As Stephanie McMahon stood in the ring, she proclaimed a new era for the WWE Divas Division as she introduced its newest competitors: Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, three very talented young women who are more than deserving of their call up to the main roster. What followed on social media and wrestling sites was an avalanche of praise about this move. WWE being WWE, jumped all over this and declared a women's wrestling revolution, positioning the introduction of three new talents as the launching pad for a plethora of good times ahead. Kudos to WWE for finally making an effort with its women. However, showcasing talented females is not the new phenomenon that WWE would like you to think it is, or that before Ronda Rousey, Serena Williams and the U.S. Women's soccer team, no one cared about female athletes. Female athletes have always been showcased and nowhere is that more true than in professional wrestling.
You see, when Ronda Rousey was still arm-barring Barbie dolls, there was a group of female wrestlers in Japan literally beating the snot out of each other in an effort to be recognized as legit athletes. The girls of GAEA and All Japan Women redefined what it meant to be a female wrestler. Simply put, mainstream American wrestling has never come close to putting on anything like the Japanese promotions did and if you've never seen the likes of Manami Toyota, Bull Nakano or Ayako Hamada in action, do yourself a favor and check out some footage. These girls were on a crusade to be taken seriously as athletes and I guess many of them figured that to earn respect in the tough world of Japanese wrestling, the only way to do it was to be as stiff, if not stiffer than their male counterparts. There has never been a tougher group of women in the wrestling business.
Quality women's wrestling hasn't always been limited to Asia. Whilst many promotions in the West have had their various stages of taking women's wrestling seriously, companies like Shimmer and Shine have built their entire business model on the fact that there is still a fanbase that wants to see a good women's wrestling match as opposed to two ex-models rolling around in a bra and panties match. If you're a fan of Becky Lynch, Madison Rayne or Serena, you should give props to a company like Shimmer because they helped those girls (and many more) get their first big exposure in the U.S. And by the way, if you have enjoyed the NXT women's division, you can thank a lady named Sara Del Ray. Sara spent a long time on the independent scene trying to make a name for herself as a serious wrestler, an anti-Diva before anti-Divas were cool, and now she is transferring her knowledge and skills to a whole new crop of girls at the WWE Performance Center. You better believe that the trainees are told that they can be just as good as the men, if not better.
And then there's TNA. You can say a lot of things about TNA but you can't deny that they, at one time, had the best female division of any mainstream wrestling company ever. And it wasn't even close. What TNA did with the Knockouts in 2007/2008/2009 had never and possibly will never be done again. This was a company that proudly said "Yeah, our girls are just as good as our guys" and then let them go out and prove it. While the Knockouts Division has faltered over the years, there's enough good talent around at the moment to make a resurgence if the booking team gets behind it. As for me, well, for three and a half years I've been writing Knockout Shots so you probably know what the division means to me. For me, the two best things TNA has ever done is the X Division and the Knockouts Division, and it should come as no surprise that women were given such a prominent position in TNA. After all, there's a woman in a prominent position in the office.
A man's world?
Ask me what my favorite thing about TNA and WWE management is and I'll tell you it's that one has a woman in charge and the other will someday have a woman in charge. In a business that has been utterly male dominant for over 100 years, how cool is that? And yes, while Stephanie may be taking credit, at least on TV, for creating a women's wrestling revolution, just know that TNA did it first. Before that, it was Shimmer and before that, it was happening in Japan. Quality women's wrestling has always existed; it was simply a question of where.
If the one message of Knockout Shots over the years has been anything, it's that I want you to seek out and appreciate good women's wrestling regardless of who's doing it. On top of that, respect the girls who are doing it. Sometimes I check in on the Internet or social media and see so-called "fans" making lewd, crude or just plain rude comments to female wrestlers and it pisses me off. How about showing a little respect because at the end of the day, yes, pro wrestling is a man's world but to paraphrase James Brown, it would be nothing... nothing, without a woman or a girl.