Back in January I did a post about the first ever women’s royal rumble match. I was worried that the push for better women’s wrestling was only about profit but I was mostly positive. Women actually getting to wrestle is a good thing. And now we have WWE Evolution, the company’s first ever pay per view dedicated to women’s wrestling. So has the state of women’s wrestling improved?
Getting a whole three hour show is definitely a step up. The fact that it was a solid show is also impressive. But it’s still a WWE show. They continue to pat themselves on the back for deciding a couple years ago that women were capable athletes. This means pretending the “diva” branding they personally created and still use for reality TV was a mystical oppressive force out of their control. Brand ambassador and possible lizardperson Stephanie McMahon continues to take credit for the work of all the other women who made this happen. The women’s battle royal was filled with legend cameos like the rumble because apparently getting twenty entire women is really hard. None of that is surprising, but it’s still pretty disappointing.
What’s a little more surprising is that they seem to have lost some of their interest in the Japanese talent. Asuka is somehow an afterthought in the battle royal. Io Shirai put on a solid performance but found herself losing to Toni Storm in the Mae Young Classic finals. And probably the most soul-crushing of all was Kairi Sane losing the NXT Women’s Title back to Shayna Baszler. Sure it took Hogan levels of screwery for her to stay down, but after only just winning the belt it’s a bit heartbreaking. Sane is an underdog who shines in her triumphs, and it can be hard to stay invested when she still can’t get a strong win over Baszler for the title. As an NXT story it has more space to grow, so I’m keeping hopes high and expectations low. Nine months after Asuka’s incredible rumble win we’re already at a point where we can only try to be optimistic that things don’t get worse for Japanese women’s wrestlers. And that sucks.
The Stratus and Lita vs. Bliss and James match didn’t go to plan because Bliss got injured. Sooooo we got Alicia Fox instead. It was another vehicle to cameo women’s legends and pretend they weren’t humiliated and objectified in the past but it was still a fine match. In other half-baked multi woman match news we saw The Riott Squad get beaten by Bayley, Banks and Natalya. A better match than expected but still predictable fodder. Definitely upsetting that this was the only way to get two of the four horsewomen invovled with the first women’s pay per view. Plus it highlights how few of the women’s characters get to do anything or have any development.
This all starts to sound a little draining. Then you get to Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair’s last woman standing match. Hooooly crap. I’m gonna say it, this feud has been the best thing to happen to the women’s division all year. When Becky first got into this feud she was an afterthought. A stepping stone for Charlotte to look strong. Then she knocked it out of the god dang park and became way more popular than Charlotte. WWE have a strange track record with responding to the fans, but in this situation they did and it’s been a better story for that. Winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship took Becky’s heel run to the next level. Not only does she think she’s the best but she’s proven she is, and that makes her even more of a glorious asshole. Becky and Charlotte spend nearly half an hour beating the absolute crap out of each other. Charlotte won’t stay down and continues to batter Becky, but Becky isn’t going to give up what she’s gotten. Eventually a powerbomb through a table keeps Charlotte down for the ten count and Becky proves once and for all that she’s the god damn man.
There’s nothing super nuanced about Charlotte vs. Becky. It manages to be thrilling because it’s good at telling a straightforward story. A friendship torn apart by a shared goal. Charlotte who’s had all the shiny belts and Becky who’s been lurking in the shadows until now. Two women who are willing to go through hell to prove they’re the best. We aren’t just told this, we feel their passion and desperation in their matches and promos. And because Becky’s popularity came naturally from years of anticipation it feels earned and exciting for her to get this spotlight. Getting all these FIRST EVER matches with women is nice, but for women’s wrestling to stand on its own it needs to show that winning matters. That championship glory matters. That everything they do matters, and sometimes they’ll be willing to throw other women on piles of metal chairs for it. That’s the good content I come to pro wrestling for.
Then we get a pretty meh main event with transphobic Sandy Hook truther Ronda Rousey against reality TV celebrity Nikki Bella for the Raw Women’s Championship. Rousey has proven herself better than expected and worked an (almost) full-time schedule. Still it seems as feared that she’s taken the spotlight for that sweet sweet inkling of mainstream press coverage. They work an okay match and she does her finish and she even gets a kinda neat spot where she lifts both Bellas on her shoulders. What it amounts to is still just “Babyface overcomes the odds”. That arguably counts as equal treatment in WWE, but it’s not exactly ideal.
What definitely isn’t equal treatment is Rousey slut-shaming Nikki Bella in the build-up. Look, it’s a dick move to shit on other women to prove you’re empowered. I don’t especially like Nikki Bella, but saying she slept her way to the top is gross and disingenous. More importantly it’s sure as heck not uplifting or empowering Rousey or Bella or any other woman. The promo was allegedly written in part by Rousey (who’da thunk it) but with how heavily micromanaged WWE is it’s not like they don’t see what happens. They need to get better at this stuff, but unless it’s profitable chances are they’re not gunna’ budge. How wonderful.
Oh yeah, there’s also that Crown Jewel thing coming up. Coming live for the second time this year from Saudi Arabia, where female activists who fought for their right to drive are still incarcerated. No women’s wrestlers allowed of course. If journalists being tortured and murdered won’t make them budge then women being treated like second class citizens ain’t gonna change anything. If you didn’t think the diva’s revolution/women’s revolution/women’s evolution was just a convenient marketing strategy then this is the best proof you’re gonna get.
So I guess it’s been more of a sideways step for women’s wrestling since Royal Rumble than a hard push forwards or backwards. Some stuff got better, other stuff got worse. Most of it is the same old stuff. They’re still a cynical billion dollar company that’s only getting greedier, and truthfully they don’t care about you as a person. They’re a wealthy brand who wants your money, and if that takes a few “women are people too I guess” gestures they’ll do it. But the women’s wrestlers they employ aren’t evil corporate billionaires. They’re super talented athletes who put on some pretty awesome performances at WWE Evolution. That’s worth celebrating. Here’s to more awesome wrestling in the future.
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