A story that would be funny if it wasn’t depressing: every kid has a fantasy life which puts them in the middle of whatever they love. You’re a rock star, an artist, a skater, a footballer. When I was a pre-teen wrestling fan – and I’m embarrassed typing this out – I used to imagine that I was Stephanie McMahon’s friend.
I am the first to admit that I may have been wrong in thinking Steph was the coolest person alive (after Lita, but she was too cool for me even in my head). Yet by picturing myself hanging out with the Billion Dollar Princess backstage I was dreaming myself into the wrestling industry. To me, that was the only way in. It never occurred to me that I could have been an actual wrestler – there were barely any women onscreen as it was, and the ones that did get the odd TV segment were all impossibly beautiful and thin.
Nearly two decades later, three women have just closed WrestleMania.
So many women have stepped through those ropes knowing they’d never make it to that position, not because they were lacking in talent but because they were never deemed worthy of the investment.
Imagine if WWF had treated its women’s division seriously after 1994, not pushing Alundra Blayze into the arms of WCW and building Jacqueline, Luna Vachon, and Japanese imports like Our Lord and Saviour Bull Nakano as genuine stars. Could the women’s title have main evented Mania during the otherwise miserable mid-90s? I’m sure Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart would have been thankful not to have to work together for an hour.
Imagine if Chyna had had real competition when she transitioned to wrestling women. Having held her own against men, she was expected to dominate every female performer she met despite having little experience against smaller fighters. What if women like Ivory had been built as top-level talent, so when Chyna came in there were interesting feuds for her? Is there a chance that Mania 17 could have had more than just a women’s mid-show squash match?
Go back to the mid-2000s, when the likes of Lita, Trish Stratus, Jazz, Molly Holly, Jacqueline and Ivory were all in the same place, or when Victoria and Mickie James joined the show. Imagine if WWE had gotten out of its own way and given them 15 minutes on Raw every week. Maybe Molly Holly would have been a star at WrestleMania 20, instead of having to offer to shave her head just to get on the card.
Imagine if the Glamour Girls had kept the original women’s tag team belts a little longer, then handed them over to a new generation of wrestlers. Maybe by 2006 – the year that Mickie James and Trish Stratus had their beloved Mania singles match – the women’s bouts on the card would have collectively topped 15 minutes.
We’re all used to WWE demanding a cookie every time it tries to fix a problem it created, and it’s at its most nauseating when the stories are biggest. But forget the endless whining about “history”: last night was really special, and there are young girls around the world who have proof that they can reach the very top of this industry if they want to.
The endlessly repeated phrase “women’s evolution” implies logical progression, perhaps inevitability. That the best traits are retained and improved upon over time. In fact, WWE has often actively held down its female performers and at times let its women’s division die out almost entirely. But as audiences have finally started to demand it and wrestlers have refused to take no for an answer, women have clawed their way to the top of the card where they belong.
I hope we can get back to having three storylines for three main roster women’s titles soon. One of them should be around Asuka’s waist and there is a lot of work to do to rebuild all the women who were bumped into a pre-show battle royal. But there’s time for that tomorrow. Today I want to celebrate the young girls who see people like them being cheered by thousands and dream of sharing that spotlight.
Just as well. Steph’s not as cool as she used to be.