August 22, 2015
Bayley vs Sasha Banks
The first women’s match on WWE PPV during the 2010s was a 20 second squash match between Mickie James and Michelle McCool. The match, at the 2010 Royal Rumble, was part of a storyline where McCool made fun of James’ “weight” in an angle that was in absolutely horrible taste.
The last women’s match on WWE PPV during the 2010s was a TLC match between Asuka and Kairi Sane taking on Becky Lynch and Charlotte in the main event of TLC. That pretty much sums up the growth in women’s wrestling not only in WWE, but in wrestling across the Western world. The difference between women’s wrestling in 2010 and women’s wrestling as the decade comes to a close is enormous, and arguably it has been the most important development in wrestling this decade.
It is hard to pinpoint an exact moment where women’s wrestling took off during the decade. You could say it was in 2012 when WWE hired Sara Amato to train the women in NXT, or when Paige and Emma had the match to crown the first NXT Women’s Championship, or when #GiveDivasAChance trended online in 2015, or Stephanie McMahon’s rah-rah speech that started the “Women’s Evolution.”
When I asked the question on Twitter a few weeks ago “What do you think was the most important moment in wrestling during the 2010s?” one of the most common answers was the match between Bayley and Sasha Banks at NXT TakeOver Brooklyn, which is widely regarded as being the best women’s match in WWE history, so ultimately that seems like a good spot to highlight the development in women’s wrestling this decade.
For all intents and purposes, WWE was late to the party when it came to taking women seriously. Independent wrestling promotions like Shimmer in the 2000s began pushing women’s wrestling as serious wrestling and not just a sideshow focused on sex appeal, and TNA was well ahead of WWE in how it handled its Knockouts division. By the time WWE jumped on the bandwagon, women’s MMA had already become a mainstream phenomenon and sports like women’s soccer and women’s tennis had been culturally relevant for decades.
That being said, as obnoxious as it has been for WWE to constantly market itself as an innovator revolutionizing the way people see women in sports, the fact is that they have really successfully pushed the women this decade and they have gotten over with the wrestling fans. Because of that, they have also forced other wrestling promotions, like Ring of Honor and All Elite Wrestling, to at least attempt to push their women as serious competitors, something that may not have happened without WWE’s influence.
The Bayley vs Sasha Banks match was key in that regard because it was presented as a very serious wrestling match, just like a top men’s match would be presented, and they had a tremendous, 18-minute match that completely stole the show. This was not an instance of WWE trying to push an agenda and market how progressive a company it was by having a women’s match; but rather a simple case of two talented women getting an equal opportunity to have a great match and completely delivering.
The fact that fans organically got behind women is important; WWE has tried to push many things this decade that the fans did NOT get behind, and we have all seen how that has gone. WWE’s greatest booking success this decade in a lot of ways was that most wrestling fans now take women’s wrestling as a completely serious endeavor. The main event of TLC was not some sort of PR stunt, it was completely justified given the rest of the card at TLC, that the biggest match on the show was the women’s tag team match. That was not pandering, it wasn’t to make headlines, it was just a fact that it was the biggest match on the show.
Before the start of this decade, a lot of people had the perception that the reason you couldn’t push women’s wrestling as anything serious beyond sex appeal was that fans wouldn’t be interested in watching women wrestle the way the men did. Today, that belief has been proven completely wrong and fans are much more accepting than what a lot of people gave them credit for. You could say the same about pushing smaller wrestlers, or doing more high spots, or other outdated wrestling beliefs that have been exposed in the last decade.
Looking into the next decade, it will be interesting to see how the push of women’s wrestling affects the amount of talent that is being produced. Other promotions, most notably ROH and AEW have attempted to push women’s wrestling with a similar gusto, but have struggled, mainly because the talent pool for women’s wrestling is significantly smaller than for men’s wrestling.
For men’s wrestling, there is a depth of talent where WWE can sign a bunch of top talent, but there is still plenty of top talent to buoy other promotions. With a smaller number of women wrestlers, it is more difficult to compete with the WWE monster. However, with women’s wrestling across the board getting a stronger push, in the future it is reasonable to expect that a greater percentage of wrestling students will be women, which should ultimately lead to a greater depth of talent.
Women’s wrestling has achieved a lot over the last decade; while it is unlikely that it will see the same boost over the next decade simply because it is starting in such a better place in 2020, the boom in women’s wrestling is still in its early stages and should continue to grow over the next decade. As more young female athletes come of age having watched serious women’s wrestling as children, and fans get more accustomed to women in the main event, things should only continue to go up for women in pro wrestling.
This article is the seventh in a series of articles discussing the most significant moments in wrestling over the past ten years. Make sure to check back on Tuesday for the next installment in the series
Top Moments of the 2010s