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WWE’s Divas: Revolution or Revulsion?

World Wrestling Entertainment has always been a big fan of writing its own biography, getting ahead of the expected publicity and repercussions of every move by calmly and levelheadedly placing each maneuver into its appropriate context. To the victor go the spoils, as the ancient maxim goes, and thus the winner of the Monday Night Wars gets to explain all the whys and wherefores without very much in the way of opposition. It’s sort of like wrestling’s version of a Donald Trump stump speech. Much like Herr Trump, the result can be deliciously entertaining. Also much like Herr Trump, all the bombast and hype can lose a little in translation when it’s stripped down to its core. Whenever the invariable documentary is made tracing the lineage of the Divas Revolution or Movement or Eternally Enthralling Momentous Wingding, there can be little doubt that it too will find its rightful place next to all the other wonderful things the WWE did for the benefit of you and I, the viewers. Perhaps by that time there actually will have been a rekindling of excitement in the division and its talented performers to get all choked up about. In the meantime, however, the most exciting aspect of this “movement” which has been going on for months is that (brace yourself)…John Cena might be the reason Nikki Bella is about to become the longest-tenured Divas champion ever. If that doesn’t scream headline news, well I don’t know what does.

Now the internet has had plenty of things to say about John Cena. Some I agree with, some I don’t, but overall it’s generally not altogether pleasant. Much of this is of course due to Cena himself. Even more of it is due to the way Cena has been booked. And some of it is just the sort of crazy ranting people do when they get upset that Vince Russo isn’t running a company anymore. Cena does plenty of good, particularly in his consistent charity work, and he’s managed to wrestle just about everyone and do it fairly well. He’s also placed himself in a spot in the company he works for where there can be little doubt he has acquired the infamous stroke. The combination of these factors adds up to the possibility that if Cena wanted his real-life paramour to remain the Divas champion, Vince McMahon and the inner circle would do little to dissuade him. I have no knowledge of the components that make up backstage politics in the WWE, thank heaven, but I have been around long enough to understand that most urban legends are just that. Just as I never sent my Halloween candy through an X-ray machine nor worried in the shopping mall parking lot that thieves were lurking under cars waiting to slash my ankles, I’m not a big believer in the ballyhooed backstage banter of talent getting to call the shots, not even in a business as old as the one I’m writing about. Creative control is challenging enough for those who work at it every day, let alone performers trying to responsibly manage their roles and futures in the ring while simultaneously going out there and wrestling. How many awesome actors are also awesome directors? There’s a few. How many of them have directed themselves in anything beyond a quick cameo with large success? There’s a reason Hitchcock and Tarantino never tried.

If you’d like to stick with sports analogies, no problem. Pick your favorite sport, then your favorite coach, and then find out if he’s also the general manager. While there are notable exceptions to this rule, they are extremely rare. The reason is patently obvious: It’s difficult enough to be great at one thing, let alone be equally great at another. Renaissance men (and women) only come around once every Renaissance, after all. In addition to that tried and true bulwark, here’s another: trying to manage yourself is the hardest management of all. Complacency, laziness, ego; call it what you will but sooner or later you’ll deal with your own demons and find yourself lacking. Being able to challenge yourself the way you challenge everyone else in the locker room is perhaps the hardest lesson to learn when you’re the one calling the shots. So I’m not here to tell you that all the stories you’ve heard about Hogan/Nash/Hall/Flair/Warrior/Taker/Trips/Michaels/Hart/Demento are false, but I’m willing to wager that the large majority are. Once the “truth” is out there that someone has the power to influence the booking committee, good luck getting Pandora to close her box. Or stop tweeting.

Basic logic dictates that someone as rich and creative as Vince McMahon is not going to allow his talent, however high his regard for them, to make the leap to running his company. It certainly doesn’t mean he wouldn’t take their opinions under advisement, just as it plays out in any office scenario. Factors from tenure to tenacity will have an impact, but ultimately the decision lies with him. Can people get buried for no apparent reason whatsoever? Certainly. Will we always find out what those reasons were? Not a chance. And I’m one of the exceedingly rare few who don’t have a problem with that. Preserving some of the mystique of the business is actually a good thing. Whenever I hear from someone no longer with the company that the main reason is because this guy didn’t like him, it takes away from my respect for that wrestler in the first place. Even if they’re right. Overcoming adversity is a fundamental part of everyone’s development, no matter their occupation. Wrestling is one of the few places where doing it creates a great storyline in itself. Look no further than the Cesaro Section.

All of which brings us back to this ridiculous place where the inability of the WWE to recognize taking the Divas title from Nikki Bella would be prudent is somehow the fault of John Cena. I blame Mr. Cena for many things: neon armbands, really loud promos, and overdone saluting to name but a few. I do not, however, think any missteps in the current promotion of the Divas division rest on his shoulders. Instead, the issues lie where they have always lain: namely, the creative epicenter of Titan Tower. The WWE hasn’t been able to make women’s wrestling watchable since the Attitude Era, and to be fair to that Era, it was watchable then for many reasons that had nothing to do with actual in-ring competition. This complete and utter failure in a category which has the potential to bring boatloads of new fans into the business in a heartbeat is one of the biggest catastrophes of Vince’s tenure. Nothing we’ve seen in the last couple of months has done anything to reverse the trend we’ve seen. All that’s changed is the WWE’s lame and transparent attempt to turn that failure into a flawed storyline in an effort to distance themselves from the truth of the matter. No matter how much talent they possess between the big roster and NXT, they completely fail in marketing or presenting it successfully.

That may be harsh, and I freely admit there have been bright spots along the way. Certainly major inroads have been made in NXT, and the result is obvious when you watch the match quality between the two promotions. Sadly, though, those advancements have been mitigated by the backsliding that has occurred each Monday and Thursday during the so-called “movement.” Even worse than that, the tepid response of the fans forced to endure these issues has been attacked by some of the talent themselves. It’s never a good idea to go on social media and complain that fans chanted or booed during your match. Given that the WWE clearly delineates what its talent does on social media, it can be assumed that they signed off on this petty squabbling. If Sasha Banks wants to cut a promo on the fans and their boredom, that makes sense given her character. If it’s just ladies bellyaching on Facebook, ho-hum. To me, it indicates the very evident problem that I’ve discussed before in this space. Nobody in Titan Tower appears to understand how to script a female wrestler.

I’m not claiming it’s easy, incidentally. I’m just claiming it’s not that hard. One would reasonably think that having Ric Flair’s daughter, Bret Hart’s niece, Jimmy Snuka’s daughter, and Snoop Dogg’s cousin on the main roster would be ample fodder for some storylines, no? That’s not even delving into Nikki/Cena, which is a relationship publicly acknowledged on WWE’s “reality” program Total Divas without being openly discussed on their wrestling programs. For a sport steeped equally in the past and the cult of celebrity, this is tailor made for creative fluffing. Given that major time has been spent on a comic book storyline, it’s not even like they’ve got better things to do. Dumping a bunch of names onto the roster and assuming success is foolhardy, and we’ve seen it time and time again with both genders as they’ve climbed the ranks from NXT. Unlike The Shield or The Wyatts, however, these ladies have never had the chance to truly present their character to the fanbase. How can any wrestler be successful in that manner?

As for the wrestling itself, it’s certainly improved, but that’s not saying much. Given that the division has seen a recycling of the same matches over and over again for the past year and a half, just changing the position on the card won’t turn a B-side into a main event. Ditto the “faction” idea of tossing people together just because, you know, that way you can have six-person tags. If the character isn’t over yet on its own, melding it into someone else’s story isn’t going to do the wrestler any favors. This is essentially a rehash of the old “make her a valet” idea. It can be argued and argued well that Madusa’s role in the Dangerous Alliance was a minor one, but at least at the end it led to a feud with Paul Heyman. What is the end game here? It screams of busy work. What’s particularly odd about this issue is that the talent on the Divas roster couldn’t be more varied or different. The backstories of Paige and Becky Lynch are fantastic stuff, and the only way to find out about them are through Steve Austin’s podcast or Google. There’s something wrong with that. The “age of reality” has largely been ignored in storylines on the women’s side of things. Instead, we’re treated to the same unsavory palaver we’ve forced down so many times before. Lana is heartbroken because Dolph Ziggler exposed himself to Summer Rae. That’s the best you’ve got? Lana, who received more attention and focus BEFORE she started getting interviewed every week, who fans patiently waited to see in the ring and in action, has been reduced to a blubbering emotional mess because of her boyfriend? Ugh.

Saying something is a revolution doesn’t make it so. Many of these same issues were at the forefront when AJ Lee delivered her fantastic promo running down Total Divas. It was perfect because it attacked something the company was presenting, and that made it all the more real. Acknowledging these issues and playing them up to your advantage is something the WWE needed to do yesterday. The Divas title has no value because of what it represents, a history of unimportance and second-rate storytelling. Lance Storm’s comments about the design of it are one hundred percent on point, but it goes beyond that. If you want girls to feel that the most important thing to them should be their relationships, Total Divas should be the front and center part of your promotion. If you want them to feel that wrestling is awesome and worthy of their time, you’ve got to present it that way. The current state of affairs can be summarized in the train wreck that was the Tough Enough reboot. Regardless of how you feel about the show and the result, a multitude of the male contestants had fully developed stories. As for the women? Nearly the entire show was spent discussing cliques and boob jobs and sleeping with wrestlers. This new normal has to go. The WWE owes it to their fans and their talent to do far more than pay lip service to over half the world’s population. If they’re not going to do it right, they shouldn’t do it at all.

Given the current state of affairs and the need for Network subscribers, you would think that World Wrestling Entertainment would be spending every waking moment coming up with new ways to energize their existing fanbase and garner a wider one. You would especially think that when the answer is right under their nose. If the fans are a universe, why are the responsible parties in a whole different solar system when it comes to giving fans of women’s wrestling what they want and what they deserve? What sense does it make to have fantastic, four-star matches in NXT with backstories and emotion when the result is a corporate big ticket bout featuring none of the above? When the story of the Divas division is written, John Cena should not be presented as the villain. That slot is reserved for the guy who cashes (and writes) the checks. Having his daughter say she wants a revolution? Well, you know, maybe they don’t want to change the world after all. Ask not for whom the boos toll. They toll for you.

Twitter: @DharmanRockwell

Email: coffeyfan@hotmail.com