DVD Review: Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution Of WWE’s Women’s Division

Image Source: Amazon

Written By: Mark Armstrong

Running Time: 529 Minutes
Certificate: 12
Number Of Discs: 3
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: June 25 2018

(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)

Given how much of a role that the Women’s (R)Evolution has played over the last few years in WWE, it was inevitable that we’d eventually get a DVD release celebrating the fact, and this particular three-disc release charts the history of WWE’s women’s division, with a logically greater focus on activities from 2014 onwards.

Before we get onto the matches, I want to discuss the box art for a moment. More than 20 ladies adorn the front sleeve, but it comes across as yet another example of WWE (or its DVD design team, at least) trying to rewrite history. For instance, while the lack of a Fabulous Moolah appearance is understandable after the controversy earlier this year when WWE tried to name a WrestleMania battle royal after her, the fact that neither Miss Elizabeth or Sensational Sherri (who is on the side artwork) aren’t on the front, given their contribution to WWE history, is a big oversight. More concerning is how the company’s three biggest female stars of the 1990s – Sunny, Sable and Chyna – are nowhere to be found. Sunny and Chyna have chequered histories, though again it doesn’t excuse how valuable they were to WWE, and why Mrs Brock Lesnar is rarely promoted by the company nowadays is beyond me. They aren’t on the cover, but Jacqueline is, and with respect to her, she didn’t achieve half as much (in WWE, anyway) as the names I’ve mentioned.

Elsewhere, current WWE star Mickie James and office favourite Beth Phoenix are there, which I have no problem with, but the likes of Molly Holly, Victoria and Melina are absent. The Bellas are front and centre, of course, and Stephanie McMahon just had to be there as well. Finally, Ronda Rousey is at the top despite only arriving properly in WWE at Royal Rumble, though I can overlook this given how crucial she will be for the company moving forward as a member of the roster. Nevertheless, it all comes across as a typical politically-based selection of performers, similar to other WWE DVDs and books (such as the recent Raw 25 book, which ignored Hulk Hogan and CM Punk due to them both being in the bad books with the company).

Okay, rant over; let’s move onto the DVD itself. We start with a very important match in WWE women’s wrestling history, as Wendi Richter ends Moolah’s 28-year reign (yes, 28 years) as Women’s Champion at the 1984 MTV special The Brawl To End It All. We don’t get Richter vs. Leilani Kai from the first WrestleMania, though, which is an oversight. A Survivor Series elimination match from 1987 would lead to the division being abolished altogether for many years, only being revived with the arrival of Alundra Blayze in late 1993. Blayze would initiate a new generation for women’s wrestling (appropriate for the New Generation era), though her sole match here is her dethroning of Bull Nakano from an April 1995 Raw. Unsurprisingly, there is not a heavy focus on Alundra’s most famous career moment, when she literally tossed her Women’s Championship into a dustbin on WCW Monday Nitro (after she had been fired by the WWF, mind you).

Nor is there much of a spotlight on the Attitude Era as a whole. During this time, women’s wrestling became less about headlocks and wristlocks, and more about bras and knickers. Yes, this was the era of the Bra & Panties match, when females were booked to strip down (or be stripped down) to their underwear on an almost nightly basis, and on occasion, some of the ladies even went a step further and momentarily flashed their boobs (The Kat being one example). One can have the moral debate as to whether this treatment of the women was fair or degrading, though one cannot deny that, from 1998 to around 2001 or 2002, the prospect of seeing women in a state of undress genuinely did help business, and it elicited massive pops from the largely adult male audience whenever such matches or angles were booked. I’m not saying it’s right or that the company should promote such content again, but it would be wrong to say that the WWF audience from that time period were turned off by such sexuality, because they absolutely were not.

But, of course, WWE has been PG for a full decade now, and it hardly wishes to remind fans in 2018 (especially the younger fans who the current product is aimed at) about all of these risqué shenanigans. It also doesn’t wish to heavily promote Chyna, nor other ladies from that era who had barely any wrestling talent, or even any interest in wrestling as a whole, whose sole purpose was to undress. Therefore, our only contribution from the Attitude Era on this DVD is the brief Ivory vs. Chyna bout from WrestleMania X-Seven, a match where Chyna dominated Ivory to win in a matter of minutes. That might sound like this encounter is promoting Chyna, but it’s actually here to spotlight Ivory, which given the story of the contest is a stunning example of how WWE will try to reframe absolutely anything to suit its primary goals. It would be akin to including Brock Lesnar’s 86-second loss to Goldberg from Survivor Series 2016 on a DVD that is designed to promote Lesnar.

As it turned out, Chyna would soon leave the company while still holding the title, and upon its reinstatement at Survivor Series 2001, the women’s division entered its first era of genuine prestige with a talented crew that would start providing real role models for the female audience. Though she isn’t on the box art, Victoria does star in two matches here against Trish Stratus and Lita (the latter being the first all-women Cage match in WWE history), and the same applies to Molly Holly, though her standout match on this DVD sees her lose her hair via a loss to Victoria at WrestleMania XX. Of course, we get an entry from the famous Trish vs. Lita rivalry, even if it is their Raw match from December 2004 that we’ve seen many times before (that it main evented Raw justifies its inclusion, though). The famous Trish/Mickie storyline culminates with a memorable clash between the two from WrestleMania 22.

Trish and Lita would both leave WWE in late 2006, leading to a flagging few years for WWE’s women’s scene, and this DVD highlights that with a bright green marker, because we don’t get another match here until 2013. That being said, the next choice is a very wise one: AJ Lee vs. Kaitlyn from Payback 2013 blew everybody away at the time. Not since the heyday of Trish and Lita had a women’s match been that good, and been given so much time, in a WWE setting. AJ would continue to shine for the remainder of her WWE run, which provided hope that things were changing for the ladies in WWE. But the real groundswell was happening in NXT, which remained a developmental brand that fans could only watch on WWE.com or on international stations. Women’s matches in NXT were opening people’s eyes to what the ladies really could do if given the opportunity, but at this point, only the die-hards knew that.

That changed with the launch of the WWE Network, and the first NXT special, titled Arrival, which featured a strong Paige vs. Emma bout for the NXT Women’s Championship (a rematch of a previous gem from the summer of 2013). Even better was the Charlotte vs. Natalya clash from the subsequent special, the very first NXT TakeOver, and again it blew fans’ minds. On the main roster, though, the focus remained on soap opera when it came to major women’s storylines, as evidenced by the next bout which sees Brie Bella face Stephanie McMahon at SummerSlam 2014. It’s actually a creditable showing under the circumstances, and their feud was built up well, but at this point on Raw and SmackDown, it was still more about one’s looks than their in-ring ability. That the “reality” show Total Divas had created a greater focus on the lives of WWE’s females outside the ring meant that, for now, actual strong women’s wrestling would be confined to NXT.

On NXT, though, the ladies were flourishing, and the TakeOvers in particular gave women’s wrestling its best year ever in the mainstream. Though they aren’t featured here, the four-women match from Rival (Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Bayley) was tremendous, a Sasha vs. Becky bout from Unstoppable was outstanding, and the Sasha vs. Bayley clash from Brooklyn was possibly WWE’s best women’s match of all-time, and the best match of 2015 to many fans. Though these bouts have been on past DVDs, it’s a shame that we don’t get at least one of them here, but we do get to see Bayley vs. Sasha under Iron Man rules from Respect, which is a brilliant match and a fitting way to end Sasha’s career year on NXT.

All of this NXT-related activity led fans to force a change upon WWE. After a women’s tag bout on Raw (Paige/Emma vs. The Bellas) lasted just 30 seconds on a three-hour show, and came immediately after the aforementioned four-way from TakeOver: Rival, furious fans created #GiveDivasAChance, which trended for over 24 hours. The powers-that-be noted that they were listening (though as part of the situation, AJ publicly told Stephanie on Twitter that women should be paid equal to men, which is a fair point), and slowly but surely, the main roster began providing increased time and coverage for the females. A big moment was the call-up of Charlotte, Sasha and Becky from NXT, and by the end of 2015 and going into 2016, Raw and SmackDown were finally starting to demonstrate a commitment to women’s wrestling. As long as you could stomach Stephanie McMahon taking credit on-screen and off-screen for the “Divas Revolution”, that is.

On that note, the ladies were still called Divas on the main roster. Nobody had a problem with this up until the NXT era, and the same goes for the Divas Championship, a title belt sporting a butterfly design which suddenly became much-maligned from 2015 onwards, but nevertheless the removal of the Divas name and title were an important step forward. These happened to coincide with the next match on this DVD (finally!), Charlotte vs. Sasha vs. Becky from WrestleMania 32 for the newly-reinstated WWE Women’s Championship. It was arguably the standout bout from the card, and though the finish annoyed fans at the time, it undoubtedly marked the true turning point for WWE’s women’s wrestling, which we have seen on full display for the last two years, from Raw and SmackDown main events to standout supershow matches to PPV headlining encounters.

The DVD covers many key matches from this time period, including the Six-Pack Challenge to crown SmackDown’s first Women’s Champion from Backlash 2016, the PPV main event inside Hell In A Cell between Sasha and Charlotte at the card of the same name, and a Money In The Bank Ladder match from SmackDown (this being the rematch from the controversial first take of the bout at MITB 2017). Though NXT is strangely not represented from late 2015 onwards (meaning that Asuka’s killer run as NXT Women’s Champion is totally ignored), we do get the final of the Mae Young Classic tournament between Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler (Mae Young’s sole contribution being a tournament dedicated to her memory allows WWE to side-step what Mae was most famous for in the company, namely a strip show of sorts from Royal Rumble 2000 and giving birth to a hand, seriously). Then, it’s back to the main roster with the historic inaugural Royal Rumble match for females (which essentially comprises the bulk of this DVD into a one-hour match), the first all-women Elimination Chamber match from this year’s Chamber PPV, and Ronda Rousey’s in-ring debut alongside Kurt Angle against Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, the show-stealing bout from WrestleMania 34, which closes this three-disc set.

I’m not sure what to make of this DVD. The action is of a high quality from the middle of disc one onwards, and there are some great matches here, but it feels like some of the very best women’s bouts from recent WWE history are ignored. In particular, NXT is massively underrepresented; one could argue that no main roster women’s match has measured up to the best female encounters from the yellow-and-black brand. Meanwhile, the political feel of this DVD is irksome; it feels more like a product for WWE to showcase at trade events and licensing fairs, to say “look what we’ve done for the women”, than it does a true history of the WWE women’s division. That Stephanie is awarded so much credit for all of this is pretty annoying, and the DVD fails to acknowledge several key points, such as how it took WWE so long to “give Divas/women a chance”, nor the fact that other promotions (such as TNA) showcased the true wrestling talents of women’s wrestling to audiences long before WWE did. And certain performers are not spotlighted particularly well; watching this DVD, you would never know about Asuka’s lengthy undefeated streak and general reputation as a total bad-ass (nor would you know that from watching WWE nowadays either, mind you).

So, I’m on the fence about this one. If it were up to me, I’d have preferred a DVD that focused solely on the 2013-2018 period, beginning with AJ-Kaitlyn and Paige’s standout bouts from NXT, before moving onto the various classic put on by the Four Horsewomen on NXT, Asuka’s dominance of the third brand (including her feud with Ember Moon), and then providing all of the top-level main roster women’s matches from 2015 to the present day (Sasha vs. Charlotte was pushed as a ground-breaking rivalry, but they only have one singles match here). Alternatively, a full documentary charting the history of the division, which could have acknowledged the Attitude Era, the period between 2007 and 2013, and the #GiveDivasAChance hashtag with more honesty, might have been a better choice. At the very least, I would have preferred a front cover which didn’t come across as a selection of office favourites.

Summing it up, then, this DVD is definitely enjoyable, and it does chart the history of women in WWE from Moolah to Alundra to Trish and Lita to NXT to the present day. But I think that a lot of fans will find this to be lacking in some key areas, and will come away with a slightly sour taste in their mouths. I’d still suggest that you should check it out, and there are enough worthy matches included to warrant a purchase, but I feel that this release does not tell the whole, or accurate, story of how its females went from filling a spot on the card to owning the show.

Overall Rating: 7/10 – Respectable