2016 has been a huge year for Women’s wrestling in WWE. Women have main-evented pay-per-views, fought inside Hell in a Cells and this weekend will compete in an iron man match. It’s a glorious time to be a fan, no matter which brand you watch. Yet increasingly I find myself curious to the idea of WWE revisiting intergender matches. I’ve seen it discussed on social media, typically getting shot down by fans who probably the last time WWE flirted with the idea. Yet as WWE audiences become more accustomed to higher quality women matches, and more and more technically sound women join the roster – could there be any space in modern WWE for a woman to feasibly capture a male Championship again?
Intergender matches feature in modern WWE, but there’s very much a dividing wall. Women fight women, men fight the men. Story lines allow for interaction but when things get physical – it’s almost always women attacking the men. There’s plenty of logic to why this is – mainly because WWE’s sponsors would frown heavily if the product had 300 pound men wailing on women to the cheers of thousands in attendance. Given the corporate sense that WWE possesses these days, it’s not an unfair position on their part.
Yet in the past the company has experimented with the idea. Former WWF Women’s Champion Chyna famously captured the WWF Intercontinental Championship in late 1999 – becoming the first women to hold a male specific Championship. Yet before this Chyna was also once the number one contender for to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s WWF Championship – defeating her on-screen boyfriend Triple H and Mankind (with assistance from Austin) to claim that mantle. She never got that Championship match – but it laid the groundwork for her success in late-1999.
Since then the idea of women entering male Championship pictures has been tackled only a few times. Most impressively, Jacqueline defeated Chavo Guerrero in 2003 to win the WWF Cruiserweight Championship on an episode of Smackdown. Elsewhere the likes of Beth Phoenix and Kharma have featured in the annual Royal Rumble match – more out of novelty but usually managing to bag at least one elimination for the road. Beyond this though, the modern WWE product has very much kept the genders apart when it comes to Championships and matches.
Those groans you hear aren’t unjustified either. Part of the reason many hardcore fans didn’t enjoy Chyna’s various stints as the Intercontinental Champion was because her matches were lumbering and slow. Chyna, for all her physical prowess, was never a truly great worker in the ring and this only became more prevalent when she stepped up to compete against men. Sure the matches weren’t awful, but I dare anyone to name a classic of which she was apart of. She may have shattered the glass ceiling, but her lack of ability may also have salted the earth that came later.
It also doesn’t help that fans have been conditioned to look down on these kind of matches. Usually women end in the ring against men as a punishment or as a damsel in distress situation to lure out a male Superstar. Up to around 2009 WWE occasionally allowed men and women to fight in the ring – but this has all but disappeared from the product. Heck, try hitting a women in any modern WWE game as a man and it’s an instant DQ – even if she’s not part of the match. It’s a clear message, WWE doesn’t want that in its product.
Look across at Lucha Underground however and its a different story. Ivelisse became the first luchadora to receive a shot at the Lucha Underground Championship—something that hasn’t been seen in any promotion in the United States. There were mixed responses from fans, but the reality is that Lucha took a shot with it and managed to beat WWE to punch. In a year where WWE’s made huge strides, a competitor managed to outflank it completely and catch the big headline.
The problem at this stage then isn’t so much “should” women be allowed to jump across the divide as “is it best for business”? Take Sasha Banks for example. She’s insanely popular right now yet she finds herself already at the apex of a division that has no real depth. Women chase the WWE Women’s Championship – yet once you’ve attained that position where can Superstars go? WWE’s attempt to revolutionize the Women’s Division has awkwardly worked to expose some of its more awkward shortcomings. Given that Sasha and Charlotte are trading the WWE Raw Women’s Championship back and forth with wild abandon; it’s a sign that this problem hasn’t been addressed.
There’s also the argument that if the “most over” women leave the division to chase down the mid-card Championships on Raw and Smackdown, it devalues the Women’s Division. Part of the reason everyone accepted Chyna’s status was that she was so ridiculously overpowered in the 1999 Women’s roster. With only Ivory around at the time, there wasn’t competition to capitalize on Chyna’s popularity, so it made sense. Now though, losing the likes of Sasha Banks or Charlotte would take stars out of a division that needs them. If it’s painted that they want a better challenge – it instantly undermines those still in the division.
It’s a real shame because WWE’s managed to foster a roster of capable women – known more for their ability to hold competent matches than how they look. Sasha and Charlotte have had an incredible 2016 – headlining pay-per-views and breaking the limits that WWE’s placed on them for years. Outside of these two you have the likes of Asuka, who had numerous matches under her ‘Kana’ name back in Japan against male wrestlers. The likes of Awesome Kong and Beth Phoenix could arguably have fit this role too in WWE – they just never got the chance.
In the end I’m not saying it should happen or shouldn’t; but a discussion about the feasibility of it would make sense within WWE’s current direction. If fans are to truly accept women’s wrestling, there needs to be a removal of some of the harder barriers between the two. The likes of Sasha and Bayley, Charlotte and Asuka, Nia Jax and Becky Lynch are all changing the nature of the game. They keep “shattering the glass ceiling” – yet that ceiling is entirely self-imposed by WWE. Perhaps it’s time WWE looked again into how low they’ve set that glass ceiling.