Things have changed significantly for women in the industry of professional wrestling since 2014. That’s thanks to a deep roster of committed, athletic women who refuse to be bound by the old stereotypes made popular by the ’90s Attitude Era and that lingered on decades past their welcome. From about 1999 until all-too-recently, the typical woman’s match would involve the words “cat fight” and/or “bra and panties.”
What made America’s sports entertainment titan WWE change its approach to women’s wrestling? In 2014, a revolution of sorts began to stir down in NXT, WWE’s developmental promotion. Triple H, a veteran of the Attitude Era and son-in-law of WWE CEO Vince McMahon, guided NXT to recruit some of the best female wrestlers he could find and groomed them to change the way the world looks at women in the industry. The most famous of these women are the self-styled “Four Horsewomen,” Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch, but it goes beyond just them in the new era of many women becoming full-fledged superstars. Let’s take a look at all of the key players in this brave new world of non-sexualized female wrestling.
The daughter of wrestling legend Ric Flair, Charlotte Flair is, at the time of this writing, the most decorated female wrestler on the roster. Charlotte has held the Women’s Championship or an equivalent title longer and on more occasions than any others. She was the NXT Women’s Champion before being called up as part of the “Diva’s Revolution” in 2015, soon captured the Diva’s Championship and held it until it was retired at WrestleMania 32 in 2016. That night it became the new WWE Women’s Championship (now the Raw Women’s Championship) which Flair won at that same event in a triple threat match against fellow horsewomen, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch. When you observe her wrestling style, persona and mic skills, you realize that she is more evocative of Olympic Gold Medalist turned professional wrestler, Kurt Angle, than her own father. She’s one of the best performers in all of WWE, and based on her bravado, she knows it.
Sasha Banks, a.k.a. The Boss is arguably the most popular wrestler on the entire roster right now. Originally intended to be a heel, her The Rock-like charisma and crisp in-ring performance made her too awesome to hate. She was the NXT Women’s Champion at the time of the Diva’s Revolution, which she subsequently lost to Bayley at NXT Brooklyn, regarded by many as the best match of 2015. She then went on to headline the following NXT event in WWE’s first ever thirty-minute iron woman match. It marked the first time a major WWE Live Event was headlined by female talent since 2004. Sasha and Charlotte would then main event Hell in a Cell 2016, the first WWE PPV to ever have women go on last. Sasha is a three-time Raw Women’s Champion and, despite her main personal inspiration to become a wrestler being the late great Eddie Guerrero, her in-ring style more closely resembles another legend whose name, when spoken, makes many people uncomfortable. You know who I mean.
What the hell is there not to love about Bayley? Her adorable, big-kid personality coupled with her, quite frankly, brutal and hard-hitting in-ring style, she’s an inspiration to everybody out there who ever even dared to make their wildest dreams come true. If you’ve watched Raw recently, you may a lot more little girls in the front row of live events, and they’re all there to see Bayley. She’s showing them they can be great and have the focus be on your performance and not on their how people judge them. If her recent title match against Charlotte at the 2017 Royal Rumble showed us anything, it’s that while she has good technical skills, Bayley’s real strength is in her high impact brawling maneuvers. She is the current Raw Women’s Champion. Both her attire and her in-ring style are nearly indistinguishable from none other than the Macho Man Randy Savage.
Becky Lynch already had mad skills when she came on board at NXT. She was, however, severely lacking in the gimmick department, so she transformed from a plain, former flight attendant into the orange-haired, steampunk “lass-kicker.” Even after having an amazing NXT title match with Sasha just before the Diva’s Revolution, she’s the only one of the horsewomen to have never held the NXT Women’s Championship. When the branch expansion was reinstated and a second women’s championship was created for Smackdown, Becky became the show’s inaugural champion. Her theatrics and in-ring style are reminiscent of yet another WWE legend, the one and only Chris Jericho.
During her tenure at NXT, Alexa Bliss was constantly overlooked and underrated. She had a fun gimmick of being a cute pixie, but it just wasn’t getting her over. So, like with many female wrestlers who are underestimated in the genre’s history, she turned heel and became a valet for a male tag team. To her credit, this is where she found her real persona, a very Trish Stratus-like, cheating villainess. It wasn’t until she got called up to Smackdown that her real athleticism began to shine, turning her into the formidable Little Miss Bliss. She has benefited greatly from the brand expansion, turning the Smackdown Women’s Division into a kingdom that she rules with an iron fist, being the only two-time Smackdown Women’s Champion.
Long before the Diva’s Revolution, Paige was pretty much carrying the entire women’s division on her back. She was Diva’s Champion during a time when nobody else could carry that torch with any kind of dignity. Lately, though, she has been plagued with nagging, recurring injuries that prevent her from climbing back to the top of the division where she belongs. It’s so sad that just as so many new opponents arrived, Paige got sidelined, most recently with major neck surgery. Hopefully she’ll be back in the ring soon, perhaps when her upcoming biopic is released.
This woman is an absolute wrestling machine. She started off as a graphic designer but then decided she wanted more out of her life and took up a career in professional wrestling, spending years dominating Japan under the ring name of Kanna. Asuka brings an intensity and mystique to NXT that can only be learned in the dojos of Japan, and in so doing has really shaken up the women’s division of the entire WWE. She won the NXT Women’s Championship from Bayley at NXT Dallas during WrestleMania Weekend 2016 and has held it ever since. She will most likely be relinquishing the belt soon to move up to the main roster, where she will no doubt become an automatic contender for whichever title she wants.
Let’s face it, the WWE doesn’t exactly have a great track record when it comes to women of Nia Jax‘s size and shape, and it didn’t seem as if they were going to treat her any differently. She was booked in squash matches and billed as an unbeatable monster. Just look at what happened with Chyna when she was similarly used in the Women’s Division — it led to one of the worst, most arrogant matches in WrestleMania history. Nia is not letting this happen to her, though. She has demonstrated humility and doesn’t rely solely on her size to win matches, as demonstrated by her fantastic match against Sasha Banks at Fastlane. She has not yet held any gold, but she almost certainly will in the near future.
And the current depth of WWE’s women talent goes beyond these superstars. We ran out of space before we could cover the likes of Naomi, Dana Brooke, Emma, Peyton Royce & Billy Kay, along with many more. But the way things have been shaping up, they’ll all get their chance in the spotlight, and their matches won’t be considered bathroom breaks as some fans all too often treated them in the past.
These women are paving the way for future generations of athletes, and the gender lines are very quickly being erased as far as importance goes. After WrestleMania 32, Stephanie McMahon announced that they would no longer be referred to as “Divas,” rather there would be no distinction between them and their male counterparts, as they are all now regarded as “Superstars.” A fitting title to be sure.