The wrestlers in the WWE’s Divas division are deliberately set up to fail. As such, criticisms of the WWE’s Divas division are often unfair and lack context. This piece aims to provide that context by pointing out commonly overlooked circumstances members of the Divas division are forced to reckon with daily.
Professional wrestling relies on an emotional connection with “The Crowd”. Everything done in professional wrestling is done with the goal of drawing fans into the show, and making the audience care about what one does as a performer. Whether it’s an elaborate entrance, a perfectly executed wrestling move, engaging microphone work, or communicative facial expressions, wrestlers work to put on the best show possible by making fans care about even their slightest action.
How, then, can the members of the Divas division be expected to flourish when:
THEY’RE GIVEN ONE MATCH EVERY TWO WEEKS ON THE COMPANY’S FLAGSHIP SHOW?
Sparse television appearances make it extremely difficult to get a global audience emotionally invested in one’s work. For example, both the March 11, 2013 and March 18, 2013 editions of Raw did not feature a Divas match (though Kaitlyn, Natalya, and the Bella Twins did appear in segments).
Furthermore, WWE Divas have a fraction of the professional wrestling training and experience of their male counterparts. On average, Divas reach the WWE with 1-5 years of experience, while most Superstars reach the WWE with around 7-10 years of experience.
Fortunately, some Divas on the NXT roster like Paige and Emma are on the higher end of that experience scale. Still, women in the WWE do not wrestle as often as men do, and there is roughly a 6:1 Superstars to Divas match ratio on most cards. This disparity suggests that not only do Divas have a fraction of the experience that Superstars do, but also that the time they have spent in the WWE has not always focused on in-ring experience. AJ has not wrestled on Raw since a victory over Tamina Snuka several months ago, for example, and her previous matches were also sparse, often occurring in two week bursts after several months.
Without more attention given to building a stronger foundation, how can the women of the WWE further hone their ability to resonate with “The Crowd”?
THEY’RE GIVEN ONE MATCH ROUGHLY EVERY TWO WEEKS TO CUT THROUGH THE SEXISM OF A PREDOMINANTLY MALE AUDIENCE?
An increasingly “smart” audience makes it difficult for any wrestler to succeed. The “wow factor” is limited among most, and many fans come into matches with pre-conceived notions of how it’ll turn out. Not only has the Divas division been booked in a very weak manner that strengthens these pre-conceived notions, but there is also a long history of sexism among wrestling fans.
A simple search might shed light on this history, and I’m sure you’ve all talked to folks who think that women are simply not as talented as their male counterparts. However, it’s important to focus on even well meaning fans who often value them more for their appearance than their personalities or wrestling ability. Though I often discuss their in-ring work and character development, I too am guilty of emphasizing the appearance of WWE’s Divas over the hard work they put in to their craft. Articles I’ve read and posts on various social networking sites suggest that other well meaning fans also do the same.
It’s hard for any wrestler to “get over” with a limited timeframe; it’s even harder when “The Crowd” isn’t paying as much attention to what they’re doing as they should.
THERE IS NO UNDERCARD IN THE DIVAS DIVISION?
While Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger feud over the World Heavyweight Title, Dolph Ziggler is waiting to cash in his Money in the Bank contract. Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Big Show, Daniel Bryan, Kane, and Mark Henry all vied for a shot at that title just one month ago. CM Punk is sour that he is no longer the WWE Champion, while John Cena decided to challenge for that title with his Royal Rumble victory.
Both title situations present a plethora of options for fans. If you’re rooting for a dark horse, you may have wanted Kane to get his World Heavyweight Title shot at Wrestlemania. If you’re part of the continually growing Mexican and Latino/a market, you may be more invested in Alberto Del Rio and want him to keep his title.
Unfortunately, the Divas division does not adequately present as many options, making it harder to build an emotional investment in their characters. If you do not identify with the six members of the Elimination Chamber match for a shot at the World Heavyweight Title, maybe you care more about Dolph Ziggler, former champion the Big Show, or over 30 other superstars who could conceivably be challengers for the strap. If you don’t care about either Kaitlyn or her opponent of the month, you’re left with little else to invest in emotionally.
Though an undercard may slowly be developing with the return of the Bella Twins, historically the only time given to Divas matches were related to the title and little else. Without an undercard to support it, the Divas division rested on the shoulders of two or three of its participants, making it difficult for fans to develop an affinity for the other wrestlers in that division.
This difficulty robs the division of its diversity, and makes it harder for the unique qualities of its characters to develop. Though Eve, Layla, and Kaitlyn did a masterful job developing their characters during their feud near the end of 2012, Aksana, Tamina, and Naomi did not get that same chance. Actively presenting more options builds a larger and more diverse audience as fans seek someone they can relate to and appreciate.
DIVAS ARE TOLD NOT TO HAVE THE BEST MATCH THEY CAN, SO AS NOT TO OUTSHINE THE SUPERSTARS ON THE ROSTER?
Finding success in professional wrestling is an almost Herculean task. There are so many factors that go into having a global audience resonate with a character that genuine success is often seen as miraculous. On every WWE program, however, we’re told that hard work and careful attention to detail will get you there, and that John Cena, CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler, and all the biggest stars got to where they are by being the absolute best they could be.
Now imagine being told not to do the best you possibly can, yet still achieve a high level of success? Michelle McCool discussed these confusing circumstances on her official website (which was reported by Diva Dirt):
“Following the excellent match, Michelle recalls how agents thought the match was ‘too good’…he said: ‘It looked too good! You can’t go out there throwing punches like that, or taking bumps like that — that looks better than some of the guys! You can’t do that!’ Finally, I remember Chris Jericho, who was by the ring, hears all of this going on. He said: ‘Look, if the guys can’t follow what the girls are doing, then the guys need to step it up! I thought it was awesome. They did great. And it’s not their problem that it looked that great!’”
Michelle McCool and Melina disobeyed orders and put on a fantastic match at Night of Champions 2009, even with only 6 minutes of allotted time and the threat of legitimate punishment looming. Would anyone expect Randy Orton and Sheamus, for example, to do the same in such a limited timeframe? Indeed, McCool’s match with Melina at Night of Champions 2009 is often cited as proof that WWE’s Divas are solid wrestlers handcuffed by circumstance.
With the injustice women’s wrestling faces on a daily basis, is it fair to expect a consistently excellent PPV showing from a division that is only sparsely featured on television, and with no strong feuds developed? Is it any wonder Kaitlyn might be a little sloppy on a roll up or Alicia Fox might miss a line in a backstage segment? Is it really Aksana’s fault that she gets limited crowd reaction when fans of WWE’s flagship show are only exposed to her once every few months? AJ gets consistently good crowd reaction not only because she is excellent at what she does, but also because she is a strong presence on the program every week…and she’s more a valet than a member of the Divas division.
So, what can the WWE do to build a stronger Divas division? Directly addressing the aforementioned issues is a start. I would suggest the following:
- Give the Divas a few minutes longer in each match. Commit to at least one match on Raw per week and several on other shows throughout the week. Have the Divas with less experience be an active part of the house show and NXT circuit, and be sure that agents are attentive to their matches and willing to provide helpful feedback.
- Continue to develop a strong undercard in the Divas division so that while Kaitlyn feuds with Tamina over the Divas title, Paige might feud with AJ or Alicia Fox. Have Naomi face Natalya on a regular basis to add some strong technical skills to her high-flying approach. Sasha Banks and the Funkadactyls could go after Summer Rae, Aksana and Audrey Marie: three strong personalities who can only help their heroic adversaries develop the same.
- Allow the Divas to put together stronger, more hard hitting matches; the same kinds of matches that allow Superstars to succeed. The idea that it takes away from what Superstars do is a curious one to me, but even under those circumstances they can and should be allowed to do more than they do now.
- Scout a diverse group of women who are interested in professional wrestling, from classically trained wrestlers to models and athletes from other sports. That diversity can build a stronger division and, ideally, a stronger desire for other talent to join and remain in the women’s division.
If you’re one of many fans who struggle to enjoy work from the WWE Divas, I can’t really say I blame you. However, I urge you to look at the division with full contextual understanding of their circumstances, and point the finger at someone other than the talent within. It’s hard to imagine anyone truly succeeding when they’re told not to.
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