Crunch Time: Goodbye Diva, hello Superstars

Note: This is my Crunch Time column that was published in this week’s issue of the Cheney Free Press.

I know I’ve written this before but I just want to get it out of the way. Yes, I know professional wrestling — or sports entertainment as it’s known in some circles — is scripted. But rather than getting into the argument of “fake vs. real,” I wanted to touch on some of the recent developments in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) from this past week, specifically relating to their women’s division.

Hey, if ESPN can do live updates from WrestleMania last Sunday’s (April 3) and devote weekly segments to WWE’s “Raw” — not to mention Shaquille O’Neal’s appearance in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal — then maybe it’s not so bad to have professional wrestling pop up in the local sports column.

One of the matches at WrestleMania was a three-way bout — called a triple threat match — between Charlotte (real name Ashley Fliehr), Sasha Banks (Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado) and Becky Lynch (Rebecca Quin) for the newly established WWE Women’s Championship. This was promoted as one WrestleMania’s bigger matches and treated with the same respect as the main event bouts featuring the WWE’s male performers.

All three women made grand entrances on their way to the ring. They were given enough time to put on a great performance and tell a good story. To put it simple, these three women stole the show and were one of the few bright spots in what many considered a lackluster WrestleMania.

The event also marked the last time WWE would use the term “Diva” for how they referred to the women performers on their roster. While this may not seem like a big deal to some folks, if you’ve been watching wrestling — specifically the WWE — for as long as I have, it’s quite a shift the company is making, and a positive one at that.

For the last six years women on the WWE’s roster were presented as “Divas” instead of “wrestlers” or “superstars” and were essentially marketed for their looks over their in-ring abilities.

There was the Divas division — complete with a championship belt that was shaped like a butterfly and most “Divas” who did wrestle were as talented as the men, but their matches would only get 4-5 minutes — if they were lucky — and they weren’t able to put on the quality of performances like the men. At one time WWE had a “women’s championship” but their matches played second fiddle to the men.

The triple threat match between Charlotte, Banks and Lynch, which was on the upper half of the card, was 16 minutes and 5 seconds long. It is the longest match involving women — that includes championship bouts, battle royals and mixed-tag team matches — held at a WrestleMania in its 32 years.

But this movement wasn’t something that happened overnight. The change in how WWE portrayed women’s wrestling didn’t start with their main roster but with their developmental brand, NXT. To put it simple, if WWE is a major league baseball team than NXT is their AAA.

While the WWE’s Divas were wrestling short matches on the main roster, the women in NXT were given as much time as the men to put on quality matches and were billed on the same level as the men. In the last 18 months, NXT has featured a plethora of matches where the women shined, many of them featuring the three aforementioned athletes. A two-match series between Banks and Bayley (Pamela Rose Martinez) was the talk of the wrestling world this past summer. Their first match in August won numerous “Match of the Year” awards while their last match in October was a 30-minute Iron Man match.

Wrestling fans and women on WWE’s main shows were beginning to take notice and demanded change going as far as to ask the WWE to “give Divas a chance.”

During the summer, the WWE brought in Charlotte, Banks and Lynch as a part of their “Divas Revolution” storyline and the three were main players. After learning to adapt to WWE’s style, Charlotte became the Divas champion and worked with Lynch and Banks on the way to Wrestlemania.

There were a lot of things about Wrestlemania that people griped about, but I think promoting the women in the same light the men is a good sign for the future, not just in for women in WWE, but for women’s wrestling as a whole.

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