WWE – Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of WWE’s Women’s Division (Cert 15)
3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Fremantle Media) Running Time: 529 minutes approx.
It’s fair to say that women’s wrestling was, and still is, largely maligned in the eyes of the masses as a novelty sideshow to the men’s matches on the card. Up until recently, the WWE has been guilty of not taking the women seriously, for many years their primary criteria for female talent being their looks with no consideration for wrestling ability.
A change in philosophy by Triple H in NXT and the fan driven hashtag movement “Give Divas A Chance” saw the tide move in the women’s favour and the rewards are finally paying dividends. This release is a collection of matches celebrating the best of today’s female stars in the WWE whilst paying tribute to those who laid the foundation in the past.
It might be an omen that the first person to appear is Big Steph since the WWE’s narrative is that she invented women’s wrestling, but at least everyone else, featuring many of the usual suspects, have earned the right to be included on merit.
Not as in depth as it could have been, each of the featured women is given a brief moment to discuss their career with support from their peers, then on to the matches. There are no subs for us HOH folk, and with some dodgy audio (Sherri Martel’s voice is an inaudible croak) even those with acute hearing might find this a struggle.
Opening this set is Wendi Richter, who left the WWF on bad terms in 1985 after the original screwjob against the masked Spider Lady at MSG, when she refused to sign a new contract after disputes over money. Vince McMahon sent Fabulous Moolah out under the mask to take the belt off Richter and after Richter realised what had happened, she left MSG and wasn’t seen in WWE again until her surprise HOF induction in 2010.
By way of demonstrating how far women’s wrestling has come, the featured match is Richter’s first title win over Moolah from 1984 and boy is it awful. Mean Gene Oakerlund calls it one of the most “sensational matches” he had ever seen! There is professional hyperbole then there is utter BS.
Sensational Sherri Martel is next then we jump forward to 1993 and Madusa aka Alundra Blayze, which was supposed to be a rejuvenation of women’s wrestling in WWF for the 90’s but since they only hired about three other women this fizzled out quickly, and Madusa famously returned to WCW in 1995 and dumped the WWF women’s belt into a rubbish bin live on Nitro.
The Attitude Era is pretty much skipped, as the next highlighted wrestler is Ivory, whose most successful run was at the end of this period. Ivory in some ways is a bridge between the cheesy 80’s wrestling as a former GLOW girl and the harder hitting new millennium style.
Next are the two biggest names from this period Trish Stratus and Lita, followed by Victoria, Molly Holly and Mickie James, the latter bemoaning the whole “diva” identity as a serious wrestler. We thankfully bypass the entire Melina-LayCool-Kelly Kelly era to the surprise success of AJ Lee that saw the doors starting to open a bit wider for the women as she crossed over as a featured star.
Current fans will now be on familiar ground as we enter the faces of today, starting with the Bella Twins and Paige, through to Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Charlotte Flair, Natalya, Carmella (!), and Alexa Bliss. The set closes with the most recent match being the mixed tag from Wrestlemania 34 featuring Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H and Big Steph, to bring us up to date.
A fairly comprehensive set all told, hitting most of the important and significant stops along the journey whilst paying lip service to the others, presumably avoiding the salacious and prurience driven material of the Attitude Era as not to ruin the positive image they are now trying to perpetuate as the norm for their female stars.
If you are sensing a “but”, you are very perceptive to do so because there is one – a few in fact. First, the pre-match clips are arguably the most fascinating part of this project yet there are so brief, limited to a few sentences and soundbites when everyone has a story to tell. A feature length documentary supplemented by a match collection would have been a preferred format.
Secondly, where the hell is Asuka? How can they omit the women with a 2 ½ year undefeated streak yet Carmella gets a spot? Granted they show the Women’s Royal Rumble match which Asuka won but is that the best they can do? At least my future ex-wife Kairi Sane gets a look in with the cracking Mae Young Classic tournament final against Shayna Baszler.
Finally, most of the match choices are baffling. Many of them been released in numerous other collections already when there are plenty of suitable, lesser-seen alternatives in the WWE archives. Why they represented Sherri Martel with the 1987 Survivors Series women’s match (which she lost) is a major mystery.
And this is the other bizarre thing – quite often the featured star is usually the loser in their match – hardly a celebration when they are shown staring at the lights (and in Molly Holly’s case having her head shaved bald)! The worst offender is the Bella Twins match – Brie vs. Big Steph from Summerslam 2014, which not only saw Brie lose but because Nikki turned on her!
What could have been an enlightening presentation feels like half-baked cash-in that superficially appears like a genuine tribute until it is put under scrutiny – rather ironic given the way women’s wrestling has been treated like an afterthought over the years. Aside from the odd match, the quality of the wrestling is top notch but the choices are too familiar.
A packed but uninspired compendium. The women deserve better – they’ve earned it!
German Language Subtitles
Rating – ***
Man In Black