TrishStratus.com special guest columnist Dan Calvarese looks at 'WWE24: Women's Evolution' airing now on WWE Network.
WrestleMania 32 will always leave a mark on fans of women's wrestling. Not only were we treated to two women’s matches that evening, but it was on this night that WWE stopped referring to their female talent as ‘Divas’. With that, the Divas Championship was retired in favor of the brand new WWE Women’s Championship, presented by none other than one half of Team Bestie, Amy 'Lita' Dumas. With seeds of change being planted in July 2015, the change was now solidified with the removal of the 'butterfly belt'. The women of the WWE had a new championship title to fight for, one that resembled their male counterparts. The newest WWE 24 special on WWE Network, Women's Evolution, chronicles the rise of women in the WWE.
The special starts out highlighting the early days of Moolah, Mae Young, Sherri Martel to the Attitude Era. “To come in the WWE in the year 2000, I had to very aware of the world I was entering,” Trish recalls of her early days with the company. With the Attitude Era's gimmick matches for women, from gravy bowl matches to lingerie pillow fights, the women of the time called for a change and stepped up to the plate.
“Trish Stratus and Lita, Jazz, and Victoria – those girls stepped out of the box a few times, had to be pulled back in because the company was maybe not treating them like professional athletes,” said Fit Finlay, the man who helped train the women during this time period. “I was accused of ‘You’re making the girls wrestle like men!’ They look great, they’re not men. I just wanted to carry on the tradition of wrestling.” Despite the urgency to tone it down in the ring, the women resisted. After some of the female matches became the most talked about matches on the card, after Trish and Victoria wrestled their way to a higher spot on the card, gaining the respect of fans with engaging storylines and memorable hardcore matches, management took notice. The brass at WWE eventually gave Trish and Lita the ultimate opportunity by putting them in a match in the main event of Monday Night RAW for the Women’s Championship. Both women pulled out all the stops to show that they were not only great competitors, but that women CAN be the main event in a male dominated world.
The iconic feud between Trish and Lita inspired plenty of current WWE Superstars, including Emma, Becky Lynch, Bayley, and WWE Women’s Champion Sasha Banks. “I grew up around men that wrestled, but I didn’t always want to be like my uncles," says Natalya, "I wanted to be like Trish. She was beautiful, but she was also fierce.”
Following Trish and Lita’s retirement in 2006, the division found itself in a slump, as a good portion of the talent were from the Diva Search contest, with no prior wrestling experience. Memories of the Attitude era quickly returned, as matches started to resemble the gimmick matches of the past, along with dance contests and bikini contests. “Suddenly the women’s segments were not wrestling segments. They were just this fluffy Diva segment that required them to look great, and they all looked great,” Trish recalled, watching the show from home and seeing what everyone else saw. While the likes of Natalya, Beth Phoenix, Lay-Cool, and Mickie James did their best to continue on the legacy of women’s wrestling, they struggled with getting time.
In February 2015, after one of many 30 second squash matches that served no purpose to the division, women’s wrestling fans had had enough and took to social media, where the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance almost immediately began trending worldwide. WWE CEO Vince McMahon responded with a tweet, simply saying: "We hear you. Keep watching. #GiveDivasAChance". While we continued to wait to see what was in store with the main roster, the buzz from the women of NXT was starting to be heard with solid, lengthy matches.
“NXT definitely provided the opportunity for all females. Hunter was like ok, if you think you can go as good as the guys, here’s your opportunity,” said former Divas Champion Paige, who had a nearly 13 minute match with Emma at the very first NXT pay-per-view in 2014. After getting the crowd on their feet and invested in the females again, the WWE Universe wanted more. At the next NXT pay-per-view, Charlotte and Natalya stole the show with at match that became a contender for Match of the Year in 2014. Over the next year, the success of women shined through on both rosters. NXT stand-outs Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch transitioned from NXT to the main roster, where they continued to take the division by storm.
Sara Amato, NXT’s first female trainer, and Lita are both credited for helping the women today showcase their talents. “The best thing about working with Lita is the fact that she has been there. She’s done it. It’s really cool to work with her and bring certain questions and challenges that we’re experiencing,” says Alicia Fox.
Between the women having a desire to be viewed as equals to the men, the backstage support, and the fans voices finally being taken into consideration, among other factors, the WWE women’s division finally feels like it has a place. When Trish and Lita made history by headlining Raw, it was an important move because it proved the company had faith in their female talent to hold its most coveted spot on the card, previously reserved for the male talent. After raising the bar with main event matches in NXT and the choice to put Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha front and center on the WrestleMania 32 promotional banner on the AT&T Stadium, with their match being promoted as one of the top matches on the card, it seems the current women of WWE have arrived. Trish and Lita sparked the revolution, as evidenced by their numerous accomplishments and constant praise, and the current women have picked up where they left off. If you are a fan of women's wrestling, one can't help but be excited to see how far this era will take this.
The night after WrestleMania 32, as all of the current WWE female talent gathered in the ring after a historical night, the fans chanted with glee “Women’s Wrestling! Women’s Wrestling!” over and over again. And thus, this is how the ‘Diva Revolution’ turned into the ‘Women’s Evolution’.