Thursday, September 29, 2022

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The Difficult History of Women’s Multi-matches at Wrestlemania

Wrestlemania weekend is here. Over the next two days the eyes of the wrestling world will be glued to Arlington, Texas. Night one sees the grudge match between Bianca and Becky finally settled and the Queen Charlotte Flair facing the returning Ronda Rousey. Night two has a fatal four way tag match on the cards, and while night one has the starpower, today I want to talk about the latter. Not about the women involved, but the match itself.

Multi-man and woman matches have always had a part to play in Wrestlemania. They have been a time honoured tradition in wrestling history, a break from the usual one-on-one action, it was a spectacle to see dozens of men in the ring at one time. Wrestlemania is no different, and the motive of getting everyone on the card for the sake of a Wrestlemania payday is one of the few moments of generosity we see from WWE. 

However, the history of multi-women matches is more troublesome than a battle royal for the sake of a battle royal. Some where good, highlighting talent and proved to be entertaining matches. Others were literal jokes. The kind hearted gesture of a payday also highlights the ingrained double standard that women are second tier performers. 

Progress has been made. Women have headlined Wrestlemanias. But in order to fully appreciate the highs of modern wrestling, you have to remember the lows, to which multi-women matches are a pivotal part.   

What do I mean by Multi-Matches?

Multi-matches is a broad and encompassing term that includes various match types. But for the purpose of this article, I wanted to focus on large multi-women matches. Your battle royals, your lumberjill, 10-woman tag matches, that sort of stuff. 

Triple threats are off the list, and so are intergender tag matches. I recognize that these match types have been used very effectively at specific times to get over main event talent. So much so that they deserve a much more detailed examination. My area of focus is not on the top-tier of the women’s division, but a more general look at the entire landscape of the women’s division.

Playboy Bunny Era and The LumberJills 

Let’s start at the beginning. At what is quite possibly the lowest point of women’s wrestling. The Playboy Bunny Era of women’s wrestling. 

WWE has had a long standing relationship with Playboy, of which Wrestlemania is usually the culmination. The trend began at Wrestlemania X7. The bulk of the Chyna and Ivory’s feud was centred on the Ninth-Wonder of the World’s appearance in the adult magazine. 

Cross promotion has always been WWE’s MO, especially when it comes to their women’s division at Wrestlemania.Hell WWE wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for Wendi Ritcher and Cindi Lauper helping kickstart the MTV Rock N Wrestling Connection. Brand synergy clearly matters to them. 

My issue isn’t with Playboy. Business is business and women can make money however they want. My issue is with the way these women were treated. The Lumberjills match that took place at Wrestlemanias 23 and 24 are two of the worst offenders. While the PLayboy pillow fight match that took place at mania 22 would have made peak horny teenager me incredibly uncomfortable. In modern times these multi-women matches fill me with that same level of grossness.  

Look no further than  Wrestlemania 23’s Lumberjill match with Melina and Ashley. In a bid to give everyone a Wrestlemania payday, the entire roster is carted out to stand at ringside. The action in the ring is decent. But attention is elsewhere. The commentators were cracking jokes. More attention and time was put on Snoop Dogg than the women inside and outside the ring. Therein lies my issue. These women are treated like bodies to stand by ringside and look pretty. 

Lumberjack matches are nothing new to wrestling (in fact Wrestlemania 23 also had aLumberjack match). The inherent repression and objectification of women, adds a ick factor that you don’t get with your standard Lumberjack match.

The Diva’s Battle Royal

This trend continued with the adoption of the Divas Battle Royal. Another way to get everyone on the card after WWE’s partnership with Playboy ended. However, battle royals are notoriously hard to book, even at the best of times. Throw in time constraints of a live PPV and you have a recipe for a potential disaster. 

Nowhere was this disaster stronger than at Wrestlemania 25. 25 Women for 25 Wrestmanias. Rather than a few women getting a moment in the spotlight, the entire roster had to share one spotlight. Not just with other wrestlers but with Kid Rock who took up more camera time than most of the competitors. The match had begun before the rules could be mentioned. The topper came at the end of the match with Santino, parading as his twin sister Santina won the battle royal. WWE showed its true feelings about women’s wrestling. To them it was one big joke.

Making Progress

Luckily things have gotten better. Like most things in WWE, the turning point started with AJ Lee. Retaining her Divas title at Wrestlemania 30. The match marked the titles first wrestlemania defence, six years after its creation in 2008. 

Sadly, the match was not a huge hit. Timing played a big role in that. Like most women’s matches it was in the ‘dead spot’ between the two main events. The air had been sucked out of the Superdome after Brock Lesnar ended the Undertaker’s undefeated streak. Despite AJ being at the height of popularity, that was not enough to pick up the crowd. 

WWE’s philosophy has typically been you need to bring people down, to build them back up again. How do they do that? A women’s match of course. These matches are usually less than five minutes, including entrances, and only serve to highlight the hypocrisy of WWE. `We want everyone to get a Wrestlmania payday. But by god you best not cut into our PPV time.’

Post Evolution

While the battle royal still has played a role in recent Wrestlemanias there has been a marked improvement in their ability to showcase women talent. Battle Royals occurred at both Manias 34 and 35. They have been booked better with at least some attention given to what is going to happen. While nothing major has come from these wins, there have been some pluses to these battle royals. They have allowed wrestlers to shine. Mania 34 included a number of NXT wrestlers like Dakota Kai, Kairi Sane and Bianca Belair.

Final Thoughts 

Overall, the 37 year history of Wrestlemania has been a long journey for womens wrestlers. It started with a boom, faded into obscurity, had a salaciou comeback in the late 90s and has slowly been gaining momentum since. There have been ups and downs, pushbacks and huge leaps forward. But finally it looks like women’s wrestling is in a good place. 

Multi-woman matches will always be part of this landscape. Like the well meaning intentions of WWE, these types of matches are a way to get women on the card and a payday. Now they have steaks. They mean something. I know it doesn’t sound much and there is much more to come, but Wrestlemania now appears to be a place for men and women alike.  

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