The State of Women's Wrestling

Steven RansiearCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2010

Over the past few weeks, I've posted news about the releases TNA has making, most of which were from their Knockouts division. In the comments section, there was one general theme, women's wrestling just isn't the same anymore.
Many people expressed disappointment with women's wrestling as a whole, especially in TNA. So I'm going to discuss the state of women's wrestling, the way I see it in 2010.
Before I get into it I'd like to discuss my history with women's wrestling. I grew up on WCW, which didn't have a women's division, so I never saw much of it.
However, around eight to nine years ago, I stumbled across FMW, which is best known for it's stars Mike Awesome, Hayabusa, and Masato Tanaka. Behind them, though, they had an incredibly rich women's division that was death-match oriented.
I had seen death match wrestling before but never with women—ladies like Megumi Kudo, Shark Tschiya, Combat Mother in Law, and others. Some of the most brutal and bloody bouts I've seen featured the women of FMW.
Little did I know that these girls were only a small representation of what women's wrestling during the 1990s in Japan was all about.
It's weird to think that so many of the crazy moves you see in American wrestling these days like the Vertebreaker/Cop Killa were invented by small Japanese women over 15 years ago.
The action in All Japan Women's wrestling was so far advanced than anything we'd seen at that point. I'm not sure we've seen anything as good since then either.
Women like Aja Kong, Bull Nakano, and Monster Ripper would show up in America time to time but they were never truly taken seriously though Nakano and American Alundra Blaze had a series of matches in the WWF.
Ripper was turned into white-trash queen Bertha Faye by the WWF, absolutely ignoring her skills in the ring.
Of course, all things come to an end and AJW dissolved and the WWF moved into bra and panties matches. We did see some competitive matches out of Lita, Trish Stratus, Jackie, Ivory, and a few others but that didn't last long.
The now-WWE shifted towards hiring models and teaching them to wrestle as quickly as possible so they could be used on TV.
That brings me to TNA's Knockouts division. A couple of years ago, it wasn't much of a division, and I don't believe that it actually had a name, though TNA did call any women in their company Knockouts.
It was when TNA announced a battle royal to officially kick off the division. I remember hearing the names of who was competing in it and being very excited.
TNA borrowed heavily from a promotion I will be talking about quite a few times in this article, SHIMMER Women Athletes. The biggest signing TNA made was Amazing Kong.
Kong, now going by the name Awesome Kong, had spent time in Japan with legends like Aja Kong and was a massive specimen. She had a fantastic rivalry with Gail Kim putting the TNA Knockouts division on the map.
In 2008, TNA continued to bring in names like Payton Banks better known as Rain, Moose AKA Mickie Knuckles, ODB, and The Beautiful People. TNA had down what the WWE didn't, they had women who were beautiful but could also wrestle.
It was an advantage and TNA used it. Frequently, the Knockouts would have the highest rated segment on TNA's weekly show iMPACT.
But like I said earlier, all things come to an end. It became more and more apparent that TNA was losing interest in it's women's division.
While great talent continued to join the roster like Madison Rayne, Alissa Flash, and Sarita (all SHIMMER imports), the focus wasn't there anymore. Most of the TV time given to the Knockouts was surrounded around The Beautiful People.
Now, just a few years later, the division is a shell of its former shelf. Some of the best women's wrestlers in the world have stepped into TNA but now find themselves out of the company.
Not only were these women great wrestlers, they each had a great look and could talk on the microphone.
TNA still has a competitive women's division but it's had it's legs chopped off by giving it tag team belts when you only have two real tag teams to compete for them.
That means more things for a division to do with less time to do them. Unless TNA gives the Knockouts their own TV or Internet show, it just doesn't mean anything to anyone.
The way TNA's Knockouts division has been handled has been a gross miscalculation of importance and talent. How they could let that much talent slip through their fingers, I'll just never know.
With TNA out of the way, we'll take a look at what the WWE has been doing as of late with its women's division.
The WWE's women division at one point was very strong and actually featured on it's programming. Most of us will remember names like Sable, Trish Stratus, Lita, Molly Holly, Jackie, Ivory, Tori, and a few others.
Many of these girls were actually very good wrestlers, but many times they were downgraded to pudding matches or bra and panties matches.
I'm sure a large portion of the male audience loved this, but myself, as a fan of actual women's wrestling, was just disappointed. Eventually, the WWE shifted away from serious women's wrestlers to models hired due to their looks.
The WWE launched the Diva Search and any hopes of serious competitive women's wrestling in the promotion was flushed down the toilet.
While the Diva Search provided us with many of our current WWE talent, it never produced serious wrestlers.
While the girls brought in have improved many seem like they are only with the WWE until they can leave and pursue another form of entertainment.
The one shining star of the Diva Search has to be Maryse. Maryse has actually become pretty good in the ring and has a fantastic heel persona.
While she started out as a Playboy model she has actually adapted herself pretty well to wrestling. Michelle McCool, who also started with the Diva Search, isn't half bad herself.
So many of the women brought in through the search are no longer with the company. It never created anyone on the level of a Trish Stratus or Lita, which I'm sure was the point of the whole thing.
The WWE has hired outside of the Diva Search with names like Gail Kim and Beth Phoenix. Phoenix who was a SHIMMER alumni came into the WWE with a fresh look and actual wrestling ability.
She got over and has a very effective heel. However, they soon paired her with Santino Marella as a comedy duo. While they were funny, it all but killed off Beth being taken serious.
These days most of the "wrestling" we get in the WWE featuring women will be very short multi-man tag team matches that are full of botched moves as many of these girls aren't trained properly.
They're fast tracked to TV because they have a pretty face. It's a bit of a joke if you ask me. I think that it's a poor decision for the WWE to keep the women's division split in two. They would be much better off combining it and keeping it to one show to boost the quality.
Lastly, I want to talk about the best part of women's wrestling in today's wrestling landscape. SHIMMER Women Athletes is a promotion based out of the Chicago area in Illinois. It's run by Dave Prazak, best known for his work within Ring of Honor and other independent promotions in the U.S.
SHIMMER uses a serious style of wrestling but does have a great deal of comedy. It's a family friendly product but features some fantastic wrestling. Many of the girls working there have been seen in other promotions like IWA Mid South, ROH, CHIKARA, TNA, and WWE.
Talents like Serena Deeb, Sarita, Beth Phoenix, Alissa Flash, MsChif, and Awesome Kong have all passed through SHIMMER, and some are still there.
SHIMMER is a small promotion though and probably isn't as known as it should be. They have a very odd and delayed taping schedule that allows for bad weather as well as the girls to work other places.
They also have a deal where any of their roster members working for TNA can still work SHIMMER as well. The closest promotion to SHIMMER in concept is Chick Fight in the United Kingdom.
I've been a fan of SHIMMER for some time and have enjoyed many of the great rivalries like Cheerleader Melissa against LuFisto. Their DVD's are sold via ROH's website which means you can get them on sale on a pretty regular basis. I highly recommend them.
To sum it all up, women's wrestling is on a downswing, no doubt about it. It's not given much respect or thought in the mainstream but it's still doing well for itself on the indies to an extent.
Some promotion which had strong women's division no longer have them. While others are actually trying to build them. My local indy company has been bringing in SHIMMER talent for the past year or so which is a real treat.
If you're like me and enjoy women's wrestling it's a real shame that we don't have many options. But if you do look hard enough if you can find some hidden gems.