Gravy bowl. Bra and panties. Pillow fight. Bikini contest. Wet N’ Wild. These are all match types featured on WWE programming throughout the lifespan of its Divas division. In the mid-’90s women’s professional wrestling had devolved into little more than fitness models wearing very little clothing while commentators made — sometimes vague, usually not so much — lewd comments about the female performers.
Those days are in the past, though. It was earlier in 2016 when WWE rebranded the Divas, rechristening it the Women’s Division and putting the focus back where it belongs: Wrestling. It was a move long in the making, as female competitors like Lita, Trish Stratus, Beth Phoenix and more struggled to make the division mean more during their tenures.
Finally that hard work has paid off thanks to WWE’s self-described “women’s revolution.” Now women’s wrestling has not only begun mirroring the athletic contests that men have on WWE shows week-in and week-out but in several instances the women representing the company are the most engaging characters, wrestling the most entertaining matches.
That’s thanks in large part to the newest roster additions, which were trained in WWE’s own NXT group — a system that trains aspiring WWE superstars as both wrestlers and on-camera personalities. A quick look at the current women’s divisions on both “WWE Raw” and “Smackdown Live” shows how vital NXT has been to its growth.
It’s also made the entire roster — man and women — step up their game. The women are now known as Superstars, just like their male counterparts. The term “Diva” has been thrown out the window — save for “Total Divas,” WWE’s reality show collaboration with E!. Now the women fight with all they have and the results are astounding.
For the first time every, WWE had a Women’s Championship match serve as the main event of a pay per view special, with Banks defending her title against Flair inside the infamous “Hell in a Cell” — it should be noted this is also the first time women have taken part in that particular match. The two fought again on “Raw” in a Falls Count Anywhere match and will end their feud at “Roadblock: End of the Line” — WWE’s final pay per view of 2016.
That match will see another first as they tangle in a 30-minute Iron Man match, the first time women have done so on WWE’s main roster. The rules are simple. Two competitors wrestle for 30 minutes, scoring points for pinfalls, submissions, count outs and disqualifications. Whoever has the most points when time runs out is deemed the winner.
Previously, Banks competed in the same type of match against Bayley in NXT. That match is easily the most highly-anticipated on the card and will be one of the show’s highlights.
Meanwhile, over on “Smackdown Live,” Bliss is the reining champion after besting Lynch in a grueling Tables match at “TLC.” As with their “Raw” counterparts, these two and the rest of “Smackdown’s” women are proving every week that they can deliver just as well as the men, if not better.
And that’s what professional wrestling has been missing. It’s no secret that WWE caters to a younger audience but those tuning in also happen to contain many female viewers of all ages.
According to WWE’s corporate website, 36% of the audience is made up of women. In the modern TV landscape, it’s the company’s responsibility to showcase women in a way that elevates them, rather than demeaning them. The growing female audience demands it.
Luckily, the women’s wrestling boom isn’t exclusive to WWE and its brand of sports entertainment. While they may rule the wrestling world, Netflix is getting in on the action from a scripted point of view. The streaming giant has partnered with “Orange Is the New Black” creator Jenji Kohan to create a comedy based on “GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” set in the ’80s and focusing on a roster of female wrestlers.
If that, and the trajectory of WWE’s programming are any indication, we are only seeing the beginning of the women’s renaissance in wrestling — and for fans, it’s an exciting thing to watch unfold.