By Will Cooling for WrestlingObserver.com
Most people would agree that the WWE “Divas Revolution” has not been the success that the WWE was hoping for. Not only are the matches nowhere near the quality that many of the same women have been having in NXT but the characters simply haven’t been getting over to the audience. The failure to properly introduce performers that really could be money-drawing acts on the main roster demonstrates many of the things that are wrong with the WWE.
Mistake #1: Telling Rather Than Showing
Fuelled by the success of the women on NXT and the wider prominence given to female athletes in the wake of the rise of Ronda Rousey and success of the American women’s soccer team, WWE seemed to assume that fans were thirsting for women to be given greater prominence on the main roster. This was an odd assumption to make considering that not only have WWE fans long been conditioned to ignore women’s wrestling, and that even in MMA much of the hardcore fanbase were reluctant to embrace female fighting. The WWE should have realised that for the new division to work they needed to gradually win over fans rather than presenting them with a fati acompli.
Mistake #2: Being Stuck In The Past
The WWE used to understand that whenever you’re introducing something new you need to jettison something old. To bring in Hulk Hogan, they got rid of Bob Backlund. To bring in the New Generation they got rid of the Hulkamania veterans. To bring in the ‘Attitude Era’, they removed the cartoonish and childish tropes they had previously relied upon. Having decided that their old approach to women’s wrestling was no longer working, they needed to clearly show that this to the audience, many of whom never liked the pre-existing product. This should have involved ditching old terminology, phasing out existing wrestlers and revamping how feuds and matches were presented.
Instead the WWE have tried to blend the old and the new, and as a consequence the new breed of women’s wrestlers look increasingly interchangeable from the old divas they’re meant to be replacing. Which of course, was exactly what happened when the then NXT Women’s Champion Paige joined the main roster back in 2013.
Mistake #3: Having the Wrong Priorities
Throughout its history, WCW was hamstrung by its membership of a larger conglomerate. The need to be sensitive to be the whims of its corporate overlords meant it could never move as nimbly as a WWF that was purely focused on making as much money from pro-wrestling as possible. Alas, today’s WWE resembles WCW more than it does WWF in this regard. Due to the need to please its broadcast partners and sponsors, the WWE only occassionally focuses on what is required to please its fans.
The women’s division has fallen foul of these split priorities. The obvious move when introducing the NXT Women would be to remove the Bella Twins from the division due to how synonymous they are with their old approach towards women’s wrestling. Alas the WWE doesn’t want to do this because Total Divas is a rare example of a ‘successful’ spin-off and the Bellas have long been its star characters.
Mistake #4: Not Understanding that Less is More
Even during the peak of Trish Stratus’ career, fans often saw women’s matches as so unimportant that they used them as an excuse for a bathroom break. Any attempt to re-launch the division needed to break this habit. NXT achieved this by quickly promoting the women to be the co-main event, and on occasion, the main event.
Regrettably WWE has not followed this model as rather than invest time in building up to a few key women’s matches every month, the WWE has decided to throw out two meaningless but lengthy matches on every edition of RAW. In many ways, nothing has changed except that the bathroom breaks have gotten longer.
Mistake #5: Exposing Their Performers Limitations
The glut of women’s matches is an even bigger mistake when you consider the performers involved. All of the NXT women have relatively little experience inside the pro-wrestling ring. However, they have put on great matches due to their innate athleticism and willingness to obsessively plan and practice their matches. That of course is a good thing, pro-wrestling is about creating illusions, and if thorough preparation hides their weaknesses then that’s something to celebrate.
However maintaining the illusion does impose limitations on the product. If the performers need to rehearse their matches, then they must be given adequate time beforehand to do so. This is something those booking NXT understood very well but WWE is so wedded to booking RAW the night before that they are incapable of learning from themselves.
Mistake #6: Putting a McMahon’s Ego First
Ever since she started celebrating her friendship with Ronda Rousey, it’s become clear that Stephanie McMahon has alighted on advancing the position of women within the WWE as a cause that can burnish her real-world feminist credentials. That would be fine if she was content with focusing on making the women’s division a success and then taking credit away from television. Alas she’s demanded that it be focused around her on television. She was the person to get to engage with Rousey at Wrestlemania 31, she was the one to finally stand-up to the Bella Twins, she was the one to introduce the NXT women to RAW and she was the one to who made the telling intervention that finally allowed Charlotte to win the title. The result has been that on television the ‘Divas Revolution’ has come across as a top-down imposition from a heel authority figure that deep-down most fans realise has had a negative impact on the product in real life.
Mistake #7: Pushing the Brand Rather Than a Superstar
When UFC introduced a women’s division, they built the entire project around one person. They understood that if they could get Ronda Rousey over as a credible champion then fans would naturally start caring about her prospective challengers. To that end, for the first eighteen months of women’s UFC, every fight was broadcast in the context of developing new challengers for Rousey.
WWE have shown no such focus. Rather than alighting on one of the NXT women and building the division around her, they’ve thrown three of them out onto the main roster at the same time. They’ve done this because they think that pushing a brand such as ‘Divas Revolution’ is more important than making fans care about individual wrestlers. This is an obvious misreading of their history. ‘Hulkamania’ was built around Hulk Hogan, ‘WWF Attitude’ was built around Stone Cold Steve Austin and today’s PG-Era is clearly built around John Cena. Fans gravitate to stars, not corporate buzz words.
Mistake #8 Lack of Prior Planning
All these mistakes all add up to that most common WWE problem of all; not having a clear plan. The lack of a clear plan means that the WWE has not properly anticipated let alone address the very really challenges they would face in revamping their women’s division.
That of course raises the question as to what such a plan should have looked like, something that I answer Monday in the final part of this look at the Divas Revolution.
Will Cooling is a freelance writer who writes on combat sports for Fighting Spirit Magazine, pop culture for Geeky Monkey and politics at It Could Be Said!