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Just Business presents #102: Chapter 6.1 ~ Origins of the Women’s Revolution
By Samuel 'Plan
Jul 19, 2017 - 6:05:41 PM

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Just Business presents #102: Chapter 6.1 ~ Origins of the Women’s Revolution

Women’s wrestling in WWE has changed.

That’s something of an understatement of course, because since Summerslam 2014, if not before, women’s wrestling and the manner in which it is presented has been in constant flux, and continues to be so to this day. For a time, we came to know this process as the Women’s Revolution. Contrary to popular belief, however, I would assert that the Revolution is over. We now live in the age of a new status quo instead; such is, after all, the point of any revolution. They have beginnings, middles and ends, and are followed by a radical new world.

This assertion demands a clear narrative; that is, for us to identify just when, exactly, was the beginning of the Women’s Revolution; when was its middle and its end? It is a topic that is debated still to this day, and though I hold no definitive answers I do feel like there is a linear history that can be traced back over the timeframe this mini-series is inspecting to better understand how the Revolution progressed and when it ended, incepting the new world in which we now live.

This mini-series is focussed solely on main roster matches, and in that sense any history of the Revolution it can account for is liable to remain incomplete. I think there can be little arguing the fact the Revolution really began in earnest in NXT, with the likes of Paige, Emma and, latterly, the Four Horsewomen. Nevertheless, eventually, the Revolution made its way to the main roster; and just like in NXT, it started before the arrival of the Horsewomen; just like in NXT, it started in earnest with the arrival of Paige, this time through her feud with the outgoing AJ Lee.

Though more overt references would not be made toward the Revolution until the summer of 2015, as early as AJ Lee vs. Paige at Hell in a Cell 2014 we can hear the commentary team and general presentation make reference to revolutionary rhetoric; indeed, Lee herself is referred to as a “one woman revolution.” You can see in the content of the match itself, too, a desire to do more than the stereotypical divas match of the time. Alas, it remains only an effort; the content watches as overly choreographed and there’s no denying the disinterest of the live crowd for whom, it seems, the ladies were still providing nothing more than a toilet break in spite of their elevated intentions. Perhaps most telling, though, was the inflected characterisation that remains stuck in the lamentable area of that old stereotype of “crazy chicks.” So though effort may be present, accomplishment most certainly is not; a fact that only further solidifies the conclusion that the Revolution really started in NXT, with the main roster trying to catch up.

At this point, it is important to recognise that change happens slowly. I warned my fellow fans of this at the time, and again once the Revolution started in earnest the following year. Change takes time; it can be a long, arduous and at times painful process to endure, and we often never notice it happening until after the fact. Though the Revolution started in NXT, and only gathered steam on the main roster upon the arrival of the Four Horsewomen, the main roster still had an important role to play in those formative stages, ensuring that the wider WWE audience – including the so-called casual fan who may not have much interest in NXT – were being provided with increasingly sophisticated ring work from WWE’s female contingent.

That is why The Bella Twins vs. AJ Lee and Paige at WrestleMania 31 should be considered as central to the story of the Revolution. Compared to the aforementioned bout at Hell in a Cell some months prior, it represents a drastic improvement in even so short a span of time. The action is more polished, the psychology classically solid, and it even exhibits no gender identity whatsoever. It is, simply, a tag team match. So too does it present a female division being given wider attention; this was no clustered effort featuring “lumberjills” bereft of logic, nor was it a narrow-sighted title bout featuring only two female performers. It encompassed all four of the top characters in the division at the time, in a creative tag bout designed to provide a platform to show what the women were beginning to do.

This is not to say the match is without flaw. Far from it; even here the divas continued to occupy a spot akin to a toilet break, and though the match may be of increased quality it remains, all the same, instantly forgettable. It was a step in the right direction, perhaps, but one that left the women still far from their eventual destination.

Still, we should not talk down what that tag match achieved - effectively refreshing women’s wrestling when it came to WrestleMania, elevating themselves beyond the likes of celebrity infused inter-gender tag bouts, leering lingerie fights and battle royals won by men. The Revolution, after all, was about more than match quality; it was about fundamentally altering WWE’s mentality when it came to women, and few matches so early in the Revolution’s timeframe present as remarkable a departure from an established trend as ‘Mania 31’s tag.

Yet the teething problems were going nowhere fast. By the summer of 2015, fan clamour for something more committal from WWE was growing and, eventually, the company surrendered to the wave of demand. Perhaps in a cynical PR-minded manner, they began actively referencing a Women’s Revolution on screen, and transformed the division into a bizarre faction-orientated environment. This self-conscious approach did little to assuage people’s concerns that WWE might not take the desire to see a more robust approach to their female competitors seriously, and, with many losing sight of how long change can sometimes take to form, cynicism started to grow.

Matches like Team PCB vs. Team BAD vs. Team Bella at Summerslam 2015 did little to quell the growing concern. Its awkwardly self-conscious story only drew further attention to the strangely synthetic way WWE were forcing the issue of a Women’s Revolution, rather than allowing its organic growth to continue as it had began the preceding year. The busy cast list hampered the talented performers involved too; the pace was languid, the structure awkward, and the content remained utterly unimaginative. In the space of a month, WWE’s handling of the situation had taken a promising future and dimmed it with fears of anti-climax.

The focus became skewed. Performers were being granted more ring time, which was a positive sign, and there were efforts to provide more noticeable context to pay-per-view women’s bouts too, but there remained little in the way of individual character development, or even story development. Instead, focus remained on characters bickering over who started the Revolution, before moving awkwardly to obsessing over the record breaking title reign of Nikki Bella; a reign that served only to hold back any early in-roads the Revolution could have made. Revolutions, after all, are predicated on change; yet nothing much seemed to be changing. Indeed, WWE were actively celebrating the opposite of change the longer Nikki Bella’s reign went on.

Thus, by the time Nikki Bella vs. Charlotte at Night of Champions 2015 rolled around, nothing much had yet been achieved. The effort remained, of course; the women were now wrestling considerably longer matches with attempts at considerably more cerebral content, but the problems dogging the wider Revolution came to dog the individual matches too, with Night of Champions being a prime example. Creative vision remained narrow; the lack of real story hampered excitement; and the whole affair felt awkward, unnatural and over-egged. Everything was beginning to feel a little fake and the fan base picked up on that. The Revolution was beginning to get heckled, with jeers of failure and claims of disaster becoming increasingly widespread by the week.

Considering, then, that it was the Four Horsewomen who truly began to snowball the Revolution in NXT the preceding year, it appears fitting that it would be the Horsewomen who, quite directly, also managed to get the Revolution back on track on the main roster too, with the first quarter of 2016 providing the turning point that, while moved toward in the closing months of 2015, still seemed frustratingly out of reach for the company. The answer was simple, laying in some inspired roster repositioning (turning Charlotte into a villain) and giving the right combinations of performers plenty of room to breathe in the ring creatively.

The Road to WrestleMania in 2016 provided the two most important keystones in the first half of the Revolution’s main roster lifespan. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch at Royal Rumble 2016, and of course Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks at WrestleMania 32. In both these instances, there was greater storyline development, greater presence of character and superior in-ring achievements alike. For the first time, the stories told became about the revolutionaries, rather than the Revolution, while the break from the post-modern obsession that had dogged any attempts at progress before that point proved massively refreshing and, more vitally, liberating for those involved.

With exciting climaxes, plentiful creative sequencing and a real sense of tour de force from both bouts, the two function together as the coming of age of women in WWE; the realisation of the Revolution’s dream; the establishment not just of a change in the way women were being presented, but, thanks to the top quality of both in-ring outings, a new age for women unlike anything we’d ever seen before.

Together, they provided the highest peak of a Revolution that would, for the rest of that year, downtrend toward its final destination: a post-Revolution WWE; or what WWE sometimes refer to as the “women’s evolution.”

It is that evolution – the outcomes of the Women’s Revolution – upon which I will focus next time. Until that time, share with me your thoughts on this week’s topic, and the matches selected here as important milestones within the Revolution, by leaving a comment below or following me on social media!

This mini-series is a spin-off of my first book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, spawned from the acclaimed LOP column series of the same name. So for more of the same, click below to pick up your paperback or e-book copy today!

Click here to pick up your copy of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die from Amazon.com

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