The Women’s Royal Rumble.
The Women’s Royal Rumble.
Those words still seem unreal to me, even days after the match. I normally attempt to write before Raw on Monday so I don’t have those events banging around in my head along with what happened the night before. But I needed time to process all of it. Everything that match did, everything it said, everything it meant. It is so much bigger and more important than just being the first Women’s Royal Rumble match.
I say this column was launched because of what occurred at last year’s Money in the Bank show and the horrible booking decision to have James Ellsworth grab the briefcase for Carmella. I ended up in intense “discussions,” which let’s be real, were arguments, about the decisions. What I wanted to try and have people grasp was that it was not about a single night. It was never just about Ellsworth. It was never just about a Women’s Money in the Bank match.
I’ve always stressed that none of these things happen in a bubble. As much as WWE wants to brag about their milestones for women, they’re the ones to blame for those milestones only occurring now. For decades their Women’s Division was treated as a joke, as a time filler, as a cheap and boring strip show. And now, their “Women’s Revolution” has generally felt like a painful appeasement from their end. “Fine, okay, you can have time for Women’s Matches and you can have specialty matches, but just know how much we’re going out of our way for you!”
So when there was an announced Women’s Royal Rumble, I expected more of the same. While I was relatively sure that WWE wouldn’t make the same mistake as they did at WrestleMania 25 and have a man in drag win, I did bite my lip at a few possibilities, including Stephanie McMahon arriving at Number 30 and winning to truly cement that the Women’s Revolution was all about her and how awesome she was. Or, the big rumor, Ronda Rousey arriving at number 30 and the entire Women’s Rumble just being a set piece to debut a celebrity they were using for WrestleMania in place of the women who had been training in wrestling for years and actually fought for the changes within WWE, elevating the competition day after day, night after night.
I have never ever been so glad to be so very wrong.
Going into the show, I was assuming we’d see the Women’s Rumble at maybe the top of the second hour. Sandwiched in there between tag title matches. But when the Men’s Rumble went on third during the main show, it began to dawn on all of us: there was a very good chance the women would be going on last. While some people handwaved that theory, saying that the Triple Threat Universal Title match would be the main event, they even had to backtrack when that match went on before the women. So not only was this the first Women’s Royal Rumble, it was the first time a women’s match has headlined one of the Big 4 Pay Per Views.
I will never know how many of us were in tears just over that fact and over the video package that ran before showcasing every single one of the women about to enter the ring and featuring great sound clips from many of them. This actually felt real, like they might really be getting it. WWE might finally be fulfilling part of what they promised us.
Then the actual match. The image of Sasha Banks walking out to the ring first, dressed in Wonder Woman-themed gear, the look on her face unable to hide what all of this meant for her and for women’s wrestling. She looked like she was almost holding back tears. She wouldn’t be the only woman in the match to do so.
It wasn’t until the fifth entry that we started to get a look at what was actually going on with the Rumble. When the countdown to number 5 ended and Lita’s music hit, the crowd went wild. I, personally, went wild. I am a Lita mark, that’s no secret. But it was also that Lita had been part of a group of women who pushed for matches like this years ago. Their work has finally paid off, and Lita was there to not just see, but to be a part of it. And she was in the ring with women who had cited her as inspiration for their becoming wrestlers. She was also wearing gear that had #TimesUp printed on it, supporting the movement working to fight sexual harassment. She also had two names written on her arm: “Chyna” and “Luna,” in honor of two women who were a part of building towards this revolution but unfortunately passed before they could see it.
Immediately after Lita, Kairi Sane entered the match. The winner of the 2017 Mae Young Classic, the tournament that showcased the future of women in WWE. It was past, present and future all in the match together. It was part apology, part celebration, part promise of what’s to come in the future.
As the hour went on, we saw more familiar faces return. Molly Holly, one of the most underrated women ever in WWE, showed up after denying involvement on days before. Jacqueline Moore, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016, appeared to hand out a beat down. Michelle McCool dominated the match for awhile, racking up eliminations. This was incredible, considering during her initial run with the company, McCool had been told on at least one occasion to avoid doing a big spot because it would make the guys on the show look bad. Vickie Guerrero returned for a comedy spot, still sporting her “Cougar” necklace. Beth Phoenix went one-on-one for a bit with Nia Jax, a dream scenario for many of us. And Trish Stratus entering at number 30, causing a pause in the ring as all the remaining entrants shared a look with her of shared admiration and disbelief. This was really happening for all of them.
I have to admit, there were women that returned who I had figured would never set foot in a wrestling ring again. Torrie Wilson’s appearance shocked me a bit, and her work in the match was strong. Kelly Kelly was another, making her way to the ring with a smile that looked so excited and genuine I couldn’t believe it. It is something I have been coming to terms with for a long time: there were a lot of women who have been boo-ed and mocked who really did try their best. The problem was WWE not giving them enough training. Kelly Kelly deserved the same kind of training we see women without a wrestling background getting now, the sort of training women like Naomi, Carmella, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss were given. And even if her lack of training is still apparent, that excitement on her face has me re-examining my feelings about Kelly Kelly.
In just that hour, the women managed to revisit so many moments and feuds from the past. During Vickie’s very brief time in the ring, after she realized yelling at the other four women in the ring wasn’t going to work, she paused, smiled at Michelle McCool and started to remind her of how they’d been part of a team before. Ember Moon and Asuka went at each other seamlessly, continuing their feud from NXT. Natalya and Beth Phoenix, the pair who called themselves Pin-Up Strong, threw Nia between the second ropes and then proceeded to hug. When Beth pulled back a bit, it appeared she was really crying over the moment, her and her friend, her teammate, together in a match many believed would never happen. Then, of course, Nattie turned on her, but what are you going to do?
Trish Stratus and Mickie James circling each other, smiling at the chance to continue their feud from over a decade ago, Stratus holding up seven fingers to remind Mickie and all of the other women exactly what she had achieved. And Nikki again betraying Brie Bella, history repeating itself, but this time without screaming declarations about dying in the womb.
And every woman in that match made sure every other woman in that match looked good. Women who had never met in the ring before did everything in their power to tell their stories and help their opponents tell theirs. Sure, we were supposedly watching a fight, but I cannot recall a time when I felt more solidarity among so many WWE women. For each and every one of those women there was the knowledge this was bigger than they were. Including Stephanie McMahon.
I come after Stephanie a lot in WMFR, and I still feel justified in doing so. But at the same time, there were shots of her at the announce table where you could see a smile on her face, genuine pride in what was going on. And she sold every single woman on commentary, even if she sometimes sounded stilted or over rehearsed, she praised every entrant, she shut down heel commentator Corey Graves when he (in character) tried to belittle some of them. She also countered some of Michael Cole’s statements, correcting him about the praise the women deserved. As much I as say about Stephanie, I want to take Sunday as a sign that, yes, this is about money for her, but that along with the financial factor there is a genuine desire to elevate the women in the company. Even if her words and performance can feel misguided, I hope that beneath it all there is something real.
Now, Asuka will go on to WrestleMania to challenge the champ of her choice. Of course it’s Asuka. No one is ready for Asuka. She’s been telling you that for a while now.
And you know what? We’re not talking about what happened after. We’re not talking about “Bad Reputation” hitting in the arena. I’m going to do what WWE wouldn’t: I’m going to let this moment be about the women who performed and the woman who won. You want takes on that? Go read the mainstream media attention the aftermath got. And go read Sasha Banks and Nikki Bella’s brief but biting comments on it. Because I’ve talked and thought about it enough and right now I want to appreciate what I believe to be an actual Revolutionary moment.
Where’s my FREAKING revolution? Still not sure, but I got a glimpse of it.
Now maybe start paying the women like you pay the men, because that’s kind of necessary.
I do want to say one final there here: as you may or may not know, Deadshirt.net is going to stop publishing new content after this month. So this will be my last column for the site and possibly one of the final articles that goes live. I’m sad to see the site go, I’ve had a wonderful time writing for them. So I want to thank Deadshirt.net for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts and for taking a chance on this column when even I wasn’t sure it was going to work out. I want to give a special thanks to Dylan Roth, who has been an amazing editor and beyond supportive as a fellow writer and a friend.
Where’s My FREAKING Revolution will continue in some form or another. If you want more details, watch my Twitter, I will post them when I know what’s going on. But for now: thanks to everyone who’s read my outpouring of wrestling feels every few weeks on Deadshirt, and I can’t wait to see where the future takes us.