Analyzing Women's Division's Place on WWE WrestleMania 37 Match CardApril 6, 2021
Five years ago, the WWE women's division was on a monumental upswing as the company reintroduced what would become the Raw Women's Championship. In the process, it officially ended its most regressive and creatively bankrupt period, the Divas era.
Since then, viewers have come to expect much more after superstars like Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair created a new lane for generations to come.
Somewhere along the way, though, the company started to rest on its laurels again, and it's hard to understand why.
In 2018, the division reached its zenith with the addition of Ronda Rousey, who made her surprise debut in January. In the same year, WWE hosted the first women's Royal Rumble match, the second Mae Young Classic, its first-ever all-women pay-per-view (Evolution) and established women's tag titles. Then, it capped it off the following April with the first WrestleMania card to feature women in the main event.
It would be dishonest to say the company hasn't had its highlights over the last few years, but it has clearly taken a step back since Rousey went on hiatus after WrestleMania 35.
It's a shame there hasn't been a follow-up to Evolution yet or the 32-competitor tournament that introduced the WWE Universe to names such as Io Shirai, Tegan Nox, Kacey Catanzaro and many more. And there has also been a noticeable lack of dimension to the stories and characters on Raw, in particular.
The lackluster setup for both women's title matches
If you need proof of how much the women's segments have declined, look no further than the build, or lack thereof, for the matches at WrestleMania this year.
Rhea Ripley just showed up to challenge Asuka, who has been an afterthought for months, two weeks ago to set up their showdown for the upcoming event. WWE then lazily put them in a tag team, where they (unsurprisingly) couldn't coexist, as it has done with several other women lately.
In fact, this is essentially the same plot device it used to generate animosity between Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks. This uninspired decision sapped all of the energy out of The EST of WWE's feelgood Royal Rumble win.
Moreover, WWE hasn't taken the time to express how important this historic matchup for the SmackDown Women's Championship is. Two Black women will compete in a one-on-one match for a world title on The Grandest Stage of Them All for the first time in the history of the show.
It's frustrating that the company hasn't promoted the match or given it the reverence it is due. The significance of this occasion should supersede the company's inability to create a compelling story around it. To that end, this should be the main event of Night 1 of WrestleMania. Sadly, WWE has made it clear that honor will be reserved for Bobby Lashley vs. Drew McIntyre. That feels like a colossal mistake given the progress this signifies for Black women in professional wrestling.
Last month, fans created the hashtag #BanksVsBelairMainEvent to push for a chance to see these two talented women headline the event, and superstars like Bayley and Mia Yim shared it. Women's wrestling legend and WWE Hall of FamerAlundra Blayze also took to Twitter to make the case that the SmackDown Women's Championship match should be the main event. That's surreal when you consider the fact that WWE credits the outcry of #GiveDivasAChance as the catalyst for the Women's Revolution.
After the Winner Take All match at WrestleMania 35, how did we get to a place where we have to create a movement to demand equal opportunities for women again? Isn't this the natural progression to Lynch, Rousey and Charlotte Flair breaking the glass ceiling, or are we to believe that was a one-time occurrence?
The absence of strong secondary feuds
The uninteresting build toward both the Raw and SmackDown women's title matches is galling, but the absence of secondary feuds is also baffling.
Until Monday night, WWE had only announced two women's matches for the two-night Show of Shows. During a recent appearance on The Bump, Carmella expressed her disappointment, and Natalya declared, "WrestleMania season needs to be about the women of WWE" on last week's episode of Talking Smack (h/t Gisberto Guzzo of Fightful).
The two former SmackDown women's champions' pleas seemingly found their mark as WWE added a tag team turmoil match to Saturday night's card. Four, possibly five, teams will compete for a shot at Nia Jax and Shayna Bazler on Sunday for the women's tag titles. This is a much-needed change to the upcoming festivities, but it's troubling that the company announced it in the same week as WrestleMania.
Furthermore, this seems strangely reminiscent of the multi-women matches that plagued the Divas Era. There is no attempt to generate interest in its participants, and it works solely as a means to add a large group of women to the card.
These women belong on The Showcase of the Immortals, but the company's failure to allow them to establish engaging stories does them a disservice.
It is also disheartening that no team stands out in a tag division that desperately needs a pair of flag-bearers to elevate it to the next level. The WWE Women's Tag Team Championships have been around for two years, but we still haven't seen a meaningful rivalry for the belts. As such, the titles still feel like a novelty as opposed to an integral part of the company's programming.
Where is Bayley?
Lastly, it is a travesty that Bayley doesn't have a match this weekend. The longest-reigning SmackDown women's champion was one of the MVPs during the pandemic era and ranked No. 1 on the 2020 PWI Women's 100. So, it's hard to believe WWE couldn't book her for the biggest show of the event after everything she accomplished last year.
Her current character bears some resemblance to another short-hair villainess from the Attitude Era who is entering the Hall of Fame this week, Molly Holly. Why not pit them against each other in a passing-of-the-torch moment similar to Flair vs. Trish Stratus from SummerSlam 2019?
If the company didn't want to go that route, there were other options, but Bayley should have the chance to secure another WrestleMania moment. The fact that she doesn't is indicative of the poor job WWE has done utilizing women on Raw and SmackDown this year and, hopefully, that will improve.