What Does “Diva” Mean To You? Wrestler, There’s a Girl in My Chokeslam [GIFs]

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Hey readers! This is Claire, your Features and Opinions Ed, introducing Karina Cooper’s piece on women in the WWE. We don’t talk Pro Wrestling much at WWAC, but when we do, we do it with spirit. Do you have a wrestlepinion to share? Get in touch!

Total Divas, WWE, WWE Network, E!

A real TV show about real life

Let’s not kid ourselves, folks. The WWE is and has always been a carefully formulated balance: 50% entertainment, 50% athleticism, and 375% business. The fact that “what’s good for business” is the current catch phrase we love to hate doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. That’s why wrestlers are carefully turned heel to face to heel again, why names and personas are dropped and changed, and why “storylines” continue to shift to caricature current interests, scandals, and events.

It’s why today’s obsession with reality show dirty laundry has turned our Divas—the WWE wrestlers who are women—into, well, reality show dirty laundry.

Before I launch into this, though, let me throw out a disclaimer here: I’m not a wrestler. I’m a fan, a professional writer, and my bestie happens to be one of those lucky non-pro ladies trained by the late and ever great Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young (kids, go look them up; we’ll wait). So I’m coming at this with a little bit of fan heat, a lot of storyline understanding, and some back-room gossip.

And because I swear that there is always one person in every conversation about wrestling I ever have who brings this up, let me just get this out of the way: Those of you who believe that wrestling is all-real, all the time, check yourselves—it’s a soap opera. An amazing, addicting soap opera played out in loosely scripted scenes and rigged matches.

But I’ll add that those matches still require the kind of athleticism most of us could only dream of achieving. When its participants are actually good at it, anyway.

And that’s why I’m so pissed off at the state of the WWE Divas today.

It’s a Man’s World

World Heavyweight Championship - Rey Mysterio June 20, 2010 - July 18, 2010, WWE, wwe.com To say that the WWE is the model of equality would be a wild and completely ridiculous overstatement. But I know that some mouth-breather is going to mansplain to me that girls just “aren’t as strong as men.” And then I’ll point out that Rey Mysterio was 5’6” and barely topped 175lbs and that didn’t stop him from taking home the World Heavyweight belt—or the WWE from letting him do it. And that Tamina Snuka, daughter of legendary Jimmy Superfly Snuka, is 5’9” and 150lbs, so tell me again how there’s no way women “who are by nature smaller than men” could actually wrestle.

Of course, invariably, someone will try, “Well, actually…” and follow it up with some so-called facts about how women just aren’t cut out for the ring, and then I’m going to laugh. A lot.

Ariana, Total Divas, WWE, WWE Network, E!online recapsLook, let’s get this out of that way: WWE is a man’s world. It just is. Watch a match, and keep track of how much of the time you spend tuning in and admiring feats of strength versus how often you tune in to a Diva match (if at all). Clock your time spent time admiring her…let’s call them “assets.” Don’t be shy. I do it too.

I do it because I remember the days when Divas actually wrestled. When they rolled through a match like a bombshell on target, when they got into a ring with a man who sneered at them until the first time she kicked his ass. I remember when being a Diva meant more than just a little shake-ass and a whole bucket of cray.

Those days make me feel old, y’all. They make me feel like that old-timer sitting on a porch, shaking a cane and querulously talking about the good old days when a girl could kick a boy’s ass so hard, he spent the following year sitting on ice just to soothe his pride (I’m looking at you, Hunter. You wouldn’t have gotten the launch you did without Chyna as your foil, and you know it).

Natalya vs Paige

Now, I go get a snack when anyone but Paige, Tamina, or Natalya roll in for a Diva match. ‘Cause anyone else? They give wrestling a shot, and good for them, but you can see the difference in technical skill—you can tell when a wrestler with talent is having to dumb herself down to play at the level a wrestler with acting skills, but no real in-ring talent operates at. You can see Paige kicking Natalya’s ass with fairly decent “believability,” and then you watch her up against one of the showmanship Bella twins and it’s painful. And you know the worst part? I get why.

This One’s for the Ladies

Shawn Michaels in Playgirl, WWE

Playgirl used to be a thing (is Playgirl still a thing?)

I get it because “sexualization + drama” has long been the key to entertainment—and looking back, there’s been no shortage of male wrestlers using their attractiveness as the lynch point for their schtick (Side note: Sometimes, for no reason, I’ll bust out with, “I’m an ass man! Dun dun!” It’s only partially true—I’m more of a leg man, but that’s not how the song goes). It’s not as if writers, managers, and enterprises across the world don’t do the same thing when it comes to saleability and fan-service. WWE is the entertainment industry merged with a testosterone-driven sports industry, and what the masses want from their mindless TV is sex and drama and eye candy and sweat. And twists, of course.

Soap operas are, well, soap operas—all the feels and the twists and the betrayals and whatever. In my house, RAW is our soap opera of choice. Because who doesn’t want a little T&A mixed in with some serious ass-kicking? It’s fantasy. It’s total, ridiculous, over-the-top entertainment, and I’m not here asking that to stop.

CM Punk, WWE

CM Punk, your new favorite comics writer

What I’m asking for is a level of skill and heart for the art of wrestling from everyone. Not just acting. I want the whole package—I deserve the whole package, just as much as you deserve the whole package from men like CM Punk, from the Usos (probably my favorite underplayed duo at the moment), and from Roman Reigns (another legacy wrestler—I love me the legacies). You deserve wrestlers who are not only excellent faces and heels, but damn good in a match. You deserve wrestlers who may not be handsome or hot, but whose moves lock down a ring like nobody’s business. And you get it.

Roman Reigns, WWE

Roman Reigns, on the rise

I want the same from the Divas. I want that bar to be as high—not in terms of semantic strength level (although hells, yes, when it happens), but in terms of acting skill and wrestling skill. In terms of technical ability and attitude. Because we can do it. We can do it. We have the means, the ability, the desire—we have the women who can meet that demand in every way. Natalya, the first third-generation female wrestler, is a Hart, y’all. She trained in the infamous Hart Dungeon. Tamina’s a Snuka. Paige comes from a hardcore English wrestling family. They have the drive and the attitude.

But the WWE doesn’t let them lead the way. They have to play second-fiddle to the legacy of the Attitude Era—more shallow girls, please, more catty bitches, more of the same, the same, the same. The company lowers the bar, treating the Divas as if they’re doing them a favor by going easy on them, and the Divas that don’t fit in are trotted out to play foil to the “perfect” Divas they enshrine. Why?

Total Divas, WWE, WWE Network, E!, lineup 2015

Why is “catty bitch” the default, deviated only for “the victim” role, when the male wrestlers are allowed to come from virtually any character design? The sex magnet, the Southern Gothic prophet, the freaky ones, the undead, the corporate ones, the foreign ones, the dancer, the playboy, the bad boy, the rude one, the silent one, the Irish one (what up, Shaymus), and more.

I watch wrestling as much for the athleticism as the (dare I call it) story, and as much for the muscles on the men as the lines on the ladies. I’m not even going to say it’s a guilty pleasure—that’s how I roll.

So I want you to think about this. Take a moment. Squish it around in your thought bits and really consider this. Don’t worry, there’s not going to be a quiz later. I just want you to step back from the fanatical need to defend that which you love and understand that I am not asking anything of the WWE that it hasn’t already done. Okay?

Okay. Check it. Here’s what I want to know.

Divas Who Can Break Your Face

Are we so far gone in the “mindless” part of this TV equation that we’ve forgotten that Divas can and frequently did kick ass and look amazing while doing it? I mean, sure, not every Diva can be everybody’s ideal—just like I side-eye all those girls who talked about the Undertaker like they’d lick the grave dirt off his feet (they are real; this is a thing). But that’s not the point.

I’ve actually got four of them, points, I mean. Here they are in no specific order.

Team Xtreme, Lita and the Hardy Boys, WWF, WWE, WWE Network, 20001. Team Xtreme

Does anyone here remember Lita? I don’t mean “Lita, that Diva who got slut-shamed on stage for a weird reality-show-style hybrid of personal and show-business reasons around mid-2000s because what else are we supposed to do with a girl?” I mean Lita, the badass lady corner of Team Xtreme who flew so hard and so high that her Moonsaults were a thing of aw-inspiring beauty. I mean Lita, before WWE made the oh, so brilliant move to capitalize on a star’s personal business in what was arguably a front-runner for popular “reality style” TV shows today.

This Lita. The Lita that now resides in the WWE Hall of Fame.

Lita Moonsault, WWF, WWE, WWE Network, 2000

Click image for gif

Back in the day, Lita proved to me that there was no such thing as “no girls allowed.” She was fierce. Edgy. Tough. She flew through the air without fear and she took it to anyone who messed with her or her boys. Team Xtreme was the highlight of every match she was in. Whether Lita was facing down another Diva or one of the boys, she did what WWE does best—put on a show and fought like she knew what the hell she was doing. And? She looked damn good doing it. The ultimate equation.

It’s years later, and I still have a crush on Team Xtreme Lita. Don’t you?

Chyna, Joanie Laurer, red carpet, 2000

The most glorious

2. Chyna

The WWE isn’t alone in vilifying a woman for her personal choices. This is a worldwide epidemic, this thing we do wherein we’re all for a lady until she either threatens a dude throne or “falls from grace.” Even better if she does both. Because forget all the other stuff that the guys get up to, Chyna is a woman and therefor, she is held to different standards. Right? Right?!

No. I’m calling bullshit right here, right now. Chyna strolled in with her strength and her swag, propped up by the WWE like a Goddess of War to be fought—and when the writers were feeling lazy—to be slandered with all the “like a girl” insults they could squeeze out of her. And she still kicked ass, with or without bothering to take a few names. But forget all that “wrestling” stuff she did, what we care about is sex. Right? How dare a full-grown woman make an informed choice to have consensual sex on camera! Chyna has worked in pornography. Get the pitchforks!

Because now her name’s out there as a potential entrant to the WWE Hall of Fame, and we got this double-standard BS about how somebody involved in any sort of sexual escapade of any kind isn’t “WWE material.” Never mind the fact they build their Divas up to be sex symbols, but that’s a whole other bit of hypocrisy. And you know what? We know exactly what kind of dodge that is, because it takes two to have one night anywhere, and I didn’t see the voices of the WWE shaming X-Pac off the stage for the RAW Reunion.

Admit it, fellas. Chyna rattles your faith in superiority of strength. She did then, and she does now. And that’s cool, I get it, because if Chyna can teach us anything, it’s that anything boys can do, she could do.

And did. Because freaking Chyna, amirite?

“But she didn’t win that match fairly,” whines somebody, and I’m just going to sigh and ask if we’re watching the same show. Because, uh, first? It’s all rigged, bro. And second, like she’s the first to ever win or lose because intervention. What’s good for the gander works for the goose, too, yeah? It works both freaking ways. She went toe to toe with some of the heaviest hitters in the industry and she fought with greater showmanship than we get these days from…oh, let’s say…Kane. Let’s talk later about how much of a tool Corporate Kane is, okay? Okay. It’s a date.

1999, Chyna, WWF, Joanie LaurerChyna was a marvel—the Xena of the ring. She was as strong as any of them, but unlike our Divas today, her character wasn’t the kind to strut her stuff like she was too sexy for a catwalk. She was the 9th Wonder of the World, a strong-woman whose likes we wouldn’t see again for years. Ten long bloody years, to be precise.

The woman, to put it bluntly, wrestled. Tell me again how women aren’t as strong as men.

“But,” whines somebody, “wasn’t there a rumor about her doing steroids?” Yeah. There was. A rumor. Goddamn. Quick. Strip her of everything good she has ever done because surely she is the only wrestler ever accused of using drugs. Oh, wait. Hogan did what, now?

Shut the weird double-standard political faces and put the character in the Hall of Fame where she belongs.

Beth Phoenix, The Glamazon, WWE, WWE Netword3. The Glamazon

Beth Phoenix went on record saying, “When I was in developmental, the status quo was to be like Trish. But I was like, ‘You already have a Trish. You don’t need another Trish.’ I wanted to be the first me.” If I had to compare her, I’d say she’s like a Trish + Chyna + total Diva package, in a way that is uniquely hers. She was strong, she was technically gifted, and she also had the beauty the fandom seems to worship at the altar of—enough to be called “The Glamazon” by her fellow Divas. I always felt like the commentators who called her that did so with sarcasm.

Beth Phoenix, pushups under Santino Marella, WWE, WWE NEtworkBeth owned the shit out of it.

Brute strength, technical submissions, no fear. When she finally retired to spend time with her family, she had fought her way to the top of my list—and contrary to popular belief, just ‘cause there’s a woman wrestling doesn’t mean she gets an immediate bump to the top. I’m all in favor of equal opportunity, but just like any other wrestler, they have to be good. And she, compatriots, was good.

Good enough to step into a Royal Rumble. The second woman ever, ten years after the first.

4. The Diva Killer

Kharma, WWE12, WWE

Men don’t have the monopoly on brutal. Kharma strolled into the ring during a time when I was on break from the WWE at large—I didn’t have cable for a while, and I couldn’t watch the matches for about 2 years. In that time, my only regret is that I didn’t get a chance to see Kharma at play.

That woman is a beast. She’s a certified monster, and in the world of WWE, that’s what I like to see. She’s got the raw power of Bautista and the savage fury of Mark Henry at his heeliest. If Cryback had any sense—oops, I mean, Ryback, mah bad—he’d have started sweating the moment she set eyes on him. And damn right. Kharma’s a bitch when she comes barreling down at you with the force of a unstoppable locomotive.

And like Chyna and the Glamazon before her, she became the third woman ever to step into the Royal Rumble.

Kharma vs Dolph Ziggler, WWE, WWE Network

This move is called the “implant buster”, because usually Kharma wrestled women, and that’s what women are expected to have in WWE I guess

Third. Ever.

Is she fashionably tiny? No. Is the pretty in the Total Divas manicure and sculpting and perfect weave sort of way? No. Is her persona sweet and nice and sugar and spice? Uh, no.

Do I care? Hell, no. Why? Because Kharma didn’t care. She wasn’t on that stage to seduce us into watching, she wasn’t there to be the female version of Mark Henry’s sexual chocolate. She was on that stage to force us to watch—to make us stare as she plowed through every Diva like they were made of paper and glass. And compared to Kharma? That’s exactly what they were.

She was the beast to their beauties, and everybody loves a good beauty and the beast story. Especially when we can root for the brute strength Kharma rolled out like she had something to prove. Girl was so my type. Strong, fierce, took no attitude from anyone. I loved her. It’s a shame all I’ve got are old clips to shout at.

Ready to Rumble

Eva Marie, Total Divas, WWE, WWE Network, E!

Total Divas, reflecting corporate culture

So here’s what I’m saying. Somewhere around the mid-2000s, the WWE bought in to this whole “reality show” concept—but not completely. Not entirely. They figured, why bother with the whole thing when we could just sacrifice the quality of one “minor” group and rake it all in from there? The brass has always understood the idea that drama sells, but until we as a society started getting hooked on reality shows by way of ultimate entertainment, they kept a balance between the fundamentals of the wrestling community and the drama that fueled it.

So when we started obsessing over reality TV, someone up in brass—maybe boss-for-life Vince McMahon himself, since he’s got a long and storied obsession with breaking into “the legit entertainment industry”—decided that the best way to feed the hunger, as it were, was to open up a “reality TV division” in the WWE. And then they sacrificed their Divas.

People love watching the shallow archetype of a girl expose everything on TV, and that’s what the WWE turned their Diva characters into. It’s “good for business.”

Total Divas/WWE opinions, ringsideconfessions.tumblr, WWE Network, E!

Fans aren’t 100% convinced, but many keep watching

Problem is, it’s lazy writing. It’s a serious disservice to all the women out there who aren’t just gifted actresses with a bit of wrestling expertise, but technically gifted wrestlers as well. Paige and Natalya are probably the closest they’ve got right now to talented wrestlers in the Diva ranks, but they play second fiddle to the others—mostly the Bella twins, who are super sweet in real life (most of the wrestlers are pretty okay people, by the way, when the cameras are off), but whose wrestling chops aren’t exactly what you’d call show-stoppers. AJ Lee is written in a way that her “crazy” overshadows her technical skill with submission holds.

And that’s on us, fans. That’s on us because we aren’t motivated enough to demand more. It’s on us because the ratings for reality shows where vapid girls do shallow, vapid things skyrocket, and the WWE brass wants in on that. But they can do better. We can do better—and we damn well deserve better.

thewweconfessions.tumblr, Naomi, WWE, Total Divas, WWE Network, E!

Fans air their doubts via various “confessions”-format tumblrs

These days, you look at the Divas, and you forget—if you ever knew—that once upon a time, there were women in the ranks that could make the male wrestlers sweat. Women who threw men bigger than them over the ropes during a Royal Rumble. Wrestlers who flew higher, threw farther, and hit harder than half the men in the field.

Divas like Chyna and Kharma, who proved that it wasn’t all lipstick and sass up in that ring—and didn’t have to be in order to get the crowd screaming. And let me tell you something, kiddos, the first time you see Mark Henry tossed over the ropes by a female wrestler, you do not forget.

At least I haven’t. Not a match goes by that I don’t keep some kind of hope that the WWE will look at American pop culture today, at what’s going on behind the scenes, and see that there’s a nation-wide push for equality happening right now. Equality that isn’t about “lowering the bar”—it’s not about dumbing anything down; it’s not about lessening the quality of anything. It’s about raising it.

It’s about showing the world that there are women out there who aren’t just Total Divas. They’re wrestlers. They’re writers. They’re mathematicians. They’re singers and songwriters, they’re teachers, they’re skaters, they’re artists, they’re monsters, they’re athletes, and they’re here.

And there will always be fans in the WWE Universe who hope to see another woman who can take it to the rings with as much guts, glory, talent, and heart as Chyna, Kharma, Lita, and Beth.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing, guys. It’s not a zero-sum situation. Keep your catty Bellas and your crazy AJs, but for crying out loud, give us some Divas who can wrestle… hell, take the stereotype lock-down off Paige, Tamina, and Natalya, and let them show us what they can do.

It worked back in the day. It’ll work now. The culture is totally ripe for it.

Chyna raises Lita's arm, Women's Division match, Chyna's last match, WWF, WWE, 2000

When she isn’t yelling at the wrestlers on TV, Karina Cooper is the author of award-winning urban fantasy series The St. Croix Chronicles. She’s also an obsessive gamer, a coffee junkie, and the Force is strong with her. Visit KarinaCooper.com, or follow her on Twitter @karinacooper, for some epic level spam heals.
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15 Comments

  1. I love all of this so much. Chyna is probably one of my favorite wrestlers, and I love how in so many instances she was the real “muscle” of DX.

    One current Diva that I think deserves a mention is AJ Lee, who is crazy talented and has put on some excellent matches. She hasn’t been getting a lot of TV time lately, I’m assuming because she isn’t involved in Total Divas (she could also be injured or on leave for something, but I haven’t heard anything) and perhaps, maybe because of the whole CM Punk think (I doubt that, but who knows), but she’s probably one of my current favorites.

    Another (former, now) Diva that I think is really interesting is Kaitlyn, who was also popular for a bit, (I loved the storyline she has with AJ, Big E and Ziggler). If you look her up on Instagram (her real name is Celeste Bonin), she talks a lot about how stressful it was keeping up a certain appearance and maintaining an “ideal” figure as a Diva. She recently posted a photo of her at the end of her WWE career and now, and she’s gotten considerably fitter (she’s a fitness model and bodybuilder now) since leaving what sounds like a toxic environment.

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about Total Divas. I enjoy the show because I like both wrestling and reality TV, but I also realize it’s a fake reality show based on kayfabe, so it’s a little disorienting to watch in terms of trying to keep story lines straight. I agree with what you said about the Bellas, they’re not great wrestlers, but I find their story lines entertaining (I also just really love Brie). I think I would be ok with Total Divas if they gave the Divas more ring time, and booked better matches.

    I 100% recognize this is article is just about the WWE Divas and doesn’t include the NXT female wrestlers (NXT is the WWE’s developmental division, and their female wrestlers aren’t considered “Divas” for anyone who doesn’t know), but I just wanna throw it out there for anyone reading this that NXT is an amazing program/division. It has so many excellent wrestlers, and their female wrestlers are incredible. Charlotte (Rick Flare’s daughter) and Sasha Banks are two of the best ones they have right now. Charlotte used to be a gymnast, so that informs a lot of her wrestling and makes it really fun to watch.

    • Definitely a good point about the NXT Divas! Also, I’ve been told that Naomi is another stellar up-and-comer on RAW whose arc is similar to Lita’s—she has a split-legged Moonsault to die over, apparently. I’m annoyed because I obviously didn’t get to see enough of Naomi on any sort of regular basis to know this.

      I’m actually fine with Total Divas as a thing that exists, but yes, I TOTALLY agree with you about booking more matches—and promoting their really good wrestling Divas! It doesn’t all have to be about size 2 Mean Girls as a character arc, and I’m super aggravated that it seems to be. And it’s especially appalling because it mirrors what girls are force-fed all the time anyway: “Play the social games and look pretty or you’re worthless, fit only to be supporting roles.” Which is so BS.

      Entertainment is great, whatever the characters they play, but the Divas should definitely be allowed to showcase their wrestling as much as the dudes are.

      And definitely, I need to get my hands on NXT. They’re doing some pretty good stuff with #LikeAGirl. Now if only RAW (the “epitome” of pro, in terms of where you wan tot end up) would take a note from NXT’s page!

    • Chyna forever, right?

      Personally I really don’t enjoy watching AJ, which is a shame because as you say she knows how to do what she does. I just find her “character” intolerable, and it dominates her screen time.

      I didn’t know Kaitlyn had spoken about her dissatisfaction with WWE! That’s interesting. I’ll have to look that out. I think Nikki has a really, really great aesthetic just now and I LOVE her (what’s it called? Something about her, hurrhurr, rack?) weird thing where she dumps people off her shoulders. If the rest of her stuff could match that, I’d throw a party.

      Let’s all take a moment to close our eyes, hold hands in a circle, and chant “Charlotte, Charlotte, Charlotte”. Ugh, ugh, I love her attitude.

  2. I never really got into wrestling after Hulk Hogan’s Rockin’ Wrestling era, but I feel like I really missed out. I know of Chyna, and I once met Trish Stratus. I don’t know much about the latter as a wrestler, but as a human being, she was one of the most down to earth, genuinely beautiful people. And she had a great sense of humour that she took to Second City Live. Fantastic post, Karina.

    • Thanks, Wendy! The Attitude Era was pretty much the start for this current model, but I hate to say that the dudes kind of came out on top while RAW’s Divas got the short end of the stick. Trish, as a note, also started with more attitude than wrestling skill, but she got better and better as time went on—which is what I hope they allow for the other ladies. More wrestling, less obnoxious character dominating the screen time, plz!

      The championship match between Trish and Lita is still one of my favorites. 😀

      • The Attitude Era was when women’s wrestling in WWF/E was at its best though. Even if, in many ways, it was also when it was at its worst. No bra and panty matches in this PG era!

        Chyna
        Trish
        Lita
        Molly
        Jackie

        At what other point in the companies history have the best five woman wrestlers been that good?

        Also, Molly Holly and Jackie never get their due. They were more talented than Chyna or Trish, and botched a lot less than Lita. But they never get brought up when fans talk about the best women wrestlers.

    • Trish was brought in for her hotness and worked like a demon to become a good wrestler on the job. I don’t like a lot of how she was utilised, and I don’t think the company or the fans gave her the respect she deserves, but I am not in the least surprised to hear she’s a great person.

  3. Great article. I’ve been watching WWE and Pro Wrestling in general since the 80’s, and I guess that the only insight that I can add to this is what it was like before the term Diva came to be. There are four eras specifically that I would like to point to:
    -The Fabolous Moolah era – Moolah was pretty much the undisputed queen of Women’s wrestling from the mid 1950’s through the early 1980’s. Not just because she was the NWA Women’s champion, but also because she was the gatekeeper. She trained most of the ladies wrestlers in NWA and later WWWF(after Vince Sr, left the NWA), and you literally couldn’t wrestle in her promotion without her blessing. This had both a positive and negative effect in wrestling. On the positive side Moolah did breakdown several major obstacles for women’s wrestling. Including a ban from the New York State athletic commission. She also did her best to elevate women’s wrestling from side show attraction to a legit part of the show. For example, she bodyslammed football player Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier on national TV. On the negative side, there are some real horror stories out there about how Moolah treated other ladies. Going as far driving many of them out of the business all together.
    -The Wendi Richter era- If I told a modern pro wrestling fan with no knowledge of history that the second most popular WWF wrestler of the mid 80’s(second only to Hogan) was a woman, and the WWE would not be here today without her that fan would probably not believe me, but it’s true. “The Texas Cowgirl” Wendi Richter and her angle with Cyndi Lauper were an essential part of WWF’s expansion from regional promotion to a nation wide phenomenon. Wendi’s first title victory over Moolah was the main event of “The Brawl to End It All”, WWF’s first major televised event. It aired on MTV in 1983(the peak of MTV’s popularity), and it’s success made Wrestlemania possible. Wendi also co-main evented the first Wrestlemania and the first Saturday Night’s Main Event, WWF’s first major network show. It should be noted that Wendi was treated just like one of the guys. The annoucers would often make mention that Wendi was just as athletic as the men and could even out bench press many of them. Despite being an attractive woman, her looks never came into the equation. Sadly, Wendi Richter’s run in WWF ended very poorly. Due to a contract dispute(and possible manipulation from Moolah), Wendi suffered the “The Original Screwjob”(Look it up).
    -The Post Wendi Richter Era- In the late 80’s WWF tried to replace Wendi with Velvet McIntyre and later on with Rockin Robin. It didn’t work. While they were good wrestlers, they just weren’t as popular. The focus of women in the company changed from wrestlers to managers. Ms. Elizabeth, the first woman manager in the company, was hugely successful. Later, Sensational Sherri Martel, who was both a manager and a wrestler, was also very popular. This was the first time in the company’s history that the lady’s looks became the focus. The annoucers often complimented Elizabeth for her looks, and often berated Sherri for her’s(despite Sherri being beautiful in her own right). The company did try one really interesting experiment: The Jumping Bomb Angels! The company brought in Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki to lead a possible women’s tag team division. The WWF’s Women’s Tag Team Titles had actually been around since 1983, but were very rarely defended because there weren’t enough lady wrestlers around. The angels were a couple of wrestlers from Japan that were very good. Women’s wrestling in Japan at the time was in a league far beyond anything in the US. Most men today would be put to shame by the likes of Aja Kong and Manami Toyota. Sadly the angels didn’t last. The company wasn’t fully dedicated to the division, and they returned to Japan. In 1990 the company deactived the Women’s division all together.
    -The Alundra Blaze Era – Before we talk about Alundra, we actually have to talk about another lady, Luna Vachon. Luna was a manager…a very different type of manager. She was brought into the company in 1993, and completely changed the game. Luna looked and acted like something from a Heavy Metal nightmare. She got physical with the men, and redefined what was possible for a lady in WWF. Sadly, she didn’t last long in the company. But she did open the doors for the leader of this era, Alundra Blaze. Alundra(AKA Madusa Micili) had made a name for herself as a manager and wrestler in the 80’s in the AWA. After that company folded she went to Japan and retrained herself. During the all time peak of Women’s wrestling in Japan, she became on of the best. She came back to the states and in 1993 became the first WWF’s Women’s champion in 3 years. This era actually had a few quality ladies. Bull Nakano Vs Alundra Blaze in the Tokyo Dome is still the greatest women’s match in the company’s history. Bertha Faye was a lot like Kharma, except with a different gimmick. Leilani Kai was a quality veteran. Sadly, this didn’t end well. The Company was in a war with WCW. Alundra jumped ship to WCW and dropped the WWF’s Women’s title into the trash on live TV. Killing the division in a single move. At the same time, the first modern Diva, Sunny, was gaining popularity, and the rest is history.

    • Hi, Xalazi! Thank you for the great break-down. Absolutely, I can confirm—through my wrestling bestie—that life was, well, let’s call it “weird” while she was working with Moolah and Mae. Like… super weird. Creepery.

      I love this total write-up, it’s fantastic! Thank you so much for the history lesson. 😀

    • Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young are among the worst scumbags in the history of the business. Moolah cornered the women’s wrestling business, providing workers to all the major promotions, through the expectation that her girls would service the male talent sexually. She would get her girls hooked on drugs to control them and paid them shit. Girls who refused to go along with it would end up being raped. Of course, I’m not trying to imply that addiction-controlled pimping isn’t a form of rape to begin with.

      Luna Vachon, Sherri Martel, and a few other women from back in the old days have spoken out about the absolute horrors of being a woman in the business back then.

      And Mae Young? She handled the money for Moolah, apparently.

  4. Woah, I just watched this for the first time like last weekend in a nail salon. I did not even understand that they were wrestlers until the END of the show.
    (This particular episode was about one woman kissing another women and thinking, apparently incorrectly, that it MEANT something. I was so very confused.)
    I think I’d prefer to just watch the wrestling matches.

  5. One of my guilty pleasures is that I have been known to enjoy some wrestling.

    But WWE these days is terrible. I mostly watch TNA, and a large part of the reason ~why~ I like TNA is their Knockouts division contains a lot of female wrestlers who are really allowed to wrestle.

    They’re acrobatic, they’re dynamic, they quite often have intense physical matches that rival the men’s matches.

    Gail Kim vs Taryn Terrel. Taryn running bulldogged Gail off the ramp onto the concrete floor. Actually it’s on youtube:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiCgKb1TpZ8

    Amazing match.

    Also, incidentally, Kharma just returned to TNA under the name ‘Awesome Kong’.

    • Simon, that is the best news I’ve seen in ages! It’s a shame she’s not on RAW—I REALLY want to see them give the RAW Divas the attention they deserve—but maybe we’ll see an influx from the other shows.

      Rock on with your pleasures. 😉 No guilt!

      • Interestingly she’s been set up versus a wrestler called Havok, who is also not a traditional model type. So they’ve got these two big powerful women. And it’s, y’know, yay diversity. I haven’t seen them wrestle yet, but I imagine it’s gonna be smash-face stuff.

    • Awesome Kong was my first favourite woman wrestler, actually. Last time she was in TNA, I guess? Not a patient woman, which is a blessing to watch in a Diva-y industry.