Truth or Consequences: Bring on the Women

I haven’t had a chance to check my e-mails this week, nor do I have time for a witty intro, so it’s straight into the meat of things…

So, women’s wrestling in the WWE, eh? Has there ever been a more fatuous waste of time in the entire history of the company? You can pop onto any wrestling based website you desire and see reams of forum postings that bitch and moan about the fact that the WWE has no women’s division any more; that the only Divas of note are either injured or misused and that letting talented workers like Molly Holly and Ivory walk out of the door have permanently damaged the female side of things in the Wonderful World of Vince.

What a pile of crap.

I have been a fan of wrestling for a good many years and I’ve seen some things in my time, from the very best to the very worst and yet, through years of tape collecting and watching wrestling on the small screen, I have never seen any North American wrestling promotion book a truly jaw-dropping women’s match. Of course, that’s not to say that there haven’t been some good bouts of women’s wrestling – even some great ones – because there certainly have been, but nothing that deserves to be mentioned in the same reverent tones as Flair vs. Steamboat, Sting vs. Vader, Mick Foley vs. Triple H or Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle (you can add any of your own favourites to this list).

I remember the few televised matches that the Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno and Itsumi Yamakazi, trivia fans) had during their late-eighties WWF run and just how innovative their moves were for the time period. Ditto for the Crush Girls (Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka) who were arguably more talented, but received little in the way of a push. Alundra Blaze and Bull Nakano had an enticingly meaty feud, including one of the best women’s matches in WWF history at SummerSlam 1994 (and Match of the Night honours, if it hadn’t been for those pesky Hart brothers tearing it up inside a steel cage). Alundra would resurface in WCW as Madusa and have some more decent matches, such as her *ahem* “retirement” match against Akira Hokuto. Ah, Akira Hokuto – another competent female worker who tagged with Madusa’s former nemesis, Bull Nakano, at World War III in 1995, against Cutie Suzuki and Mayumi Suzaki in a very good match-up that truly put the rest of the card to shame (due notice is given to Diamond Dallas Page and Johnny B. Badd, who worked their arses off in a hot opener).

By now, the more astute readers will have noticed a pattern here, namely that all of these matches involved Japanese grapplers (or joshi – see how cosmopolitan I can be?) in some way. I don’t mean to take anything away from Alundra/Madusa, as I truly believe she was one of the most talented female performers on the circuit, until a certain Ms. Stratus turned up and reshaped the business. However, the fact remains that, if you want to see women’s wrestling (as opposed to adolescent catfight fantasies) then Japan is the best place to start.

The answer, then, seems simple – if Vince or the Jarretts or any other promoter truly wants to start up a thriving women’s division, just charter a plane from the Land of the Rising Sun and ship over a dozen of the better workers and really shake things up. Simple, no?

Well…no.

The thing is, the promoters in the United States don’t really seem to care one way or the other regarding their Divas. It is a sad, but demonstrable fact that technical wrestling amongst women rarely sells tickets, but that those same women in lingerie, mud wrestling and all out full-frontal nudity, Playboy style, shifts a Hell of a lot of magazines and DVDs. This is why it will never happen – even though the WWE could probably hire some great female workers from overseas, it’s just not financially viable.

Of course, shelling out $250,000 each year on a new Diva Search doesn’t seem financially viable either, until you look at the big picture. Sure, neither Christy Hemme nor Ashley Massaro (or any of the other Diva Search rejects) are any good at wrestling…at the moment…their faces on the cover of Raw or SmackDown! magazine, with the promise of a saucy centrefold or two, will have teenage boys and hairy-palmed men alike flocking to the shelves of their local newsagents. Throw them in a string bikini and have them make “meaningful” comments against a backdrop of a steelworks or something and you’ve got the new Divas: Industrial Injury DVD in the bag. The revenue streams created by these things (and lets not forget posters, calendars, T-Shirts, shorts, thongs and, of course, the Stacey Keibler growth chart) more than compensate for the outrageous salaries and that, as comical wifebeater, Steve Austin so rightly says, is the bottom line.

Seriously, no matter how good they are at in-ring action, ladies like Dump Matsumoto and Aja Kong would not be welcome in the WWE, because the hordes of pimply-faced teens wouldn’t want to see them in a swimsuit. If you don’t think this is the case then consider that there are currently no fewer than 14 Divas listed on WWE.com – Ashley, Candice, Christy, Jillian, Lillian Garcia, Lita, Maria, Melina, Michelle McCool, Sharmell, Stacy Keibler, Torrie Wilson, Trish Stratus and Victoria. Of these, I would say that only three of them are actual wrestlers, at least in the traditional sense, and even then neither Lita nor Trish have set foot in the ring in a long while, so what do the other girls bring to the party that justifies their payday?

Granted, both Ashley and Christy (and I believe Michelle McCool?) seem determined to earn the fans’ respect by actually learning how to wrestle and I have no problem with that but the others have no place at all in the squared circle.

Of course, Lillian isn’t a wrestler, nor has she ever been portrayed as one by the WWE braintrust…ditto for Maria. Former Nitro Girl and Miss Black America, Sharmell was trained in OVW alongside Nidia, Ivory and Victoria so, in theory, should be a decent enough worker. Jillian Hall – she of the rather conspicuous facial growth – is also a better than average worker, having travelled the indie circuit for ages under the name of Macaela Mercedes.

Sidenote: Am I the only one who thinks that they should trade Jillian onto the same show as Gene Snitsky? Never mind foot fetishism – how about Gene trying to lick that growth at every opportunity?

Oh, and don’t try to say tell me that either Torrie or Stacy are actual wrestlers just because they’ve had a match or two. Both ladies might be rather fetching, but when it comes to grappling, they suck beyond belief.

It’s something of a come-down for a league that, twelve months ago, boasted one of the finest women’s rosters in North American history. Molly Holly – great. Jazz – awesome. Gail Kim and Nidia – decent enough for a pair of rookies. Shaniqua – scary man beast, but great to watch. Ivory – WWE: Experience nut-job and trainer. Jackie Gayda – eye candy.

There may be one or two that I’ve forgotten, but you get the picture. I’m not saying that all Divas should be wrestlers, as I’ve always enjoyed valets interacting on behalf of their protégés and, indeed, one of my favourite Divas of all time was Sensational Sherri, who was a competent worker and a good bumper, who found herself reduced to a managerial role thanks to a complete lack of competition, but she attacked the role with gusto and made her time with Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase and Shawn Michaels more memorable than her feuds with Candi Divine and Rockin’ Robin.

Melina, for instance, is a great old-school heel valet and she brings a lot to SmackDown! and her former tag team champions. Maria’s dumb blonde shtick is hilarious and Stacy – well…if the only things you’ve got going for you are your looks and your legs, then why not flaunt them, my dear. Just lay of the wrestling, eh?

So, are there any ladies out there in Indy land who could help revive the fortunes of the doomed division? Of course there are, but you haven’t really been listening, have you? There are dozens of women’s wrestlers out there – some hot and some not – and they include some seriously talented grapplers and brawlers.

Current NWA World Women’s Champion, Lexie Fyfe is an awesome competitor who could certainly improve the WWE’s female output. The only problem I have with Lexie is that she won the title by beating one of my favourite grapplers, the truly impressive Kiley McClean. Kiley is a brutal, vicious wrestler who dominates her opponents with a combination of brawling and sound technical ability and, my God, can that girl wrestle.

Mickie Knuckles, from IWA-Mid South is another worker who isn’t afraid to actually fight, rather than prance around the ring in her underwear, half-heartedly pulling her opponent’s hair. She’s prepared to mix it up with the boys too, and does so convincingly, playing to her strengths, rather than being a synthetic freak like Chyna or Nicole Bass.

Speaking of wrestling the guys, some female grapplers do it on a regular basis. Former FWA wrestler (and current French women’s champion) Nikita has had outstanding matches with both men and women all across the United Kingdom and into Europe. Or how about Stampede stalwart, Nattie Neidhart who, when not wrestling the likes of Tracy Brooks, Anna Marie and Belle Lovitz (another decent grappler) is getting involved in intergender tag and singles matches. Considering the WWEs fondness for bringing in second and third generation superstars, I’m surprised that Vince hasn’t snapped her up yet.

I could name others – Ariel, Hailey Hatred, Michelle Madison, Alere Little Feather, Tracy Brooks, Trinity – but really, what’s the point? The women’s division in the WWE is in the same pickle that the Cruiserweight division is…namely that something could be done about it, but nobody in Creative seems to want to do it. Why bother bringing in these decent female performers when they’ve misused the ones that they have already – sacking Jazz, perhaps one of the most impressive and talented Divas they’ve ever had on the roster is just one example of their cack-handed approach to women’s wrestling.

Another one, for older fans, was the introduction of Bertha Faye – the trailer-trash fatty in her pigtails, short skirt and fishnet tights. So far so bad, but really just another crap gimmick from an era that seemed to be swamped with them (1995 being the age of Adam Bomb, Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, Mabel, Mantaur and Isaac Yankem, among others). That is, of course, until you consider the fact that the lady under the trailer park gimmick was Rhonda Singh, or Monster Ripper, a female behemoth who blazed a trail through Japan, Canada and Puerto Rico, including a long-running feud with former WWF Women’s Champion, Wendi Richter in WWC. She was a powerhouse who would methodically take her opponents apart in the ring and yet what was her legacy in the WWE? Well, she had a very brief run with the title, granted, but then was released after a mere year in the company.

If you like T&A then, by all means, watch the WWE and nobody will judge you any the less for that. As promoters have known for years – sex sells and the WWE is no exception. However, if you want to see the ladies actually wrestling then you’re going to have to look further afield.

Personally, I recommend starting off with the two All Star Dream Slam shows that were presented by All Japan Women in 1993. These are not just the best women’s wrestling shows but they are great wrestling shows, period. Wild Samoan Afa’s wXw promotion holds an annual women’s Elite 8 tournament for grapplers from all over the country (think of it as the Diva equivalent of the ECWA Super 8 tournament) and you can see some of the hottest indie prospects on those shows. For some older stuff, you can look for any of the LPWA stuff, which has some okay-ish wrestling going on between the B-grade acting.

There’s some good stuff out there but, whilst the companies involved might be surviving, women’s wrestling on a national level seems to be limited to Diva Searches, GLOW, PWOW and other things of this nature. Hopefully both Ashley and Christy will continue to improve and end up redefining women’s wrestling, in much the same way that Trish did. Or, there again, perhaps ROH will get serious about promoting a women’s division and present the same level of commitment and quality wrestling as the main roster does.

Do you have a different view on the women’s division? E-mail me at the link below and let me know.

Until the next time…farewell.