The show re-creates the world of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, the campy all-female promotion whose 1980s heyday is fictionalized in the new series starring Alison Brie. Fittingly, its subject helped start that process three decades ago.
Last weekend’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view was emblematic of the current state of women’s wrestling in WWE, both in terms of how far it’s come and how much further it still has to go. On the one hand, it featured the first-ever women’s Money in the Bank ladder match (progress!), which guarantees the winner a championship match at the time of her choosing. On the other hand, it ended when a dude named James Ellsworth ascended the ladder and dropped the briefcase down to eventual winner Carmella (¯\_(ツ)_/¯).
To be fair, Ellsworth and Carmella are heels (read: bad guys) and the match was booked this way in order to elicit a negative reaction from fans — which is exactly what it did. The optics of ending an ostensibly historic event in such a way after hyping it as a first-of-its-kind occasion are nevertheless questionable, even if things are still infinitely better now than they were a few years ago.
A number of factors played into the much-needed change. One is Ronda Rousey, who was among the most celebrated athletes on the planet (until her recent defeats); another is NXT, which functions as WWE’s minor league. Then there’s the impact of social-media outrage.
Following a joke of a 30-second tag-team match between four women on the Feb. 23, 2015, episode of “Monday Night Raw,” the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag began trending as fans voiced their frustration. It was slow-going from there, but the arrival of several new talents who easily surpassed most of their peers’ in-ring prowess — Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Paige — eventually forced WWE’s hand, with no shortage of help from AJ Lee.
Since then, there have been many firsts: Banks and Flair main-evented last year’s Hell in a Cell event, the first time two women had ever headlined a WWE PPV; a few months ago, Lynch and Alexa Bliss faced off in the first-ever women’s steel cage match. Things are hardly perfect, but most of the Women’s Division’s problems — fan favorites not getting their due, good matches leading to unsatisfying finishes — are shared by the male competitors.
Don’t give WWE too much credit, though — they’re quick enough to pat themselves on the back, and there’s no reason they couldn’t have done this earlier. The so-called “Divas Revolution” took several months to become much more than a poorly booked exercise in self-congratulation, and only lived up to the branding after they dropped the Divas moniker and debuted a championship belt that didn’t resemble a butterfly at last year’s WrestleMania.
WWE’s main roster is consistently outdone by NXT, which is geared more toward diehard fans. It’s there that Asuka, who’s held the NXT Women’s Championship for around 450 days and has yet to be pinned, consistently delivers some of the best matches in WWE. Her next title defense will be another first: a Last Woman Standing match against the anarchic Nikki Cross.
The division is sure to be further improved by the recent signing of two other Japanese competitors, Kairi Hojo and Io Shirai, who have been singled out by Dave Meltzer, pro-wrestling’s foremost reporter, as two of the best wrestlers in the world regardless of gender.
Those two were easily the standouts at a World of Stardom show this writer attended in Tokyo a few months back — Hojo’s arsenal includes the Platonic ideal of elbow drops, while Shirai remains a force to be reckoned with despite having retired her insanely dangerous-looking moonsault foot stomp. One or both of them are expected to debut in WWE’s upcoming Mae Young Classic, a round-robin tournament named for a woman who volunteered to be powerbombed through tables well into her 70s.
While binge watching “GLOW,” take comfort in the fact that Brie’s character would have an easier time of it today — even if a man would probably try climbing the ladder for her.