We live in a world where a WrestleMania that had 2 heavyweight title bouts and Brock Lesnar, a legitimate All-World athlete, yet it featured a novice pro wrestler who was barely a year into their training and the 4th wheel of NXT’s women’s division. For someone in my age group, who grew up on the WWF product as it was, the Women’s Brand of Professional wrestling has come a long way since April 2, 2006.
As far as I’m concerned, Women’s wrestling didn’t even exist until April 2, 2006. That may sound a bit odd to a fan who grew up watching the PG-Era WWE version of the product since the late 2000s. For context, Women’s wrestling in the United States has only recently been treated as a legitimate Sports Entertainment attraction. For ages, Women’s or “Lady’s” wrestling was treated as a sideshow, undercard act. To draw an appropriate comparison, the Women’s Division rise to prominence is more analogous to Dink and Hornswoggle attaining the WrestleMania 36 Main Event.
Women’s matches have always been relegated to sideshow type attractions. While some of this comes from the built-in misogyny of the American Culture at the turn of the 20th century, there is a far more practical, innocent reason for women’s wrestling on the card as well. Us filthy Americans are good at behaving ignorantly and maliciously, but wrestling, in particular, was more of a product of the time that it originated than anything else. From the start, there was no evil promoter who was determined to hold women in wrestling down or relegating women in wrestling to simply tits and ass. That’s because there just were no women in wrestling.
The very origin of Professional wrestling as a work relied on the Carny’s Wrestler being able to legitimately beat the locals in their challenge matches as well as put on a competitive looking match with a planted partner in the crowd. In the 1800s and early 1900s the local wrestling champion or ringer would not have been a woman and therefore would not have been part of the wrestling exhibition racket at the carnival of the times.
As the more fast-paced “Western” style of professional wrestling emerged, Wrestling branched out beyond a carnival sideshow and became a standalone event itself. There emerged a new need for auxiliary attractions on the card as promoters established events in many parts of the country. This also covered a time of dramatic change in American Culture where women were no longer expected to attend public beaches fully dressed and the emergence of women’s swim and sportswear. Up until that point, it would have been out of the question for a female to appear in public in something as “provocative” as a singlet.
In fact, one of the most intriguing pieces of early wrestling history has to do with Mildred Burke. Mildred Burke was a stenographer who persistently pestered a local promoter, Billy Wolfe, into training her to wrestle. Down the line, Mildred became one of the most established female performers in the world. If you think the Montreal Screwjob was wild, you should investigate this mess.
Ultimately, Mildred was able to acquire her husband’s promotion as a part of their separation agreement, but Wolfe simply promoted shows anyway and offered any defectors a 50% share of the gate. As Burke’s promotion folded into bankruptcy, Wolfe was able to acquire the assets from the court and then convince the NWA to stop acknowledging Women’s wrestling altogether. Ya… crazy. The story gets better, but that is another discussion for another day. The takeaway here is that status of Women’s wrestling, as of 1957, was dramatically affected.
To understand why it took so long for Women’s Wrestling to catch on, we need to understand that Women were never supposed to get over. The first time a woman got over, the NWA, disavowed women’s wrestling and the courts handed her promotion to her ex. In fact, it wasn’t even until 1972 that Fabulous Moolah became the first woman to wrestle in Madison Square Garden. This is significant as the visibility of women’s wrestling was so low, that one of the only bookers of female wrestling talent in the United States was The Fabulous Moolah herself. Consider that the WWWF didn’t even bother creating a Women’s Championship. They simply bought the physical belt and intellectual representation of the Women’s Championship directly from Moolah.
Decades on decades, there were men working the main events. Men being showcased as television stars. All the while the men where inspiring boys to become professional wrestlers as a career choice. During that same time, The Fabulous Moolah had, what amounted to a monopoly, on Women’s professional wrestling. For many girls who aspired to become wrestlers, their only hope to get any significant bookings was to become part of Moolah’s harem. Even more damaging to the status of women’s wrestling, there simply weren’t enough potential women’s wrestlers being reached in general.
It wasn’t until WrestleMania 22 that I had ever even SEEN a women’s match, presented as a professional contest, that was any good. I’m fully aware that there may have been some good Women’s matches on a big stage or on WWF TV itself, but I had been trained since the 80’s that Women’s wrestling wasn’t “wrestling” and, although I often found some of the Women in the WWF very attractive (I would still marry Jacqueline Moore TODAY), I never felt good about having “T and A” type segments on a show KNOWING that you can’t just whip out some boobs on basic cable during primetime. When I saw Sunny or Sable walk down the ramp, I knew it was time to switch over to Nitro knowing that nothing significant or anything of good quality was going to happen. I also knew that the women being presented were not there based on their wrestling ability. Having grown older, it’s even more tragic that Women’s wrestling was presented that way while a very adequate Madusa was wrestling Ed Ferrera on Nitro and women like Lisa Moretti and Nora Greenwald may have been working good matches that I never saw.
In this current day, Women’s wrestling is still very much in its infancy. Ronda Rousey is 32 years old, Bayley just turned 30, Charlotte is 33, and Becky Lynch is 32. For the most part, these women grew up watching mud wrestling matches, bra and panties matches, and Al Wilson angles. Even Becky Lynch cites Finn Balor as one of her main influences rather than a significant female performer from the ’90s.
These are the very top of the heap workers on the Women’s side and there is a dramatic falloff after that “elite” group. There is a problem here though. Women’s wrestling is just now only beginning to be good and it’s silly that anyone is pretending that the Women’s contingent is at the level of the Men’s roster in terms of performance. I don’t blame the women and I’m happy to see that WWE has a stable of female performers that are worth watching in the ring these days, but that doesn’t mean we have arrived. There is still a relatively small pool of talent and not ALL of them should be usurping TV time from people like Zack Ryder, Apollo Crews, or a pile of the 205 Live guys.
Quite frankly, it is somewhat off-putting to watch Naomi and Carmella working a two-segment match on Smackdown a few weeks back while anyone pretends that Carmella and Naomi are anywhere near the level of some of the roster sitting in the back. It’s time we get a little honest here:
I like Becky Lynch. I think she is entertaining. I enjoy a lot of her work, and I get a kick out of her character when she is on her game. I also think that it’s pretty awesome that she is one of the most over things on WWE TV these days. The fact is that she is not even in the same league as Charlotte or Bayley when it comes to in-ring work and there are DOZENS of performers on the WWE roster that are more capable of delivering good, 2 segment matches than she is. Becky Lynch is the top of the heap. She is the standard bearer. She is the measuring stick. In the ring, she’s barely any good. Thankfully, she’s better than Hulk Hogan, but it’s important to remember that when Hogan was on top, the towns were still being serviced with the Hart Foundation/Bulldogs or Savage/Santana (or Steamboat or…). Hogan was the Main draw for the big towns, but it wasn’t at the expense of highlighting the best of the WWF’s talent at the time. When you put Carmella vs. Naomi on SD Live! For 2 segments, it’s at the expense of performers that we know could have done a better job with that time. Why? because it’s a women’s match?
When WWE has a roster as deep and as great as they do now, I’m not sure why we HAVE to have Lacey Evans in SO MANY of the segments of the last 2 US PPV’s. There are many, better options than watching her and Becky Lynch struggle to get through a match. We don’t need women’s matches for equality’s sake. We need good matches for the sake of the wrestling show. I should note, I sound like I’m dogging women’s wrestling and Becky Lynch here, but I don’t want to give that impression. Lynch should have been the Main Event of Mania this year and she did everything she could to be in that position. However, that doesn’t justify putting Sarah Logan vs. Dana Brooke on WWE main roster TV. Sarah Logan is absolutely not good enough to be exposed on the show at that level. The Women’s roster isn’t as deep as we pretend it is and, although I understand why that is, that doesn’t mean that WWE needs to make up for lost time with bad tv matches from unqualified participants.