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The Devolution of Women's Wrestling in WWE

September 10, 2017

The WWE Women’s Revolution has undoubtedly been the best thing that’s ever happened for female Superstars in Vince McMahon’s company. No longer resigned to silly matches that showcase bodies instead of talent, the women of WWE now have a platform on par with their male counterparts.


They’ve taken advantage of that fact, and have risen to a level higher than any fan could have hoped for. Finally women’s wrestling is relevant and important. But revolution has led to evolution; or perhaps devolution, depending on perception.


The Mae Young Classic featured talents from all over the world, competing in a tournament the likes of which women’s wrestling has never seen. WWE has been praised for putting it all together, which is well deserved. The Superstars themselves have been praised for delivering maximum effort in such a unique showcase, which is also well deserved.


But as fans watched the tourney unfold, one thing became very clear very quickly; this was not just a pro wrestling tournament. This was the next phase of The Women’s Revolution in WWE.


A heavy emphasis was placed on Mixed Martial Arts, which is something that’s only been occasionally referenced for the men’s division. Unlike New Japan stars, who often utilize their MMA backgrounds in their wrestling game, WWE usually sticks to what brought the company to the dance; the wrestling.

But instead of keeping that focus for the Mae Young Classic, WWE instead chose to spotlight the Combat Sports mantra throughout the tournament. One by one, the participants cut promos, and one by one, MMA lingo was used. What began as just another perspective for a few of the talents quickly became the anthem for nearly everyone, and every match.


Leading the charge is Shayna Baszler, who will work in the tournament final against Kairi Sane. Baszler’s MMA background was mentioned from the very beginning, as she continues to be portrayed as the hard-nosed shoot fighter that’s now in WWE. Featuring her as the former MMA fighter that’s now a pro wrestler was apparently not the plan.


Big hype and even bigger talk surrounds Baszler, which is expected. She is legitimately tough, and brings the MMA aspect to the women’s division like no other female has. It’s logical that WWE would go that route, just as it’s logical that Baszler’s close friend Ronda Rousey will likely make her pro wrestling debut sooner rather than later.


But lost in all the hype is the fact that once again WWE has bowed to the popular trend, instead of focusing on what makes the company successful. Fans in attendance of The Mae Young Classic were chanting “women’s wrestling,” not “UFC.” The WWE faithful never asked for a hybrid style, but that’s what they’re getting.

Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley did not revolutionize the women’s division primarily with takedowns, submission holds, and tap-outs. They also did not depend on their sexuality to sell tickets, and get over, as many of their predecessors did. Instead, the four focused on the wrestling. They knew what was going to earn the fans’ respect, and they took advantage of it.


In an environment where women’s matches had typically been no longer than two minutes, this next generation of stars offered something new, yet familiar, at the same time. They offered passion. Desire. Respect. They wanted to be taken seriously and reinvent women’s wrestling for the modern era, and they did just that.


So does it need to be reinvented again? The notion that WWE should adapt some MMA aspects into the presentation is one that is surely being met with rejection from old school fans. If not for pro wrestling, and WWE in particular, there would be no UFC; UFC borrowed many elements of its presentation and marketing from WWE. Of course despite what they have in common, the fact is UFC is a shoot, and WWE is a work.


The idea that WWE needs to assimilate MMA ideology is interesting, and makes for good headlines, but the point of pro wrestling is getting lost in the process. Professional wrestling is the one true American art form; it’s a Greek tragedy told on an athletic stage. Competitiveness, ego, anger, hatred, pride, revenge and glory are played out in a 20x20 ring. Fans know it’s choreographed but that doesn’t matter. It’s the drama, and more importantly the wrestling, that brings fans back every week.

But WWE has been showing signs of change in the men’s division over the past several years. Daredevil stunt-wrestling has become the norm for the men, and that change will now happen to the women’s division, just in a different way. For every female Superstar that just wants to wrestle and pay respect to the sport, there will be two that want to outmuscle, out-strike and tap-out everyone they step into the ring with. It’s not about refusing a tougher style for the women’s division, as many of them would surely be just fine with it. It’s about compromising the integrity of what makes professional wrestling an art form to begin with.


Any time a pro athlete, actor, or celebrity, enters a pro wrestling ring, fans sit back with one common thought. “Okay, let’s see if they can wrestle.” Now they sit back and watch MMA fighters step into the ring and think “I bet she shoots, watch her kill that girl.” Is this what WWE has come to? As the crowd passes a beach ball around, chant “sweet” every time the referee counts two, and continues to boo the heels because its fun, many are asking if WWE has become desperate.


Is incorporating MMA and changing the sport truly the answer to satisfying today’s arrogant and cynical pro wrestling crowd? What if this doesn’t work? Is this really about improving the product, or pacifying the pompous? Baszler will get to the main roster. Rousey will eventually get there as well. One will likely make a new career for herself, while the other will come in for a WrestleMania payday then leave again. Fans will tune in, and the mainstream media will as well.


At the end of the day, that will be exactly what WWE wants. But as money is made and the machine moves on, the meaning is being lost. The Women’s Revolution changed the world for WWE. But devolution could damage it beyond repair.


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