Trigger Warning: discussion of instances of Abuse (Mental, Physical, Sexual), Sexual Assault, Incest, Bullying
A casual fan of pro-wrestling might have seen the WWE in 2005 and thought that there wasn’t a market for women’s wrestling. That year, the WWE hosted 15 pay-per-views and out of a total of 119 PPV matches produced that year, only eight of them featured women. The cumulative length of those matches was 42 Minutes and 22 Seconds. Since Goldberg’s return in 2016, he’s competed in 10 Matches, With a cumulative time of 43 minutes and 16 seconds. Why should viewers care about women’s wrestling when the product and those in charge tell you not to care about it?
It’s painfully obvious that Vince McMahon doesn’t respect women, unless they are providing to him, which is why he’s allowed alleged abusers (Steve Austin), rapists (Matt Riddle, Vince McMahon, Pat Patterson), and murderers (Jimmy Snuka) to continue working for him, while continuously holding down women’s wrestling. From placing a gag order on Debra after Steve Austin assaulted her, to covering for Jimmy Snuka after the death of Nancy Argentino, to suppressing the traumatic mental, physical, and sexual abuse that Ashley Massaro faced in Iraq while on a company excursion. It’s pretty clear, based on his own actions and the actions of the company that he owns, that McMahon cares more about the outlook and longevity of his male roster rather than the safety of their female counterparts.
This is no surprise to me from a man who claimed to have shoved crushed leaves into a childhood friend’s vagina, allegedly sign Gail Kim after Jim Ross told him that men liked Asian porn, threatened to fire Lita, if she didn’t participate in the live sex celebration with Edge, despite Edge and John Cena telling him it was a bad idea. How about the alleged incest storyline with his daughter Stephanie? Or stripping Trish Stratus down, and making her bark on live TV?
It was disheartening to see the championship held by icons like Sue Green, Wendi Richter, Alundra Blayze, & Bull Nakano, being defended in bra and panties matches. I became disinterested in WWE and turned to NWA: TNA. There, I saw some of the most talented wrestling performances I’d seen in a long time and so researched the history of the company. Faces like Alexis Laree, Daizee Haze, Daffney, Malia Hosaka, Mercedes Martinez, and Mschif. An entirely new world of wrestling was opened up to me, and I was certain this couldn’t be all there was.
While watching ROH, I saw those familiar faces again, with a sprinkle of fresh names like Sumie Sakai, Allison Danger, Sarah Stock, Becky Bayless, and Sara Del Rey. The content I saw was unlike anything WWE had provided in a very long time. I was able to watch women be wrestlers, and not objects.
I eventually learned of Manami Toyota – it took one watch of her match against Aja Kong to become hooked. Toyota didn’t have much in the way of a gimmick or even exceptional mic skills – credentials that standard fans look for in terms of how great the wrestler is. She was just a wrestler, and that’s all that mattered. I can’t tell you the number of times I winced during her matches with Kong, believing she had just seriously hurt herself.
Throughout her career, Manami Toyota received 13 five-star matches, which is more than Ric Flair, Tetsuya Naito, The Young Bucks, and Ricky Steamboat. She earned three of those in the span of a week in 1994 and five more in 1995 alone. Granted, star ratings only really reflect the opinion of the person giving them, but it certainly gives context and validity to a wrestler, who the majority of fans don’t know of. Despite Pro-Wrestling being a male dominated sport, 90’s Joshi wrestlers consistently put on top-tier matches. The question needed to be asked: could an all women’s promotion work in the United States?
For all intents and purposes, any success that women had in the WWE came directly from the drive and dedication of the women involved. Prior to WrestleMania XX, then WWE women’s champion Molly Holly had been told that a Women’s Championship match wasn’t going to happen at the grandest event of the year, as there wasn’t any time for one. The most important achievement for a women’s wrestler couldn’t have a spot on the biggest wrestling event of the year.
Holly decided to sacrifice her hair for a spot on the card. While she claims that losing her hair was “freeing” it’s a bit gross that Victoria and Holly had to beg for a spot, yet a Playboy Evening Gown match made perfect sense to include. As a fan of women’s wrestling, I will never understand the rationale of “Women’s wrestling matters, not when it involves talented performers wrestling, but when they are half-naked, and wrestling in gravy.” It’s the same mindset that allowed Santino Marella to be wrestling’s first and only “Miss WrestleMania” and Harvey Wippleman to win the women’s championship. Women’s wrestling wasn’t respected.
But a year after WrestleMania XX, a promotion would force you to respect women’s wrestling, whether you wanted to or not. That promotion was SHIMMER: Women Athletes, the subject of my next series of articles.