WrestleMania has always been about making history and giving talent a platform to shine, and it sometimes truly changes WWE. However, the 35th edition of The Show of Shows has the potential to make an indelible mark on a disappointing history of misrepresentation.
Just one week ago, WWE announced officially that Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair would main-event The Grandest Stage of Them All. For the first time in the company's history, women will main-event WrestleMania.
This company has thrown around the term "history-making" too much in recent years. It can be easy to lose perspective of how much this company has evolved in just a few short years to make it to this point.
Much of that is a credit to the talent involved. Rousey, Lynch and Flair have changed the game for the better, becoming some of the biggest stars in the business.
However, talent was not lacking over the years. Before anyone could stand out, the company had to change. The way women were perceived in the wrestling business had to change. Those in charge of the business had to change.
In order to fully understand how far the business has come to finally accept that women's wrestling should be main-eventing The Showcase of the Immortals, it is important to understand how far the company and the talent have come.
WrestleMania is the longest running program in WWE history, and even at its peak, it was not the greatest spotlight for women in the business.
The Early Year Attempts
The first-ever WrestleMania included a penultimate match between Wendi Richter and Leilani Kai with Cyndi Lauper and Fabulous Moolah in the respective corners of the participants. The match was working off the back of the incredibly successful Brawl to End It All and allowed a decent spotlight.
What followed grew increasingly more disappointing, though. Moolah got less than two minutes against Velvet McIntyre at WrestleMania 2, with the women's champion only supporting Harley Race from ringside the following year.
With Richter leaving the company and Moolah semi-retired by the time of the fourth Show of Shows, no woman competed in a 'Mania ring again until WrestleMania X when Alundra Blayze successfully defended her title against a returning Kai.
Blayze was set up by WWE as the future of the division, but she ended up choosing to walk out on WWE in the one of the most influential moments of the Monday Night Wars, taking the WWE Women's Championship and throwing it in the trash.
It is possible Vince McMahon never got over the betrayal, and everything quickly turned sour for the division with the championship left vacant for years.
Attitude Era Values
The Attitude Era may have been one of the most important eras in WWE history, but it was one of the worst times for women's wrestling.
This was by no fault of the talent but rather a company that was catering to a younger audience by focusing on sex appeal.
For that reason, WWE no longer looked to sign talent first because of athletic prowess. Many with significant talent were completely ignored while others got long runs that could never put it all together.
In this time, some great stars emerged from this mess, yet few were truly allowed to compete to their full potential. Trish Stratus was the most successful especially paired with Lita, and Chyna carved her own niche in the business, making her presence felt at 'Mania by standing in Triple H's corner.
WrestleMania XV was the next event to host a women's wrestling match where Sable and Tori barely managed to put together coherent offense. In response, WWE booked Terri Runnels vs. The Kat in a catfight the next year that was even less of a match.
Luckily, at the same event, Chyna was at least allowed to stand out as she competed in an intergender tag match where she ended up pinning Eddie Guerrero.
One year later, at the most highly acclaimed 'Mania of all time, X-Seven, The Ninth Wonder of the World won the women's championship in a match that did not even last three minutes.
WrestleMania X8 hosted the best women's bout up to that point when Jazz defended her title against Trish and Lita in a match that had to deal with playing cool down to Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock. A year later, Trish and Jazz topped that effort, working with Victoria in another triple threat match.
In the last Show of Shows to truly define this era of women's wrestling, Torrie Wilson, Sable, Miss Jackie and Stacy Keibler had a Playboy Evening Gown match that did not last long, while Victoria and Molly Holly had a fine bout late in a night packed with great matches.
Barely Represent At All for a Decade
As WWE moved solidly into the PG Era, the treatment of women's wrestling grew less explicitly sexual though the talent did not get any greater a spotlight.
Trish tried her best with Christy Hemme at WrestleMania 21 and then topped the best the division had ever put on in her match with Mickie James at 22.
However, the WWE Hall of Famer retired shortly thereafter, and no one truly got a chance to take her place for a decade. WrestleMania 23 was the last time the women got a singles match for a decade with a messy Lumberjill match between Melina and Ashley.
WrestleMania XXIV threw the Playboy label back on in a forgettable tag team match with Beth Phoenix and Melina defeating Ashley and Maria. The following year, in the lowest moment in the division's history at 'Mania, Santino Marella dressed up in drag and won the Miss WrestleMania Battle Royal.
Few will remember the embarrassing 10-woman tag match at XXVI while some may remember but want to forget Stratusfaction returning for one night to help Snooki and John Morrison defeat Dolph Ziggler and LayCool.
Continuing to attempt to make women's matches relevant by throwing in celebrities, Maria Menonous teamed up with Kelly Kelly and defeated Phoenix and Eve Torres at XVIII.
By this point, WWE had given up caring about the women's division. At a time when the company was evolving thanks to a few key stars emerging, female wrestlers barely got a shot, with 29 not even featuring a women's wrestling match.
However, this became an important turning point as a few key figures emerged to help slowly take the division to a new level. AJ Lee became a huge name in the business and ended up becoming champion though her WrestleMania 30 was spent defending her title in a disastrous 14-woman invitational.
After winning that night, though, she set the stage for the debut of Paige whose arrival on the main roster—as highlighted in the film Fighting with My Family—was a dramatic turning point for the company.
AJ and Paige never quite got the chance to benefit from the work they did changing the business as their last WrestleMania was spent teaming up in a forgettable tag team match against The Bella Twins.
The Importance of Making History
Before even discussing the last three 'Manias, it is important to reiterate that all this history shows how few genuine chances there were to succeed for women in WWE. It is not that female competitors never got a chance, but WrestleMania was never the moment for that opportunity.
In 31 years, a solid match between Trish and Mickie was all that fans were given to remember. Even the better matches in this history are completely forgotten, certainly not helped by a whole decade where the women could not get one singles match on a giant card.
WrestleMania 32 was not an obvious turning point for the company going in, but it did feel important. It was the first legitimate opportunity women had had to shine in years, coming off the back of months of changes that all started with a single crowd chant "Give Divas a Chance."
Ahead of the show, Lita made the announcement that the Divas Championship would be replaced by the Women's Championship. What followed was arguably not just the best women's match in the event's history, but also the best match on the entire card.
Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Lynch put their all into a match that was high octane and maximized its minutes. In doing so, they showed on The Grandest Stage of Them All why the women deserved this chance.
WrestleMania 33 included two women's matches with Bayley and Naomi winning multi-woman matches to walk out as champions of their respective brands. Neither match was quite the grand follow-up many were hoping for, but they were far better than what fans had been given before 32.
WrestleMania 34 did not disappoint, though, and raised the bar again as Charlotte and Asuka put on the first women's singles match in over a decade and arguably outshined the field except for perhaps Rousey's debut in a mixed tag with Kurt Angle against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H.
The show also included a solid contest between Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax to round out a trio of matches that made the event feel like it was defined by the women on the card as much as, if not more so, than the men. The rest of the division also got an opportunity with the inaugural WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal.
Each of these shows set a new standard that should continue to rise over the years. There is no reason anymore for the women's division to ever be seen as lesser to the men's.
Final Words on the WrestleMania 35 Main Event
Before looking back over this story, even I had forgotten how far the company had come in such a short time. It really wasn't that long ago that women were mostly being thrown on the 'Mania card as a courtesy.
So many of the women competing on Sunday have been an integral participant in forcing WWE's perspective to shift. It was no longer fine for the company to play lip service to having a women's division. The business has changed and certainly for the better in this regard.
What makes the Triple Threat special is not just that it will be the main event, but also that it earned that spot. Rousey vs. Lynch vs. Charlotte is the biggest match in the company with the highest ceiling for success. A few bouts could have fought for top spot, but none hold nearly as much importance.
Meanwhile, Banks and Bayley are helping create a niche all their own with the newly established women's tag team division alongside one of the stalwarts of an age when no one got a chance, The Glamazon, returning to get her legitimate 'Mania spotlight.
Even now, though, there is room to grow. With the SmackDown Women's Championship changing hands last week, only two women's matches will likely make the main card with a Battle Royal without stakes on the Kickoff.
Much like the Triple Threat at WrestleMania 32 and The Queen vs. The Empress two years later, this match must succeed to set a new standard, forcing a company that has a tendency to push back rather than press forward to accept women's wrestling as an integral part of the future of this business.
While spouting off all the history makes a point, none of the women set to compete on The Show of Shows need any reminder about the situation they are in. They have battled for this spot with every small opportunity they were presented.
They have earned this main event and everything good that hopefully comes afterward. Perhaps in one year's time, it won't even need to be noted as historic if the women once again main-event WrestleMania.