Triple H’s recent confirmation of a new women-only WWE Network vehicle to mirror the critically acclaimed Cruiserweight Classic and UK Championship espoused the organisation’s latest attempt to maintain the momentum of a two-year spell declaring themselves as the doyens of women’s sport and feminism in general.
Despite donating approximately $6 million to one of the most misogynistic and distasteful election campaigns in US political history, WWE’s next transparent purge on inequality is expected to come in the form of a 16-32 woman single elimination tournament that will hopefully flood NXT and the main roster with a host of fresh, credible performers.
The timing couldn’t be better. While WWE has relentlessly pressed ahead in telling audiences that its female contingent are now as big a cog in the wheel as the men, their shortsighted efforts to prove it have resulted in a talent shortage that dilutes so much of the in-ring quality that forced the company to pay attention in the first place.
The decision to favour rhetoric over retention has hamstrung Monday Night Raw’s wafer-thin female roster, while Smackdown Live’s quantity unfortunately continues to outweigh it’s quality, evidenced especially during last month’s Royal Rumble when six of the show’s top women were relegated back to their old pre-show duties.
WrestleMania 33 will mark an important flashpoint for both divisions and a litmus test of WWE’s commitment to their talented crop of females beyond saccharine Network documentaries and great PR. Last April, AT&T Stadium in Dallas was adorned with incredible signage promoting Charlotte, Sasha and Becky front and centre in preparation for WrestleMania 32, but didn’t WWE just love letting you know about it? Rather than the painfully literal signposting of their intentions, the company would gain ten times the plaudits if they just ensured the majority of the two rosters were given meaningful content at the show itself. With WWE now knee-deep in their latest Brand Extension, the women’s rosters should be serviced far better than they were the year before, or even a month ago, where Sasha Banks and Nia Jax’ well-built conflict joined the Smackdown crew on the Rumble kickoff.
Though only three months removed from the history-making ‘Hell In A Cell’ Pay-Per-View main event between Banks and current Women’s Champion Charlotte, Raw remains frustratingly barren in the aftermath of their storied 2016 rivalry.
The summer insertion of Bayley to the show was a gratifying lift for her fans and peers alike, but the clunky turn-taking the ‘Hugger’ and ‘Legit Boss’ have engaged in to share title shots against Ms. Flair has dimmed the lights of both. Nia Jax’ glacial improvement has at least provided a temporary distraction for Banks in recent weeks, though if recent events on Raw are anything to go by, her strongest contribution will actually be serving as the catalyst for a turn by Sasha on the beloved Bayley.
Unbeaten in title defences on pay-per-view but inconsistently fallible on Raw, Charlotte occupies the spot as Champion due to the accidental supershow winning streak, and will presumably at least make it to WrestleMania 33 in defence of her crown. However, it’s currently unclear if she’ll fly solo with Bayley, or if Banks and/or Jax can claim their own spots in the match. Management gifting opportunities to as many talents as possible on the biggest night of the year is admirable, sure, but multi-person matches at the ‘Show of Shows’ in the mid-2000s hugely devalued the importance of titles, and Raw’s female prize may currently not be able to afford any further desecration.
Over on Smackdown Live, a shred more patience has been shown with their own incarnation of the championship, as Alexa Bliss remains only the second titleholder since the introduction of the belt at September’s ‘Backlash’ pay-per-view. Bliss was an unexpected breakout star in 2016, leaping ahead of the chasing pack to unseat Becky Lynch at December’s ‘TLC’, and quite a pack it was for the diminutive Bliss to rise above, too.
The blue brand adopted an opposite philosophy to Raw with regards to its female division, attempting to load the show with a broader range of the available superstars, regardless of a potential dip in quality once the bell rang.
Resting that responsibility on the shoulders of inaugural champion Lynch, it was a step forward and two back, as decidedly limited talents such as Carmella and Naomi forced the need for emotionally empty multi-women clashes rather than allowing a more meaningful narrative to emerge between any of the characters. The Summerslam return of Nikki Bella surprisingly triggered a change in fortunes though, as her historic ‘queen bee’ status amongst the females triggered heel turns for both Carmella and Natalya, forging largely enjoyable midcard rivalries.
Like her Raw counterpart, ‘Little Miss Bliss’ looks best-placed to head into the April showpiec