DISCLAIMER: For simplicity sake, I will stick to WWF/WWE history and not venture into the independent circuit since that is A LOT of backtracking and territory to cover.
October 30th, 2016 will be a day, I as a wrestling fan, will never forget. It was another WWE wrestling PPV special, but this one was the most important in my opinion. For the first time in WWE history, 2 women wrestlers participated in one of the most physically and mentally demanding matches…a Hell in a Cell match!
It may not sound like much if you’re not a wrestling fan or a casual viewer, but it’s major. Despite what you may think about wrestling, the women do wrestle but they have more limitations on them than the men do. It seems hard to imagine now after seeing 2 women wrestle a match that was “boys only,” but women wrestlers have come a long way and there is still a hard road to go.
When I first started watching wrestling, I was in the era of strong women wrestlers like Trish Stratus, Lita, Jazz, Chyna (R.I.P.), and Jacqueline. These women, whenever in the ring, knew how to throw down and truly wrestle. They didn’t need a gimmick match to sell a storyline to me; they had the athleticism and personality for the business. To me, they embodied what I would want to see in a woman who is in a sport that is male dominated; they were strong and had muscles, but were still very feminine. They showed that women wrestlers didn’t have to be one or the other, but women performers can be sexy and still jump off the top rope to slam an elbow into an opponent’s face.
Even though there were women who could legitimately kick face to canvas, there was always something that held them back…sex sells. When it comes to the more hand-to-hand kind of sports such as boxing or MMA, women are typically used as eye candy to break up the testosterone. You know those bikini girls that hold up the “Round 1” cards, walking into the ring in high heels, a pretty smile, and a swish in their walk? Yeah, same thing happens in wrestling except these girls aren’t just walking around looking pretty. They would still have to get into the ring, because they’re wrestlers, but the matches they performed would function the same as holding up a match card. They were there to entertain and break up the testosterone by tearing each others clothes off until their opponent is clad only in their underwear.
In 2008, the WWE Women’s Championship was retired and renamed as the WWE Divas Championship. The title belt was changed from something that was similar to the men’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt in prestige to this pink butterfly belt with ‘Divas’ in the center. It was the ugliest belt they could’ve given the women and it cemented a name that would limit the capabilities of women who were truly wrestlers and boost those who were hired to act like wrestlers. I can’t tell you the last official Bra and Panties Match the WWE had or the last time a model who moonlighted as a wrestler posed for Playboy or Maxim Magazine, but that era ended around 2008 with WWE going PG. That’s only about 8 years ago and the women wrestlers after, who signed with the WWE, still had to endure some challenges.
In recent years, a new generation of women wrestlers who grew up watching the Hall of Famers, men and women alike, came and shook up the women’s division for the better. Trained by Sara Del Rey, these women would go out every night and put on matches that rivaled their male counterparts; matches that would later be proven to be more eye-catching and main event worthy on occasion. These women, of what was dubbed as The Divas Revolution, came and put the women’s locker room on notice. Not only did this add some much needed spice to stale storylines, but it also showcased new talent that were heavy hitters and wanted to be treated like the men and given matches just like the men.
After this Revolution, women wrestlers were given chance after chance to put on good matches and tell good storylines that showed they had a drive to be the best and were hungry for glory; to change what was broken and reclaim their spot next to the greats and surpass those who they idolized. On April 3rd, 2016 the WWE Divas Championship belt was retired and with it the term “Divas.” Lita, a WWE Hall of Famer, a legend, announced to the women that they were no longer different from their male counterparts. They were wrestlers. They were the Women’s Division once again and the Diva Belt is now the WWE Women’s Championship again. There was not a dry eye in that ring and I know some people in the arena that night felt the true meaning of what happened. I know I did.
It’s now near the end of the year and a lot of amazing things happened to the women wrestlers in the WWE. A week or so ago was Survivor Series’ and for the first time the women had two complete teams, 5 members a piece, to compete for their brand’s bragging rights. They started the show and they killed all doubt, if any at all, that they couldn’t open a big PPV. All seems to be heading in the right direction for women’s wrestling, but there is something that I can’t shake. Days leading up to Hell in a Cell, the 2 women kept getting asked, on-screen, if they were sure about doing the match and that they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. There was at least 1 male wrestler who never wrestled a hell in a cell match and not once did he get asked that question and no one doubted his resolve on-screen.