WWE Panorama: 10 Reasons to Respect the Women of Pro Wrestling
Over the years many smart, sexy and powerful women have graced the squared circle. Some of them broke barriers and did things that no one ever imagined. Some of them thrilled us in ways that cannot be explained. These women left a lasting impression upon us, and they will forever hold a special place in our hearts.
However, in spite of their accomplishments, these women have eternally remained unappreciated and today rather cruelly they are reduced to being looked at as a joke.
Women in pro wrestling have constantly faced ridicule and have never been completely rewarded with the credit they deserve. They have fought and clawed through this so called “man’s world,” and continue to do so.
One can call them a “piss break” if one likes, but to me and many others they are and have always been the heart and soul of WWE. The reason is obvious, i.e. the glorious contribution of these women to the WWE.
It’s time everyone pauses to give these women a standing ovation. Without these women, I feel the WWE would never be the same. It hurts to see them not getting their due, but it is high time now. I wish to thank every single woman who has stepped into that ring for giving me memories to take with me for the rest of my life.
That is what Mariah had to say when she suggested me the idea of having a week of appreciation for women of pro wrestling. Her points were valid. Her passion was infectious, and it did me in.
During the women’s appreciation week we have seen articles that have looked at them from several different angles. From the goddesses on both sides of the pacific to the causes of women’s perish and from history to the present, our talented bleacher report writers covered it all.
Today, I am going to blend it all together and add my own little flavor. I am going to have a look at 10 reasons to respect the women of pro wrestling. Of course, there are way more reasons to admire them, but I will try to put some of the important ones in perspective here.
Let the ride begin.
Neglected but Glorious History
Although the exact origins of women’s wrestling are little blurry, they date back to early 1930’s. Yes, it has been 80 years already.
It was with Mildred Burke that women’s wrestling rose to prominence. Before she won the world women’s championship in 1937 to become the first recognized women’s champion, she had wrestled 200 men, and had lost only to one of them. This record could put even Goldberg to shame.
The popularity of women’s wrestling began to grow year by year. Many local promoters in USA began to have women on the roster. It soon became a mainstream attraction.
As Mildred would fade into other roles, Fabulous Moolah would step up and grab the baton. Mae Young acted as a transition between Mildred and Fabulous Moolah. As we all know, Fabulous Moolah then went on to be one of the greatest champions of all time.
While Moolah was just assuming reigns in the USA, a baby would just be born in Japan. In 1955, All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling Association was formed. In 1968 it would be reformed as All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling aka Joshi Puroresu.
AJPW, as many of us know by now, went to produce some of the greatest women wrestlers of all time in Jumbo Miyamoto, Jaguar Yokota, Manami Toyota, Akira Hokuto, Aja Kong, et al.
On the other side of the Pacific, the decade of 1970’s saw the pinnacle of Moolah and the rise of Wendi Richter. 1980’s would see the original screw job, which would alter the flow of history.
Early 1990 saw two different phenomena. In USA it was all about Alundra Blayze as she ruled the roster with massive popularity, whereas down in the south, Bull Nakano became the first champion in CMLL (Mexico) history.
The later years of 1990’s saw little to no action as WWE dropped the women’s championship belt for a couple of years. WCW unsuccessfully attempted to have a great women’s division. They dropped their championship in no time as well.
It then all boiled to one rivalry that the recreated magic, and reignited the flare. Lita and Trish Stratus would then bring the women’s division to new heights in early 2000’s.
They were amazing performers and today they stand alongside the above-mentioned women as legends.
The coming years saw talented performers like Awesome Kong, Beth Phoenix, Michelle McCool, Gail Kim, Melina, etc. It also saw the rise of Shimmer, the all women's promotion.
When we speak of history, invariably, we have to speak of…
Women Who Shaped the History
When we talk about the history of women's wrestling, It all boils down to two ladies.
Fabulous Moolah was not only the greatest champion of her time, but she was also someone who scripted the history in big way.
The career of Fabulous Moolah is a great story of struggle and glory, with a tinge of controversy. For more than 20 years she ruled the world. During her championship reign, she made some stars and vanquished some.
Her contribution, however, transcends mere championship reigns. Fabulous Moolah ran a wrestling academy, which churned out some talented women.
It was from her wrestling academy Wendi Richter, aka the lady Hulk Hogan, emerged. Wendy Richter would become a huge star in future, further inspiring the next generation.
While Moolah was ruling one side of the female wrestling, the other side was flourishing with equally huge global talent. The other side of the Venus belonged to none other than the woman who inspired Moolah in the first place and to whom we owe the entire history of women’s wrestling.
I am talking about Mildred Burke. Not only that she was the pioneer of women’s wrestling, not only that she was the first champion, but without her women’s wrestling in Japan would exist neither. She essentially made women’s wrestling what it is.
After fall out from her husband Billy Wolfe, who would torture her with his cohorts in NWA, she formed WWWA aka World Women’s Wrestling Association.
It was Mildred Burke's and Mae Young's tour of Japan in 1954 that would inspire women’s wrestling in Japan. It was the same tour that laid the foundation of AJPW.
Mildred Burke took talented women under her wings from the eastern shores of the Pacific. In WWWA, she fostered the talents of Jumbo Miyamoto (5 time WWWA champion), Jaguar Yokota, et al.
These women not only became legends in their own right, but they also trained then likes of Manami Toyota, Bull Nakano, Akira Hokuto and made them what they are.
Icons, Legendary Performers and Unknown Artistes
We have already seen that women had their specimen of Hulk Hogan and Bruno Sammartino in Mildred, Moolah and Jumbo Miyamoto. But we need to know that women had their share of HBKs as well. In fact, some of the finest wrestlers of either gender happen to be women.
Japan has seen Manami Toyota who has five matches under her belt that are rated five-star by Dave Meltzer. She belonged to the golden generation of Japanese women’s wrestling which also saw likes of Aja Kong and Bull Nakano. She was accompanied by perhaps the most complete woman wrestler in Akira Hokuto.
Lita pretty much revolutionized the way women wrestled in WWE. Her daredevil ways mesmerized masses and paved the way for more extreme action. Trish, although not a great wrestler, went on to learn along the way.
She and Lita together created moments that would last forever. They were nicely accompanied by the likes of Ivory, Jacqueline, Molly Holly, Victoria, Mickie James, etc.
In some lesser known territories, Gail Kim and Awesome Kong went on to become icons in their own rights. TNA has had one tremendous knock-out division, which largely owes its appeal to the aforementioned two ladies.
As we traverse further into remote regions, we reach to the likes of Sara Del Rey and MsChif. On a smaller canvas, they are spreading the colors that are as beautiful as were the colors of former legends. They are little known.
Neither they are worshiped by the masses, nor do they sell lots of merchandise. But that does not diminish the honor of their work.
All these above-mentioned ladies have put on their bodies on the line just as much as greats of men’s wrestling did. They have endured the same pain, and they have created equally amazing spectacle.
But even beyond that, there are many women who perform their art in small halls in different corners of the world. Some of them may be simply astonishing at their craft, but we do not know that. Don’t they deserve equal respect?
Anyway, I digress.
With legendary performers come…
Iconic Matches and Rivalries
Akira Hokuto vs. Shinobu Kandori (Dreamslam 1993)
Women's wrestling is not short of iconic matches or great rivalries in any way. Right from Mildred and Moolah to Awesome Kong and Gail Kim, USA has seen amazing rivalries that in turn produced superlative matches.
In WWE, one rivalry stands out and we all know which. It is Lita vs. Trish. They engaged in a feud that would be one of the focal points of their era. Such was their appeal that they main-evented Raw. Their match as the main event of Raw would always remain one of the highlights of women’s wrestling.
There are way too many examples to mention individually, so I will skip to the heart of the matter. I will just present one example that speaks for the fraternity.
If just for a moment we divert then, I would like to highlight something. The greatest matches of pro wrestling are defined by some criteria that involves extraordinary level of emotion, quality of wrestling and storytelling. The next match I am going to talk about just epitomizes every such factor.
In 1993, Akira Hokuto and Shinobu Kandori engaged in one memorable feud. It is considered to be one of the best feuds in Joshi Puroresu history. When they faced off at Dreamslam 1993, they created a spectacle that is matched by hardly any other match if none.
Their bout which lasted for 36 minutes saw a physicality that will make Mick Foley and Terry Funk shake their head in respect. It saw the athleticism and endurance that transcended norms.
The boundaries between heel and face were soon extinguished and all it remained was a spectacle of two divine artistes battling it out in the name of their art. This match is only one of such matches, that the goddesses of squared circle have put on over the years.
Following are the links to YouTube videos of the match:
Enjoy them as we move on to the land of this match, Japan and its art…
Joshi Puroresu is female pro wrestling in Japan. By now, I have already mentioned its brief history and icons. What I wish to speak here is the nature of the action, which is seen in the ring. I wish to discuss the soul that resides in it.
Joshi Puroresu did one amazing thing. It erased the pre-defined notions about women’s wrestling. It did not believe that women are lesser to men in the first place. They encouraged same level of endurance, athleticism and action as men’s wrestling.
They did not opt for five-minute matches. They rather showcased the talent they had in lengthier matches. They did not shy away from introducing weapons or gimmick matches.
Moreover, they nurtured a legendary tag team division. I will not talk a lot about it, but I can’t refrain from mentioning one team, The Crush Girls. This tag team became a cultural icon back in the days. It had the same impact that Hulk Hogan had in the USA. (read Kevin Berge’s article for further information).
The soul of Joshi Puroresu lies in their attitude. They do not perceive their craft as profession. It is their art. Their honor lies in it, and it shows in the matches. It is all about skill, and hardly about looks. It has nothing to do with how good a body one has, but it has more to do with how one uses it in the ring.
Joshi Puroresu is based on respect, and that is why it is so heavily respected.
The Role Women Played in the Rise of Several Superstars
Randy Savage, Triple H and Edge are three of the greatest stars this business has seen. But their legacy has one aspect in common, i.e. the role women played in the development of these three.
Without Miss Elizabeth, Randy Savage would have lost half his glamor. Without Stephanie or Lita, Triple H and Edge could have never been the heels they were.
The point is that these women did not only occupy the ring with their respective men, but they added tremendous depth to the stories and characters of their better halves.
The essence of story is emotion. Nothing explores emotion better than a relation between a man and a woman.
It explores new sides of all the characters involved. It unearths different realms of the heart and makes these superstars more humane, in turn, more relatable.
Pro wrestling has capitalized on this connection in all the eras.
Apart from romantic interests, women have played another celebrated role in careers of the several stars, which was that of managers.
Sensational Sherri, Luna Vachon, Vickie Guerrero are just some of the names. Without these women as managers, many stars would have never been the same. This list includes likes of HBK and Edge, and it speaks volumes.
As we move down the order, women also played the role of valets. It was nothing but a role of sensual eye candy and a heat-mongering tool for heels.
This had a lot to do with how companies saw women. It is this particular point and the related bigger issue that takes me to the next point.
A Will to Carry on Despite Hideous Treatment by the Promoters
It is a sad truth that most of the promoters in USA saw women as nothing more than an eye candy, and continue to do so. What is even more atrocious is the thankless fortune that comes to many women.
There are so many issues and aspects to it that it deserves a special slideshow in itself. But I will just touch three stories which absolutely shook me. First is a real-life instance, whereas later two are part of stories on screen.
First is about Mildred Burke. When she was working with her husband Billy Wolfe, he used to use her and other competitors as his sex toys in return of the exposure he gave. When Mildred Burke had enough and she parted ways with him, NWA stood with Wolfe and against Mildred. So much for the justice, eh?
Secondly, let us remember in horror the storyline affair Vince McMahon had with Trish in 2000-2001. During that story, he performed one of the most hideous on screen acts in WWE history by forcing Trish to crawl and bark in the ring on live TV. People would say that she had a choice. I would honestly ask, did really she?
The last one inspired disdain from me, and remains my personal bone of contention with WWE.
Lita was by far one of the greatest women stars WWE would dream of have. Her contribution to the WWE was immense and in return what she received was a truckload of pathetic and awful stories.
It would have perhaps been forgiven but the way WWE sent her off remains a crime unpardonable. They used Cryme Tyme. Really?? I don’t even wish to go further.
Mind you I am talking about three of the biggest women icons of all time.
I will not say that Vince has been the biggest criminal. In fact, the trend of humiliating and insulting women has been a part of pro wrestling history. If Vince humiliated them on screen, then many other promoters exploited them backstage.
Whom do we call the bigger evil, here?
But irrespective of such hostile conditions, women continue to perform for fans, who more often than not are judgmental.
A Will to Carry on Despite Judgmental Fans
From Kelly Kelly can’t wrestle to Lita was a slut, fans have a lot of things to say.
Before I move on, I want to clarify that I am not trying to blame them or you. I am putting the blame on us which includes me as well.
Lita has shared her experiences several times about how people in general hounded her during the Matt Hardy saga. First, it was her personal life, and secondly nobody in this world is perfect. But yet people jumped on the bandwagon and tortured her.
Earlier this year when Kharma aka Awesome Kong had to leave because of pregnancy, many comments on this very place stunned me. People were lamenting about how she could find such a time to “fall” pregnant.
The disregard for divas division is a universal phenomenon these days. One does not have to be a fan, but at least labeling them as a piss-break could be avoided.
WWE or any other wrestling organization is not strong enough to sway the opinion and behavior of majority. It really does not matter how Michael Cole describes the women's division, when one knows that he is terrible and moreover a heel.
No matter how much we may try defending our stand and put all the blame on WWE and the current set of divas, we must introspect and ask ourselves whether we we have been judgmental.
And despite this, these women continue to perform for us. And while already treading such a difficult path…
They Have Survived in a Business Where Many Men Have Gone Bust
Considering I already spoke about the hostile environment women have faced, this point may seem redundant to many. However, allow me to explain.
The former two slides were add-on factors that particularly a woman performer may face. But now I am going to have a look at universal nature of this business.
Pro wrestling is one of the most difficult businesses to be in. It takes grotesque toll on mind and body. It finds thousand ways to break someone down.
Not so surprisingly, many superstars have slid into ignominy in this business. The ranks include Hogan, Flair, Scott Hall and many more stars who once commanded the spotlight.
What interests me on such a backdrop is the way likes of Mildred Burke, Mae Young, Moolah, Wendi Richter, Alundra Blayze or Trish and Lita have handled their lives. They indeed had their fair share of troubles, but they did not sink.
Of course there are the examples of Sunny or Chyna. But then again consider the other side here as well.
The temptations men fall for apply to women, as well. The darkness that hounds men stings women, too. It is the lack of family time, soured relations or financial woes that drove stars to the limit.
But considering the fact that women are the cornerstones of their families, I just cannot imagine how difficult it would be for women.
Women are supposed to be financially and emotionally dependent in relationships. Then the magnitude of soured relations has to be much harder for women.
Add to this the insane policies of companies like WWE, where women have to plan their pregnancies according to companies' choices, where they have to maintain weight no matter if a life depends on them.
To put it simply, it is HELL.
This is why I added this slide as a different reason. The business which is deadly enough for men is far more sinister for woman.
Still, they show up and perform. How and why? Let us go to the last slide.
The Passion, Endurance and Absolute Devotion
Just compound the factors I have spoken so far. Just look at the puzzle, which we have completed so far.
The bigger picture that emerges definitely amazes and make one introspect.
It takes one brave heart to fight so many odds. It takes tremendous courage to face so many demons and still keep going on. Every woman I have mentioned in this article and every woman pro wrestler on this planet share this spirit.
These women choose to walk on the path immersed in their passion. But the same passion brings them pain, which is inherent to this business. This passion makes them torture their body and testes every aspect of their mind.
Normal human beings would crumble in such a situation. Some of them do too. But others rise above it. It is their endurance that takes them through. It is the same endurance that is innate ability of the fairer sex. It is the same endurance that is a hallmark of the superior spirit.
When such endurance mingles with passion, it is then the devotion rises.
It was her devotion that empowered Mildred Burke, a single mother of two kids, to stand up against menacing promoters and rewrite the history.
It was their devotion that gave some Japanese woman the power to continue with their matches in spite of a broken neck or broken ribs. It is her devotion that inspires Eve Torres to take out her time and grant wishes of innocent kids on regular basis.
And it has been the same devotion, which has enabled the women of pro wrestling to collect the stones thrown at them and turn them into smiles.
I rest my case, my lord.
Once in a generation, some individuals are born with a spirit superior to others. They dream and choose to follow it. They create a spectacle, they set an example and all we could do is gasp in awe. We look at them with marvel, but often forget that they are born amongst us, just with an extra ounce of will.
The women of pro wrestling are some such people and it was our pleasure to write on them.
I want to thank Sharon Glencross, Jon Fisher, Kevin Berge, John Cobbcorn, Iam D Real Deal Yo and William Gullo for their superlative articles. I am extremely grateful to them for honoring my invitation to join this week.
They are the creme de la creme, and during this week they proved it why. It was an honor to be a part of an event with you, my friends.
I want to thank all our dear readers as well. You encouraged all of us and supported our work. On behalf of the entire team, I just want to convey our most humble gratitude.
Last but not the least, the girl who made it all happen. Thanks Mariah, for suggesting such a wonderful idea and in turn initiating one of the best events in pro wrestling section’s history. And secondly, thanks a lot for writing an amazing prologue for this article. It means a lot.
In the end I just want to clarify that although the event concludes today, the appreciation for woman would continue...
Links to other articles of the Appreciation Week -
The most Influential Women's Wrestler of All Time by John Cobbcorn
Top 10 Women's Tag Teams of All Time by Kevin Berge
Why Fans Need To Cut The Models In WWE Some Slack by Sharon Glencross
How Trish and Lita Revitalized The Women's Division by John Fisher
Neglecting of Divas: Who's Fault Is It by Real Deal
Wendi Richter, The Fabulous Moolah and the Original Screwjob by William Gullo