2015 was the Year of the Divas Revolution. 2016 is the year of the Female Superstar. The debut of the new belt is honestly amazing. Gone is the ugly pink butterfly belt, replaced by a red, smaller version of the men’s title.
The Bella Twins, who have come a long way from being a pair of catty, mean twins who regularly cheat using one another to win their respective matches, have both retired. Brie and Nikki were with the company for nine years (excluding a hiatus in 2012.) In that time, Nikki was champion twice and Brie once. One of Nikki’s reigns was the longest women’s reign of all time (your mileage may vary if you think that was a choice on WWE’s part to punish previous record holder AJ Lee, who retired abruptly after Wrestlemania last year.)
Brie was in a five-on-five tag (Naomi, Tamina, Lana, Summer Rae, and Emma vs Brie, Paige, Alicia Fox, Eva Marie, and Natalya) match during the pre-show on Sunday. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, until you remember that Wrestlemania was five hours long and at times felt it. She got the win over Naomi. However, when the women of Total Divas lifted Brie onto their shoulders, and an injured Nikki rushed into the ring to celebrate her sister’s last win, the camera cut away. To a garbage B-roll shot of the crowd in a hallway. Making the point that WWE didn’t really care about the retirement of one of their core “divas” after giving her husband a touching, amazing sendoff. It’s a seemingly unintentional jab at the WWE’s attitude toward the “Divas,” a division that the Bella Twins had come to represent.
The clash over the new Women’s Championship was much less controversial, but not without problems. The wrestling between Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Charlotte (Flair) was fantastic, action packed, and in places brutal. Becky Lynch in particular ended the match looking as though she had been in a fight, something not normally allowed in the Divas Era. However, the match ending not on the villainous Charlotte cheating, but rather her father Ric Flair restraining Sasha Banks, threw an annoying cast. Why was the women’s title match decided by the actions of an old man? Yes, Charlotte couldn’t win clean and maintain her character, but she should have been the one acting dishonestly instead of her father.
On Monday, Sasha Banks beat Summer Rae via submission, while Natalya beats her tonight on Smackdown (they tape on Tuesdays, the internet tells you immediately.) Feeding former Total Diva Summer Rae to both women brings up the idea of the line being drawn in the sand between women the WWE believes in as wrestlers (Sasha, Becky, Charlotte, Naomi, Emma, Bayley) and the formerly ornamental women/ reality stars* who may have a difficult time finding their place in the new order of things (Summer Rae-valet for Fandango, Lana-manager for Rusev, Tamina, Alicia Fox, the reviled Eva Marie, Rosa Mendes upon her return from maternity leave.) Also brought into question are roles for women like Paige and Natalya, who were both serious contenders during the Divas Era and reality stars. It appears Natalya, at least, is being welcomed into the title picture, creating an interesting storyline. What happens when the scions of two wrestling families- both talented women in their own right- go head to head?
Is WWE going to draw a line between what they may see as two types of women? How will the women hired in a time when less skill was required to thrive in the division survive? How will this affect the terrible but incredibly watchable Total Divas?
WWE seems to be going down a much better road in relation to their female talent, though 2016 has had pitfalls too. Let’s hope it lasts and improves, and that all of their female talent can thrive in the future.
*I am not saying these women are untalented in any way. I am saying they have not been utilized or taken seriously as athletic competitors on the main roster.