Guest Op-ed By: Kashawn Taylor
I remember tuning into Monday Night Raw in July 2015 and watching Team Bella (Nikki Bella, Brie Bella, Alicia Fox) strut down to the ring. At the time, WWE programmed viewers to mentally tune out the Divas segments, as evidenced by their short nature on an otherwise three-hour long show. However, something was different about this promo segment and by the end of the segment, I legitimately had tears in my eyes.
WWE had promoted Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch to the “main roster” to supposedly usher Divas Revolution. During this time, WWE orchestrated many women’s firsts and dropped the “Diva” moniker for their female performers, ultimately culminating in the first-ever women’s main event at their flagship show Wrestlemania. After that, things immediately began to change… again.
Ronda Rousey disappeared from WWE and Becky Lynch was champion on both Raw and Smackdown. It appears as though without Rousey, WWE’s writers and Chairman Vince McMahon gave up on the women’s division entirely. Lazy storylines and focus on the same women have muddied the waters of the women’s division, leading to a decreased interest and lack of direction for the women’s division as a whole. And this is at no fault of the performers, as WWE has a plethora of extremely talented women on the roster. However, it is evident by the booking of the Raw and Smackdown women’s divisions that the Women’s Evolution was performative feminism at best and opportunistic marketing at worst. Let’s take a look at each women’s division to better understand.
The RAW women’s division is currently the weaker booked division. Booked is the operative word here, as the division is full of capable, and I’m sure hungry competitors. However, McMahon is clearly hesitant to pull the trigger on new stars, currently relying on Charlotte Flair and Asuka to carry the whole division. With Becky Lynch out, WWE is using these two performers as a crutch to carry the division and it is clear the division is suffering for it. The brand has Naomi, Lana, Dana Brooke, Nikki Cross, Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose, and Peyton Royce – all of who do not currently hold championship gold. Additionally, the brand has Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler who currently hold the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships.
For whatever reason, WWE has decided to break up the legitimate tag teams in the women’s division. WWE had the IIconics – Billie Kay and Peyton Royce – gave them a lackluster run with the tag team titles marred by an “afraid to defend” story although fans of NXT know that both Royce and Kay can perform at high levels. By constantly throwing the RAW Women’s Champion into the tag team title picture and having a double champion, WWE is taking opportunities from other highly capable women. This compounds the problem of WWE not creating new stars in the women’s division as a whole. The company needs to give other women a chance, allowing them to shine and rise to the level of Asuka and Charlotte Flair.
Asuka’s current championship reign has been mired with a lack of credible challengers, stemming from WWE’s unwillingness to allow other members of the roster to shine. However, when WWE takes chances on new members on the roster, we have been graced with fresh matchups and new Superstars such as Mickie James and Zelina Vega looking strong. Asuka is a proven competitor with the ability to draw out the best in almost everyone she faces, but her lackluster booking is creating a hole in the Raw women’s division that can be partly remedied by separating the singles and tag titles picture.
Of the two main roster shows, Smackdown is by far the better-booked show. The Smackdown Women’s Champion is Sasha Banks, one of the aforementioned four horsewomen of WWE. She is currently in her longest main roster title reign though she is a multi-time Women’s Champion. Currently, in a program with Royal Rumble winner Bianca Belair (who has yet to choose her opponent for Wrestlemania), it seems as though they are leaning toward giving the two stars a shot at the Women’s Tag Team Titles. This is the same problem as on RAW.
When the Women’s Tag Team Championships were introduced, fans thought it would give the other women on the roster a chance to shine with something to fight for. That has not been the case. Again, the actual teams competing for the Women’s Tag Team titles are random, at best. SmackDown hosts the only true tag team in the main roster women’s division in The Riott Squad, who have yet to hold the titles.
Liv Morgan and Ruby Riott are currently in a feud with Bayley that also involves Billie Kay which is an entertaining story, but seems to lack direction and features much of the same thing every week. Sonya Deville, who was split from Mandy Rose last year, is currently in the role of assistant to Adam Pearce. While Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler can appear on both brands, they are being used as props in the SmackDown Women’s Title picture when they should be used to help elevate the status of the other women on the roster.
Carmella, Tamina, and Natalya are all capable competitors who can put forth dynamic and entertaining matches with Sasha Banks, but thus far, only Carmella has been giving that opportunity. Tamina and Natalya have been put into a tag team, which is believable given their family histories, but as of yet, nothing notable has come to fruition from the pairing except Instagram photos. On SmackDown, it is clear they are looking to invest in a fresh face, but they have not given Bianca Belair nearly enough of a chance to shine as they have with the male Royal Rumble winner who has been featured on all three brands since winning the Rumble.
We are currently on the Road to Wrestlemania and the women’s division has not been in such shambles in a long time. There is no clear direction for the RAW division and Asuka’s reign is suffering. The SmackDown division is in better shape, but the wealth of talent is underutilized such as with the tag team title picture. With the Elimination Chamber PPV this Sunday and no women’s matches currently booked (due to Lacey Evans’ unexpected pregnancy – Congrats Lacey!), it certainly looks as though the women’s division is being thrown to the wayside.
WWE’s women division is in dire trouble and the blame needs to be placed on those in charge, not the athletes who show up to work, ready to run with each opportunity given. The current RAW Women’s champion is a side-piece in a now sidelined storyline with Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans. The SmackDown Women’s title picture is promising but is being lumped in with the tag team championships. The tag team division appears to be directionless and is not being used in a way to build new stars (see Nikki Cross disappearing after being separated from Alexa Bliss).
My advice would be for the current writers to take note of the NXT women’s division’s booking or at SmackDown’s division circa late 2016 – 2017 which featured compelling stories outside of the main title picture and fewer championships for the women to fight for. The talent is certainly there, but the writers and McMahon seem to have forgotten about their Women’s Evolution.
About the Author:
Kashawn Taylor is a fan of women’s wrestling and the Diva Dirt site for as long as he can remember. He writes poetry in his free time and has published a few books of poetry. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter at @KashawnTaylor.