Views from the turnbuckle: Can WWE Expand beyond the four horsewomen?

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff

In 2013-2014, Bayley, Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Sasha Banks helped redefine women's wrestling in WWE and in a way shaped the perception of women's wrestling across the industry. Many other individuals will claim credit for this trend and some of them certainly deserve recognition, but historically fans will remember those four women, the Four Horsewomen, as the group that changed women's wrestling in WWE.

The movement started in NXT and the foursome made it to the main roster in 2015, with three of them debuting in a ham-fisted segment featuring Stephanie McMahon placing each woman in a group like a gym teacher picking teams for kickball. While that wasn't the best way to debut the women, the group was able to overcome those obstacles and in time cemented their status as the top women in the company, and among the biggest stars in WWE regardless of gender.

Ever since then the women's division on both RAW and SmackDown has been effectively dominated by the four women. There have been moments where other people have broken into the picture; Paige likely would have been a fixture but had a career-ending injury; Ronda Rousey was a celebrity who was pushed ahead of everyone but had a short career; Asuka and Alexa Bliss at times were presented as equals but were eventually pushed down the card. The horsewomen have shown remarkable durability and longevity in a WWE women's division that historically has been a constant whirlwind of comings and goings.

This all happened because all four women were extraordinarily talented and deserving of their positions. Charlotte had the look WWE officials craved and was the best natural athlete of the four; Lynch would prove in time to be the most charismatic, Banks the most versatile and Bayley arguably the best all-around performer. From WWE's perspective, it has been a massive success. The women have set new standards for popularity for female performers in WWE and the company has booked them all to be presented as big, important stars.

Over that same time period, WWE has had the opportunity to expand that pool beyond just the four women, and while some wrestlers have managed to win the women's title or main event a big show, it's clear that six years after they debuted, the division still revolves completely around the same four wrestlers.

Bianca Belair is a perfect example; someone with potential that began to get over with fans and was given clear, big victories on her way to winning the women's title at WrestleMania. At that point it seemed like she was made and had punched through the barrier into the elite class of female performers occupied solely by the horsewomen.

However, since her original victory at WrestleMania over Sasha Banks, Belair has been pushed back down the card. She lost the title to Lynch at SummerSlam in humiliating fashion, and since then has consistently been beaten while the horsewomen were protected. Belair has since been phased away from the title picture, in favor of a storyline that involves Charlotte, Lynch and Banks.

Belair isn't being buried, but WWE has been hammering home the message to fans that while Belair is popular, she isn't the same kind of star as the other women. The other women are big, big stars and Belair is someone who happened to get a few key wins. I have no idea if the plan is to eventually reheat Belair and have her beat one of the horsewomen; but that is something you do BEFORE you feel like you have made someone a star, not after a big win at WrestleMania.

Belair is not the only person who has been put in his position; Rhea Ripley, Shayna Baszler and Asuka were all in positions at one time to rival the horsewomen, but were eventually all pushed down the card and established at a lower level. In the future, new women will certainly crop up and potentially be met with the same issue.

In a lot of ways this isn't really a problem for WWE. It's a big success that they have elevated four different women into a certain tier, and are protective of that tier as any promotion should be. The performers are different enough and versatile enough that any time they wrestle each other, it should be interesting for fans. I'd love it if the male side of the roster was booked as effectively; instead of elevating one current wrestler (Roman Reigns) above everybody else.

At the same time though, not only is WWE restricting the potential of some very talented performers, but they are overexposing their existing stars to an unnecessary degree. Someone like Charlotte feels extremely stale despite a relatively short pro wrestling career because she has pretty much always either been the champion or challenging for a title since arriving on the main roster in 2015.

WWE doesn't do well when it comes to booking women's feuds outside of the main event picture. As evidenced by the blink-and-you-missed-it nature of the Queen of the Ring tournament, if you are not either the women's champion or challenging for the title, getting ample TV time can be difficult. Since WWE has dedicated so much time to getting these four women over, they are pretty much always going to be involved in the title picture. There is no effective midcard for women in WWE, so the very top stars end up getting staler at a faster rate than their male counterparts.

In a lot of ways the booking of the four horsewomen in WWE is similar to how WWE handles it's part-time stars on the male side of the roster. Whether it is John Cena, Brock Lesnar or Bill Goldberg, the male part-timers are always protected and presented as gigantic stars, often at a level clearly above the regular full-time talent. Sure, one of the regular wrestlers might beat one of them in a key moment, but much like Belair dethroning Banks at WrestleMania, that win can be nullified by further booking that knocks them down the pecking order, behind the part-time stars.

The Four Horsewomen have reshaped the image of women's wrestling in WWE and given it tremendous credibility and appeal that it lacked before their arrival. It's probably the most significant in-ring development in WWE over the past ten years. But WWE also runs the risk of having overexposed the group and may be in a pickle on how to expand that group to new names as the established women get older.

If WWE truly believes in Belair; she shouldn't be losing all of these matches. She should be running through all of the established names, the same way Reigns ran through Lesnar, Undertaker, Triple H and John Cena.With each loss, Belair gets further and further entrenched as someone below the elite class of women in WWE, and once that happens it's hard to put the genie back in the bottle.

If WWE wants to continue to be thought of as a trendsetter in women's wrestling, they need to expand their horizons when it comes to increasing the amount of true, top performers in that division. If not, the company could find itself at a loss as talented performers are handicapped by the glass ceiling and the established top stars age out and retire.

In the latest episode of the Gentlemen's Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@Jesse Collings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) discuss New Japan Pro Wrestling following the stunning conclusion of the G1 Climax. The guys talk about the return of Katsuyori Shibata, Kota Ibushi's injury, Kazuchika Okada's tournament win, the rise of Jeff Cobb and Zack Sabre Jr. and wrap things up talking about New Japan Strong.

Comments