A One-Dimensional Evolution
The prospect pf WWE’s first all-women’s pay-per-view event, Oct. 28’s WWE Evolution, is exciting. The announcement, on the other hand, was patronizing.
The July 23 edition of Monday Night Raw opened with Vince McMahon in the center of the ring, addressing the entire Raw roster that crammed the stage at the top of the entrance ramp. Vince quickly invited Triple H and Stephanie McMahon to join him in the ring, where Triple H delivered a novella-worthy performance, asking the female wrestlers to step forward so he could congratulate them on the hard-earned strides they’ve made thus far in their division (with a tear in his eye, of course). Stephanie then relieved her visibly upset husband, reminded us of #GiveDivasaChance (yep, we’ve got it), and formally introduced WWE Evolution.
The Evolution announcement follows a pattern. It was just as congratulatory and sanctimonious as the Women’s Money in the Bank, Royal Rumble and WrestleMania Battle Royal announcements that proceeded it. As in those moments, the female WWE wrestlers smiled, turned to one another, and hugged. Some cried. We groaned.
It’s not that we don’t enjoy stuff like this. We do. These peeks behind the curtain are why we devour WWE Network exclusives, like WWE24 and WWE’s Original Specials. But that’s where these moments should live – not on the main stage. Not in front of all of us. Not again.
While it’s arguably fine for a wrestler to abandon their character at the right time in favor of real-life, fourth-wall-breaking moments, the WWE’s female main roster has made it their trademark. It seems obvious who is behind this unfortunate edict.
Clearly, Triple H was instrumental in catapulting the female division to the prominence that it currently enjoys; first in NXT, now on WWE’s main roster. Nonetheless, it seems he’s also played a key role in encouraging WWE’s women to shirk character in big moments.
One of the behind-the-curtain WWE Network Original Specials that I most enjoyed was September 2015’s NXT All Star Panel, where Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Sasha Banks, and Triple H discussed the phenomenon of NXT in a panel moderated by Corey Graves.
There’s no question that Sasha Banks’s character was strongest and most-defined in NXT. This is where the Boss was at her most ruthless. She stole Bayley Superfan Izzy’s headband and made her cry. She brutally stomped on Bayley’s fingers to prevent her from reaching the ropes and breaking Sasha’s locked-in submission (there were no resulting anger management classes). Sasha was an undeniable star.
When the conversation at the NXT All Star Panel turned to Sasha Banks, the group discussed her first NXT Women’s Championship Victory. Sasha recalled brushing off the referee, grabbing the belt, holding it up above her head, and taunting the crowd. The moment was magic, and the character was solidified.
But Triple H says this isn’t what he wanted from the Boss. Hunter wanted Sasha to breathe: He wanted her to soak in the moment and let the real emotions to shine through.
This, right here, is the break. The memorable moments that Triple H’s (and, by proxy, Stephanie McMahon’s) women’s divisions are trying to make are not the moments that a blossoming division need. We need defined, developed characters to care about instead of a homogenized team of rivals with a harmonious meta-objective.
Think of the first WWE UK Tournament or Mae Young Classic. WWE utilized dissension, making relative stars out of Pete Dunn and Shayna Baszler by showcasing their aggression and lack of respect. Look further back and recall Vince McMahon, crying out, “You ruined it, damnit!” at a restrained “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, after he crashed the announcement of Mike Tyson’s WrestleMania XIV involvement. These were moments that were utilized to evolve characters, not just WWE’s public image.
We get it, WWE. You want to make these historic announcements apart from storyline, so they can stand independently for years and decades to come. Of course, if that’s the argument, you’ve got the James Ellsworth problem to contend with – the fact that you allowed a man to climb the ladder and retrieve the briefcase in the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match. All we’re asking is that you utilize one of your dwindling historic moments to allow one of your female wrestlers to do the same thing.
WWE, you’ve taken plenty of extraordinary moments, moments that could have been electric and invigorating for your women’s division and turned them into condescending exercises that fell relatively flat. You’ve been there and done that. It’s time to evolve.
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