Something strange happened on Thursday night.
A lot of people watching the WWE Network’s live presentation of NXT Takeover invested themselves in, and were truly entertained by, a women’s pro-wrestling bout. Pinch yourselves, people.
The match between Natalya and Charlotte for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship received such plaudits that many people were calling it the best match on the show – outstripping even the pretty fantastic Sami Zayn vs Tyler Breeze match which preceded it. I call this “something strange” because, in my years of watching and covering women’s wrestling, I’m used to hearing the prevailing opinion that the women’s match on any given show is the “piss break”, or that I’m crazy for writing about or podcasting about women’s wrestling because “who could possibly care about women’s wrestling?” Yet here we were – social media and wrestling forums ablaze, praising the efforts of the two competitors and the match they produced.
The match was, as noted at the time, “everything WWE could have possibly wanted” – with Natalya especially as the veteran doing a wonderful job working with the relatively inexperienced but very athletic Charlotte and making her as big a star as she could – but a large part of what helped people get invested was the fact that it was presented *like it mattered*. Living legends like Ric Flair and Bret Hart were there to see the match in person, the commentary team didn’t use the match as an excuse to make jokes or talk about the upcoming matches, and the women had almost 17 minutes of bell-to-bell time to work with. In many ways, they did something similar at NXT Arrival with Paige vs Emma (which had a pre-match endorsement from Stephanie McMahon, a longer than usual match time and a very appreciative crowd), but it seems that Natalya vs Charlotte is the match that has actually begun to make people stop and, as Paige’s T-shirt says, “Think Again”
So much of wrestling feels like a self fulfilling prophecy, especially in WWE. Genius he may be, but Vince McMahon seems like someone who has his opinions that he’s gathered over the years, and he just won’t budge from them… and women’s wrestling as a credible part of the show has just never been on his radar. It’s funny, people have often compared and contrasted the intransigent Vince with the equally bullish and combative Dana White of UFC – a man who once famously said that women would never fight in the Octagon, but who earlier this year admitted that “Ronda Rousey is the biggest star the UFC has ever had and will soon be paid like it”. It was interesting also to see a couple of tweets from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer in the aftermath of Takeover, where he talked about how this is all about how women are presented in WWE…
Dave Meltzer posted two tweets here and here on the subject… and he’s right. You can’t give women’s wrestling 2-3 minute matches in the “death slot” of TV shows and PPVs with minimal character development or storyline buildup and then be surprised when people don’t care. When you’ve specifically trained your crowd for years to treat women like they’re a piss break or a chance to get to the concession stand before the “big” match starts, it’s not going to be easy to turn around years of psychological training and predisposed notions – so let me be clear here, I’m absolutely NOT just suggesting that it’s a case of throwing the current crop of WWE Divas out there for twenty minutes at a time, because frankly I don’t believe most of them could handle it. Twenty minutes of Eva Marie vs Rosa Mendes (for example) would be awful, and nobody needs to see that.
However, there *are* chinks of light in the future. The NXT system, which Triple H is fully involved with and is, for all intents and purposes, his pet project, not only has a woman like Sara Del Rey training the next generation of female talent, but is presenting women’s wrestling in a credible and positive way. Vince McMahon may well be around at the helm of WWE for many years to come (and for all I know, he’ll be running it in fifty years as a head in a jar – it wouldn’t surprise me), but the chances are that as Triple H’s influence over the main product grows, and as more of his NXT women start to make the main roster, there will be an understanding that “hey, maybe we *can* do something with them after all”. Such a day may legitimately be years away, but matches like Charlotte vs Natalya really do whet the appetite for that day.
— Stew Allen
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