Not so long ago, a rumour doing the rounds suggested that WWE was planning to bring in Ronda Rousey to work towards a singles match at WrestleMania. I wrote that this was a bad idea, because there is no way to run that match that doesn’t make WWE’s home-grown talent look pathetic on a worldwide stage.
There was also talk that this might be part of a wider angle, bringing the Four Horsewomen of MMA into WWE to run a match against wrestling’s own Four Horsewomen. I thought this might be slightly better, since it would at least give some of the shine to Shayna Baszler, who might use the rub she got from the match in a way that actually benefits pro wrestling. But even so, it wasn’t a great idea.
Now we’ve all seen the challenge at the Mae Young Classic heats, we know this is exactly where WWE is headed. The fact that Ronda and Charlotte are positioned facing each other, clearly the leaders of their respective groups, suggests that they may use the four-on-four match en route to a singles match.
All of this is, well… a really fucking bad idea.
The Fed has gone to the effort and expense of putting together a 32-woman tournament that showcases some of the best female performers in the world. Several of the women who performed there have already been signed, and it seems obvious that some of them will find their way into NXT of the back of their showings here.
Admittedly, the Cruiserweight Classic didn’t exactly lead to the bright new dawn of cruiserweight wrestling we’d all hoped for, but WWE now boasts the absolute crème de la crème in that talent pool on the back of its efforts. Yes, it has sanitised and WWE-ified their styles and killed their appeal in many ways, but it has at least tried to use the CWC as the starting point for featured talent.
The Mae Young Classic, despite having the likes of Abbey Laith and Rhea Ripley to use, is being appropriated to put over non-wrestlers. Baszler is absolutely a promising prospect for WWE, and I have no objection to her winning (unless she cheats to beat my girl Kairi). But even she is being used as a route to Rousey, and I actually feel for her in that regard. She has earned her place, and she deserves her own spotlight.
Equally, so do all of the women who have finally made it to a WWE ring, given it their all throughout the tournament, and been turned into a sideshow act while Rousey and co. square up to performers who are already established in WWE. If I were Nicole Savoy, for example, I’d be pissed that the one thing everyone remembered about the tournament wasn’t to do with the actual tournament.
As well as doing the women of the Mae Young Classic a disservice, the Horsewomen vs Horsewomen angle is probably quite bad for Raw and Smackdown. I don’t doubt they’ll pop some ratings and they’ll probably get some main event slots, but so did Charlotte and Sasha Banks when they carried Raw on their backs last autumn. Any positive impact the angle has on business will be attributed to the MMA fighters, and not to the women who will have to carry the match and stay out of their respective title pictures throughout the feud.
Once the Horsewomen of MMA have upped and left, what’s next for their opponents? I guarantee the next all-female main event won’t come too quickly. In the meantime, pulling focus onto the Horsewomen angle will take it away from the championship scenes. We know that women already get far less screen time than men on both the weekday shows, and it’s highly likely that for months, the most prominent storyline in either women’s division will pit pro wrestling against MMA – at the expense of the wrestlers involved, and pro wrestling as a whole. For the duration of this feud, female wrestlers having matches against female wrestlers is going to be an afterthought. Where does that leave women’s wrestling when it’s over?
If you think it will be an easy story to tell, you’re going to be disappointed. Even the Horsewomen’s crossover appeal is fairly limited. To the public at large, the Horsewomen are Ronda Rousey and three of her friends. To wrestling fans, they’re Ronda Rousey, her wrestling friend Shayna Baszler who’s really good, Roderick Strong’s fiancée and oh, so that’s who Jessamyn Duke is. To MMA fans, they’re Ronda Rousey, who is less of a draw than she used to be, Shayna Baszler, who is good but never got the platform she needed to break out; Marina Shafir, who has won one of her three pro fights; and Jessamyn Duke, who hasn’t had a match in over a year and lost her last five.
That means that four of the best-loved and best-known women in WWE are not going to be elevated by the star power of four other women. They’re actually going to have to get at least two of them over, probably carry them through a match, and then lose to their team.
Does nobody remember Antonio Inoki putting shoot fighters over his wrestlers in Japan, and how terrible it was? It’s beside the point whether the match will be good. It’s the circus that comes with it that will make or break the angle. The single biggest problem is that the Horsewomen of MMA are not going to lose, because god knows wins and losses matter to them. If Charlotte, Sasha, Bayley and Becky Lynch are standing tall at the end, this might just change my mind – but even then, if the whole match is also a setup for Rousey vs Flair, doesn’t everybody else in the match look like an afterthought?
The only winners are the MMA Horsewomen, and probably the shareholders when they see the pay-per-view buy rate. For the women of WWE, I think it’s a retrograde step.