The Magnificent Seven 1.23.14: 7 Ways to Make the Divas Division Relevant
Posted by Mike Chin on 01.23.2014
From revisiting lesbian love angles to the return of past stars, 411's Mike Chin takes a look at how WWE can revitalize the Diva's division.
Women's wrestling has a less than stellar record in mainstream US wrestling, and that's particularly true in WWE. There are many issues at play, including the competing priorities of WWE's insistence on making women's wrestling focus on T&A and the company's all but contradictory focus on PG programming. Between talent signings, creative decisions, and the actual performances of the women under contract, the women's division is at a painfully low point. Thus, this column suggests
Seven Ways to Make the Divas Division Relevant
#7. Integrate with the Men
I'd argue that the greatest untapped resource in promoting the women's division are the men, themselves, who make up the largest proportion of the roster. Think of the women who have been most over in WWE history post-Fabulous Moolah, and more often than not you'll find that they at least rose to prominence, and often stayed connected to players in the men's division. That includes Miss Elizabeth hanging with Randy Savage, Sunny making her way through the tag team ranks, Sable's drama with Marc Mero, Trish Stratus with T&A, or Lita as part of Team Extreme and later standing alongside Edge.
US wrestling fans are used to focusing on men's wrestling over women's wrestling, so what better way to lure their attention than to make them care about female performers through their consistent involvement in men's storylines? The added bonus here is that having a face girlfriend can help distinguish a midcard guy without a direction by giving him someone to fight for or defend (somebody please hook up Kofi Kingston), and a heel female manager can be a real heat magnet (see Sensational Sherrie or Vickie Guerrero).
Once the fans care, there's so much more room for the women to have their own storylines, a la what happened for Stratus and the rest of their cohort in the last female boom period in WWE.
#6. Turn AJ Lee Face
The initial shock of AJ Lee's heel turn, knocking John Cena off a ladder, provided a fun, legitimately surprising moment. Moreover, the woman is getting fair enough heat for her crazy gimmick. The trouble is that wrestling fans—and particularly wrestling fans who care at all about female wrestling--like Lee and want to cheer her on (if you need evidence, just check out the 411mania Awards. I don't think there's a particularly compelling argument that Lee works better than a heel than she does as a face. If anything, her small size and flurries of offense scream underdog hero.
More than anything, the Divas division will benefit from stars the fans legitimately care about, working in the roles that will make fans care about them the most. Lee rose to relevance as Daniel Bryan's maligned on-air girlfriend (yes the crazy GM bit and interactions with CM Punk and John Cena helped, too), and it's that fan-friendly version of Lee that will do the greatest service to WWE.
#5. Develop a Corps of Good Workers
With Sara Del Rey on the payroll to help train female wrestlers in developmental, there are signs of hope, but the bottom line is that women's wrestling can't thrive in WWE without good female wrestlers. There are a number of good female performers working the indies and working abroad and it's high time WWE bring in a sampling, if not to replace the models-turned-wrestlers status quo, then at least to augment it with even two or three more good hands at the level of someone like Natalya to pull up the overall match quality to consistently watchable.
#4. Revisit the Kharma Storyline
Kharma was supposed to be the next big thing in women's wrestling in the WWE—introduced via the compelling video packages this side of the Wyatts, and squashing woman and after woman in what seemed to be a path of destruction that would culminate in her *literally* ripping off Kelly Kelly's head. As we all know, Kia Stevens got pregnant at the least opportune time, derailing the push of a lifetime, then tragically lost the child, and somewhere in the mix parted ways with WWE.
While I don't mean to diminish the importance of the real-life rollercoaster in Kharma's life, here I'd like to focus on the storyline that consequently evaporated. With the debut of Kharma, WWE had fans actively watching and speculating about the Diva's division. That's exactly the sort of organic energy the division needs in order to thrive. No, not just anyone will succeed with the Kharma push—you can't very well have Brie Bella going all Big Van Vader on everyone. That said, there are talents out there who can make this, or similar gimmicks work and I'd to see WWE give it another whirl.
#3. Start Another Lesbian Storyline
I'm being reductive here, but the core of the last great women's match at Wrestlemania was all about Mickie James lusting after Trish Stratus, followed by two good female workers executing a stellar in-ring climax. A similar storyline worked to introduce Tori as Sable's obsessed fan years earlier, albeit with the face-heel roles reversed..
I get that PG-era WWE doesn't want to go too edgy, but I don't think I'm being too presumptuous in saying that the average wrestling fan gets his drool on at the prospect of a lesbian storyline, and WWE wouldn't need to actually do or show a lot to get fans invested in such an angle. Moreover love stories take advantage of the sort of vulnerability, sensitivity, and distinctively feminine energy that most male performers simply can't replicate. It's time to make use of the unique advantages inherent to female performers in wrestling.
Call up NXT's Paige as an obsessed AJ Lee fan? We could have the most talked about women's angle since James first arrived.
#2. Develop a Badass Focal Point
This point is much easier said than done, but we have seen it happen. Whether it was Kharma, poised to run roughshod over the entire the Diva's division; Chyna dominating during her post-inter-gender competition run, feuding with Ivory; or even Madusa as Alundra Blayze, a female star who was also a legit ass kicker—WWE has had success when one stand-alone star is a provocative draw. The phenomenon isn't unique to wrestling, either, considering the success of women like Ronda Rousey, Cristiane Justino, or Gina Carano before them in MMA. The common thread is clear, and the alpha-female gimmick won't work for just anyone. Putting it in the hands of the right talent, however, could refocus the diva's division and make it worthy of more attention.
#1. Bring Back Veterans
Each year at Wrestlemania, we see rare performances from guys like The Rock, Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, and Triple H, in addition to the swirls of rumors for comebacks by guys like Steve Austin and Hulk Hogan. As a steady wrestling fan, I enjoy the nostalgia factor, but more importantly, these familiar names bring back fans who don't watch regularly. Similarly, independent promotions will bring in stars of yesteryear for short matches, guest referee spots, or even just for autograph signings before the show to lure in fans who otherwise wouldn't give their promotions the time of day.
Granted, the old talents must agree to play ball, but I'd argue that more regular appearances by major names like Stratus, Lita, or James, or even secondary level stars like Victoria, Jazz, Molly Holly, Maria Kanellis, or Christy Hemme could do a lot to draw fans into giving the Divas division a look, and thus giving newer talents a chance to blossom. One of the key problems of the current roster is that there are basically no names from brighter days, making women like the Bellas the most tenured, recognizable performers in the division. Mixing old and new talents promotes a different brand of attention from the audience, in addition to the very real benefit of more experienced hands sharing their wisdom with rookies for the long-term betterment of the product.
So those are my seven ideas to make the Divas division relevant. What are yours? Let me know in the comments. See you in seven.
Read stories and miscellaneous criticism from Mike Chin at his website and his thoughts on a cappella music at The A Cappella Blog.