Forget the disheartening booking of WrestleMania 32 and its lackluster buildup. Forget that the Authority is still in power. Forget that only one title changed hands, that Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles lost. Forget all of it. Because when we look back on WrestleMania 32 a year, two years, or ten years from now, only one thing will be immortalized in wrestling history.
And it’s not Roman Reigns. It’s not The Rock or John Cena.
For years, the women of the WWE have been referred to as Divas, which by definition means, “a woman regarded as temperamental or haughty.” They’ve been booked as catty, boy crazy bitches whose motivations have more to do with stealing spotlights than stealing shows.
Their championship belt, once a standard of excellence held by the likes of Alundra Blayze, Trish Stratus, Chyna and Lita was reduced to a pink and silver butterfly belt that looked more like a toy than a title.
Their matches were woefully short, an excuse to give crowds bathroom breaks rather than entertainment. They were demeaned and sexualized. Their own title was rarely defended at WrestleMania itself. A man once won the Miss WrestleMania battle royale. I won’t even get into the bra and panty matches or bikini contests.
Less focus was put on their athleticism. The WWE chose to push them as reality television stars, spotlighting beautiful women over athletes. Gail Kim left because of this. AJ Lee’s record-breaking reign was broken by a lesser athlete, and even when she was with the WWE her character was diminished to an obsessive stalker. Paige lost her spark, and Emma and Natalya were lost in the shuffle.
But during all of this, a revolution was brewing down in NXT. Four women honed their craft down in developmental, slowly but surely changing the game.
A second-generation dynamite athlete, Charlotte’s strength and agility in the ring, coupled with an impressive match with Natalya in 2014 thrust her into the spotlight early on. A performer with an unrivaled crowd connection, the ultimate underdog Bayley rose through the ranks to become one of the best wrestlers in the world, male or female. A spitfire wrestler with an affinity for suplexes, Becky Lynch’s endless energy and technical skill earned her fast respect. A boss in every sense of the word, Sasha Banks cemented herself as the top star of NXT quickly, her aggressive style making her one of the WWE’s best heels.
While the Divas of the WWE squabbled over fame in three-minute catfights, the women of NXT rose to main event status. A Fatal Four Way in February of 2015 cemented theii place at the top of the card. In July of 2015, Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks made their shocking debuts on Monday Night RAW.
Dubbed by Stephanie McMahon as the Divas Revolution, the top nine Divas of the roster were all pinned against each other in directionless tag matches, all while Nikki Bella held the butterfly. Charlotte and Becky teamed with Paige. Sasha teamed with Naomi and Tamina, all against Alicia Fox and the Bella Twins.
The Horsewomen all drew excited reactions, but even after Charlotte won the Divas Championship, something felt off. They were not being utilized properly.
Charlotte was reduced to a bland babyface who relied on her father to draw reactions. Becky Lynch became a mere plucky sidekick. Sasha Banks was tied down in Team BAD, mysteriously out of title contention despite being undefeated in singles competition.
But change is never a linear progression of success. Not all was going wrong for the women of the WWE. At NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, Sasha Banks and Bayley put on the match of the year, coronating Bayley as the NXT Women’s Champion. At the next Takeover, they were the main event in a historic 30-minute Iron Man match.
Charlotte turned heel, finding a whole new fire within herself with her new freedom. Becky was positioned as a top babyface, her ultimate underdog status finding the perfect harmony with Charlotte’s arrogance.
Bayley, the only one of the Horsewomen to remain in NXT, elevated the championship and brought it to new heights. She brought the best out of all of her challengers: Carmella, Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax and even Eva Marie. She and Japanese sensation Asuka brought the division to a new level.
But the evolution was not complete. How could it be, when all the Horsewomen had left to aspire to was a butterfly belt and the name “Diva?”
The hints of this final evolution began to drop at the Royal Rumble, when Becky Lynch and Charlotte put on a fantastic match capped off by a triumphant return by Sasha Banks to title contention. Over the months, a Triple Threat was set up for WrestleMania, and as the Showcase of the immortals drew closer, electricity surrounded the bout.
At NXT Takeover: Dallas, Asuka defeated Bayley to win the NXT Women’s Championship in a fantastic bout that succeeded despite following Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.
And at WrestleMania, Hall of Famer Lita unveiled a new WWE Women’s Championship belt, modeled after the belt the male Superstars fight for. It’s absolutely stunning to behold, and no longer looks like a Barbie toy. It’s a legitimate title.
Even more, the WWE is dropping the term “Diva” in favor of something worthy of its athletes.
“Our female performers are world-class athletes, actors, public speakers and philanthropists. They’re role models, inspiring and empowering women and girls to be confident and strong. They dedicate themselves to WWE, achieve great success and earn the same respect as their male counterparts. Therefore, from this point forward, all of our performers – male and female – will be known as Superstars,” Stephanie McMahon announced.
Sasha, Charlotte and Becky put on the match of the night at WrestleMania 32. Soon enough, Bayley will join them. With the likes of Paige, Natalya, Emma, Naomi, Summer Rae and more behind them, these Superstars have forced everyone in the WWE to up their game, including the likes of the Bella Twins and yeah, even Eva Marie. Everyone is performing at a new level, because the Horsewomen, the trailblazers, raised the bar.
The world is changing. For years, the WWE have been far behind in regards to the treatment of its women. And while there is still a long way to go, the Four Horsewomen have made history. In NXT, on RAW and now at WrestleMania.
Just as Sasha Banks’ entrance music says, the sky’s the limit.