordeaux who can go in the ring but has a character that is a throwback to the Attitude Era in WWE, and it’s difficult to say whether that’s a good or bad thing but it does seem a bit out of place in 2018. I’ll let everyone judge for themselves.
Which bring us to the WWE. While they are still very much catching up to Impact’s lead, they have the advantage of being able to do things on a larger scale and with a bigger visibility than anyone else. Ring of Honor will probably never anywhere the effort into production or promotion WWE does, and Impact will never have the reach. For the majority of American wrestling fans women’s wrestling in WWE is women’s wrestling, for good and ill.
And while I think there’s way more good than ill in 2018, there’s still some work to be done. That promo showdown was a microcosm of things – good that they got a long promo segment, bad that it reverted to age old tropes about sleeping one’s way to the top. So how do fix that? Wrestling feuds are often built on insults, random slights that turn into beefs, or on one person just feeling like they can do whatever they want and attacking the other just because. This isn’t Game of Thrones and it never has been.
To embrace a full range of characters and angles is going to mean doing dopey things sometimes and not always going for the more honorable stuff like competition turned into beef. There will be feuds started over trivial stuff that can possibly lead to great matches and great memories, but we’re going to have to let the dopey origins slide. Jake the Snake Roberts started a feud with Andre the Giant because Andre was afraid of his snake Damian; that’s dumb as hell in hindsight but that gif of Andre freaking out is still pretty damn well used now so it worked.
There is a potentially very bright future ahead for women’s wrestling that these companies and us fans can get to if we play our parts. I hope they do theirs, and we do ours. Until next time….