In recent years the women’s revolution in WWE has gone from strength to strength as it continues to evolve from the days of playboy models and bathroom break matches. Now the ladies of WWE have stood up to be counted under scrutiny and have shown they are more than up to the task by putting on quality matches and pushing merchandise. With the #SpeakingOut movement companies are under the microscope more than ever as to how they treat and protect their rosters, especially their female talent.
Now while WWE has a somewhat sketchy past in their treatment of women, in recent years they appear to have towed the line on this one. This will be due to realizing the value a healthy women’s division can bring through their ability to expand into the reality TV market with the likes of The Bellas while also bringing in talent from overseas to improve local markets. As a result of this, they now have a record number of women on their books, while this is all positive it is about to bring about some new challenges for WWE that they have not faced before. This is where we need to look at Phase Two of the women’s revolution.
The challenge is brought forward by old father time himself.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that as people, we get older. If that’s news to you then I can only apologize I’m the one breaking it to you. Wrestlers are not immune to the aging process, so why is this a specific issue to the women’s division?
Twenty Years Of Evidence
To do this, dig out the history books. Going back over every woman that has been in the main roster of the WWE in last 20 years. The average age at which they finish up as a full-time wrestler is just 30 years old*.
While women leaving the industry at a young age is not a new concept, arguably the biggest womens promotion of all time AJW forced their female grapplers to retire at the age of just 25 to find a “normal career”. This was their policy until the mid 90’s when rival companies began forming and bringing the women out of retirement to work for them in direct competition with AJW.
However the figures for WWE are from the year 2000 onward. Now the gut reaction here is to use the “washouts” as an excuse. The ones that never made it or weren’t good enough, but look at some brief examples.
Lita was done and dusted at 31 years old, Trish Stratus at 30, Beth Phoenix at 31 and Torrie Wilson at 32. What do they have in common? Hey! They are all Hall of Famers!
Sure, there are some exceptions, in the early days of expanding into a women’s roster there were the likes of Ivory and Jackie. They are in the very rare club of women who have been used past the age of 40 as full-time superstars. The only other member being current superstar Tamina who is 42. In the interest of transparency, Moolah and Mae Young were left out from the sample as neither could have been considered a full-time part of the roster in the early 2000’s and let’s face it, what WWE did with them is straight-up abuse of the elderly and is simply uncomfortable to think about.
Now the next part, WWE rarely puts a singles title on a woman over the age of 35. It seems crazy but with the exception of current champion Asuka go back to a brief Natalya title reign as Smackdown Womens Champion in 2017 when she had just turned 35. Prior to that, go back to 2012 where Layla turned 35 while holding the Divas title, then finally all the way back to October 2000 where a 39-year-old Ivory had her final title run. This makes Asuka the oldest women’s singles champion in nearly 20 years at the age of 38.
Where Does This Leave The Current Roster?
More than ever the future is crossing paths with the past. Things that work in NXT and things that work in the main roster aren’t always the same, that goes for both male and female locker rooms. Dave Meltzer from WON recently stated that Vince McMahon isn’t all that keen on Shayna Baszler who was put up to the main roster on the back of a monumental push. One of the things on his radar is almost certainly her age, at 39 years old she is one of the oldest women on the books and possibly not regarded as someone he can build a division around.
This may just be Vince being Vince trying to stick to the way he has always done things, but with the likes of Mercedes Martinez signing on to NXT at the age of 39, it looks like some within the company see the value of bringing in experienced female wrestlers. Mercedes is a well respected 15-year veteran of the squared circle and in 2011 was ranked second in the PWI Top 50 females for that year behind only fellow SHIMMER alumni Madison Eagles.
While there are a lot of positives to take from the likes of Baszler, Asuka, and Martinez being utilized by WWE the real test will come with their most prized assets in the women’s division, The Four Horsewoman.
So What Issues Does This Present?
With Becky Lynch taking time away to start a family at 33 she may be unlikely to get back in the ring for at least a year or maybe even two. Even then the chances of that being on a full-time basis or at the level she had been utilized are slim. Generally, at the stage female talent take time off to have kids they are only brought back in a reduced capacity and they have a lot of talent on the main roster approaching that juncture in their lives.
There are of course more factors than pregnancy, injuries and surgeries are something pretty much all wrestlers need to contend with. Recently Charlotte has announced she will also be taking time away due to an issue with her implants as a corrective operation is required. This came about as a silicon leak was discovered in 2018 and she took the path with the fastest recovery timescale to minimize any time away from the ring, as a result, the issue has not been fully fixed it now needs further intervention. At 34, Charlotte is the oldest of the four cornerstones and will no doubt be desperate to get back in the ring. She will be hoping it gets fully repaired this time and she can take the time needed to recover without rushing back to action too soon.
With Bayley (31), Nia (36), Lana (35), Naomi (32) and Carmella (32) all now at the stage where many of their predecessors either made the choice to step back and get out while they were young or were simply moved down the roster in place of younger talent. The next few years will be interesting to see how the woman’s roster is managed and if they can continue to blend experience and youth while allowing legacies to be built.
On the other side of the coin, many men’s careers don’t start their big push in WWE until they are in their early thirties. Austin 3:16 was born in 1996 when Stone Cold was 32, Bret Hart didn’t get his big singles push until he was 34, Mick Foley didn’t make his WWE debut until he was 31. The list goes on, but it’s not just a late start they benefit from, the men are also wrestling for considerably longer with 18 members of the current roster over the age of 40 compared to one female member, the scarcely utilized Tamina.
Where Will WWE Go From Here And What Will The Next Phase Look Like?
Will WWE continue with their existing formula and move on from the women they have in their mid-thirties seeking to promote further young talents such as Rhea Ripley, Tegan Nox, and Toni Storm? Or will we see some of the women in the roster stay for the long haul and have another ten years or more of Charlotte, Lynch, and Banks?
Some could definitely still be going strong into their forties, Asuka is an unknown quantity if she is there for the long haul or if she is part of WWE demographic matchmaking process as they are always wanting to ensure they have strong Asian and Mexican superstars. It may be that she makes way for Io Shirai or Kairi Sane, who are both in their early thirties, in the coming years as it would be unlikely WWE would want all three on the main roster taking up a similar “spot”.
When it comes to demographics it is not outwith the realm of possibility that Baszler and Martinez, who are both openly part of the LGBTQ community, are being utilized as showpieces of diversity while trying to appeal to wider targets than just nationalities. With 25-year-old NXT prospect Tegan Nox recently revealing she is in a same-sex relationship and 26-year-old Smackdown starlet Sonya Deville also being openly gay, this may be succession planning that WWE has put in place to secure longevity with the LGBTQ audience. Fortunately, the four women have more than enough ability that wider audiences will appreciate them for what they can do in the ring and not just the box they tick.
While that all sounds fairly sinister, it’s just the way of the modern world for all workplaces to ensure they have a diverse workforce in terms of gender, race, religion, and sexuality. This is especially important where the public buy-in is involved as every company in the entertainment industry wants to appeal to as many markets as possible. This includes supporting veterans, reading to kids, visiting hospitals, feeding the homeless, wearing the local team jersey, or making the ring ropes pink. It’s all nice things to do, but it’s all just part of the game.
Obviously not everyone will want to stay as well. Some will feel their time comes naturally, much like Stratus and Lita may decide to get out and explore other opportunities or start families while they are young enough to enjoy it and before their bodies rack up too many miles. However some might not feel that call, some may want to forge an unforgettable legacy that goes beyond all those who came before.
The important thing is that WWE does right by them. The women’s revolution started by giving them the opportunity to get in the door and show what they can do. It is imperative now that as they are an integral part of the company’s infrastructure and identity that they continue to be looked after in the correct manner into the next phase of their careers.
What’s your take? Leave a comment below
*Average of 52 female wrestlers considered as full-time roster members no longer with the company active between 2000 and 2020.
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