The WWE’s Cathy Kelley hosted a session at SXSW discussing the evolution of Women’s wrestling in the WWE and beyond. The guest included WWE Superstar Charlottle Flair, EVP of Talent, Live Events and Creative Paul “Triple H” Levesque and Chief Brand Officer Stephaine McMahon.
They were on hand to talk about the rise of the Diva division that has blossomed into something truly special over the last couple of years. It all started with grit and determination that asked one simple, yet obvious question. Why aren’t the women getting more opportunities when they are putting in the hard work – just like their male counterparts.
“Women starting getting more reps and they started to steal the show. In particular Charlotte Flair tore down the house.” said Stephaine McMahon.“Fans started chanting ‘this is wrestling!’ and #GiveDivasAChance started trending.”
That message was heard loud and clear by Vince McMahon and it gave birth to a whole new era of women empowerment in the WWE. WWE Diva legend, Lita, unveiled the new Championship Belt and it sparked something special.
“The goal was the change the perception of women in the WWE.”Charlotte said. “The women would sit in the back in meeting called skull sessions to watch matches that were lasting 30 seconds and it just didn’t seem right. During the NXT we were main eventing matches but at the next level it wasn’t happening.”
When Charlotte debuted she said she wanted to be looked at as an equal and make a difference. “This isn’t just a good match for a woman, this is a good match.” That momentum grew and led to things like Hell in a Cell and possibly main eventing Wrestlemania as a headliner.
“It is a collectively effort of not just one person but everyone in the locker room.” In a male dominated world this was and continues to be a huge leap. To give you an idea of just how much the WWE women superstars have exploded lately, 6 of the top 10 most popular female athletes are WWE Superstars.
So how did this change occur? Hard work and determination? Yes. But, it was Paul Levesque that might have had the biggest role behind the scenes to jump start a movement in the sport. When he took over as EVP of Talent he brought in a women’s trainer. Seems small but it was lacking before then. He would observe practice sessions and ask questions as to why some women were not allowed to perform certain moves in the ring. When he found it because it was detrimental to the male wrestlers because the women (Michelle McCool for example) would sometimes throw a punch better than them he put a stop to it. Because in his mind, wrestling is wrestling.
The world around us was changing and Paul saw that. “Women could be more stronger and powerful they just needed the platform to do it. Once we gave them that opportunity they started to kill it. You can make anything you want. Take advantage of the opportunity and we can make the future whatever you want it to be because you earned it. We didn’t make them [women] the main event, they did that.”
When asked what he looks for in a women’s champion Paul replied, “Same thing we look for in the guys. Not sure why anyone would look at it any differently. Character, personality, charisma and in today’s world the human being that will present themselves right, with the right mind set and succeed in their life in other ways. Emerging leaders, not just athletes.”
As Paul said, this isn’t just a movement happening in wrestling. It is a societal change and one that doesn’t come easy. Just 6 years ago Charlotte Flair was wrestling in warehouses with 7 people in the stands week after week. Now she can look out into the sea of WWE fans at an event and see little girls wearing her gear.
That’s a pretty cool shift. It shows they can be a positive role model – and that is just as important of a job to them out of the ring. Many of them do charity work on their own and it becomes a very fulfilling experience as well as a break from the grind of their wrestling career.
Stephaine McMahon said the Women’s Evolution has shifted the demographics of the WWE as well – 40% of the WWE audience now skews female. Only 5% of all promotional time on sports networks are for women’s sports. But the WWE has invested in not only their companies future but aspiring little girls everywhere that are shown they can be powerful too if they put the work in and never give up on their dreams.