One year ago today, the women’s division in WWE changed. It had been an under-appreciated part of WWE TV, an afterthought. You were lucky if you saw five minutes of women’s wrestling on a weekly basis. And the fans were getting sick of it. They rebelled on social media, with #GiveDivasAChance trending. WWE brass took notice. One year ago today, the “Divas Revolution” started.
The term became ridiculously clichéd and overused far more quickly than it probably should have, but the point was true. With the main roster debuts of Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, everything seemingly changed overnight.
AJ Lee had retired three months earlier, leaving at that point just Paige and the Bella twins as credible active wrestlers. They had attempted to build Naomi slightly, but nobody – including WWE it seemed – was taking the Divas seriously.
But now, with the three NXT call ups, suddenly there was depth. Ability shouldn’t have been an issue anymore. But once the novelty of the new faces wore off, it seemed like the “revolution” simply wasn’t working.
I actually wrote about some issues with it six weeks after the three teams formed. Here’s one of the things I said about crowds turning on the women: “The main reason for this is probably that we just have nine divas, broken up into three teams of three. The individuals have little to no distinguishing characters.”
I still think that’s true now. Really, there aren’t many distinguishing characters among the main roster’s women. They’ve done a good job with Charlotte’s heel turn, and she now seems really comfortable in that role. There is definitely potential in what they’re currently doing with Natalya, but equally it could be a nothing turn.
I think the main reason for this is that they seem incapable of booking more than one female feud at any given time. This isn’t just a problem contained to one division either, a secondary tag team rivalry is usually either weak or non-existent, and for the writers to appear completely consumed with a WWE Championship feud is hardly unheard of.
Think about it. Fairly early on in the Divas Revolution timescale, Team B.A.D were kind of phased out, so that Charlotte with Paige and Lynch could challenge Nikki Bella for the Divas Title. They eventually had a brief program with the forgotten Natalya, but that was consigned to Smackdown for the most part.
The next real secondary women’s feud was the build to the 5-on-5 tag match on the Wrestlemania pre-show, which A) is better left forgotten and B) again, was barely ever on Raw. That pretty much brings us up to date, with Becky Lynch’s feud with Emma ending prematurely because of the latter’s injury, and her current rivalry with Natalya.
I wrote last August of the need for Sasha Banks to break away from Team B.A.D, with the idea that Naomi and Tamina could continue teaming while Banks reached the top. This happened in February this year, but after Fastlane Naomi and Tamina disappeared, and Banks has only just resurfaced after Wrestlemania.
This is where I have hope with the brand extension. You could potentially have Charlotte, Banks, Paige, Lynch, Natalya, Alicia Fox, Summer Rae, Naomi, Tamina, Emma, Brooke and any NXT call ups split over two brands, hopefully allowing more of them to shine at any one time.
So far I’ve been quite negative about the women’s division in the year since change was apparently delivered, but there have also been so many positives that have come from it.
First off, the division has been rebranded. The term “Diva” is no more. The old butterfly belt has been replaced with a title more reminiscent of the WWE Championship, and was rechristened the Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania. We have also seen women’s matches featured in more prominent positions on the card, and given time to develop rather than the 30 second “matches” we had become accustomed to seeing.
It’s been well documented, but with the new breed of female competitor in the WWE has come a more physical style. That makes the matches seem more realistic, more like fights, than they had for about 15 years.
And both of those changes has resulted in a generally all round product that is far superior to this time last year. I’ve said it before about the NXT graduates, but the matches are far more cleverly put together.
Just to round off, let’s take a look at the members of the female division then and now. The Bellas. Nikki was struggling with injury a year ago, but was the Divas Champion. She eventually lost it last September, and has been out of action since October with a return date tbc. Brie kept competing in her sister’s absence, but took a sabbatical from wrestling after Wrestlemania this year.
Paige. She was the first one to break up the three teams, turning on Lynch and Charlotte. She was the regular number one contender towards the end of 2015, but has been used sparingly in 2016, rarely appearing on Raw. I still feel like we’re waiting for Paige to have that great match we all think she’s capable of, and we’ve been waiting for two years at this point.
Charlotte. Far and away the biggest winner of the Revolution. She became champion after defeating Nikki, and still holds the title to this day. She has also undergone a massive character shift, going from being the golden girl, to using her father to help her get ahead, to being the egotistical leader of the division. She is undoubtedly the success of the last 12 months.
Sasha Banks. Possibly the missed opportunity of the last 12 months. She did well in the second half of last year, picking up wins while never being the focus of the division. She broke out on her own this year, going for the belt at Wrestlemania, but disappeared (partially due to injury) after that. She consistently gets the best reaction of all the women in the company, and you should expect her to be champion soon.
Naomi and Tamina. They became bit part players at the turn of the year, and have both struggles with injury, which is the explanation behind their absence in the last few months.
Becky Lynch. One of the more regularly featured superstars, she has constantly been in or around the title picture without ever really being a big threat to win it. If she can flesh out her character a bit more in the brand extension she could go right to the top.
Natalya. She was off TV this time last year after her husband suffered a serious injury, but has come back to play a major role in the division since Wrestlemania. She had several championship opportunities before turning heel last month. It’s a different role for her, and could be the best move.
So a year after everything was supposed to change, I think we have to say progress has been made. There is definitely a different attitude to the women’s performances now compared to pretty much all of recent memory. And the Women’s Championship match at Wrestlemania 32 was my favourite on the show. But there is still significant progress to be made, which could actually be helped if the division is split up in the draft. Much as WWE tried to promote it as such, things were never going to be 100% fixed overnight. The so called revolution was the start of a bigger, longer process that is still ongoing. But there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, and that in itself is saying something.