Rosa Mendes botches a move in every match she’s in? Fire her right now! Kelly Kelly still has trouble running the ropes? Go back to the strip club, ditz! Neither of the Bella twins can work like Manami Toyota? Clearly, these chicks are killing women’s wrestling!
Yes, wrestling fans have had little patience and plenty of scorn for the models-turned-wrestlers that have made up WWE’s divas division in the last few years (basically, since WWE ran their first Raw Diva Search contest in the summer of 2004, and then proceeded to sign virtually every single contestant in the top 10, as well as the eventual winner, Christy Hemme).
And it’s not that hard to see why: short, usually awful matches, corny storylines and wooden promos. WWE's division for the past few years has hardly been a highlight of either Raw or Smackdown, and is usually seen as a good time to take a bathroom break .
Things may have gotten a bit better lately with the current “Divas of Doom” storyline, but looking at the booking team (poor) track record with women’s storylines, it may only be a matter of time before they lose interest again and things revert back to that status quo.
There’s also the sad fact that the damage may have already been done: Fans in the arenas have seemingly been trained to greet most women’s matches with complete silence these days, regardless of how decent the matches or promos are, as the tepid reaction to the very good Beth Phoenix vs. Eve at the Vengeance pay-per-view shows.
Ultimately, though, if the division does revert back into the lame time-filler it was, it is unfair to continue to blame the “talentless models” for “ruining” the product. Indeed, anyone still laying the blame on the likes of Kelly and Rosa for the awful state of women’s wrestling in the U.S clearly is not aware of the full story.
What many fans do not realize is that most of the time, these girls are working under a management team that don’t seem to want them to succeed.
To make matters worse, due to their status as outsiders coming into a close-knit business, they also face a less-than-warm working environment in which they are viewed with suspicion and contempt. They also face intense jealously and politics for “not paying their dues” and gaining spots on the roster with relative ease.
And not just from their male co-workers—there’s also apparently a great deal of tension with the female wrestlers on the roster, something Kristal Marshall complained about to Steve Gerweck in a recent interview.
Talking about her transition from Barker’s Beauty on The Price is Right to WWE Diva when she signed with WWE in 2005, she spoke about the hostility she faced as a recently signed model trying to train Deep South Wrestling, a WWE developmental territory at the time. Marshall was adamant that she had been eager to be in WWE and wanted to learn to wrestle, but encountered problems with several wrestlers, the other women in particular, who resented that she came from Hollywood and did not have indie experience:
I don’t think they wanted to me to get good. I don’t think they wanted me to learn. I don’t think they wanted anyone else to see that I wanted to learn. I think that, unfortunately, there was still a lot of animosity between the models that were coming in and the girls that were wrestlers.
Not that this was anything new. In a 2004 Livejournal blog, former Playboy model Bobbi Billard (who signed with WWE in 2003, but never made it onto the main roster after getting seriously injured in developmental) gave a rather frightening account of her brief stint in OVW in at the hands of her trainers, Ivory and Jaqcueline (both were veteran women's wrestlers and had spent a great deal time on the main roster).
Giving one unsettling example about the vicious bullying she and another woman had suffered at the hands of these women, she wrote:
On our first day with them, Ivory told us, in front of other people, "Girls like you two **** your way up to the top!" That was probably one of the most humiliating and demoralizing moments of my life right there.
While the incidents described were a few years ago, there’s little indication that the harsh political environment for the girls has changed. In December of last year, Verity Thomas, a newly signed British glamour model who reported to Florida Championship Wrestling only weeks earlier, quit the promotion, citing a politically hazardous locker room:
Yes, guys. I have been removed from the FCW page. I have decided, during thanksgiving break, to move on from wrestling-too many locker room politics. Life is meant for living and being happy&cheery;:) I’m a positive girl who doesn’t need negativity in her life.
None of this is surprising. Indeed, Deep South Wrestling’s Krissy Vaine became so burned out on her experiences in the toxic developmental climate by the time she was called up to Smackdown roster in 2007 for a major angle with Torrie Wilson and Victoria, she quit the promotion, telling women's wrestling site Diva-Dirt that she felt the stress and pressure she was under would probably only intensify now that she was in the big leagues.
Disputing the rumor that had left simply because she found out her boyfriend and her were being put on separate shows, Vaine would explain to Diva-Dirt that that she had grown so utterly miserable in developmental she had actually become hooked on the anti-depressant drug Xanax. (she would later say: “I look back and believe that in the span of only about two years, I aged at least five to ten!”)
Vaine would continue to have a lengthy relationship with Diva-Dirt, even writing a series of columns reflecting on the wrestling business and her spirit-sapping run in Deep South Wrestling.
In one mildly disturbing piece, entitled "Anatomy of a Grizzled Diva," she recalled how she and most of the other women there were under extreme pressure to maintain their good looks (Vaine notes here that in WWE for the women “it’s either be a ‘perfect 10′ or buh-bye Diva wannabe” and that she had worn herself out trying to conform to this).
In the most notable part of the piece, Vaine recalled how, at the tender age of 26, she became somewhat of a Botox addict after noticing some troublesome wrinkles, and had also gotten other facial alterations to her done while at the doctor's, too:
The answer to my prayers and my weapon against gravity itself. It was the ever so wonderful Botox. Quite possibly the most useful form of paralysis I had ever encountered and I was in wrestling! It was ingenious and glorious and I’ll have you know that within two weeks I was unable to make an ugly eyebrow furrow.
So I decided to share the wealth, so I went and told one of my fellow Divas about my conquest and she too was enthralled. We all are looking to get that ‘edge’ after all, aren’t we? The two of us then decided that we needed lips and big ones at that. All the sexy bunnies and pin-up models had them. But what if you were like me and you weren’t blessed with full luscious lips? Well guess what? My ‘guy’ can give you what you want. Who cares if you look like a duckbill platypus when you leave the office? Girl, you are gonna be so fine in a week when those puppies settle down, so don’t you worry about the quacking noises you receive while walking down the street! They are just haters. And it doesn’t matter what God blessed you with, you can have whatever you want! A credit card is all you need!
Did it matter to me that the cost of these procedures were more than half of what I was receiving in salary a month? Or that the procedure itself generally wore off in about 2 months? Heck no! I didn’t care. I looked good… or so I thought and at that point in my life that was the most important thing.
Vaine also insisted that many of the twenty-something divas on the roster also frequently used Botox or lip injections to help their appearance:
The girls on the main roster were long ‘in the know’ about my findings and all of the miracle ‘juices’ there are out there for us females. How do you think they stay looking good on the road over 300 days a year? Not by themselves, I can guarantee.
There are other worrying stories. In the previously mentioned interview with Steve Gerweck, Kristal Marshall was asked how she had kept her stick thin figure in WWE with such a hectic schedule and replied simply: “I really didn’t eat at all when I was on the road. I was scary skinny. I was malnourished.”
Following on from this, Bryan Alvarez reported in an April edition of the F4Wnewsletter in 2007 that the reason for Michelle McCool’s almost one month hospitalization in late 2006 was because she had developed an eating disorder during her time in WWE, and used so many diet pills that her body had entirely shut down and she had almost died.
For her part, McCool never commented on Alvarez’s report and has since explained her version of events: that her long hospital stay was due to the fact that she was suffering from water intoxication and losing the sodium in her body, leading to her life-threatening condition. For the record, Alvarez has never retracted his story about the eating disorder.
It would be one thing if many of the divas were just extremely paranoid and put this pressure on themselves, but there are a few indications that WWE urge the women to be as thin as possible.
Indeed, Maria Kanellis noted in her 2010 shoot interview after leaving WWE that she had, at an early stage in her WWE career, been called into the office and told to drop a few pounds. Anyway who are saw the slim Kanellis at any point in her WWE career will know how utterly ludicrous this request was.
There were also reports that diva Rosa Mendes, who, similar to Maria, has never been anything resembling fat during her time in WWE, had been asked to lose weight by people in management. Stephanie McMahon would acknowledged in her 2007 Congress interview that she had personally asked divas to lose weight before and admitted to the panel she found it "embarrassing.”
In addition to all this, there were widely circulated reports, including one from the PWTorch Newsletter, that Candice Michelle’s release from WWE in 2009 had stemmed from management’s unhappiness over what they perceived as her slowness to get back in shape after suffering several terrible injuries.
Per reports, Mickie James also had heat with WWE brass for her weight in 2009 and 2010, and it was widely speculated that the deeply insulting “Piggie James” storyline had been devised at least partly to send her a message.
One of the saddest things of all is, even if models like Kelly to stick out all the scorn in developmental and refuse to break under the pressure and work hard, they are still treated with the same lack respect from their male peers. Remember Batista disrespectfully bragging about his relationship with Kelly in various interviews? (“She’s a little too immature, for me,” Dave, who has a habit of boasting about his long list of diva conquests in interviews, would complain to one host, apparently not realizing that is generally what happens when you date a girl half your age.)
And who can forget Randy Orton’s infamous remarks to 98 KUPD Arizona, in July of this year, where he laughed at what he viewed as Kelly’s promiscuity and joked that he could “name like 10 guys, right now” when asked who on the roster had slept with her. Orton later apologized for the comments.
In a revealing quote, Kristal Marshall, long term girlfriend of Bobby Lashley, would also give her insight into just why WWE got rid of her to Steve Gerweck, and speculated it was because WWE assumed, insultingly, if they got her away from Lashley, he would simply find another model on the roster:
A lot of (my release) had to do with Bobby. They thought that he was unhappy with certain things I was being asked to do. They thought I was going to create a problem with their top star. And (they thought) if they got rid of me, maybe he would find a different diva and there would be no more issues.
This situation has boiled over in recent weeks, most notably on Afterbuzz TV’s Raw after show. Kanellis, one of the show’s hosts, lost it when a fellow panelist echoed the prevailing view amongst fans that many of the models on WWE television “don’t really want to be there” and were simply using the WWE exposure as a launchpad to other things.
Maria, who came to WWE after being a finalist in the 2004 Raw Diva Search and had clearly heard this viewpoint many times before and was sick of it, then launched into a long, passionate diatribe:
That is so horrible...You want to know my honest opinion on it? I mean, do you have any idea how much we would love to stay, we would love to be there, how we would love to do everything we dream about? The only reason a lot of us have left is because we didn't get the opportunities there we wanted or thought we'd earned, or the opportunities we fought for, that's the only reason! All that "you're just a diva"; it sounds so trashy. If you are on the road 250...350...days a year there is no way (it's just for fame)…you obviously want to be there. Sure you get on television, but every weekend (on house shows), you're getting your ass kicked, you're all covered in bruises, I look at Candice Michelle, she was a Go Daddy girl she got there. But she worked hard. I used to look at her legs; from the top to the bottom they were covered in huge bruises from all the different places Beth had grabbed her to put her in position...She worked her tail off to become champion! For you to say that, you have no clue how passionate these women are! I would still be there if I got the opportunities I wanted. We're not actresses on television playing an action star who doesn't really get hit; we were getting hit. I'm no longer there because I spoke up and because I got spoke up that's why I'm sitting here.
Gail Kim would later back up the view that the divas in WWE were often restricted and discouraged from improving, citing it as one of the main reasons she left WWE and returned to TNA (a company which isn’t exactly known for its wonderful treatment of women, either, but that’s a whole other column).
Maria is probably right that many of the models in WWE are simply positioned to fail. Aside from the scorn and bullying these girls receive from other wrestlers over seemingly having a “free ride,” management are seemingly content from the models they sign to remain interchangeable eye candy with a short shelf life (for a woman, turning 30 in WWE seems to be almost a death knell for your career). Perhaps if the women became more accomplished performers, it would be harder to get rid of them so easily. Maybe they don’t want them getting so good they upstage the men (something Gail has implied in her recent interviews). Who knows?
But it is not something the models, who continued to get signed by WWE’s Head of Talent Relations John Laurinatis all the time, should be blamed for. Certainly for these young women, all of whom come from the fickle and unreliable worlds of modeling and acting, a steady paycheck sounds appealing. No doubt the chance to travel all over the world with the world’s biggest wrestling company sounds tremendously exciting, too. It's not a shock they sign; the deal looks very good on paper.
It’s just too bad most of them don’t read the small print.