WWE’s women’s division has had an up-and-down history. At times, it has produced genuine household names, truly great matches, and played a vital role in the prospects of the company as a whole. At other times, it has been characterized by poor wrestling, 30-second bouts, a heavy focus on Bra & Panties matches, and has on occasion been eliminated from WWE altogether (at one point, The Honky Tonk Man was actually censored on television just for saying the word “women”, which was truly bizarre). Over the last few years, though, women’s wrestling has made a real resurgence and, as of summer 2018, it has never been more important for the company and its fan base (many of whom comprise of women, who can view the likes of Charlotte and Bayley as true role models). With Ronda Rousey now on the roster, there is a real chance that a women’s match could even main event WrestleMania, possibly as soon as next year.
Therefore, it was inevitable that WWE would release a DVD celebrating its women past and present. That happened today with “Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of WWE’s Women’s Division”.
Many of its biggest female performers are represented at some point here, from Fabulous Moolah to Alundra Blayze to Trish Stratus to Sasha Banks to Ronda herself, and many of the key events revolving around the women’s division are featured amongst the selection of matches. Each match is preceded by a short capsule profile on one of the participants involved. Of course, it is the modern era which truly demonstrates the “Evolution” of WWE’s female stars, but it can’t be denied that plenty of important moments occurred in the preceding years.
WWF The Brawl To End It All – July 23, 1984
WWF Women’s Championship Match
Fabulous Moolah (C) vs. Wendi Richter
The first match is an appropriate one. The Fabulous Moolah’s name was removed from the women’s WrestleMania Battle Royal earlier this year, but when acknowledging the full story of women’s wrestling in WWE, Moolah’s incredibly long title reign (said to be 28 years in length) could not be ignored. Therefore, seeing Wendi Richter dethrone Moolah on an MTV special was a huge moment at the time, and an underrated step towards making the company the mainstream powerhouse that it would soon become. Why the Leilani Kai vs. Richter match from the first WrestleMania is absent, though, I do not know.
WWF Survivor Series 1987 – November 26, 1987
Ten-Woman Elimination Match
Fabulous Moolah, Rockin’ Robin, Velvet McIntyre & The Jumping Bomb Angels vs. Sensational Sherri, Dawn Marie, Donna Christanello & The Glamour Girls
In theory, a ten-woman tag match at the first Survivor Series suggests that the female division was still going strong in the company. However, looks are deceiving on this occasion, as women’s wrestling would be slowly phased out of WWE as the 1980s came to a close. As a matter of fact, the Women’s Championship essentially ceased to exist between 1989 and 1993, only returning to life upon the arrival of Alundra Blayze.
WWF RAW – April 3, 1995
WWF Women’s Championship Match
Bull Nakano (C) vs. Alundra Blayze
As noted, Blayze was the star of WWE’s women’s scene during the mid-1990s. Though the company barely mentions her these days, Bull Nakano was a strong opponent for Alundra, and we get to see a pretty entertaining match between the two from the night after WrestleMania XI (the ladies weren’t actually on the Mania card; that’s 1995 for you). Alundra would be fired later in the year and dump her title belt in the trash on WCW Monday Nitro, leading to the temporary abolishment of the women’s division in the company. The next few years in WWE women’s wrestling would be primarily used for the purpose of the ladies being stripped down to their underwear; the current PG direction of the company means that no such matches are included on this release.
WWF WrestleMania X-Seven – April 1, 2001
WWF Women’s Championship Match
Ivory (C) vs. Chyna
This relatively short battle from WrestleMania X-Seven sees Chyna seize the Women’s Championship, and so this allows the DVD to spotlight The Ninth Wonder Of The World… hold on, the pre-match profile suggests that this is here to promote IVORY? Why WWE would include what is effectively a squash match defeat to summarize the career of a recently-inducted Hall of Famer is baffling (I know it takes place at WrestleMania, but Ivory doesn’t get to shine here whatsoever). Also, that Chyna herself does not get a profile of her own at any point on this DVD is quite sad.
WWE RAW – November 25, 2002
WWE Women’s Championship Match
Victoria (C) vs. Trish Stratus
From November 2001 onwards, Trish Stratus slowly evolved into WWE’s biggest female star, and at least prior to this decade, the company’s best ever female in-ring performer. An important part of this process included an underrated rivalry with Victoria, and we get to see one of their battles here (though I’d have preferred to see the forgotten gem that was their Hardcore bout from Survivor Series 2002).
WWE RAW Roulette – November 24, 2003
Steel Cage Match
Lita vs. Victoria
Over the last three years, WWE has hyped up certain gimmick matches as being the first such battles for the ladies. But it was actually on the second RAW Roulette from 2003 that the first all-female Cage match took place. This is used more to promote the on-screen split between Matt Hardy and Lita (which was nowhere near as famous as their worked-shoot angle two years later based on the actual end of their real-life relationship), but it’s a cool footnote from this era nonetheless.
WWE WrestleMania XX – March 14, 2004
WWE Women’s Championship vs. Hair Match
Victoria (C) vs. Molly Holly
The story goes that Molly actually suggested this stipulation so that she would have a spot on the WrestleMania XX card. In that respect, Molly achieved her goal, and came away with a completely shaved head. Unfortunately, the match is treated as an afterthought, so much so that Kurt Angle makes his entrance for his subsequent WWE Title match against Eddie Guerrero while the head-shaving is still taking place.
WWE RAW – December 6, 2004
WWE Women’s Championship Match
Trish Stratus (C) vs. Lita
By late 2004, Trish vs. Lita was one of RAW’s biggest rivalries on merit, and the most important match that they ever had against one another is this battle. It has been released several times, but having main evented RAW at the time, and with some memorable spots (Lita almost breaks her neck diving onto Trish at ringside), it is definitely worthy of being included again here.
WWE WrestleMania 22 – April 2, 2006
WWE Women’s Championship Match
Trish Stratus (C) vs. Mickie James
Though the women’s division has never enjoyed greater prominence than it does now, arguably no all-women’s storyline was more memorable than the tale of Trish Stratus and Mickie James, where James went from over-excited super-fan to psychotic stalker. It all culminated in this match from WrestleMania 22, where Mickie ends an almost 15-month title reign for Stratus. Trish (and Lita) would end up leaving WWE in the latter half of 2006.
WWE Payback 2013 – June 16, 2013
WWE Divas Championship Match
Kaitlyn (C) vs. AJ Lee
To demonstrate how WWE views the history of its women’s division, the years 2007-2012 are not represented whatsoever here. But at least the modern era kicks off with a bang: AJ Lee vs. Kaitlyn was a highly enjoyable match, telling a logical story and allowing the real life best friends to put on a career performance. AJ’s title win would allow her to largely rule the division for the next two years; for Kaitlyn, this marked the artistic peak of her WWE tenure.
NXT ArRIVAL – February 27, 2014
NXT Women’s Championship Match
Paige (C) vs. Emma
The previous NXT Women’s Championship match between Paige and Emma was the first major sign, following teases in the early days of Full Sail-era NXT, that WWE’s female division could become a vital part of the show based on wrestling action. Their rematch here was another big step forward, opening the eyes of many fans with this marking the first NXT special on the newly-launched WWE Network.
NXT TakeOver – May 29, 2014
NXT Women’s Championship Match
Charlotte vs. Natalya
At the time, a big draw for this match was the presence of Bret Hart and Ric Flair at ringside. By the time that the closing bell rang, though, The Hitman and The Nature Boy are completely overshadowed by the fantastic action on display, in what has to be Natalya’s best WWE match ever. This would mark the first of many occasions where Charlotte, The Queen, would capture a championship title.
WWE SummerSlam 2014 – August 17, 2014
Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon
It can at times lead to extremely frustrating television plugs, but Total Divas has undoubtedly enhanced the profiles of all involved, not least The Bella Twins. Brie and Nikki’s on-screen statuses reached a peak in 2014, in particular with this contest from SummerSlam 2014. It’s not a great match by any means, but it does have a swerve finish, and the action is actually not too bad considering that non-wrestler Stephanie is involved (incidentally, Stephanie actually has several matches to her credit which exceeded expectations; more on one of those bouts shortly).
NXT TakeOver: Respect – October 7, 2015
NXT Women’s Championship Iron Man Match
Bayley (C) vs. Sasha Banks
The original Sasha vs. Bayley bout from Brooklyn – probably the best WWE women’s match ever – is a notable omission here. But at least we get their 30-minute Iron Man clash which is almost as good, and sees The Boss character at her most fiendishly wicked. Sadly, I doubt that the forthcoming Sasha-Bayley showdowns on the main roster will be half as memorable as their NXT classics, and not because of the wrestlers themselves.
WWE WrestleMania 32 – April 3, 2016
WWE Women’s Championship Triple Threat Match
Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks
This was a hugely important match for the females in WWE. It marked the first time that the women were given a major spotlight at WrestleMania based on their in-ring ability, and they live up to the hype with a superb three-way bout that stole the show that night in AT&T Stadium. The result was not welcomed on the night, but it shouldn’t negate the tremendous effort that had gone into this must-see match.
WWE Backlash 2016 – September 11, 2016
WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship Six-Pack Challenge Match
Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss vs. Nikki Bella vs. Natalya vs. Naomi vs. Carmella
It’s interesting that when WWE held another Brand Extension, some believed that the company should have restricted its women’s division to RAW, as opposed to having two separate rosters to accommodate each brand. But the SmackDown women’s crew have produced many memorable moments over the last two years, beginning here with this exciting Six-Pack Challenge. Check out the huge pop for Becky Lynch lifting the SD Women’s crown!
WWE Hell In A Cell 2016 – October 30, 2016
WWE RAW Women’s Championship Hell In A Cell Match
Sasha Banks (C) vs. Charlotte
I was surprised that we only get one entry from the long-running and much-hyped Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks rivalry on this DVD. Some would also argue that their Hell in a Cell battle was the weakest match of their series. I still think that it is a strong showing by both, as the ladies main evented a WWE PPV for the very first time. The botches at the finishing sequence unfortunately dragged this down a peg, as did hometown babyface Sasha losing the gold again to Charlotte.
WWE SmackDown – June 27, 2017
Money In The Bank Ladder Match
Carmella vs. Natalya vs. Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Tamina
Note that this is not the original showdown from Money in the Bank 2017 (which was interrupted by James Ellsworth), but the rematch held nine days later on SmackDown (which was interrupted by, erm, James Ellsworth). This time, though, Carmella unhooks the briefcase on her own (after Ellsworth interference was cut off by Becky Lynch), and the match as a whole was an improvement on their previous attempt on PPV.
WWE Mae Young Classic – September 12, 2017
Mae Young Classic Tournament Final Match
Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler
As the main WWE product continued to increase its focus on females, another step forward was the Mae Young Classic, a 32-woman tournament shown on the WWE Network. While it didn’t have quite the impact of the Cruiserweight Classic from 2016, it was very well-received, and here we get to relive the final match between Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler. Paradoxically, though Sane is victorious, it is Shayna who currently reigns as NXT Women’s Champion.
WWE Royal Rumble 2018 – January 28, 2018
30-Woman Royal Rumble Match
The inaugural women’s Royal Rumble match on PPV was arguably the finest hour in WWE history for the females. A generous cast of names from the past, ranging from Lita to Trish Stratus to Vickie Guerrero, join almost all of the company’s top women (as champions at the time, Alexa Bliss and Charlotte are spectators for this one) to put on an unforgettable Rumble bout, capped off by the official arrival of Ronda Rousey to WWE (remember how Asuka batting away Ronda’s attempted handshake seemed to hint at a future rivalry? That seems to have been forgotten about given how Asuka’s fortunes have plummeted over the last few months).
WWE Elimination Chamber 2018 0 February 18, 2018
WWE RAW Women’s Championship Elimination Chamber Match
Alexa Bliss (C) vs. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks vs. Sonya Deville vs. Mandy Rose vs. Mickie James
Given the wealth of first-ever contests for women in the last few years, the first all-female Chamber match was somewhat forgotten after it had taken place. But revisiting it here, it’s a well-worked battle with several mini-plots being told, and as such it is a more-than-worthy inclusion on this DVD.
WWE WrestleMania 34 – April 8, 2018
Mixed Tag Team Match
Kurt Angle & Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H & Stephanie McMahon
Ronda Rousey’s debut match is a fitting way to close the set. Based on entertainment value, the bout is a huge success, and given how Rousey has maintained her momentum ever since (albeit with only occasional in-ring appearances on television and at live events so far), this will be looked at one day as a pivotal moment in a wrestling career which has the potential to be truly massive.
Women’s wrestling has had a fascinating journey throughout the years in WWE, but my big issue with this DVD is that the story has incomplete chapters. Indeed, we don’t hear about the infamous 1985 double-cross of Richter by Moolah (who was performing as the masked Spider Lady), the rise of Sunny and Sable (two ladies who genuinely changed the game for women in the company), the general emphasis on sexuality amongst the women in the company throughout the Attitude Era and beyond, the importance of Chyna (who of course competed against the men as well as against the women), and even the late 2000s/early 2010s era which wasn’t without merit, despite what WWE might tell via its revisionist history (Beth Phoenix and Michelle McCool only appear on this DVD in the Royal Rumble match). What’s more, several five-star female matches from NXT (where the WWE women’s revolution truly began) are not here, and Asuka’s dominance on the developmental brand is not really covered at all.
Those gripes aside (as well as the politically-motivated selection of performers for the box art, which for instance sees Chyna absent but Stephanie McMahon present), this is an entertaining round-up of women’s wrestling throughout the years in WWE. I can’t say that this is a great DVD, because of the notable omissions, and because, as mentioned, the story is incomplete whatever way you look at it. A documentary might have been the better option to take in order to truly cover all of the peaks and valleys for the ladies (perhaps such a DVD will be released in 2019 or 2020).
Taken for what it is, though, “Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of WWE’s Women’s Division” is a fun trip down memory lane, as well as a respectable spotlight on how the women’s division have taken the company as a whole by storm throughout this decade, forcing a movement that has truly changed WWE for the better.
Get your copy of “The Evolution of WWE’s Women’s Division” DVD…
– UK/Europe: RIGHT NOW! Grab the WWE Women’s DVD right now on Amazon.co.uk.
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– Australia: TBA. Your pre-order opportunity will be announced soon via Madman.com.au.