Regular readers know that I’m an occasional wrestling watcher. For the most part, I watch NXT and Lucha Underground. One thing that both shows get right that the WWE hasn’t figured out on Raw or SmackDown is how to make the female talent matter. On both NXT and Lucha Underground, women are an important part of the show with their own interesting characters and stories rather than filler to get through five-plus hours of television each week.
The WWE have tried to fix that with their #DivasRevolution™ on Raw and SmackDown. After only a month and a half, it seems to have run out of steam. The crowd at Raw on Monday night turned on the Divas™ match that was part of 20+ minutes of talking and match segments. The wrestlers blamed the fans for not being behind the WWE’s #DivasRevolution but the problem is that the revolution has been doomed to failure, intentionally or unintentionally, from the start.
The funny thing about the collapse of the Revolution on Monday was that it was a complete 180 from what happened during the NXT Women’s Championship match in that same Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn just 48 hours previous.
The semi-main event (or co-main event as the WWE branded it but the main event is the last match on the show) was the Women’s Championship match between champion Sasha Banks, who is part of the WWE #DivasRevolution, and Bayley. For most of the fans watching in Brooklyn and on the WWE Network, this was the match of the night above the main event between Finn Balor (former NJPW star Prince Devitt) and Kevin Owens (former independent/ROH/PWG stand-out Kevin Steen) which logic would have dictated would have been the whole show. It was the women who stole the show on Saturday and everyone knew it.
It wasn’t just that Bayley and Sasha had fantastic match that told a story about the entitled show-off of a champion and the determined underdog challenger who had been beaten before but learned from her mistakes and overcame the obstacles in her way with only Sasha left in her way. These two women had their own characters, they had a history that was part of the build-up to the match (rather than a #1 Contender match or battle royal) and they wrestle in a way that matches their character. In NXT, they’re living, breathing parts of a greater narrative, not two women doing moves to run down the clock.
On the main roster, there is no narrative. We’re told that there’s a #DivasRevolution but nothing has really changed. The closest evidence that there is any change on the horizon is that the women are getting more or longer matches and segments on Raw. There’s nothing else happening that would make people care about what’s happening with the #DivasRevolution apart from the goodwill earned by the NXT call-ups from their time on NXT rather than their six or so weeks on the main roster.
You may notice that I keep using #DivasRevolution to refer to the Divas Revolution that the WWE is trying. That’s because that’s symbolic of the problem. This whole revolution comes off as WWE seeing the popularity of Ronda Rousey or the US women’s soccer team and throwing a new brand on the women’s division to grow the audience or change the perception of the company.
The problem is, again, that they’ve done nothing to back this up apart from creating a hashtag to get their valued Twitter trend. For all the talk of a revolution and trying to portray these women as top-caliber athletes, there haven’t been those same showcases that we’ve seen on NXT of that talent. There certainly hasn’t been any competitiveness. The three factions have been trading wins with no one getting the upper-hand or no one seeming to care which faction has been performing the best of the three.
The idea of the revolution looked like it would work with Paige bringing in backup from NXT to take down the veteran Divas in a sort of NXT invasion. That could have generated some interest from the fans. Instead, the story is Stephanie McMahon called up some women from NXT, assigned teams like a school teacher and told them to fight. There’s no story. There are no characters. There’s nothing natural about it. It started off as fighting for the sake of fighting with no purpose other than having matches.
That’s further exacerbated by champion Nikki Bella’s promo on Monday saying that the big three-team nine-woman tag team elimination match featured on SummerSlam didn’t matter because she still held the title. The teams and women have been trading wins and losses with near even-Steven booking since the start of the revolution and nobody is any closer to challenging for the championship. Nikki said that nothing mattered apart from the title. So if the matches aren’t for the title and therefore don’t matter, why should we care? And if everyone has been scoring wins over Nikki and/or her lackeys, shouldn’t they be in line for a championship match?
And that brings us to perhaps the biggest obstacle to the whole #DivasRevolution – Vince McMahon’s vindictiveness. It’s widely believed that out of spite against CM Punk and AJ Lee for leaving the WWE (Punk in January 2014 which required a re-write of the build to WrestleMania 30 and AJ in April 2015 which saw an overnight change in plans after Mania 31), Vince is leaving the belt on Nikki Bella to erase AJ’s record-length Divas Title reign. It wouldn’t be the first rash decision Vince made out of spite. Randy Orton won his first world title in 2004 to wipe Brock Lesnar out of the WWE record books.
The story that could and/or should be told seems like it should be fairly straight forward. The Bellas are where they are because of nepotism (Nikki is dating John Cena and Brie is married to Daniel Bryan) and because they star on a modestly-watched reality TV show but not because of their technical wrestling prowess. The women of NXT should have come up to the main roster and fought to make wrestling the focus of the Divas division and the way to do that is to slay the figurehead at the top of the division, that being champion Nikki Bella. The Bellas could have been battling to show they deserve their spot atop the division. The established Divas could be fighting not to get lost in the shuffle and showed that they were part of the solution rather than the problem. There are stories everywhere. Instead, we’re in a holding pattern until Vince gets revenge on the Brooks clan.
Because they aren’t willing to try to tell a story with the current female wrestlers on the roster, people have turned on the whole #DivasRevolution. They tell us there is a revolution but nothing is happening and nothing will happen for another three weeks when Nikki has wiped AJ from the WWE’s record books.
(As an aside, an alternative story has been floated by Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer is that Nikki’s title reign was supposed to end early in the current run but boyfriend John Cena intervened on her behalf to have those plans changed. It’s also been theorized internally that a possible title change to Charlotte in the last few weeks could have been nixed but the #DivasRevolution plans are in such a state of flux that plans are changing weekly so there may not have been any pull used to not go ahead with that title change.. The feeling inside the WWE is that Nikki will be at or near the top of the division as long as her and Cena are an item. Hence the story pitched above that plays on that reality.)
By then, there may no longer be a story worth telling. The women who sparked the revolution when Paige wanted to overthrow the Bella tyranny over the division will forever be considered the kayfabe greatest Diva of all-time as a result of being the champion for the longest time. Would that not make the revolution a failure, even if only because that Nikki’s record and kayfabe legend will be brought up at every opportunity?
I don’t think that there is a wrestling fan that doesn’t want to see the female wrestlers have a successful “revolution” and to get over with the crowd beyond being the bathroom and concessions break in a three-plus hour block of wrestling at the arena or on TV. Other promotions have figured out how to make women a credible and important part of the show. The WWE have yet to really put in the effort to get there.
The WWE has told us that the women are now important without changing anything but the length of time they’re on the show. The matches are marginally better but not close to most of the men’s matches. Even if the quality of matches isn’t going to get five stars from Dave Meltzer, proper build, story and characters can more than make up for that. As great as Bayley vs. Sasha was, I think I’m safe in saying that it wouldn’t have seemed nearly as great without the build to it.
It all comes back to the old showbiz narrative adage of show, don’t tell. The WWE is quite willing to tell us about how there’s a revolution but they’ve yet to show us anything new unless getting two segments instead of one on Raw is revolutionary. They’ve already started a revolution in women’s wrestling in NXT. Maybe the WWE doesn’t need to call up the wrestlers. Maybe the WWE needs to call up the writers.