Ronda Rousey and the WWE Women's Revolution Will Be Televised

A superstar of MMA isn’t just teaming up with Charlotte Flair for ratings. The diva is dead, but pro wrestling’s better half is alive. Part of the B/R POWER 50 Level Up list.
photo of Dave SchillingDave Schilling@@dave_schillingWriter-at-LargeJuly 23, 2018

Triple H is no easy man to lift above your head. The WWE executive isn't your average corporate mastermind, after all—he's billed at 6'4", 255 pounds.

But at this year's WrestleMania 34, Ronda Rousey just picked him up and chucked him across the ring. Easy. After all, the former UFC phenomenon had already thrown him through a table—obviously—when she signed her presumably gigantic contract to join WWE in January after a three-year courtship.

ICYMI: The women of WWE have arrived on the main stage, and they are here to kick your ass.

The so-called "Divas Revolution" was a concerted effort by WWE—both in storyline and in non-spandex-clad reality—to change women's pro wrestling from a sideshow attraction dominated by sexually suggestive ring attire and retrograde storylines into a respected part of its multibillion dollar empire. Chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon introduced that effort three years ago now—but WWE still called its female stars..."Divas."

In the ring, though, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks were natural athletes with superb training from the WWE Performance Center and NXT division in Florida. The wrestling had leveled up from bra-and-panties matches toward something close to transcendent. Eventually, the term "Diva" (which fans had begun using as a pejorative) got phased out, and the women were treated as equals inside the ropes. More and more elite female talent has joined the original three in WWE ever since—Asuka, Bayley, Nia Jax and the mainstream superstar Rousey, just to name a few. There's been a women's Royal Rumble match, a women's Money in the Bank ladder match and countless other milestones that WWE's announcers promote on their weekly broadcasts.

The main female storylines on those massively popular shows may no longer flirt with sexism and misogyny, but they still don't get the time and attention the men's stories do. Still, there was Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax's bout at WrestleMania 34, centered around a resonant narrative about bullying and body shaming. "It was such a real story, and I brought my real emotions into it," Jax told me. "I cried on camera. I felt every moment I was bullied when I was a girl and to this day, actually."

The branding is one thing. But the stories of women and their resonance with a mainstream audience will be what moves this Women's Revolution forward. "The fact that I had to be this body-shaming bully was very hard, especially when it was to someone who was my best friend," Bliss said. "That was what really invested the audience in what we were doing."

Just four years ago, the idea of a dream match between two female wrestlers was unthinkable. But there have never been so many outstanding athletes, this many interesting characters and this much possibility at the top of pro wrestling.

Now, with SmackDown shifting to Fox's broadcast network in a deal worth around $1 billion, Rousey and Flair are poised to become more than phenomena. In WWE, where storylines can be finessed to better feature its top talent, these two women can rebuild and reinvent themselves for a larger audience—and help WWE rebrand itself for a more egalitarian age, the right way, one suplex at a time. 

      

Dave Schilling is a Writer-At-Large for B/R Mag. Follow him on Twitter: @dave_schilling.


Check out more game-changers on the B/R POWER 50 Level Up list:

1. Cristiano Ronaldo
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo
3. Chloe Kim
4. WWE Women's Division
5. A'ja Wilson
6. Sylvia Fowles
7. Aaron Judge
8. Shohei Ohtani
9. Russell Westbrook
10. Sabrina Ionescu

Explore the B/R POWER 50, a list of the most influential people in sports culture right now >>

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