WWE Superstars sing “22” by Taylor Swift
I love how CM Punk is basically cutting a promo haha.
You can tell Punk could throw this on us on a RAW and none of us would be the wiser. Or care that it’s a Taylor Swift song.
Kaitlyn Gives Away WrestleMania Tickets
And hey, it’s Isabella and Miranda.
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.
The rise of the Attitude Era and the nWo in the mid to late-90s coincided with the ever-growing popularity of reality television in the United States. Though the genre hit a major stride with MTV’s “The Real World” in the early 90s, later years saw the realty television model expand to other areas. We weren’t just watching a group of roommates live and party together on one channel, but we were seeing athletes train for major sporting events and lonely hearts finding millionaire spouses on major network television, for example.
The effects of reality television on American culture hit professional wrestling as well, and strongly affected the way we thought of, and connected with, the characters within. As you’ve likely read many times, guys like Steve Austin, Triple H, and The Rock became amplified versions of their real life personalities, connecting with audiences on a deeper level. Interestingly, these stars were simultaneously more “down to Earth” AND “larger than life”.
Fans felt that they could live vicariously through these characters. They felt that they wanted to be them, and the WWE’s main event storylines allowed that. You, as a fan, wanted to be (or at least befriend) The Rock because he was the bully who was on your side. You hated Triple H because he was the bully who wasn’t on your side, but you connected with his strong sense of humor and obsession with being “The Best”. You connected most strongly with Steve Austin’s irresistible spirit, because you wanted to beat the living daylights out of your tyrannical boss.
However, I don’t know if we’ve seen as much of this phenomenon in women’s wrestling until now.
I feel that AJ and Kaitlyn’s personalities signal a new direction of characterization in the Divas division.
To be fair, Trish Stratus and a few others did the same to some degree, but I think that Lita was the only wrestler in the women’s division of yore that the crowd felt a really deep, personal connection to. Even so, Lita was quite the enigmatic character, which was a large part of her appeal. Teenagers, especially girls who may have been “closed off” and “angsty”, could relate to the complexity of Lita’s identity, and how she was at once reserved and passionate. However, as beneficial as this tension was to Lita’s character, it prevented her from sharing her personality with audiences.
As such, I’d argue that we hadn’t seen the personal investment that comes with a wrestler being an “amplified version of themselves” in women’s wrestling until AJ and Kaitlyn came along; at least not to this degree.
While reality television initiated the cultural shift in wrestling that allowed wrestlers to incorporate their personalities into their characters in the past, social media like Twitter and Tout make it easier for personalities like AJ and Kaitlyn’s to shine in 2012. They’ve both taken advantage of these methods to the fullest. Indeed, we connect with the two of them on deeper levels because we know from NXT and Twitter that AJ and Kaitlyn are legitimate geeks, ones who can show how magnetic their personalities are.
NXT showed that AJ is a true wrestling “fangirl”, one who is able to dominate wrestling trivia games no matter how obscure the topic. She named entrance theme songs, listed King of the Ring tournament winners, and identified vintage photographs of wrestlers within seconds (in a manner similar to what Derrick Bateman would do the following season).
Kaitlyn’s personality is a goofy one, and she shows it on Twitter as well as onscreen. She is a Simpsons geek who makes obscure references to the show and whose son is also named Bort. She wants to give everyone wedgies, is a mustache aficionado, the “mayor of Quad City”, and would love to go on a date with Santino’s cobra at Chili’s if only he’d send her a text.
These are endearing qualities that rely less on the tropes of sexuality, toughness, or strength that women like Torrie Wilson, Chyna, and Ivory found success in prior. Instead, these are fully fleshed out personalities that straddle the line between real life and onscreen presentation in a way that has proven successful on many occasions.
Even Layla has adopted this method, bringing more of her fun-loving real life personality to her development as a heroine in the Divas division. Eve is a captivating foil to both Layla and Kaitlyn, as she is an extremely developed character who is a total performer in every sense of the word, and ridiculously good at it to boot. Maxine did very well in a similar role on NXT, and her feud with Kaitlyn provided great tension. Though Eve’s success does not support my argument, Maxine’s role does, as she also incorporated her personality into her character development.
Historically in wrestling, we often connect to the character portrayed on TV first, and develop a deeper love and respect for the actual person behind the character as things progress and we learn more about them. With these two, we’re connecting with them as people before committing to their characters. It’s an extremely interesting shift, and something that bodes well for the future of women’s wrestling if given time to further develop.
At this point, I wonder how other Divas and Knockouts will develop moving forward, considering how successful AJ and Kaitlyn have become with their approach.
Official WWE Heritage Topps Trading Cards 
In a neat homage to the World Wrestling Federation trading cards from 1985, Topps currently has cards based on their original design featuring current and classic WWE Superstars. The back part of the cards still have that dark cardboard color to them with a quick bio of the wrestler including their height and home town.
So…why hasn’t anybody in the WWE had Kaitlyn do a photoshoot dressed up as Chun-Li from Street Fighter II yet?
I’d like her under my tree…Thanks, Santa!
For those who can’t get enough of Kaitlyn….enjoy