Think of the best female competitors in WWE history. Names like The Fabulous Moolah, Trish Stratus, Lita, and Beth Phoenix instantly come to mind. Women who were dominant, courageous, and inserted themselves into the men’s storylines, made women only serving as valets for men a thing of the past.
The fearless and unique styles that these women possessed, paired with them having storylines of value, legitimized the WWE Women’s Division and proved that women can be more than eye candy in professional wrestling.
Back then, these women came from places such as the independent wrestling scene and fitness modeling. They were true athletes with a passion for the business, making an entire generation of girls realize that women can be beautiful and strong at the same time. The Women’s Division was once one of the most exciting parts of WWE programming
Somewhere between then and now, a transition happened within WWE. The Women’s Division turned into the Divas Division, and women were no longer viewed as serious competitors. Fans completely overlook the division as a whole now, and jokes are always made at the expense of the female competitors no matter how well they perform in the ring.
Frankly, WWE fans don’t take women seriously as professional wrestlers anymore. What happened?
In today’s WWE, more emphasis is placed on physical appearance than actual wrestling ability. Look at the women currently in the Divas Division; most look like they could be gracing the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
Gone are the days that women in professional wrestling could be powerful and strong-looking. Women like Chyna, Victoria, and Beth Phoenix are no longer represented in WWE. Now we have women like Nikki and Brie Bella, gorgeous women with even better bodies, who usually fail to deliver in the ring and on the mic.
Physical appearances aside, some women in the Divas Division today are extremely talented performers. Paige and AJ Lee, for example, have been 2 of the best competitors in the division in recent memory. Their in-ring styles are dynamic and fun to watch and their appearances aren’t that of a “typical” WWE Diva.
These women may have all the talent in the world, but both have fallen victim to a lack of substance in their storylines and matches that simply aren’t long enough to showcase their talent.
In today’s WWE, even the fiercest female competitors will eventually be put into a story where their character has to become a catty, stereotypical girl. The best proof of this is the current feud between Paige and Nikki Bella, where Nikki picks on Paige for being “too pale”, and covers her with spray tanner inside the ring. It seems as though the WWE creative team would rather take the easy route when telling a story between two Divas, rather than actually try to give them something of value to work with.
Some people believe that the beginning of the “model” era in the Divas division began in 2006, when WWE’s Vice President of Talent Relations at the time, John Laurinaitis, made the decision to hire two catalog models that had absolutely no wrestling experience, Kelly Kelly and Alicia Fox. This seemed to start a snowball effect within the company.
The “Diva Search” competitions may also be to blame. WWE began to recruit aspiring models with no wrestling background, and had them compete against each other for a chance to become a WWE Diva. The competition was developed it into a weekly part of WWE programming, complete with stereotypical cat fighting and backstabbing.
The main problem with all of this is that WWE was attempting to turn women who had no passion for professional wrestling into professional wrestlers. The company believed that women who were extremely attractive would make the Divas division more marketable to the mainstream audience, but that plan hurt the division more than it helped the company. In the end, the division that women like Lita and Trish Stratus worked so hard to legitimize during their careers became a laughingstock amongst the fans. No matter how beautiful a woman may be, fans can see right through someone who lacks passion for the business, and will subsequently stop viewing them as serious competitors.
Today, the WWE Universe cares less about the physical appearances of the women in the Divas division, and more about their actual wrestling ability. With a new generation of viewers, come new views on society and how women should be treated in general. WWE is no exception.
In the “TV-14” era, WWE constantly put women in overly-sexual storylines in order to draw viewers. Now that the programming is “TV-PG” and dubbed “Family Friendly”, if a woman is a worthy competitor, looks become secondary to the audience. There are no longer any sexual storylines in WWE that would make sex appeal a vital trait for the women on the roster to possess.
The “model-type” Diva is less in-demand now than it was in the past. The consensus of the WWE Universe is that they want edgier women in the forefront of the company; women who can put on stellar matches night after night that last longer than 5 minutes.
The NXT Women’s division and its format seen to be what the fans want to see on WWE’s main roster. More emphasis is being placed on character development and constant in-ring improvement in NXT, things that can’t necessarily be coached. The women in the developmental system have to a have a passion to succeed in the business. None of them can get by on looks alone, and that is evident when you see the phenomenal matches they have on a weekly basis. The NXT Women’s division has been praised by fans for its depth and in-ring storytelling, something that the WWE Divas division seriously lacks at the moment.
Competitors such as Paige, Charlotte, and Sasha Banks have all broken the mold of what a WWE Diva should be. They aren’t cookie-cutter in appearance or ability. These women are bringing back the powerful female competitor of days gone by.
If NXT is the future of WWE, one can only have high hopes for the WWE Divas division going forward. Hopefully the company can get back to a place where women bring value to the overall product, and impact the company as a whole in a positive and entertaining fashion.
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