Column: WWE women thrive at ‘Evolution’ despite backstage politics


Photo via Flickr by Miguel Discart

Ronda Rousey celebrates after a confrontation with Stephanie McMahon in April.

By Alexa Marzina, Staff Writer

WWE’s first all-women pay-per-view, hosted at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, and dubbed “Evolution,” proved to be an exciting and monumental event for all past, present and future women of the company.

So why the hell did the main event feature Nikki Bella — who embraces the “diva” description, which is basically a swear word in WWE now — and Ronda Rousey, with her history of transphobic comments?

WWE currently has its most stacked roster since the inception of its women’s wrestling division in 1999, and it’s been a long road — from mud wrestling and “bra and panty” matches, where the first woman to strip her opponent down to her undergarments won — for female superstars to get to where they are now.

The title of the show comes from WWE women’s progress from the diva moniker to finally just being called “superstars” like their male counterparts. In 2015, the #GiveDivasAChance trend went around on Twitter after a 30-second match pitting The Bella Twins against Paige and Emma on Monday Night Raw.

A few months later, Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon introduced three new divas — Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch — dubbing this era the “Divas Revolution.” Finally in 2016, WWE retired the Divas Championship to instead have women compete for the Women’s Championship, and dropped the term “diva” after 17 years.

Looking back on the history of the treatment of women in the WWE, the “Evolution” show is definitely breaking a glass ceiling for its female superstars. But of course, nothing in this company comes off without its hitches.

The very first match saw old-timers Trish Stratus and Lita face Mickie James and Alicia Fox, who have all been in the WWE since 2006 or earlier — though James and Fox were supposed to represent the current roster of women since they are still active weekly competitors. But of course, since WWE loves a good nostalgia pop, Stratus and Lita defeated them easily, even though neither looked as good as they did back in the Attitude Era.

It was a weird start, but at least it kept the crowd happy.

The rest of the show up until the end was fabulous and highlighted all the women well. Even matches that at first I was skeptical of turned out to be competitive, athletic and entertaining, and not once did I feel like I was “missing out” on something because there were no bouts containing men.

Toni Storm and Io Shirai put on an absolute clinic as they battled to determine the winner of this year’s Mae Young Classic, with both ladies delivering heartstopping and hard-fought performances. Toward the end of the match, when it seemed like neither competitor had anything left, Shirai — dubbed “Genius of the Sky” — busted out a picture-perfect moonsault from the top rope to Storm, who caught every inch of the move from the floor below.

The whole match was beautiful, like the ladies included in it, and led to a victory for 22-year-old Storm. At that point, I thought the show couldn’t possibly get any better, and had my mind set on mediocre matches for the rest of the night.

Thank God I was wrong.

I don’t watch NXT — WWE’s third brand in addition to Raw and Friday Night Smackdown — so I didn’t know what to expect from the NXT Women’s Championship Match between champ Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler, and considered not even watching it at all.

In September after the “Hell in a Cell” event, I discussed Randy Orton’s sadistic and painful attacks on Jeff Hardy, and thought nothing in WWE could make me want to vomit more. I was wrong again, as Baszler showed her unquestionable brutality as she fought for the title. With Sane face down on the mat, Baszler took her right arm and twisted it around like only a contortionist could, then, twisting Sane’s hand and fingers around more, planted it onto the ground and stepped on it. Hard.

Even the announcers gasped in shock and exclaimed that hands should not bend that way. Baszler went on to win the match, becoming the only two-time NXT women’s champion in history.

The marquee match of the night, and the one that should have been awarded the main event spot, was the first-ever Last Woman Standing match in WWE history between Lynch, the Smackdown women’s champion, and Charlotte Flair. The rules? Incapacitate your opponent so they cannot reach their feet before a referee’s count of 10. Anything goes.

This fight could be seen as the continuation of Lynch’s and Flair’s battle for the title and overall supremacy on Smackdown. All bets were off between the former best friends and they totally delivered, with both women enduring long and brutal beatdowns.

Multiple weapons were involved in the clash, including kendo sticks, steel chairs, ladders and tables. Both women got planted onto a large pile of chairs in the center of the ring at the hands of their opponent at some point in the match. Flair executed her Figure Eight submission hold with Lynch’s legs tangled up in the rungs of a ladder, and Lynch delivered a devastating leg drop from the top of a ladder to Flair, who was on the announcers’ table.

After several minutes of hard-fought battle, Lynch buried Flair in the rubble from the bout — chairs, tables, even the announcer’s chairs — and waited for the ref to proclaim her as victorious. But Flair was able to power out, and delivered a vicious spear to Lynch on the outside, then hoisted her limp body onto a table.

Slowly climbing to the top rope, Flair seemed to be going for a moonsault, but Lynch mustered up some energy, climbed onto the ring and deposited Flair, back first, onto the table, shattering it. Dazed, Flair tried to get back to her feet, but just couldn’t do it this time. Lynch remains the champ.

As for the lackluster main event, Bella as always required outside assistance from her twin sister Brie, creating drama since that is their speciality — the two star on the E! Network’s “Total Divas,” which makes all WWE women look bad. Rousey put Bella in an armbar, causing her to tap out, so Rousey remained champ. She celebrated with the rest of the women on stage as the camera faded out, which was odd because at first, none of the superstars even wanted her in the company to begin with.

WWE’s next show, “Crown Jewel,” is this Friday at noon in Saudi Arabia, which I will not be watching due to the country’s treatment of women and the execution and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi there earlier this month.