Women’s wrestling is the best it has ever been.
The wide variety of opportunities for women in wrestling has increased tenfold in the past decade.
The appreciation for women in wrestling has improved greatly (though there is still work to do to ensure that misogynistic sexism is completely eradicated in wrestling) and women are now allowed to put on matches that are on par- and even better- than their male counterparts. In a special four-part series, I will be looking into four of the biggest domains in which women can become wrestling superstars. Those domains are:
Each sector is going to be ranked out of 5 based on character development, roster, match quality and opportunities for success.
I am going to start with the largest company, WWE. It has taken an exceptionally long time for WWE to establish a strong women’s division; changes in upper management/strong pressure from the fanbase have meant that WWE is presenting its women better than they ever have done. Despite Stephanie McMahon thinking she invented this idea, the fans have been the ones who have rallied behind women, fighting for them to be given the voice they should have as a basic right.
Overall Roster: 4.5/5
It is safe to say that WWE has the LARGEST roster of women it has ever had- long gone are the days where a talent scout would read through a Chad Martel catalogue and pluck models from it in the hope they would be mouldable. We no longer have women who are only good for walking out to the ring and back (hello, Sunny). Instead, we have a wide variety of women with a diversity of skills that are showcased better than we have ever seen from the Connecticut based company.
Throughout this pandemic, it has been the women who have shone through as the true stars- Zelina Vega is a fantastic manager, Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose have had an exceptional feud (more on that later) and there is no denying the impact Scarlett Bordeaux has made in just a few short weeks over on NXT. The drive within the women in WWE has made them a success and the casual fanbase now take them seriously.
Over on RAW, the current women’s roster consists of Asuka, Nia Jax, Shayna Baszler, Liv Morgan, Natalya, Ruby Riott, Kairi Sane, Billie Kay, Peyton Royce, Zelina Vega, Lana and Bianca Belair (with Charlotte Flair making the odd appearance as NXT Women’s Champion and Becky Lynch also being part of the roster but out indefinitely due to pregnancy). This is a great mixture of experience and youth.
Natalya, Sane, Riott and Baszler all have great experience from outside the confines of WWE and they are all able to bring the best out of their opponents regardless of experience level. The current women’s champion, Asuka, is arguably the best female performer to ever set foot in WWE as her wrestling abilities combined with her wonderfully eclectic personality have made her a hit with fans (especially during the pandemic where we have desperately needed a laugh).
Nia Jax, while controversial, has been able to generate a strong reaction from fans that have not been seen since Eva Marie (please note that is not an insult to either of them as they are fantastic at what they do). The IIconics have become the tag team we have to love because of how endearing Royce and Kay are; Liv Morgan has a likeability unlike anyone else on the RAW roster and Bianca Belair is arguably the greatest young prospect across all of WWE.
As previously mentioned, Zelina Vega has been great alongside Andrade & Angel Garza and we have not been properly treated to her wrestling abilities. Lastly, while we may see Lana more on TikTok than we do on television, she has been successful as a manager to the likes of Rusev, Dolph Ziggler and Lashley.
On the blue side, we have Bayley, Sasha Banks, Lacey Evans, Nikki Cross, Alexa Bliss, Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose, Naomi, Tamina, Carmella and Dana Brooke (with Ember Moon out injured and Mickie James inactive).
Unlike its red counterpart, the Smackdown women’s roster has a lot more youth and homegrown talent, but they exude personality where the RAW roster is unable to as much. We will talk about it more later, but the Smackdown women also have a lot more personality and more established characters with clear identities. I believe that the fact people see Smackdown as the B-show drives everyone on the roster, the blue brand has been the place to be.
From stalwarts such as Carmella and Naomi to the chameleon-like characters such as Sasha Banks and Dana Brooke, Smackdown seems to be where the women shine best on the main shows.
The NXT roster is incredibly long, but the ones on the main show are Charlotte Flair, Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai, Chelsea Green, Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai, Raquel Gonzalez, Tegan Nox, Mia Yim, Shotzi Blackheart and Scarlett Bordeaux. There are many more in their developmental system, but these are the ones who you will currently see regularly on NXT.
This is where the women truly shine and have done since NXT was turned into a third wrestling show instead of a reality television program. Much like a phoenix, the NXT women’s roster has this unbelievable ability to regenerate and improve once most of its roster move onto RAW or Smackdown, and this current group has youth on their side. This seems to shock fans every time it happens, but WWE has been able to scout the best talent from around the world such as LeRae, Nox and Shirai and combine it with women who needed some WWE shine such as Ripley, Yim and Blackheart.
I would say my only fault with the women’s roster in WWE is the number of women who go unused for a very long time in developmental – when you have the likes of Mercedes Martinez at your disposal, surely you would want to use them more?
While we have come a long way in terms of quantity, the art form of valeting and being an on-air personality has got lost even though Superstars like Melina and Trish Stratus started out that way. I get that the point of wrestling is what people want to do, but this is WWE and the E stands for entertainment. With such a large roster, women could be in every segment, so my only improvement would be to see more women in different roles on WWE television.
Character Development: 3/5
If I am being truly honest with myself, this is a hit-and-miss situation. In WWE, we have had surprise hits such as Bayley’s complete 180 from loveable hugger to dastardly bad girl, but then we have women who start getting on a roll but then it completely stops for seemingly no reason.
My case for this one is Shayna Baszler. I know she is like Marmite to some because her matches can be quite slow and monotone but, to me, she is a badass women’s wrestler who can be easily hated by everyone. When she joined the RAW women’s division back in February, she came in with such a statement (questionable, but still a statement nonetheless) that it was hard to deny her path to the championship. However, for some reason, it has been consistently stopped – she lost to Becky Lynch at Wrestlemania and lost the Money in the Bank match despite being the hot favourite in both.
Why has this happened? Because there seems to be a fear to pull the trigger on Baszler on RAW despite being one of the most successful NXT Women’s Champions of all time. Another one that falls into this category is Bianca Belair – she is proof that the WWE developmental system works, so why not showcase that on the headline shows instead of on Main Event?
However, on the opposite end is the Smackdown roster. One of the biggest highlights of the 2020 year – and yes there are some – has been the feud between former best friends Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose. I never thought I would see the day where Rose would be a good girl because she is so believable as a baddie, but she has pulled off her role as damsel in distress incredibly well.
In addition to this, Sonya has developed into a true badass and a wonderful one at that. I thoroughly enjoy her Chyna-like aesthetic and I hope she can continue to blossom and grow into a championship.
Naomi is the epitome of persistence- throughout her 10-year career in WWE, she has been a Funkadactyl, Total Diva, B.A.D and a Glow Queen and she has the talent that has made her the best pure athlete in WWE. Carmella is someone who can turn from being good to bad like we can turn on and off a light switch – that takes talent and true personality.
My improvement area would be the transition from NXT to the main roster show – we see women develop such strong characters that are then thrown to the side as soon as Vince McMahon has eyes on them. We do not want muted characters in this day and age of wrestling, and that is what I feel Vince can do if he does not like the way someone has been presented. I will never understand this, but to each their own I guess?
This is going to sting, but I must be honest. WWE struggles to maintain consistent storytelling for the women (note – I want to make it clear this is a company-wide problem, but obviously this is a women’s wrestling article).
One of the most recent examples has been the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships. While I understand that the champions are allowed to be on any show, it has created a confusing mess with two feuds ongoing and what has made this worse is the fact that Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross – who were feuding with RAW’s Billie Kay and Peyton Royce – lost their championships to Sasha Banks and Bayley. I am sure the reasoning behind this will be revealed at some point but, as a viewer, it is confusing.
What I also find difficult about watching WWE generally is the lack of reference to previous events. Are we supposed to forget that Bianca Belair was feuding with Zelina Vega before being placed on Main Event? What about the friendship between Candice LeRae and Tegan Nox that we are supposed to forget because Candice turned on Rhea Ripley?
Speaking of NXT, while I am thrilled that they are now part of Survivor Series, it felt very awkward watching the women nearly kill each other in NXT: War Games rivals turn into best friends the next night for Brand Supremacy. It felt clumsy at best.
That does not mean that the entire division is a complete failure when it comes to storylines – Sonya and Mandy pulled off a wonderful storyline that led to a great Wrestlemania moment and there is a great slow burn towards a match between Sasha Banks and Bayley.
So, what can be done to rectify this issue? Firstly, plan and provide consistency. That seems to be the biggest issue with storylines in WWE – things change so suddenly and we are expected to digest it. That is like being given a plate of faeces and being expected to eat it because you are in a Michelin star restaurant.
Secondly, references go a very long way. I know WWE seem to think we have memories as short as Dory, but we do remember things and everything basically lives on the internet now. While we may get the occasional throwaway comment from the announce team, why not allow the Superstars to reference past events on television rather than using social media too? I promise, as a fan, there is a great sense of satisfaction when you are not treated like an idiot.
Opportunities for Success: 5/5
I give this full marks for one reason – there are a plethora of belts that women can compete for in WWE. These are:
- RAW Women’s Championship
- Smackdown Women’s Championship
- WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship
- NXT Women’s Championship
- NXTUK Women’s Championship
That is the most championships that have ever been available to a woman in WWE. In addition to this, women are now competing in matches such as Hell in a Cell, Money in the Bank and they have their own Royal Rumble match. Women are now main eventing pay-per-views (including the biggest of all, Wrestlemania). If you had said this even five years ago, people would have laughed at you.
I can go on and pick at every fault within WWE, but one thing that must be praised is the widening of opportunities for women in the company. It is now possible to hold multiple championships and be deemed a Grand Slam Champion instead of a multiple-time champion of one belt. While this is the first time I have mentioned them, the NXT UK women’s roster is proof that opportunities for success are becoming more global. Even though they are on their own little island, the NXT UK women’s roster has some of the best talent in the world. They are able to go over to NXT as well, which alone is a great opportunity for anyone to take with two hands.
Score for WWE Women’s Division: 15/20
So much has changed in WWE in terms of their presentation of their women. There are now more opportunities than ever to showcase your abilities in high profile situations. Seven years ago, no woman had their own merchandise. Now, the majority of the women’s roster has at least a shirt and has been featured on a pay-per-view poster. That is incredible progress considering it took a fan revolt on Twitter to get former WWE Superstar, AJ Lee, her own t-shirt.
The WWE women’s division has a major asset that cannot be dimmed down – the fanbase. Within the heart of the women’s wrestling community, everyone wants to see more opportunities for women and through speaking out on social media and at shows, this has happened. The great thing is the women in WWE know this and that is why you very rarely hear about bad fan encounters between female WWE Superstars and their fans. They are truly appreciative of the opportunities that been afforded to them because fans spoke up. That alone is a major success.
Next week, I will be looking into All Elite Wrestling’s women’s division and seeing whether any improvements have been made from my previous article.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @HeyImShirleigh. Thanks for reading!