Equality means receiving the same treatment as everyone else, regardless of your gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other differences. Perseverance means never giving up, despite the obstacles one faces. For decades, women have struggled to be seen as equals to their male counterparts. It happens in all aspects of life, including the sporting world. However, that is slowly beginning to change. We saw it with the popularity and the successes of Ronda Rousey in the MMA world, and the United States Women’s Soccer Team. The movement has even seen this change in the WWE. It has not been a smooth transition, and in this piece, I will discuss what has transpired so far in the division.

In the late 90’s to mid 2000’s, the WWE was filled with talented women, who wrestled hard and fought great battles. On Dec. 6, 2004, Trish Stratus and Lita were the first women to main event Monday Night Raw, a historic moment indeed! That match was the culmination to their heated in-ring rivalry, and resulted in Lita capturing the WWE Women’s title after a thrilling contest.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of women, who, while I am sure could wrestle lengthy matches, were relegated to being “eye candy”, and participated in contests where they were objectified. They were also subjected to having matches that were very brief, with no storyline attached to them. Those matches sadly were categorized by fans as the “bathroom break.” It became so bad that an eight woman tag match, which was scheduled for Wrestlemania 29 was pulled because of “time constraints.” That was not very professional. For the company to do that on their biggest stage, spoke volumes. I am sure the women looked forward to the match, and put in some hard work to make it the best they could. But, the perception of women in the WWE changed a few years later, through a program called NXT, the completion of the WWE Performance Center, and the guidance of Paul Levesque, or as wrestling fans know him, Triple H.

In 2012, Levesque was placed at the helm of a new area of the WWE called Talent Development. One of his early missions was to change NXT from a reality show into a wrestling show. He scoured different parts of the United States looking for an area to build the Performance Center, where men and women could train to become WWE Superstars. Eventually, he settled for Orlando, Florida. He also wanted to build it close to Full Sail University, which broadcasts the weekly NXT Television show.
From watching NXT on the WWE Network since 2014, fans saw the development of women such as Paige, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and a host of others females, who through hard work and perseverance are on Raw and Smackdown on a weekly basis. The women’s matches at NXT are lengthy – it gives the audience a true look at what the ladies can do in the ring. The ladies on Raw and Smackdown at the time, saw what was transpiring at NXT, and wanted to be treated the same way. They wanted, and deserved to have lengthy and meaningful matches. Little did they know that a change was coming!

On the July 13, 2015 edition of Raw, Stephanie McMahon introduced three women from NXT – Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. The crowd gave each new woman a rousing ovation. The women wanted change in the division for a while, and they were getting it. Every woman on the roster stepped up their game, and wanted to prove again that they can put on a great match. Every match was fought with tremendous intensity. Their facial expressions said it all. They felt that they were capable, and needed the recognition their male counterparts received.

One of my favourite moments in the new “Women’s Evolution” occurred on the July 25, 2015 edition of Raw. Sasha Banks dethroned her real-life friend, Charlotte, to become the WWE Women’s Champion. Fans could see the emotion etched on Sasha’s face when she won. Those two girls had a great rivalry while in NXT, and it continued on Raw. They traded wins and title victories a few times throughout 2015 and 2016. They did so well, that history was made once again. On Oct. 30, 2016, Sasha and Charlotte were the first ladies involved in a Hell in A Cell Match. Charlotte captured the Women’s title, because her opponent became “injured” during the match, and was forced to capitulate.

Currently on Raw the big storyline for the women there involves Sasha, Bayley, Mickie James, Paige, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. Every week those six are involved in a match against each other in some capacity. On Smackdown, Ruby Riot, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan have come on the show and run wild on the division. They are feuding with Naomi, Becky Lynch and Charlotte. And, like on Raw, these six women are involved in weekly matches with each other. I am sure fans are tired of seeing the same six compete against each other on both shows, but I think it helps the rookies gain experience by working with those who have been on the rosters longer. So, with both rosters stacked with female talent, it was evident that another history making moment was about to transpire.

On the Dec 18, edition of Raw, a six woman tag match concluded with all the female talent in the ring fighting each other. Stephanie McMahon entered the ring. I am sure fans thought she was coming to do something dastardly. It turned out to be completely the opposite. She announced that on January 28 at the Royal Rumble, there would not only be a Rumble match for the men….but also a Rumble match for the women. There was a deafening roar from the spectators. The girls displayed their emotions openly. What a special moment! That announcement showed that slowly, the women are beginning to be recognized in the WWE because of their talent. What’s more, is that the rules are the same and the number of entrants (30) are the same. However, the question remains, how does the company come up with thirty competitors, when the current count of women on both Raw and Smackdown equals twenty?

I think what will happen is the WWE will have a few surprise entrants, which will include some women who are currently on the NXT brand and a few names from the past. I know if the latter occurs, the crowd in Philadelphia will go crazy. The winner of this historic match will get a Women’s title match at Wrestlemania. Because of that, the champions of Raw (Alexa Bliss) and Smackdown (Charlotte Flair), will not be able to partake in the Rumble match.

My pick to win this is Asuka. She was undefeated for about two years in NXT, and that streak has continued on Raw. She displays a unique set of moves, is unpredictable, and is extremely charismatic. I also hope her undefeated record will continue until Wrestlemania, where she may defeat Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s title. If that occurs, she will be the first undefeated woman to hold the title.

Whatever the end result of the match may be, they should all be proud of the hard work they put in to achieve their success. They should also be proud of spreading a positive message to everyone, especially little girls to never give up, always work hard and believe in themselves if they want to achieve their goals.

Women deserve to be treated equally. They are strong, determined and passionate when they are involved in things that interest them. I must complement the WWE on this move. I truly believe it will only enhance the overall product.

Azeem Kayum

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