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Rise of the Phoenix

by Darnell Mitchell (@Dnellicious)

Hello readers of Pro Wrestling Iowa, it’s your neighborhood (1,100 miles isn’t that far honestly) friendly fashionista Darnell Mitchell. Now, let me preface this with some pertinent information that will become quite clear in the next couple of paragraphs. I don’t have even a quarter of the writing talent of my fellow peers Luke Raven, Kevin Wilder (my favorite), Victor Parenza, Don Carpenter and the one person who rivals my spectacular and humble fashion taste, the one and only bow-tie wearing Alex McCarthy. However, as I sit here laying, wearing my ‘Wrestling is Art’ t-shirt, watching the WWE network, available for $9.99 if you didn’t know, I felt inclined to speak my mind about something that will happen in 2017 that brings an intense joy to my heart. No, I’m not talking about the new Power Rangers movie, I’m talking about the current and future state of Women’s Wrestling.

That phrase has always been a bit jarring for me personally, women’s wrestling. As if women’s wrestling is any different than wrestling in general, but the distinction for me means a lot more than it did in the past. There needs to be a separation, because without that separation of the title, one doesn’t truly understand the importance of women in this still predominately men dominated sport. Before we can talk about the Sara Del Rey’s and the Io Shirai’s, we have to go back, and by back I mean way back. Women in wrestling has seen it’s ups and downs, from being displayed as nothing more than eye candy, to it’s humble beginnings in the late 1800s. While women were reported to be very much so a part of Olympic wrestling in it’s beginnings, women began participating more often in strongman (or strongwomen if you will) contests in the 1870s, even becoming a mainstay in boxing with the help and recognition from The National Police Gazette, an American magazine founded in 1845. The magazine, while primarily catering to men’s lifestyle needs, women pinups and the like, had a niche audience that focused on bodybuilding competition, boxing and Guinness World Record competitions. While one was twirling through the pages, you would eventually come across a relatively unknown lady named Josie Wahlford, a strongwomen competitor who was frequently highlighted in the magazine, and unknowingly to many, is recognized as the first professional wrestling women’s champion. It’s a bit surprising, that despite the over-sexualized view of women in this magazine, and the reliance on clips and adverts for prostitution, women were in some small fashion treated as equivalents to men when it came to the ‘carny’ sport of professional wrestling. While there were many champions in between, the women’s championship was eventually captured by WWE Hall of Famer Mildred Burke in 1937, which many recognize as the real start of the establishment of women’s professional wrestling.

Throughout the 1950s, women in wrestling, while not nearly seen as prominent as men’s wrestling, still got quite a bit of play around the world. It birthed the beginnings of women like June Byers, and The Fabulous Moolah who won the then NWA Women’s Championship in 1956 and is arguably one of the most prestigious women’s champions in wrestling history. The thought process that women seldom wrestled is a myth, wrestling as a whole was a special attraction, and the ladies were viewed as special attraction in a special attraction. Many ladies fought men, many ladies were very marketable, and with the addition of Joshi wrestling in Japan, which featured the birth and innovation of many wrestling moves many men utilize today, women’s wrestling was on an entirely different level. While the dominant WWE went back and forth with figuring out how it wanted to showcase women, it was much easier for women to find their niche in other companies. This is when women like Sensational Sherri, Aja Kong, Luna Vachon, Manami Toyota, Bull Nakano, Miss Jackie and more flourished competing many times against both genders. Then, Alundra Blayze changed everything in 1995. Now, let’s be clear, the infamous trash can situation is a tale as old as time. We all know it, we all get it, hell, you got the teapot from Beauty & The Beast singing her famous song in the corner, because we all saw what happened and remembered it clearly. This brought about the uprising of women like Sable, Marlena, Francine, Sunny, Woman (Nancy Benoit) and more in wrestling, women who for the most part could cut promos (Sable, take a seat, you weren’t good at ANYTHING), and were there to be the appetizer to the main course, and nothing more.

For me personally, speaking solely for WWE, that changed with the hiring of Ivory, a woman who gets no credit whatsoever. Ivory, bless her heart, a woman known primarily for her work in GLOW, was given the opportunity with the belt winning it from Debra. It’s always been curious to me why Ivory was hired. She was retired from wrestling for roughly 5 years, came back, and as gorgeous as she is, did not fit the idea of what the quintessential Diva would be in WWE lore. Out of nowhere, there was a division. It may of only had Tori, Miss Jackie, and Luna but baby steps. Thankfully, women had other women to look up to in some sense of the phrase, women’s who primary objective wasn’t to showcase how well her double D’s looked in the best pleather jumpsuit that Dolce & Gabanna Outlet had to offer last season (again Sable, I’m talking about you). We were eventually granted with the likes of Trish Stratus (a woman who I feel is overpraised as hell, and was a product of circumstance rather than good wrestling skills), Lita, Jazz, Molly Holly, Victoria, and Gail Kim who helped bolster the roster into what it is today.

Sure, there were ups and downs through the years, ridiculous candy looking belts, champions who could barely run the ropes (I’m looking at you Kelly Kelly), and more, but women were still being used, although sparingly in some fashion for WWE. I’m getting a little long winded I know, but eventually some resemblance of a point will be made, I promise you, I assure you. In 2015, the infamous hashtag (you’ll always be a pound sign to me) #GiveDivasAChance was made and things changed. Women from NXT were out there putting on 4-5 star matches repeatedly (can we give Paige and Emma some damn credit!), and the main roster audience was ready to see it on the grand stage. After a fumbling of sorts of figuring out what a damn revolution/evolution was, the women arguably had the best match on the card at Wrestlemania 32. Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks went out there and stole the show, and showed why women’s wrestling has been a huge part of this sport, dating back over 100 years. Now, this gets us caught up to 2017, and if you thought the flip flopping of importance for the last century was something, you’ve never seen a high that we’re about to see come this year.

Let’s talk about why women’s wrestling will rule 2017. First things first, women in combat sports is mainstream. Whether or not Ronda got her face busted, she totes did, she is one of the most recognizable women in the world. You can say whatever you want, behind the protection of your laptop in your apartment, she can still kick all of our collective asses let’s be honest. She’s still the most decorated women’s champion in UFC history with a 14-2 record. You wanna talk about mainstream, you can gripe if you want but thank you Bella Twins for being a fixture in mainstream media. Going to Teen Choice Awards, on late night shows, and having two reality television shows. The amount of women I know who have recently watched even just one episode of RAW or Smackdown because they know these women from the shows is astounding. Also, side note, can we give the Bella’s some credit, the girls have busted their asses and Nikki has always been a secret hoss in the ring. They’re not my favorite, but they do everything asked of them to the best of their abilities. Another reason why women’s wrestling will rule in 2017, is opportunities. Sure, ladies have been killing it in TNA (by ladies killing it, I don’t mean Dixie Carter almost single-handedly destroying the company), Stardom, Shine and Shimmer for years but other companies are taking note and ADDING divisions. One of the most well-known international companies Progress Wrestling (some Progress alum include Tommy End, Damo, Mandrews, Will Ospreay, Jimmy Havoc and more) have begun the process of adding their own women’s championship in 2017, which will likely be the fashionista who’s almost on my level, Jinny. We even saw this year in Midwest news, Impact Pro Wrestling have it’s first women’s triple threat match with the likes of Sierra Avery, Miss Frankie Jay and Kiandra in a fantastic match my Good Brother’s got to attend. Also AAW is showcasing the ladies of Shimmer/Shine in Chicago, and Ring Of Honor (who has had several women wrestle in the past but never a full on division) has been very vocal about their excitement for the future of their stake in the market that is women’s wrestling. There’s something for everyone to sink their teeth into.

With the inevitable women’s tournament potentially being released this May for WWE Network (seriously, it’s only $9.99) we have the possibility of seeing women perform at a rate never before seen in mainstream wrestling. As an avid watcher and fan of women’s wrestling, I cannot wait for the few fans that are still not convinced, to take their respected seat and revel in the magic of Heidi Lovelace, Evie, Nicole Matthews, Kairi Hojo (best elbow drop in the game for sure), and more. Some listeners and readers might wonder why I’m such an advocate for equality and support for women’s wrestling, and I always say it goes back to my love for comic books. Jean Grey is my favorite comic book character of all time, why? When she was created in 1963, she didn’t get to be involved in what the boys were doing, she was the side piece so to speak. As a young gay man born in the south who liked wrestling, I was always looked down upon and viewed as insignificant, because I was different and couldn’t ‘hang with the boys.’ It was very easy for me to empathize and gravitate towards her. She then became the most powerful mutant in the world. Women’s wrestling will be that in 2017. If you ever thought it was nothing but ashes before, prepare to watch women’s wrestling rise and become the powerful Phoenix that it deserves to be.

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About Dustin Smothers (187 Articles)
Dad. Nerd. Slammy Winner. #GoodBrother. Glorious Guy. Sith. Co-Owner/Creator/Producer/Host of the #ProWrestlingIowa Network of Podcasts.

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