February 2015. Paige and Emma vs. The Bella Twins. After just a few moments, Brie Bella scored a pinfall over Emma. The match went down quicker than the entrances and it sparked a trending hashtag #GiveDivasAChance and the world of professional wrestling changed forever.
Over the following years, this morphed into several different steps. First, it was a wake-up call to the powers that be in WWE that the women’s division wasn’t being treated with the same care and attention and was being set up to fail. Not utilizing actual professional wrestlers or properly training the female Superstars, as well as not giving them the opportunity to hone their skills or connect with the audience beyond their looks, was forcing them into a no-win scenario.
They weren’t able to build a foundation to get better from, so they perpetually repeated a cycle of ineptitude that the audience rejected, which made WWE think nobody wanted the division to improve, so no time, effort or resources were put into improving it, and the cycle continued.
Following that wake-up call, things started to improve. Better wrestlers were added to the roster. Women were trained to do more than just cat fights. More time was given to the matches that were justified in going longer. Main events featured women on a regular basis. There was a Women’s Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank and other matches to put them on more of an even playing field.
For the past few years, WWE has marketed this as the Women’s Revolution, followed by the Women’s Evolution. It’s buzzword marketing feel-good bubblegum advertising b.s. in a lot of ways, just like how “WWE Universe” is supposed to make you feel more on their side and less open to criticizing the company’s flaws (as in, when a company tells its employees they’re a “family” but has no problems cutting them out for another worker since they’re still just being paid to do a job). Ignoring that whole marketing aspect, at least something good was going on in the process and you could ignore the little package it was presented as, while taking in the good.
Whether WWE marketed it as a something direct or tried to cram in good P.R. or not, it’s just a fact that the women’s division in WWE and women’s professional wrestling in general has had a boom since then and this was the best time to be in that space possibly ever.
So what’s going on lately?
The past few weeks have given us a dynamic shift in the way the women’s division in WWE is booked, and it’s not another step in the upward momentum direction.
“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” – Ian Fleming, Goldfinger
If this were one random match over the course of Raw and SmackDown, it’s just an outlier. But every match in the women’s division lately has been extremely short.
Case in point, the two Queen’s Crown matches on SmackDown lasted a grand total of under 4 minutes. In comparison, Finn Balor vs. Cesaro was 11:25 and Sami Zayn vs. Rey Mysterio was 7:58. On Raw, Shayna Baszler beat Dana Brooke in 1:25 and Doudrop beat Natalya in 3 minutes, with the women’s tag team match a 5 minute no-contest. Granted, there were some men’s matches on Raw that lasted just as short (Austin Theory beat Jeff Hardy in 2:05, The Hurt Business beat Mansoor and Mustafa Ali in 1:20), but Xavier Woods vs. Ricochet was 10:55 and the tag team main event was 15:15.
Clearly, something is going on here, and it’s coinciding with a change in philosophy with a bunch of other things in the company.
Often, when someone wants to make changes in their lives, they cop out and do something frivolous like dye their hair because it’ll make them feel like they’ve regained control without risking anything substantial. Other times, they’ll go full slash and burn, quit their job, move to a new state, and so on.
WWE has done the first approach several times. The McMahon Family came out on Raw, apologized for the product, promised to make changes and promptly reverted back to patterns they didn’t wish to change. Just ask EC3, Lars Sullivan, Nikki Cross, Lacey Evans and Heavy Machinery how that worked out for them coming up to the main roster at that time, or how the mysterious third hour of Raw that would be dark and gritty continued, or how the 24/7 Championship has evolved, or how little the women’s tag team titles mean anything.
With the way the draft has gone down, the mass releases in the past year and a half, and this approach to “NXT 2.0”, it’s obvious WWE is now in the second category of “Screw it! Let’s change a ton of things!” – Unfortunately, the company isn’t willing to change a lot of the problems people actually have with the product, but that’s another argument for another day.
Somewhere along the way, someone in management thought it was a good idea to start referring to “champion has a non-title match against their potential challenger so they can lose and the challenger can then earn a title shot” as “Championship Contender’s Match” and to harp on that for a few weeks. At one point, the NXT Women’s Championship was just the NXT Championship and “Women’s” was dropped because someone thought that was something to do. Someone thought adding subtitles and taglines to pay-per-views would drive up interest. Those CGI robots floating around the arena was someone’s idea of change that wouldn’t require changing the formula WWE doesn’t want to deviate from.
Now, we’re in another experiment: going back to the Divas Division.
WWE isn’t going to tell you this, because they aren’t stupid and they know that admitting this would be a death sentence. They’d be crucified for going back to an era where women were more about eye candy than wrestling talent—where feuds revolved around “I’m hotter than you” and where characters were more about appearance than personalities.
Instead, what WWE is trying to do right now is what every company tries to do, which is to transition you into being on board with that reversion without letting you know that’s what is happening. The goal is to go back to the way things used to be, but to make this happen in a way where you not only are okay with it, you’re actively fond of it and you welcome it, instead of trying to resist it.
In a way, it’s also an attempt to do the opposite. If WWE can try to convince fans to get used to the way things used to be (shorter matches, more squashes, more time dedicated to recaps and promos with wrestling taking a back seat, more colorful characters where everyone in NXT needs a gimmick but everyone also has lame names from the Michael McGillicutty era where WWE can own their trademarks), then when they want to do something better than that, you’ll be in awe and thankful, instead of it being the norm.