|photo from dwwedivas.blogspot.co.uk|
As I'm sure most of you will know by now, I'm one of the small number of wrestling fans who actually value and enjoy womens wrestling, so it should come as little surprise that I'm about to ramble extensively about that very subject. I know I said my 'top 10 matches of 2012' piece would be next, but my top ten currently still has about fifteen matches in, and I have no idea what order I want to put them in, so I'll hold off on that, as this is both more topical and something I have more desire to write about.
In the time since I have returned to watching wrestling regularly (July 2011, when Punk dropped his infamous pipebomb) the WWE Divas division hasn't exactly been a great example of what women can do in a wrestling ring, but since that point there have been a great number of arrivals and departures, and it could be argued that the division has actually got even weaker in the last eighteen months. Despite this, there are plenty of positives for those who care to look for them, and in some ways the divas are in a stronger position than they were at the start of 2012. I shall take a look at how the division has changed in the last year, and attempt to evaluate what impact these changes have had on the divison as a whole, before giving my opinion on where the division stands right now, and where it could be heading in the next couple of years.
In the last year there have been plenty of divas leaving WWE. Some have been relative rookies, whilst others have been established, successful veterans, but the latest lady to leave could be the most damaging of all.
Eve Torres was the Divas champion when news broke of her likely departure, and she had been carrying the division on her back for months, so when it was announced through the dirtsheets that she was going probably to be leaving soon, it came as quite a surprise to me, and presumably to many others. Her recent engagement & projects outside of WWE made it likely that she would leave soon, but it was the immediacy with which she was to depart that made the news such a shock. On this subject, I should say that I think it's a shame that WWE can no longer be bothered to give their divas a good send-off, what with the Bella Twins being fired by Eve herself in a backstage segment, Beth Phoenix being suffering the same fate at the hands of Vickie Guerrero, and Eve's own resignation on some show that I've not really heard of that seems to run alongside RAW on smartphones or something. That's not to mention the likes of Maxine, Kelly Kelly and Kharma, who basically just stopped being there with no announcement at all. These women may not be the main focus of WWE's product, but they all work extremely hard in and out of the ring, with a workload that often seems heavier than that of many of the more established superstars, and as such they deserve to have their efforts acknowledged by WWE to a greater degree.
Anyway, Eve's departure comes at a time when the division is already struggling for depth due to all the other ladies who have been released. With very few established ladies left on the roster (Natalya & Layla are probably the only two who fit the bill, though Alicia Fox could also merit consideration), it is clear that WWE are going to have to put their focus into building an entire new division, and at the minute it seems that they are intent on doing so without utilising any of their most established assets to anywhere near the level they are capable of. This seems like a curious move, considering they now have a champion who is still very inexperienced, and will often need to be guided through matches by a more experienced opponent. At present, both of the aforementioned established ladies are on the same side of the fence as Kaitlyn (I have no idea where Alicia Fox stands, by the way, and I don't think anyone else does), which means that they will either have to have one of them turn heel, or someone less suitable will have to step up to the plate.
This change would've been easier if WWE had managed to keep hold of some of their top heels, but with Beth Phoenix & Kharma both leaving the only logical challenger to Kaitlyn is her former Chickbuster partner AJ Lee, who is currently busy watching Dolph Ziggler lose to John Cena every week. Whilst the departures of Beth & Kharma were damaging on their own, they became huge problems when coupled with the exits of the Bella twins & Maxine, who all could've stepped up and helped provide some opposition to Kaitlyn, even if they were far less talented than Beth or Kharma in the ring.
With six of the divisions top heels having left this year, and most of the remaining divas being bland, happy-go-lucky generic divas, it could be the ideal time to call up some of the better young women in NXT - unfortunately, some of them have left too. Raquel Diaz (real name Shaul Guerrero, daughter of Vickie & Eddie), Skyler Moon & Sofia Cortez (Ivelisse Velez from Tough Enough) could all have been brought up and been interesting heels, but they too are no longer with WWE for one reason or another, leaving us with only two established NXT divas (Audrey Marie & the incredible Paige) that could be called up.
All in all, the already weak divas division has taken a lot of extra damage in the last year, and it is difficult to see how a strong product can be produced with the roster as thin as it currently is. Layla, Tamina, AJ & Natalya make up all the credible opposition for Kaitlyn right now, and those five will struggle to make the division an appealing prospect for long, even if WWE utilises lesser divas like Aksana, Rosa Mendes, Cameron & Naomi (easily the best of the rest) to fill out the roster. As such, the time is right for some new blood in the divas division, so it's just as well WWE have been signing up plenty of talented women recently.
Incoming & Emerging Stars
With so many ladies leaving WWE, it is vital that they are replaced and the roster is filled out again, and, despite all these departures, it seems like 2012 was the year where WWE decided to make an effort to invest in womens wrestling again. Where before the majority of women who signed with WWE were former models, this year has seen a shift towards signing established womens wrestlers from the independent scene, and this can only be a good thing for the long term future of the division. Oddly, however, the biggest signing for the womens division is someone who will (sadly) probably never be seen on the main roster...
Sara Del Rey is regarded as one of the greatest womens wrestlers in the world, if not one of the best women to ever compete, and she has proven herself to be more than capable of mixing it up with the boys too, having competed against the likes of current WWE United States champion Antonio Cesaro in their pre-WWE days. Sara is a magnificent in-ring performer, and a fantastically dedicated athlete known for her incredible work ethic both in and out of the ring. She has earnt the respect of her peers, male and female, the world over and is often cited as one of the biggest inspriations for women working on the independent scene. Whilst she still has plenty to offer in the ring, WWE have signed her up to work as a trainer in their developmental territory, NXT Wrestling, and I can think of nobody better to teach the next generation of divas. I will always hold out hope that we see Sara competing in a WWE ring one day, as to me she is one of the greatest performers in the world, regardless of gender, and her presence would immediately raise the prestige of the divas division immesurably, but even if this never happens it is reassuring to know that sufficient value has been placed on ensuring good womens wrestling for the future that WWE have recruited the best possible trainer to work with their prospective divas, and it is equally pleasing to know that Sara has achieved her dream and been rewarded with a position that befits someone with her passion, dedication and ability.
Now that I'm done babbling about how amazing Sara Del Rey is, I should probably discuss the ladies that have signed up to be trained by her.
In the last year, WWE have recruited several new divas, some from the independent scene - like Mercedes KV (now Sasha Banks) and Davina Rose (Serena Deeb's protege who, as far as I know, is still waiting to be given her new name) - and others from various other areas outside of wrestling - including former fitness model Alisha Ceraso (now going by the name Dani, and I believe I saw doing ring announcing on NXT last week) and former pro kickboxer Anna Bogomazova (known as 'The Russian Bruiser' Anya) - and while many of these ladies are yet to make their televised competitive debuts (indeed, of the four I've mentioned only Sasha Banks has wrestled on NXT), it is likely that some will make their way to the main roster before the end of the year, due to the shortage of women in WWE at present. The biggest star of all the new recruits, however, is one who joined right at the start of 2012.
A young English girl from one of the biggest families in British wrestling, Paige (formerly Britani Knight) made her debut at an NXT live event under her real name (Saraya) on 5th January 2012, and in little more than a year she has already established herself as the alpha female of NXT, racking up numerous wins and amassing a fanbase at least as big as anyone else that has appeared on NXT, if not the biggest of all. Paige represents the new era of womens wrestling in WWE - she is not a diva, she is the anti-diva, a woman who has worked hard and learnt her craft, who has earnt her place in the biggest wrestling company in the world on merit, not on looks (although she has those too, to be fair). Paige is not a diva, Paige is a wrestler, and she is the future, of that there is no doubt.
In the last year we have also seen several talented young women who were already with WWE before 2012 emerging as future stars of the divas division. The most notable of these is obviously AJ Lee, who has been involved in major storylines for more than a year now, and has blossomed into the biggest star the divas division has had for years. She may not be exceptional in the ring, but she is better than average, has a style that helps her stand out, and, most importantly, people are invested in her. She will almost certainly be Divas champion by the end of WrestleMania, and she will hopefully be able to help bring some interest back to a division which has long been considered the 'bathroom break' part of any WWE show.
Similarly, her former Chickbuster partner & fellow NXT 3 star Kaitlyn has emerged as the top babyface in the division. She won her first ever Divas championship on RAW's 20th anniversary show and I think it is no less than she deserves for the improvements she has made since her time on the third season of NXT. Back then she was brand new to the business, having her first ever match on the show, and though she wasn't up to much in the ring, she always had a natural charisma that made people want to vote for her, and she ended up winning the season. She has worked hard to improve her in-ring abilities, and although she still has a long way to go, she is much improved where she was a couple of years ago. For me, watching her on NXT Redemption was a treat, and it became clear then that she was destined to have a big impact in WWE, but even then I couldn't have predicted how quickly she would continue to climb the ranks, and now I can't help but feel her career has some significant parallels with that of Trish Stratus. Kaitlyn may not quite achieve that level of success, but to my mind she is the closest thing WWE have ever found to another Trish, and I'm confident that she will continue to get better and better as she grows into her new role as the face of the divas division.
Where Is The Divas Division Going?
So, now we come to the most important question in all of this - is the divas division fading further into irrelevance, or is it preparing to burst back into life? To be honest, I think you can all guess which way I'm going to go on this one...
Yes, with the likes of Beth Phoenix, Kharma & Eve all gone, the divas division is missing many of its 'big' names, and we are instead left with a few experienced stars with genuine in-ring ability, and a lot of young girls who are still learning the business. However, this can also be seen as an opportunity to reshape the division, and move away from the 'diva' style that has held the women of WWE back. With the changes that appear to have been made down in NXT, I believe this is the way things are going. There's plenty of talented women on the WWE payroll now, and they have demonstrated a willingness to invest more in female wrestlers than in previous years, so it seems unlikely to me that (a) WWE would let all that time and effort go to waste; and (b) the women who have been signed will not work harder than they ever have to make themselves as successful as possible. When those two factors are put together, I can only see things getting better from here on.
I've said it plenty of times in various places across the interent, but, from what I can see, the divas are currently in a transitional period (as is WWE in general), and this year will simply be one where changes are made, and the new ways of doing things are established, in order to allow the product to start dramatically improving from 2014 onwards.
In the rest of this year I expect to see:
1. A Kaitlyn/AJ Lee feud that carries us through to WrestleMania, and possibly beyond.
2. The introduction of new talent to the division - most likely Paige, Emma, Sasha Banks & Audrey Marie - possibly also Davina Rose, under her WWE name.
3. An effort being made to bring underutilised divas back to relevance - chiefly Natalya, but also Alicia Fox, Tamina & arguably even Layla.
4. Short, 'diva' style matches being slowly phased out, and being replaced by longer, more competitive matches (by longer, I only mean 7-8mins, at least at first). Later in the year I would hope to see at least one PPV match going around 10mins in length.
5. More time being allocated to the divas for promos & storylines where they are the primary focus, rather than being used alongside, or in support of, male superstars.
Should all of these five steps be realised, I am confident that from 2014 onwards we will finally be able to see interesting, competitive womens wrestling back on WWE programming, and to my mind that day cannot come soon enough.