The December 18 episode of WWE Raw closed with Stephanie McMahon making a historic announcement: For the first time in history, there will be a women's over-the-top-rope battle royal at The Royal Rumble. The winner will get a title shot at WrestleMania.
In just three years, WWE women's wrestling has grown by leaps and bounds. There have been so many firsts. Two women main evented a pay-per-view for the first time in 2015; that match was also the first women's Iron Man match. The first women's Hell in a Cell match was in 2016. The first women's Money in the Bank ladder match was in 2017.
Each of these firsts was crucial, because it set a standard for future Superstars to pursue. For this reason, the first women's Royal Rumble must be a serious athletic competition all the way through. Play it straight. There is no room or time for "humorous" skits on this occasion.
These matches are more than an affirmation of what is current; they are also a course correction to how WWE treated women in the past. And I'm not talking about the bra and panties matches and dog barking segments, which were close to two decades ago; I'm talking about less than three years ago, when women's matches were the bathroom break of the show. The average women's match at the time was 3-5 minutes--nowhere near long enough to tell a decent story. WWE fans, generally speaking, were irritated and bored, but they put up with it. Everyone, the company included, seemed to have a defeatist "it is what it is" attitude about the whole situation.
But on February 23, 2015, there was a tag match on Raw between Paige/Emma and The Bella Twins that lasted approximately 30 seconds. Paige and Emma were the shining stars of the women's division in NXT. And fans were upset. The hashtag #GiveDivasAChance trended on social media, and the backlash forced WWE to consider an overdue notion: that on a three-hour show, the female wrestlers deserved a match that was longer than their collective entrances.
Since then, things have improved greatly. Now, the Cruiserweights are the bathroom break of the show (which could fill an entire editorial by itself). And the women have compelling storylines and excellent matches. To use a recent example, the Paige vs. Sasha Banks match on the December 4 Raw was the highlight of the entire show.
The company has gained a dedicated female audience--one that cosplays as its favorite characters, pays money to see the live shows, and subscribes to the Network. WWE needs to cater to that audience, specifically.
No Stupid Jokes
At WrestleMania XXV, there was a Divas battle royal, the winner of which would be crowned Miss WrestleMania. WWE invited Divas from years past -- Sunny, Molly Holly, and Torrie Wilson--to make this a nostalgia fest.
WWE mucked it up in two ways. One, they made the Divas enter the ring as part of a Kid Rock performance. There were no individual entrances, which would allow fans to celebrate each woman's participation. And two, they had Santino Marella win the title of Miss WrestleMania by coming to the ring dressed as a woman.
Imagine if WWE attempted something similar for the first women's Royal Rumble. What if Tyler Breeze came to the ring dressed as a woman? Even if he didn't win the entire thing--even if the women collectively threw him out of the ring together--it's still wasting a spot that a female wrestler deserves, for a retrograde comedy bit that's not worth the effort.
No Match-Altering Interference
This year was the first women's Money in the Bank ladder match. It should have been a landmark occasion in WWE history, a chance to create a highlight reel moment for years to come. Instead, WWE Creative had James Ellsworth climb the ladder and drop the briefcase to Carmella. To put it more bluntly: In a match that was marketed as empowering to women, a man was the one who secured the victory.
The backlash was swift, and WWE redid the match on SmackDown; this time, Carmella won the briefcase on her own. But by then, the damage was done. And even though Carmella still has the briefcase, nobody cares anymore, and nobody takes her seriously. Hopefully, WWE has learned its lesson; whoever wins the Royal Rumble needs to have stood on her own two feet to get there.
Years from now, when the women are more firmly established, outside interference in the Rumble might work. But for this first one? The winner needs to be non-controversial and legitimate.
Have A Full-Time Superstar Win The Match
Over the next several weeks, writers and bloggers will speculate on which WWE legends will enter the rumble--Trish Stratus; Lita; Alundra Blayze. They'll also speculate about which non-wrestlers will enter the rumble--Ronda Rousey; Cris Santos. They would all be wonderful surprises, and their participation would undoubtedly draw interest.
But none of these women should actually win the entire thing.
Imagine if Mr. T won the first male Royal Rumble. This women's match needs to highlight and celebrate the full-time talent, rather than being a celebrity vehicle. A Rousey or Cyborg victory might pop the fans and get some mainstream news coverage. But unless Rousey or Cyborg is committed to working WWE's full-time schedule, a victory would be a short term gain for a long term loss. What will Charlotte Flair''s multiple title reigns and Asuka's undefeated streak be reduced to if Rousey can simply waltz in and armbar her way to victory?
Establish a respectability and history the women can be proud of. And then, decades from now, they'll call back to that history instead of reinventing it all over again.