Kharma, Layla, and Revitalizing the Women's Division: WWE Overhaul Part 8
Author's note: My first article on b/r was about how the tag team situation was worse than it needed to be. I wrote it way back in January, and this article would have been the logical follow-up. When I began my WWE: Overhaul series, this was one of the first, most obvious entries to write for it. A combination of logical flow and building on earlier entries pushed it to the end. Then I jumped on WrestleMania, and after that I didn't write anything else. I've tried multiple times to start this article without much success. I didn't know how to attack it, how to structure it. Then Beth Phoenix was "injured," the Bellas took the title and then were released, and Layla came back and took the title. This flurry of activity changed the landscape of the Divas division and the article.
In short, I'm sorry it took so long and I'm sorry if it comes out a little wonky and confused.
Much has been made about the weakness of the tag team division. Similarly, the dearth of managers and stables has been a bone of contention for many. The complete disappearance of the Cruiserweight division has been a sore spot as well.
Comparatively, the Divas division is healthy, right? For sheer numbers and TV time, you'd have to say the Divas are doing okay.
Not when many see "Divas match" as a synonym for "bathroom break." Especially not when it seems the higher-ups of WWE share that feeling.
In fact, the Divas division is the Rodney Dangerfield of the WWE (It's old and gets no respect).
Actually, that's not true, either. The Divas Championship is not old. It's only been around since 2008. But the work we get from the division certainly feels old.
Unlike the rest of the missing pieces of WWE wrestling, there is a strong contingent of WWE fans who are for removing Divas wrestling altogether.
I can't support that stance, unless it's to put the Divas on their own show.
However, things can't continue as they are.
Well, they can, and in the short-term they certainly will, but if they do then the division will continue to be the joke of the WWE.
There's a sort of chicken-egg phenomena going on right now where the blame is alternately placed on WWE's creative team, or the Divas' poor move sets or execution, or the short match lengths.
Some people are praying for a single performer (generally Kharma) to save the division.
Well, here's a revelation:
It's not one thing, it's everything. And no single solution is going to fix it.
Get ready, this will probably be a long (and circuitous) route.
If you can't handle this right now, or if you want a peek into where my head is, go back and check out the rest of the series:
Part 1: Revamping the Wrestling Shows
Part 2: Injuries and the Offseason
Part 3: Non-Wrestling Prime Time Shows
Part 4: Scheduling a Week of Prime Time
Part 5: Filling the 24-Hour Schedule
Part 7: Resurrecting Tag Teams
Their Own Show
If you've been keeping up with this series (and if not, go back and do it already!), then you know it assumes that the WWE Network will actually get tired at some point. It also assumes that as part of the effort to have new wrestling every night of the week, the Divas get their own show.
Therefore, everything to come assumes that this one-hour all-Divas show exists, though most of the suggestions stand either way.
I touched on it in the Diva's slide of the original edition, but to break it down:
A one-hour show requires at least three matches (or other major segments), even with recaps. That's a minimum of six active wrestlers per week.
Then you add in triple threats and tag team matches (though such matches can use weaker wrestlers in smaller roles) and you're looking at more like nine or ten.
And that's without counting on injuries, illnesses, and other hiatuses. Or Diva representation on the other shows.
So you're looking at at least a dozen ring-capable performers, though some of them can be part-time/low-impact, like managers, valets, etc.
Add to that at least two announcers and a GM.
Considering the current state of things, it looks a little daunting. We may have our work cut out for us.
So let's look at the roster as it stands.
The Roster Today
According to WWE.com, as of the time of writing, this is the available WWE Divas roster:
AJ, Aksana, Alicia Fox, Beth Phoenix, Cameron, Eve, Kaitlyn, Kelly Kelly, Kharma, Lilian Garcia, Maxine, Naomi, Natalya, Rosa Mendes, Tamina Snuka and Vickie Guerrero.
Of this list, Cameron, Naomi, Aksana, Lilian Garcia, Rosa Mendes, and Vickie Guerrero have not had significant ring time this year, Eve is currently not competing actively, Kharma is not appearing, and Beth Phoenix is injured.
So 17 becomes more like seven and a half.
Rosa and Eve do have ring experience though and Cameron and Naomi have wrestled in FCW, with Naomi the runner-up on NXT.
So let's take a more in-depth look at the pool of talent.
General consensus is that Beth Phoenix and Natalya are the best in-ring performers, along with Kharma. Layla, AJ, Eve, Kelly Kelly, and Tamina Snuka can all go as well.
Rosa Mendes can work but hasn't in a while. Kaitlyn and Maxine are settling in on NXT: Redemption.
Cameron, Naomi, and Aksana are either not ready or are unknown quantities.
Alicia Fox has talent but is a dangerous botch machine.
Garcia and Guerrero are not wrestlers.
If Beth and Kharma were both ready to go, and you pulled up Kaitlyn and Maxine, you'd have 10 potential competitors to draw from each week, without having to go to Alicia Fox or Rosa Mendes.
With the roster in tact, we now must analyze the roles or archetypes we need and who can fill them.
Wrestling Styles and Character Archetypes
The way I see it (in general, but particularly when crafting their own show), good women's wrestling should mimic the men's wrestling as closely as possible in many ways.
Just as WWE wrestling, in general, features a variety of styles and influences, so too should the womens'.
Speaking generally, there are a few basic categories of wrestler:
- Power/size wrestlers, and taking that to an extreme, Monsters
- Mat-based, Technical or Submission wrestlers
- High Fliers or Speedy wrestlers
And this is in addition to the different personalities or gimmicks.
Kurt Angle, Jack Swagger and Brock Lesnar are all accomplished collegiate wrestlers, but they come across very differently due to size and attitude.
Ideally, there should be at least one representative from each "school" of wrestling. This diversity of styles keeps things interesting, fresh and adds color and intrigue to the proceedings.
It was a major feature of Roman gladiator matches to put guys with different weapons and fighting styles against each other.
Likewise, Rock Paper Scissors. No one wants to watch Rock vs. Rock all day every day.
Taking a look at the available talent, we see some of this already in place (though not necessarily being utilized or featured properly), and some missing.
Beth Phoenix: Power
Layla: Balanced or Submission (Submissions aren't really her gimmick, but she has done quite a few different ones.)
Natalya: Submission or Balanced (She could really stand to make submissions her thing, the double sharpshooter she did was cool, but unfortunately you don't see much diversity from her. Probably due to the limited time available or limits of her opponents.)
AJ: Speed (AJ is definitely the Cruiserweight of the division, but you don't see her going top rope, really.)
Tamina: Balanced or High Flier (She uses a Superfly splash as a finisher, but she doesn't seem to do any other top rope stuff during the match, which is a disappointment. I long for Lita.)
Eve: Balanced or High Flier (She's done some moonsaults and some of her flipping attacks from a standing position make me think she could do more.)
Kelly Kelly: Balanced or Speedy (I'll be honest, all I can think of is that headscissor/carousel move that clearly shouldn't work that way.)
Kaitlyn: ? (She looks like she could be a brawler or a smaller power wrestler, but what I've seen from her seems more technical, kind of like a Natalya.)
Maxine: Balanced or Submission (By default; she's not big and operates kind of slowly.)
Basically, it looks like you've got two big, powerful wrestlers and then everybody else and AJ taking up the small side of things.
The division would be helped by a couple women solidifying an in-ring style and identity as a submission specialist or high flyer (though really, even the men's division lacks people who generally do more than one big top-rope move.)
Gimmicks and Personality
I'm about to read your mind.
Quick, name me one Diva whose "gimmick" is not "beautiful woman who wrestles sometimes."
Bam! I just read your thoughts. Are you amazed yet?
Now name me another.
Okay, if you want to stretch things, Natalya and Tamina both get the legacy angle as well, but that doesn't really change the main thing. Heck, even Beth Phoenix, who should have been dominating her entire tenure by beating the crap out of people, has had two "gimmicks" of late, both of which have to do with how beautiful she is. Glamazon and Pin-Up Strong.
Sure, she's strong and Amazonian. But she's also a glamorous pin-up. Guys, in case you missed it, she's beautiful.
Just like the rest of them.
It's not enough that she's good at what she does. She can't just be naturally good looking but not really bothered with the fact. She has to make a big deal about it. It's right there in her nickname and her (former) tag team identity.
The Viper. The Rattlesnake. The Cobra. The Brahma Bull. The Rabid Wolverine.
And of course, the rest of the women don't even have nicknames or identities at all.
Kelly Kelly: Barbie.
Rosa Mendes: Puerto Rican Barbie.
Natalya: Hart Dynasty, Pin-Up Strong. (Oh, and Flatulence. So I guess she has something after all.)
Eve: Beauty... and brains? Oh, and she's a Hoeski. That's a nickname, right?
AJ: She's a... nerd? I guess? Girl next door? Totally not a beautiful model like the rest. Though she comes closer than most as she's gotten "spitfire" and "spark plug" calls from the announce team.
Alicia Fox: Foxy.
Kaitlyn: Strong but cute.
Maxine: Weird. (And that's not even her gimmick, she gets to share it with Johnny Curtis. I guess she's sort of "evil?" It's not much, but it's more than most of the women have right now.)
We've got to be able to do better than that. Every woman's personality or gimmick can't be "she's pretty and mean" or "she's pretty and nice."
AJ, Eve, and ,to a lesser extent, Natalya, get featured on TV and have been involved in storylines, and have developed a little personality or changed between heel and face.
But none of that affects their in-ring style or personalities.
What's the difference between heel Natalya and face Natalya (other than heel Natalya somehow kept screwing things up)? Is Eve going to use her position to get herself opportunities in the ring? Will AJ even get an important match?
I guess Eve latching onto power is a gimmick. And so is Aksana doing the same thing. And Maxine trying to play to William Regal...
Teams and Factions
I do have one positive thing to say about the aborted Pin-Up Strong "movement," however.
Until the angle was thrown away in favor of AJ/Daniel Bryan and Eve/Zack Ryder, there was, for half a second, a three-woman faction/stable in WWE. Beth, Natalya, and (almost) Kaitlyn stood together over a beaten AJ Lee. The three women shared a look, all being powerful blonds, and for that shining moment they were all heels.
That kind of a group identity would have been great, at least for a while. They could have controlled the division until the rest banded together in a rag-tag group to dethrone them, or until their internecine fighting finally tore them apart from the inside.
Cameron and Naomi, the Bellas (before they left), AJ and Kaitlyn (I refuse to say "Chickbusters," aw man, I just did it!), and Beth/Natalya are (or were) all workable teams and in the absence of individual identity, team identity is something.
In the future, with new talent, there is the opportunity for teams and factions or stables to help color the landscape. Whether it's "mean girls," barbie dolls, some kind of cult, a ho train, or whatever, anything that lends identity to the bland and repetitive can only help.
This is also a way in which men can be involved in the show, as managers, trainers, gurus, boyfriends, buddies, etc. Occasional mixed tag matches or grudge matches between the guys could help lighten the load.
No More Divas
No guys, I didn't suddenly change my mind to eliminating women's wrestling from WWE.
What I want is to separate the women who are only on WWE TV to look pretty (and occasionally talk) and keep the shows from becoming sausage-fests from the women who are there to compete.
Take those that don't, won't or can't wrestle, and keep them separate from the real wrestlers.
Make the distinction clear.
Make those women the Divas (man I hate that word - look for an upcoming article on that and more) and let them have beauty contests and pillow fights (or catfights, or pudding wrestling... wait, PG, PG!) for their title, or whatever they want to do. Stand around and look pretty. Be ring girls. Nothing wrong with that, it's a noble profession.
Where was I?
Oh yeah, and let the wrestlers be wrestlers and call them such, or since wrestling is a bad word (that article is coming), call them Female Superstars or women or something. Buy the name Knockouts from TNA. Call them Stunners, Angels, I don't know. Even Pinups implies beauty but has "pin" in the name. Anything but Divas.
And hire as many models as you want to add sex appeal to the rest of the WWE programs, but for the women's wrestling, put in the effort.
Sign talent that can already wrestle well, or seriously want to learn.
Put time, money, effort and skill into training the talent well. That means make new talent work at FCW under good trainers who know how to teach women how to wrestle, even if it costs more money than you want to spend.
Who helped Trish Stratus go from fitness model to top-flight wrestler? Hire that person.
Bring back established veterans, even if it's temporarily.
Increase the length of matches, the variety of match types, expand the move sets and call the matches as if they matter.
No More Butterfly
This should have happened to the Divas title
To continue on the previous slide:
Get rid of that pink butterfly monstrosity. I already know how to do it best.
Take someone who's never held the title (preferably Kharma, as she can run over all the competition on her way convincingly, and probably would anyway) and let her win it.
Put the title belt in her hands. Then have her toss it aside. Let her sneer, scoff or gag. She won't wear it, she won't carry it and she won't even look at it.
It's an insult, just like the competition, just like the name they're saddled with. It's beneath her.
She doesn't want a gaudy trinket. She doesn't want jewelry.
She wants respect.
She can reign for a while, she can continue winning, but she never mentions the title, or she calls herself the women's champion, brings back the old belt or a new one of her own design.
Finally, someone beats her, maybe a returning star, but rather than claiming the Diva belt, they take the one the champ's been carrying around. It's what matters to her, anyway.
Whether as wrestlers or in other capacities (GM, commentators, managers, etc.), a certain amount of former talent should be brought back.
Not to eclipse what currently exists, but to bolster it, particularly as there will be greater demand on the roster with a whole show devoted to it.
The good news is this should help draw free agents, and keep contracted talent from bolting.
Probably #1A on most peoples' lists, Trish was a talented performer and very popular, and would do well either as a competitor, trainer, manager, GM or commentator.
Definitely #1B to Trish's #1A, Lita was hugely popular, and a rarity as a high-flying daredevil. She'd probably be good for one more good feud, and if she could impart just a little of her top-rope ways on the division, we'd all be better for it. I don't see her as much in a support role.
Tabbed by many as the best performer around right now, Gail was not happy with her last stint in WWE, and has been tearing up TNA in the interim. If there were more opportunities for women in WWE and they were taken more seriously, she might not have left in the first place.
Another top-flight, popular wrestler WWE had but lost. Similar to Kim but also wanting to pursue music and stop taking completely unnecessary on-air abuse about her weight, James was a beautiful non-Barbie member of the WWE, a believable champion and a great asset.
Released from WWE after breaking Kayfabe. Thrown out (in storyline) by then cult leader, now Cult of Personality, CM Punk, Deeb never really had a chance to perform in WWE, but those with more of an eye outside the WWE than I say she's really good.
Katie Lea Burchill
Another performer who was said to be talented but never had much chance to shine, as she had her wagon hitched to a horse that wouldn't go very far.
Isis the Amazon
Aka Aloisia, Lindsay Hayward was supposed to be on NXT season 3, but was released before the show started. This one's baffling. WWE loves monsters. She's 6'9". Were they really concerned about her posing suggestively? I could see removing her from the competition because she posed a danger to the other competitors, but why not keep her around and train her in FCW until she was ready? Heck, the Great Khali still can't wrestle, and he has a job.
Obviously, whether the Divas get their own show or continue on as they are, the only way they are going to get any more respect or TV time or match length than they're currently getting is by adding new talent. Talent that is ready and willing to actually wrestle, and isn't going to accidentally put their coworkers on IR every time they step in the ring.
I'll be honest, I have no idea who is good and/or available right now in TNA and the indies.
Maybe that was apparent from the last slide; I'm not sure if those women are wrestling or not.
At any rate, most of the women who will (or should) be added to the WWE roster in the next five years are not household names today.
They need to be recruited (as wrestlers and not models, preferably from training centers or indie shows and not from airports, runways, or the club). They need to be trained. They need gimmicks and in-ring styles.
And they don't all have to be models.
You could hire a (gasp!) ugly woman if she has skills. Not every male wrestler is a shining Adonis. As long as you have your beauty and sex appeal represented, you have room for some average looking women.
Also, I'd like to see some luchadoras or japanese women wrestlers brought in.
Now, I will put up one suggestion for a current veteran (that isn't on the last slide).
ODB is a great example of what the division needs (and I haven't even seen her work, this is just what I've gleaned from b/r).
She's got a particular gimmick, or attitude, or style, that's unlike the rest of the pack.
She's pretty, but she's not so unbelievably put together and thin as most of the others. She's a good ol' broad, a hard-charging, alcohol-swilling tough girl. She's a brawler. And all of these things offer a change over the rest of the field.
Structure and Organization
For the Divas to have their own show, you're going to have to have everything from top to bottom.
Wrestlers, of course, but also a GM, commentators, ring announcer, interviewers, refs, managers, etc.
Most of these (or at least more than normal) should be women, though some men can be involved, particularly as refs or managers/valets. At least one woman should come out with a couple of dumb beefcakes on her arms.
Specifically, I think one of the two or three commentators should be a man (Jerry Lawler, if there's any justice in the world), and some of the refs can be men, though not all should be.
Logical possibilities for GM could be Vickie Guerrero, Stephanie McMahon, Wendi Richter (if she was on speaking terms with WWE), Trish Stratus or Tiffany. I'd make a gender exception for Teddy Long because I miss his theme music, "just a minute!" and all the cute girls could manipulate him.
Potential commentators (other than King) might be Trish Stratus, Ivory, Michelle McCool, Lita (not that I think she'd be great, but she's well loved and knows her stuff and would at least be at Booker T levels), or Stephanie.
Ring announcer would go to Lilian Garcia unless Jamie Keyes came back.
And that's about it.
Hiring another three or four in-ring talents and a couple others for support roles, committing to training and higher quality (and length) matches and better, more consistent creative work would be all it would really take to get a women's show started. In time it could be good.
Part 9 coming sometime (probably a lot faster than this one did!)
Return to the Home of WWE: Overhaul to read the other articles in this series!