Note: this was an ongoing project that was updated throughout the year. It will be updated if and when I find better information or if I need to make any corrections. All the data on matches and match times were taken from http://www.profightdb.com and http://www.cagematch.net.
I logged all of the televised women’s matches for WWE, AEW, and Impact for the year, through all of 2021. Now I know that matches alone are not the end all be all of judging how well the shows treat their women’s division. Promo segments, storylines, etc can be just as if not more important as the mere existence of matches, even great ones. But matches are easy to quantify and the men’s side seems to get all the match time they want and/or need so it does actually matter. And, I might add, promo segments should not be taken as a suitable replacement for just not having matches at all or limiting them to two minutes.
The biggest problem in women’s wrestling as it regards to TV can be summed up in one word: rationing. Too often the women’s side of the ledger is treated like a quota system – every week they get X number of matches (usually 1 or 2), X number of segments, etc while on the men’s side it really feels like no one is keeping count at all. There’s typically a 3 or 4 to 1 ratio for two hour shows and a 5 to 2 ratio for RAW week in and week out. With the number of women working for each company there’s no reason to stick to that allocation every week. And then there’s the other issue….
Non title feuds continue to be in short supply across American women’s wrestling. Men’s wrestling suffers from that too, but not to the same degree. I counted 28 pay per view matches so far in WWE this year that were not connected to a championship in some kind of way, and only six of those involved a woman. None of those six sniffed the significance of Edge vs Seth Rollins or Bad Bunny and Damien Priest vs Miz and Morrison, either. AEW has had 19 with only two for the women, while Impact has 15 and 3 respectively. While things are better on TV this situation on pay per views is definitely one of the not so great developments of the past 20 years, and it’s especially damning for the women’s side. One feeds the other of course; the fewer women’s matches you have the less space exists for non title feuds. That we had three happening on WWE TV at the end of the year is a damn miracle.
But back to the matter at hand. How are things for the women’s division on TV? I looked at the following data points, for the entire year:
- Total number of matches
- Number of matches every week
- Time for each match, mainly were the matches less than five minutes or not
- How many women wrestled on each show
- How many main events have the women had all year. And by main events I mean matches that ended the show, not just the last match on the show as some episodes end with promo segments, contract signings etc.
I gave each show a grade based on how they handled all those things in total. RAW being three hours puts it in a different place in that they should have more of everything just because, so as a result my grades are a mashup of individual performance and relative performance to everyone else. In easier terms the two hour shows should at least be doing 2/3 of what RAW is doing and if they aren’t that’s a problem. But RAW serves as the baseline simply by default here, not because they set some ironclad standard to be measured by.
Monday Night RAW
- Total matches: 109
- Matches per week: 2.09
- Matches under five minutes: 53
- Women with over 10 matches: 13
- Women wrestling per week: 5.81
- Main event matches: 10
High points: relative volume to other shows, participation rate, placement on the show
Low points: ratio of matches to TV time, too many matches under five minutes
RAW was really in the gutter during the last quarter of 2020 but rebounded pretty well this year, especially after WrestleMania. The women were in 109 matches this year, and you can count on at least two matches most weeks (they had two or more 80 percent of the time). They had over a dozen women work 10 matches or more this year. And they got the main event slot ten times in total. Since WrestleMania the title was at the forefront of the booking.
They had multiple workhorses, too. Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler all had over 20 matches logged in before the draft while Rhea Ripley and Nikki ASH crossed that threshold shortly after. Flair and Baszler topped 30 matches, to boot. Since the roster resets Bianca Belair crossed the 10 match threshold herself. The women have been getting space to operate all year even as the roster turned over through releases, Lacey Evans pregnancy, Rhea Ripley’s earlier than expected call up, and the draft.
It did take some time to find it’s footing. Before WrestleMania the women’s title was barely emphasized and there was a serious talent disparity after the top four or five, which made for a lot of matches that got cut super short every week. But since Mania that got fixed. Peyton Royce and Lana were released, Lacey Evans went off for maternity leave, and Mandy Rose was moved to NXT. In their place came Rhea Ripley, Piper Niven and the returning Nikki Cross. While Naomi going to Smackdown was a loss the overall exchange was a huge net positive and reflected as such in the match lineups since. I dare say that from Mania through Extreme Rules in September RAW had the best booked women’s division on TV this year.
RAW has also had a couple of non-title feuds this year that involved Alexa Bliss, who through her transformed character went up against Randy Orton, Shayna Baszler, and then Eva Marie and Dudrop before challenging for the title. Post draft Liv Morgan and Carmella brought their feud over from Smackdown for a couple of weeks, and Bianca Belair and Doudrop feuded in December. There should be more of this happening but that we’re got that much is something. Last year we got Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville for a while on Smackdown but that was it.
Now for the downsides. Like I said the first quarter of the year was pretty dire. Lots of two and three minute matches, and little emphasis on the women’s title. The main storyline during that time was the Charlotte/Lacey Evans/Ric Flair soap opera, which seemingly no one involved liked doing but they all soldiered through until Evans got pregnant and was written off TV. Then Charlotte went out during March because of COVID and Ripley had to be inserted into the WrestleMania title picture at the last minute. All this while Baszler and Jax went through an endless loop of short matches with Rose, Lana, Dana Brooke and whoever they got to team with them that week. The RAW Women’s Title was an afterthought until the week before WrestleMania, which was just sad.
Overall I’d say it was pretty good for the year as a whole, but despite all the good things as far as sheer volume, there still could stand to be more. In a three hour show three matches should be the standard and not two. There was no reason to subject us to 10 to 15 minutes of Jackson Ryker on any week when that time could have been spent on any number of women. There’s no reason to let the opening match + promo bleed all the way to 8:40 if it means cutting the women’s time. The effort needs to be made to curtail the excess AND to treat the women who are not in the top two or 3 the same as their male counterparts.
Overall grade: Pre WrestleMania, C; Post WrestleMania through the draft: A-. Post draft: B. It really is a tale of three cities here, with WrestleMania and the roster resets as the dividing lines. That of course averages out to a B, which sounds about right.
How to improve: Make the third women’s match a staple and not just an every now and then occurrence.
- Total matches: 68
- Matches per week: 1.31
- Matches under five minutes: 41
- Women with over 10 matches: 8
- Women wrestling per week: 3.48
- Main event matches: 3
High points: Top of the division, emphasis on title, promo segments
Low points: Too many short matches, too many long absences
Smackdown was a tale of two different periods – the pre-draft period, and the post-draft period. Over time some aspects got better but one in particular, the habit of booking too many short matches, stayed the same. The one good consistent thing that happened on Fridays was that the Women’s Title was treated like the most important thing going on the division. But beyond that……oh boy.
The match distribution was pretty inconsistent all year. They only got one match most weeks and had six weeks with no matches (including three times in five weeks surrounding Summerslam). Ruby Riott was criminally underused while she was there, Bayley was inexplicably a ghost for nine weeks leading up to and following WrestleMania, Carmella was gone for three months from January through WrestleMania, and Liv Morgan was MIA two different times for as many as seven weeks at a time. And then there was Shotzi with nine weeks between matches after getting called up and the now departed Toni Storm (seven and then another eight weeks with no matches). The most egregious period was September where for the month there were three total matches and even the workhorse Bianca Belair didn’t have one. Yikes. It got better after the rosters reset but not enough to erase what had happened all year beforehand.
The match times were their own issue. 41 of the of their 68 matches (60%) were under five minutes, the worst of any show. (For example Charlotte’s 10/29 match against Shotzi that ran 11:55 was Shotzi’s longest singles match of the year but was shorter than a dozen of Charlotte’s singles matches on RAW this year). Almost everything not involving the women’s title or that wasn’t a tag or multi-woman match was relegated to less than five minutes, many as short as two minutes or less. Even the Queens Crown tournament didn’t help in that all of the matches were under three minutes! In fact the only way to get more than five minutes for a women’s match on Smackdown was for it to be against or involve a Horsewoman or Bianca. The longest match that didn’t include any of those five was eight minutes, when Natalya and Tamina defeated Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler to win the Women’s Tag Team Titles. And it didn’t get much better post-draft as Naomi and Shayna’s seven and a half minute match on November 5 was the longest match that didn’t include with Sasha or Charlotte.
For most of year the men’s side looked like it was literally elbowing the women out of the way. With a two hour show, and one that is heavy on talking segments anyone who doesn’t command time can get lost in the sauce. Becky, Bayley, Sasha, and Bianca commanded space by their mere presence but they were also intertwined and even they seemed to get trimmed down to fit all the guys stuff in. Before the draft the only real story that didn’t revolve around the women’s title was Nattie and Tamina’s tag title quest while everyone else was banished to the shadow realm until they were needed to build a multi woman pay per view match. But there was some improvement after the rosters reset. The last month and a half saw some feuds develop outside the title picture (Naomi vs Sonya Deville, Sasha vs Shotzi, and Xia Li vs Natalya) while sending a new challenger Charlotte’s way in Toni Storm. The entire roster was featured in matches, backstage promos, or vignettes until the last week. The match times got better too as six matches that went over ten minutes happened in November and December, almost as many as the rest of the year.
Overall grade: Pre Draft gets a C, and that’s almost entirely due to Sasha, Bayley, and Bianca and then Becky after Summerslam. The post roster reset period gets a B+ thanks to more consistent usage of the entire roster. So that adds up to a total grade of a very generous B- for the year.
How to improve: Book the entire year like they have since the rosters reset. Pretty simple.
- Total matches: 98
- Matches per week: 1.90
- Matches under five minutes: 51
- Women with over 10 matches: 9
- Women wrestling per week: 5.14
- Main event matches: 5
High points: match allocation per show, overall talent depth
Low points: Roster turnover
Of all the shows NXT made the most efficient use of time for its women’s division. This year they ran almost as many matches (98) as RAW (109) despite being an hour shorter. They don’t turn what should be six minute matches into two minute matches. They’ve had 3 matches in one show more times (11) than anyone else other than RAW (14). They use everybody from the champion at the time down to newest arrivals. While there some long gaps in between matches for several women that time was filled amply with other women unlike the void that was often there on Smackdown. Raquel Gonzalez was a fighting champion and got to defend the title on TV several times, and Mandy Rose has been presented as a big deal upon returning and since winning the title from her.
But there has been a weird order of things. As champion Io Shirai was made second priority behind establishing the women’s tag division, and there hasn’t been an established in ring workhorse all year. Raquel Gonzalez, while working regularly as champion, did not establish the kind of footprint to serve as a pillar of the division. She led the way in matches worked for the year, but the call ups and releases kept anyone else from getting enough of a foothold to give a clear picture of the division. Roster turnover has been a challenge this year, and was a drag on everything. Losing Belair, Ripley, and Baszler in 2020 and 2021 took a toll at the top and the depth took a hit with Tegan Knox (before she was released), Shotzi, and Storm moving on and Xia Li getting drafted to Smackdown. While those losses matter, the NXT 2.0 launch has shuffled the deck in an interesting way. Kay Lee Ray coming over from the UK along with Rose’s return to form the faction Toxic Attraction has reset the universe so to speak. Add in an influx of women who were moved from working out in the PC to television and promising youngsters like Cora Jade and there’s a whole new roster. And to their credit the total participation numbers have remained through it all.
Overall grade: A-. Consistently good all year, but they get dinged a bit for laying off of Io’s title reign early on. Their peaks were also not as high as Raw or Smackdown, even with those show’s bigger issues. But if you want a model wrestling show for women’s wrestling this is the one to look at. Doing almost as much as a three hour show in two hours is quite remarkable, and they clearly outclassed all the two hour shows this year.
How to improve: Now that the mission has changed in midstream it’s simple. Be about development of the newer girls while giving Mandy Rose a good run as champion. But otherwise keep doing what they’re doing.
- Total matches: 56
- Matches per week: 1.08
- Matches under five minutes: 7
- Women with over 10 matches: 3
- Women wrestling per week: 2.42
- Main event matches: 2
High points: average match time, Britt Baker’s development, TBS Title Tournament
Low points: everything else
The overall motto of Dynamite is ‘you’ll get your one women’s match and you’ll like it!’ There is usually no coherence week to week as far as who faces who and why, and because of the low number of matches to start with no one has had a chance to get established as an in ring anchor for the division. Of the five shows they took the longest to have one woman get to ten matches yet this year. And that woman, Britt Baker, the current champion and most highlighted woman in the company, had fewer matches on TV all year than Gallows and Anderson until then and they weren’t even signed there!
If you want to make a different comparison Naomi didn’t wrestle on RAW after July and had more matches on RAW than any woman on Dynamite all year. Multiple women in WWE have two or even three times as many televised matches than anyone in AEW on Dynamite, and there are a few who have topped 10 matches on both RAW and Smackdown. And by year’s end RAW had almost twice as matches with women as Dynamite, 109 to 56. That’s pretty pathetic. And even the addition and development of some new talent like Ruby Soho and Jade Cargill has not changed matters one bit. Neither has adding the TBS title as a secondary belt; the tournament for that title has simply been the women’s match of the week instead of and not in addition to something surrounding Baker’s title, and we wait and see how that title is booked once there is a champion.
Hikaru Shida was sitting in the stands like a fan many weeks while she was champion, and has barely been on since losing to Baker. There was an entire feud between the now departed Big Swole and Diamante that took place entirely on the YouTube show. Until that mentality changes then it is what it is. Everyone wants to be on the main show, the television show, and you know it. Asking people to watch your YouTube show, and then your other YouTube show on top of your two TV shows and whatever else they watch during the week is a bit much.
(Side note: I did not do a detailed look at Rampage, but they do the exact same one match per show slate as Dynamite)
Overall grade: D. Baker and the TBS Title Tournament save it from being an F, but outside of that there was little to no effort put in every week. Having your women’s champion sit in the bleachers like a fan is just egregious. Having whole feuds go down on the YouTube shows without any spillover to TV is bad when there is only one woman in the whole company who makes it to TV every week. The TBS title tournament is a good thing in a vacuum but in the grand scheme of things it’s a band aid at best.
How to improve: Add a second match every week. Don’t ever again have your women’s champion sitting in the stands watching like a fan. Give somebody, anybody, more matches than men who aren’t even signed there. Put the TBS title and its programs on Dynamite in addition to the World Title . Work on developing at least one more woman on the roster to be a consistent television presence.
- Total matches: 63
- Matches per week: 1.26
- Matches under five minutes: 17
- Women with over 10 matches: 8
- Women wrestling per week: 3.9
- Main event matches: 2*
High points: Consistency, overall talent depth
* I initially said that Impact had no women’s main events on TV, that was incorrect and was corrected. My apologies.
Impact has had the most consistently well booked women’s division for the last ten plus years and it’s not even close, but took a step back on television as the year went on. WWE’s ceiling has been higher but floor has also been lower like the very recent two minute special era of the Diva’s division, and the creeping return of that habit in 2021. Things were going along very well in Impact for most of the year but in the last month or so they regressed into having fewer matches and even a week with no matches. And it seemed as the year closed out that intergender matches and mixed tags were infringing on the territory of the Knockouts division. If you’re going to have a standalone women’s division then it needs to get match time every week; mixed tags and intergender matches are not a substitute and should have their own space. The same goes for throwing women into matches like the Call Your Shot Battle Royal in November; that was a TV main event but I did not count that as a main event for the women because it was not a women’s match proper. But all year they’ve given both the women’s singles and tag team titles their proper reverence and that is to be commended. The Knockouts division is never going to be first but the gap between them and the men is never as wide as it’s been elsewhere.
Overall grade: B-. Consistent participation all year but never in the top spot on the show. The one match syndrome isn’t as bad as Dynamite but it picked up on their end as the year progressed. Match times started out good across the board but have since fallen off. The champion is well established and presented as important. On one non-TV positive note they did run an all women’s PPV in 2021, something no one else in my study did.
How to improve: Book some women’s main events on TV again. Get back on track with the match times and allocation.
The ideal women’s division would have the top star presentation that WWE has on Raw and Smackdown with the total roster usage rate of NXT. The biggest problem in WWE on Raw and Smackdown has been that if you don’t crack the upper tier then you’re in the wind until it’s Royal Rumble or Money in the Bank or Survivor Series or time for a temporary showcase of some kind. With Impact the problem is that at the end of the day you’re in Impact Wrestling where your work will always be shrugged off as being in the minor leagues and forgotten.
Then there’s Dynamite which was for most of the year operating from the old 80s model where the existence of a division is there for the purpose of feeding opponents to your top woman and little else. Nothing else mattered to be honest. And once a woman gets her title shot and loses it’s been back to the YouTube bin. The introduction of the TBS title promises to add something to it but the proof will be in the pudding. For now it’s been a fill in and not an addition.
Across the business yes there has been major progress but there’s still a ways to go. The next big step for someone to take is to give the women more time than the men for a few episodes. And then one day to have a coed promotion where the women’s division rules the roost. We already have some all women’s promotions but the real measure of opportunities is where they have to share the same space as men and decisions have to be made on who give more or give less. If your women’s side is better than the men’s side top to bottom then that should ultimately be reflected in how you use them.
What can I do as a fan?
Real simple. Reward good practices. Impact and NWA had all women’s pay perviews this year; I ordered and watched them both. Watch all the matches they put on TV and speak up about them – tweet about, make IG posts, if you have a blog or whatever then write about it. Watch and interact with the YouTube videos and IG posts the companies make about the matches. Show that there is real interest in women’s wrestling on TV. If you spend more time complaining about a wack male wrestler or a match/segment with the guys than you do praising the girls then you’re only making it more likely that the wack dudes get more time the next week.
The second part is the hard part, and that is that you have to be willing to turn the show off if they don’t do the women right. The awful truth behind this is that too much of the audience is perfectly fine with the women getting scraps so long as the men’s stuff is to their satisfaction. If you want some real change then that’s a step you have to be willing to make, to turn the whole thing off (or at least the men’s side) if they’re not gonna treat the women’s side properly.
So that’s where we are for 2021. Thanks for going on the ride with me here. I’m going to make every attempt to keep this going for 2022 and we’ll see what changes.