With over 20 matches and a similar number of mini-profiles, the WWE certainly can’t be accused of skimping on footage when it comes to “Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of WWE’s Women’s Division”.
Of course those with their own knowledge of the history of Women’s Wrestling in WWE may find fault with some on the matches and names chosen, but that’s always to be expected with a release of this nature.
In other words, if you were one of those who complained vociferously when the cover was revealed with Ronda Rousey front and centre I fail to see why you were surprised. Similarly, you can argue all you want about whether or not The Bellas or Stephanie McMahon deserve to be on the cover but this is WWE. And WWE are always happy to write their history the way they want to.
The spotlight features are, if we’re being honest, not up to very much. None clocks in at over a few minutes and you learn nothing new that you wouldn’t have known before you put the disc in. Some are more interesting than others, but that may be simply because the likes of, say, Wendi Richter are not ubiquitous figures on WWE Home Video, WWE TV or the network.
There’s also the fact that a lot of the mini interviews take the same route. Attitude era (and later) performers tell the world how they had to fight to be taken seriously and break away from the “Bra and Panties” style matches that were the division’s bread and butter. Current performers push the influence of the older girls who could work and say that these days they are recognised as being as good as the men.
An idea of how little importance these spotlights are in terms of in depth analysis about women in WWE can be summed up with one fact; if you didn’t know Sensational Sherri was dead, you’d have no idea from this DVD set. An old interview with her is included with no mention at all that it’s not an up to date one.
So where this collection will live and die is on the matches. With one match for each spotlighted performer (although some do appear in other matches as well) there isn’t a lot of wriggle room in terms of choices.
So whilst, Wendi Richter vs the Faboulous Moolah from “The Brawl To End It All” in 1984 is a logical choice for hers, presumably the relative lack of available singles match footage for Sensational Sherri means we get the women’s Elimination match from Survivor Series 1987. And whilst those who know me know I will never complain about seeing the Jumping Bomb Angels on a WWE DVD, it’s hardly a fitting tribute for Sherri.
So whilst I then get similarly excited about a Bull Nakano sighting, as she drops the WWE Women’s Championship to the spotlighted Alundra Blayze, highlighting Ivory with her WrestleMania X-Seven loss to Chyna only means to draw attention to the elephant in the room; namely there is no real recognition of Chyna. Even if she could never be considered a true “great” in terms of her in-ring ability, there’s no denying she was over at a time when not many women were in their own right.
Victoria’s feud with Trish Stratus, which brought a tough realism to women’s bouts the WWE hadn’t seen in years is touched upon and Lita is highlighted by a Steel Cage match with Victoria that is on here because it’s a steel cage match and not because it is the best way to spotlight Lita herself. Molly Holly’s loss in a Title Vs Hair match from WrestleMania XX inadvertently shows just what some women had to do on TV to get spots on the biggest cards, although contrary to the popular rumour that Molly volunteered herself for this spot in order to get on the card, Molly here talks about her feelings when she was told by management what they were planning.
The historic “first ever” Women’s main event on Raw had to make it onto this collection and even if I personally think that history has treated this a little kinder than it perhaps deserves (at one point Lita very nearly breaks her neck on an outside dive, for instance) it’s a very heated match that certainly proved it deserved the spot it was given.
The infamous Championship match from WrestleMania 22 between Trish Stratus and Mickie James gets another airing and the WWE neatly skirts around some of the storyline issues that would not be green-lighted in the PG era in the build up. And no; that “gesture” from Mickie doesn’t make it onto your screens this time!
From there we skip seven years, missing out a lot of talent that many on social media felt should have been given their correct due, to AJ Lee. Again, Lee would perhaps not bear comparison in terms of the in-ring workers the WWE have on their books now but she was the best of the new breed at the time and her match with Kaitlyn from Payback 2013 probably was the best women’s match in WWE since the Trish and Lita days.
From there we reach the NXT era. Paige Vs Emma from NXT ArRIVAL is a choice cut and whilst having Bret Hart and Ric Flair at ringside actually detracts somewhat from the action, Natalya and Charlotte battling over the NXT Women’s Championship offers up much entertainment. Brie Bella vs Stephanie McMahon from SummerSlam 2014 is perhaps a lot better than it has any right to be but it distinctly looks like old school WWE “entertainment” when it’s immeditaly followed by Bayley and Sasha Banks’ Iron Man Match from NXT Takeover: Respect. Whilst I personally prefer their NXT Brooklyn match (which is genuinely one of my favourite bouts EVER) this is a great match in it’s own right. The WrestleMania 32 Triple Threat between Sasha, Charlotte and Becky Lynch is even better.
There more “first ever’s” as we move on. The 6-Pak Challenge where the first ever Smackdown Women’s Champion is crowned is a notch below the stunners that precede it but is fun enough. The “first ever” women’s Hell in a Cell match between Sasha Banks and Charlotte is a very good effort too. Other than Carmella acknowledging she had to win the match twice, the fall out from the “first ever” Women’s Money In The Bank match is largely ignored and it’s the rematch from Smackdown that is featured here.
Mae Young is interviewed prior to the Mae Young Classic Tournament Final between Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler. With some swift editing you’d neither know that Mae Young was now dead nor that the interview shown had to be shot years before the women she is praising (or at least the women the WWE want you to believe she is praising given the clips they show during it) even made it to WWE. It’s a solid match, although it does perhaps make you wonder why the charismatic Sane has done so little in NXT since.
The collection rounds off with three more “first ever” moment from 2018. The first ever Women’s Royal Rumble is an excellent match for the first of it’s kind, although it’s clear that if/when the WWE do it in 2019 they will not be able to rely on the nostalgia kick that having a third of the match being returning legends provided this year. The first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match stole the show for me at that PPV, being a better put together match than the men’s. Watching it again reminds you that whilst there may be better “workers” than Alexa Bliss in the Women’s division, there’s none that are as rounded as characters as her and few have the grasp on in-ring psychology that she has.
We round things off with the first ever match from Ronda Rousey, which was the fantastic mixed tag team match from WrestleMania 34. If there were complaints about her picture on the cover when it was leaked before this match had taken place it would seem churlish to complain now.
As with any WWE released compilation there will be endless debate about who should have been included and what matches should have been showcased. Within the parameters of the WWE’s thinking I think they’ve done a very good job with this. And even if you cynically think that the WWE’s “Women’s Revoultion” is all about publicity relations and, well, money it’s clear that the WWE are serious about this and the talent is there to mean that this won’t be a flash in the pan “movement”.
Format reviewed: DVD
Pictures courtesy of WWE and Fetch.
Thank you to our partners, WWEDVD.co.uk and Fetch for providing our review copy of Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of WWE’s Womens Division, which is out Monday 25 June. You can buy your copy from WWEDVD.co.uk now by clicking here