World Wrestling Entertainment is gearing up for its first-ever all-women’s wrestling pay-per-view, Evolution, at the end of October (a week after which the company heads to Saudi Arabia where women are not permitted to wrestle, let alone attend the show without a male chaperone).
The “women’s wrestling evolution”, after which WWE has named its show, has been in full swing for several years now. But while WWE has favoured a stop-start commitment to gender equality in wrestling, local wrestling companies have been ahead of the curve, positioning women’s wrestling as an integral part of their shows.
Underworld Wrestling, based out of Elwood, Melbourne, has only had two shows so far. The second took place in August this year, and featured a main event between Vixsin and Erika Reid for the women’s championship.
Creative and community manager of Underworld Justine Colla rejects the idea of a women’s and men’s championship, though.
“They are also both called the ‘Underworld Championship’, and the champions will always be the ‘Underworld Champion’ regardless of their gender. Removing gender from the titles removed the unconscious bias,” she says. (Full disclosure: Colla is a friend, and we used to host a wrestling podcast together.)
“The wrestling fandom has progressed a lot in the last five years… [and it] will and does recognise actions over words,” Colla says. “So if we can do everything possible to market both Championships as equals, then hopefully we are offering real, genuine representation to the fandom.”
Meanwhile, Battle Championship Wrestling ran a women’s championship tournament earlier this year that received top billing on their shows with international women wrestlers such as Ivelisse, Danielle Moinet (formerly WWE’s Summer Rae), Lisa Marie Varon (formerly WWE’s Victoria and TNA’s Tara), and former WWE women’s champion Melina. The event culminated in a young Melbourne wrestler with a bright future, Indy Hartwell, being crowned the inaugural BCW women’s champion.
“In order to run a professional wrestling company, there needs to be a heavyweight championship, a tag team championship, a women’s championship and, in time, a mid-card championship,” say BCW owner Matt Phaedonos. (Again, full disclosure: I worked with Phaedonos in another wrestling company several years ago.)
“Each championship in my view is just as important as the other. The women’s championship is necessary as our company exhibits women’s wrestling, and there needs to be a prize to compete for.”
Now, though, Melina holds the title, meaning an icon of women’s wrestling is the face of the division.
“With the Championship on the shoulder of a former WWE champion, the BCW women’s championship receives recognition,” Phaedonos says. “Professional wrestling needs to be unpredictable to the fans.”
And a non-local wrestler holding a local championship is certainly unpredictable.
Melbourne also played host last weekend to an ’80s aerobica/GLOW-themed women’s wrestling show, in partnership with the city’s biggest and most well-known wrestling company, MCW (which notably doesn’t have a women’s championship).
The fledgling Social Justice Wrestling – a start-up that “welcomes performers of all backgrounds and skill levels and open to the queer and feminist communities with zero tolerance for racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia and any other bigotry” – has hosted training sessions, while Underworld also has a code of conduct to eliminate bigotry and make it a safe space for fans from all walks of life, and this is definitely reflected in the diversity of their audience. “It goes to show how being upfront about inclusivity can positively affect the dynamics of a pro wrestling crowd,” Colla says.
Women’s wrestling fans can also find their tribes further from home, with Pro Wrestling EVE making waves in London, Shimmer representing the American contingent based out of Chicago, and Stardom emanating from Japan.
With big companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling excluding women from wrestling, Ring of Honor constantly putting its foot wrong when it comes to their new women’s division, Women of Honor and, of course, WWE’s dissatisfying marketing of women’s wrestling amidst their 10-year partnership with Saudi Arabia, fans have plenty of other independent companies that are making women’s wrestling a priority to choose from than ever before.