Friday 8 April 2011

WWEqual Opportunities

The one area of WWE’s roster that receives less attention than any other is undoubtedly the women’s division. The sports entertainment approach to female wrestlers is to use them either as arm candy for male wrestlers or as wrestlers who only get to work in two minute television matches. Maybe three if they’re lucky.

What’s so frustrating is that early last decade the promotion had a pretty good women’s division. After years of presenting bikini contests and cat fights as opposed to competitive matches the company had finally ditched that old hat approach and started booking its female employees in proper matches and feuds. More frustrating is that they managed to do this with fewer and less talented workers than they have now.

Looking at the women currently signed to the company it’s astonishing the women’s division (or the Diva’s division, as they insist on labelling it) isn’t one of the best in the world. Gail Kim, Beth Phoenix, Melina, Natalya, Layla, and Michelle McCool are all excellent workers, while the yet-to-debut Awesome Kong is not only a good worker but the sort of physical specimen Vince McMahon loves to award massive pushes to. With Trish Stratus (a woman who worked extraordinarily hard to be accepted by her peers and the fans) looking as though she may be returning to the ring on a part time or light schedule they’ve got a tremendous core of wrestlers to build around.

The trouble is that the current creative team book the divas and their championship only as an afterthought. At its peak the women’s division was granted enough TV and pay-per-view time for the competitors to develop different personalities and for the fans to form a bond with them all. The championship meant something because it was held, for the most part, by talented workers and was competed for in matches that generally lasted longer than a couple of minutes.

Nowadays the strong female wrestlers the promotion has are needlessly split between two rosters, with the numbers inflated by former models signed because they have the right look. The only female performers permitted to have any unique characteristics are Layla, Michelle McCool and Vickie Guerrero, and Guerrero’s not even a wrestler. The Gail Kims and Beth Phoenixs have no discernable characters and no opportunity to develop any.

The company needs to realise there’s a market for women’s wrestling and capitalise on the names it has under contract.  TNA’s only praise over the last few years has been for the way it books its Knockout division. Even now, with the booking not as strong as it was, the Knockouts segments on iMPACT are far superior to anything WWE does with the Divas. Ring of Honor regularly presents female bouts on its cards, to solid reactions from fans. Most notably, Chicago-based promotion SHIMMER (it doesn’t stand for anything, they just like capital letters) is an all female league that’s been running successfully since 2005.

You need look no further than NXT’s third season to see there’s a market for women’s wrestling in the promotion. As the show wasn’t considered important enough to script in great detail the all female cast were left to fill in the blanks and get themselves over. Which most of them did. NXT rookies Naomi, AJ, Kaitlyn and Maxine would all be a fine addition to the main roster. Instead of finding a way to use the popularity of these women to its advantage the promotion callously sent them back down to developmental territory FCW, with the exception of “winner” Kaitlyn, who allegedly won a spot on the SmackDown roster but has barely been used since last year.

The best thing WWE could do is establish the divas’ division as something exclusive to the SmackDown brand. The women I listed in the third paragraph would be an ideal starting roster, while the likes of Kelly Kelly, Maryse, Eve Torres and the Bella twins would work well enough as enhancement talent. Given a minimum of one match and one backstage promo slot each week I think that within two months this would be a division worth watching. It would certainly be better than what we’re offered now.

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