WWE Evolution: Where Did They Go Wrong?

 

When WWE first announced they were putting on an all women’s PPV, I was jubilant. Having watched the rise of women’s wrestling, not just in the WWE, but in other promotions all over the world. I was thrilled for the women who had worked so hard to prove themselves in a world dominated by powerful men. To rise above the stereotypes and one dimensional bookings of yesteryear, and actually WRESTLE like I know they can.

The idea that the world’s largest wrestling company in the world, and one with a dubious history of sexism and misogyny, was finally taking women seriously felt like a victory. Unfortunately that feeling was short-lived. As the following weeks and months unfolded, my feelings soured for a variety of reasons. None of my anger or frustration is directed at the world class performers who are participating, but rather the circumstances around it, some questionable booking decisions and marketing that boggles the mind.

So with this event just around the corner, and with my desperate wish that it’s a roaring success despite my worries and doubts, here are some of the reasons why I feel Evolution may have taken a wrong turn.

Image courtesy of wwe.com

The “First Ever”?

Since WWE has laid claim to this “Women’s Evolution” they’ve had a lot of firsts. First ever women’s steel-cage match. First ever women’s Royal Rumble. Now a first ever women’s PPV. But while Evolution may be the first ever women’s PPV in the WWE, it certainly isn’t the “first ever” in wrestling. That doesn’t mean that WWE putting on their first event dedicated solely to women performers isn’t a big deal. But the way they keep pushing “first ever” implies they are the ones breaking down barriers when really, they are playing catch up.

Impact Wrestling put on a women only PPV back in 2013, and they have also hosted women’s steel cage matches along with other stipulations usually reserved for the men. That’s not to mention the fact that independent promotions today book women to do pretty much everything that men do. I understand the point that independent wrestling is a niche market without shareholders to please, a worldwide, PG-13 audience to appeal to. I am pleased that FINALLY we have a women’s PPV on WWE television, but it almost feels as if it’s to cash in on this “Women’s Evolution” rather than because of any real desire to advance the cause of women in sport. I may be being cynical, I just hope they don’t try and milk too many more “first ever”s out of this.

Image courtesy of wwe.com

Politics

I couldn’t write this piece without addressing the issues regarding Saudi Arabia. Following the news of the Greatest Ever Royal Rumble and the multi-million dollar deal stretching out over a number of years with the Saudi prince and his regime, I felt a little uneasy about it. For a company that claims to be at the forefront of the women’s wrestling movement, how could they enter into a business deal for shows where their women not only can’t perform, but also can’t attend without a male escort? I read some things saying the new regime was trying to make positive changes for women so I tried to remain optimistic. Change can’t happen overnight so any steps are positive ones, right?

The event itself was an odd state of affairs. There was some good action, there were a lot of happy kids in the audience and I tried to focus on those positives. These kids don’t get a chance to see live wrestling like this so it must have been awesome for them. But the promotion and cutaways between matches were strange, with an obvious air of propaganda. There was even an apology issued afterwards because WWE mistakenly showed some footage of the women in a promo video. I fully believe “Wrestling is for everyone”. It transcends political, racial and cultural differences, or at least it should. For a company that prides itself on being inclusive and forward thinking, it felt like a huge step backwards.

When Evolution was announced, it seemed to be a token gesture. A way of making it up to the women who were not allowed to compete in the Saudi event. “We’re sorry girls, look you have your own PPV!”

That in itself left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, but then for some unknown reason they decided to book another event in Saudi Arabia, just days after the women’s event. This was totally baffling to me. Recent events in the country just add more controversy to proceedings. I can’t comment on the situation regarding the tragic death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashogg, because I am not in possession of the facts at this time. None of us are. However I could not in good conscience sanction an event funded by the Saudi government in the current climate.

At the time of writing, Crown Jewel is still on course to take place as planned, although all mentions of Saudi Arabia have been removed from WWE’s website. This situation could not have been predicted when Evolution was booked and it has nothing to do with the PPV itself, but the events of the last few days have been a stark reminder of the political climate there and the problems it can cause for a multinational company on a world stage.

Current events aside, booking an event in a country with such a controversial record regarding women’s rights, just DAYS after holding their apparently progressive “Evolution” event just makes no sense.

Image courtesy of wwe.com

Bad Booking

WWE are notoriously bad at booking women’s matches. They have recently started allowing them main event status, thanks to the stellar work from performers such as Charlotte Flair, Asuka and Smackdown Women’s Champ Becky Lynch amongst many others. There have been times recently where the women’s match has been match of the night. There is nothing wrong with the talent. The problem lies in their booking and the writing. Little effort is put into storylines, feuds and building up characters or matches. This is a problem on the weekly shows. It proved an even bigger problem for Evolution. I feel there has been barely any decent storylines going into the event. With the exception of Becky and Charlotte, none of the rivalries really has any momentum. How can we support a card if we have little investment in how it plays out?

The other title belt is being bickered over by Ronda Rousey and a newly heel-turned Nikki Bella. They’re using the tired and overused “Reality star who shacked up with John Cena” trope to try and legitimise Rousey. It’s old. It’s sexist. Just stop. There’s so much they could have used instead. But the feud is reduced to playground bitching. This is the “A brand” championship feud at the groundbreaking women’s event! Focus on what women are now. How far they have come. Not how they used to be booked.

The NXT Title match and the Mae Young Classic climax will no doubt both be excellent. The groundwork for those takes place at Full Sail University where booking seems to be much better and well thought out for the women.

We have some nostalgia, which is totally understandable and the women of the past who changed the game have every right to receive the credit they earned in a landscape that was far more hostile towards them than it is today.

Then the rest of the talent has been lumped together in a battle royal. We have Asuka, Naomi, The IIconics, Ember Moon amongst other talent that really deserves far better. I can’t help but feel they have wasted so many great opportunities to tell stories we could really care about. Rivalries we could get invested in. The title chase is never the only story in the men’s division so why is that the case with the women? I hope that they learn from this and really try and push the female talent creatively moving forward, because I truly believe they could blow the roof off any arena if they’re allowed to. Then it would feel like they actually cared, rather than just seeming to use feminism as an opportunity to cash in.

Image courtesy of wwe.com

Too Many PPVs

Putting on a good PPV that people get excited about takes a little time. You need to build up tension, create stories and characters people care about, make people feel they HAVE to watch the PPV so they can see who wins out. WWE booking so many PPVs in such a short space of time with Evolution smack bang in the middle just didn’t allow for this to happen.

First off we had Super Showdown in Australia. There was barely any promotion of Evolution before this event. They have been pushing Crown Jewel more and that is after this historic event. Once Super Showdown was done and dusted we had barely three weeks to hype up Evolution. Considering the surrounding politics of this event, it felt like a kick in the teeth for the women. It has made the whole PPV feel like an afterthought.

All of this aside, I will still be supporting Evolution and I really hope it’s a success. It seems to have everything stacked against it, just like women wrestlers have for so many years. Despite everything, those women managed to create a revolution. They did it by being tenacious, passionate and dedicated. This event should be a credit to ALL the women who have worked so hard to get women’s wrestling taken seriously.

I hope beyond all else that there is no excuse for doubters to turn around afterwards and say “we told you so” if it isn’t as successful as it should be. Because if it isn’t, it will not be the fault of the women who have worked so hard. It will not prove that women cannot draw a PPV crowd, or that they don’t deserve just as much of a footing on the platform that men have had for so long. In my opinion it will only prove that WWE has failed them and needs to do better.

So go out there and tear the place down, ladies. Show them what you’re made of.