It’s been just over a year since women’s wrestling wunderkinds Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch made their debuts on the main roster of WWE. "Setting the table of opportunity” for the “Divas Revolution”, as Chief Brand Officer and heir to the WWE throne, Stephanie McMahon, put it.
Since then, women’s wrestling in the most visible wrestling promotion in the world has made strides from where it once was, in the last month in particular.
In July, still holding the WWE Women’s Championship from its introduction at WrestleMania, Charlotte was the first woman and third overall draft pick in WWE’s brand extension (where instead of all employees wrestling on both main roster shows, Raw and SmackDown!, there are exclusive wrestlers for each show), making a statement about the importance of women’s wrestling in the “new era” of WWE.
During this draft, Carmella, Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax were promoted from third brand NXT, injecting fresh competition into the women’s division which was admittedly getting a bit stale.
The following week, at the Battleground pay-per-view, Charlotte and Dana Brooke faced Sasha Banks and a mystery partner in yet another women’s tag team match.
Banks’ partner was women’s wrestling darling and former NXT Women’s Champion Bayley, who was puzzlingly looked over in the aforementioned draft. In the opening slot of the event, WWE entrusted these women to get audiences excited and set the tone for the PPV. In the second women’s match on the card, a previously rare occurrence, Natalya faced Becky Lynch.
If fans were puzzled as to the absence of a Women’s Championship match at Battleground, the following night on Raw Sasha Banks finally bested Charlotte to become the new champion in a fantastic bout. Banks subsequently topped the WWE’s power rankings (a largely subjective list of who had the most impact that week), the first woman to do so. It’ll be interesting to see if she does the same in the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Top 50, widely regarded to be the definitive ranking of women in wrestling, when it comes out later this year. Banks was largely undefeated in 2016, however Charlotte held the championship for 309 days across 2015 and 2016. Last year, Banks ranked at number three on the PWI Top 50, while the injured Nikki Bella controversially nabbed the top spot as the longest reigning Diva’s Champion, a title that was retired at WrestleMania.
Banks and Charlotte are set to face each other again this weekend in a rematch for the title at WWE’s second biggest PPV after WrestleMania, SummerSlam. If Banks’ previous outing against Bayley during last years’ SummerSlam weekend at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn (above) is any indication, this contest has the potential to steal the show jam packed with headline matches.
This past Wednesday on the WWE Network, the company’s online streaming platform, women’s wrestling was further honoured by a WWE 24 special outlining how far we’ve come from bra and panties and gravy bowl matches to the state of women’s wrestling today. WWE Network, like most streaming platforms, offers a free trial for the first month and WWE 24: Women’s Evolution is well worth it. Maybe even stick around for NXT Takeover: Brooklyn and SummerSlam this weekend.
— WWE (@WWE) August 10, 2016
It’s not all been positive, though. On a recent episode of SmackDown!, the two scheduled women’s bouts, between Eva Marie and Becky Lynch, and Natalya and Carmella, ended before the bell even rang, with a fake injury and an ambush from behind, respectively, derailing the matches. When Eva and Lynch were set to lock up again the following week, Eva was saddled with a “wardrobe malfunction”, in a sexist throwback antithetical to the apparent “women’s evolution” that does her much-maligned character no favours.
Meanwhile, on Raw, Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Dana Brooke were involved in a puzzling promo with male Superstars they’ve previously had no connection to. This resulted in the first mixed-tag match (women still wrestle women and men wrestle men, though) in recent memory, however Banks was objectified by her male tag partner while none of the women spoke after the male wrestlers entered the fray. One step forward, two steps back.
On the WWE 24: Women’s Evolution special, WWE Hall of Famer, legendary women’s wrestler and the woman who presented the WWE Women’s Championship at WrestleMania this year, Lita, said that “The women are now up in the main event storylines but I think that we can see a pay per view main event being headlined by the women. I think we can get there.”
There’s no doubt that Sasha Banks and Charlotte in their championship match at SummerSlam this Sunday (U.S. time, Monday morning locally) will steal the show despite most likely not being in the main event slot. While I hope that Lita’s prophecy occurs sooner rather than later the fact is that, like last year’s event, the remaining women wrestlers were divided up into teams instead of building characters and focusing on individual strengths. WWE is making strides in its women’s division, however they need to be consistently building them up to a level they deserve rather than tearing them down out of habit.