I logged all of the televised women’s matches for WWE, AEW, and Impact up to this point for the year, and I’m going to continue to do so throughout all of 2021. What you’re getting here is a snapshot in time, but one that is likely to hold up since the only real dynamic shifter on the horizon is Becky Lynch returning and even that may not fundamentally alter how many women’s segments and matches are booked unless she gets her own time on top of what already exists. Simply swapping one woman in for another, even if that woman is Lynch, doesn’t change the actual number of opportunities that are going around so that’s not gonna get anyone a higher grade here.
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/need so measuring 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. It also highlights some fundamental problems across the entire business as it comes to booking women’s wrestling.
What are those problems, you say? The biggest one 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, 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 all but nonexistent across American women’s wrestling. Men’s wrestling suffers from that too, but not to the same degree. I counted 13 pay per view matches so far in WWE this year that were not connected to a championship in some kind of way, and only three of those involved a woman. AEW has had eight with only one for the women, while Impact has 13 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.
But back to the matter at hand. How are things for the women’s division on TV? I looked at the following data points, as of October 15, 2021:
- Total number of matches
- Number of matches every week
- Time for each match
- How many women wrestled on each show
- How many closing segments have women’s matches all year
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 because they should have more of everything just because, so my grades are a mashup of individual performance plus 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.
Monday Night RAW
- Total matches: 90
- Matches per week: 2.14
- Matches under five minutes: 42
- Women with over 10 matches: 12
- Women wrestling per week: 5.93
- Main event matches: 7
High points: volume, participation rate, placement on the show
Low points: rationing, short match times
RAW was really in the gutter during the back half of 2020 but has rebounded pretty well this year, especially after WrestleMania. As of this writing they’ve had almost 90 women’s 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’ve had a dozen women work 10 matches or more this year. And they’ve gotten the main event slot six times this year. Since WrestleMania the title has been at the forefront of the booking.
They have multiple workhorses, too. Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler all have over 20 matches logged in this year while Rhea Ripley and Nikki ASH have been working at that pace since WrestleMania and will get there by year’s end. You may not like all the storylines or agree with who’s in what position but you cannot deny that the women have been getting space to operate all year.
However there’s a big caveat in the first three months of the year were largely a wasteland. The women’s title was barely visible 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 has gone up against Randy Orton, Shayna Baszler, and then Eva Marie and Dudrop. The seeds have also been planted for a feud between Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax, while Marie and Doudrop did split and face off for a few weeks. There should be more of this happening but that we’re getting this much is something. Last year we got Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville for a while 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 zero emphasis on the women’s title. The main storyline was the Charlotte/Lacey Evans/Ric Flair soap opera, which seemingly no one involved liked doing. And then Charlotte went out during March because of COVID and Ripley had to be inserted into the 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 before WrestleMania, which was just sad.
And 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’s no reason to subject us to 10 to 15 minutes of Jackson Ryker on any week when that time could be 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: B+. It really is a tale of two cities here, with WrestleMania as the dividing line. If they keep it after the draft induced roster changes, they might finish with an A.
How to improve: Make the third women’s match a staple and not just every now and then. They also need more bodies as they tend to overwork the regulars while leaving one or two off of TV that could at least fill in more. After the draft they will have a bigger roster and let’s hope they use them more. A 3 hour show having fewer women than a 2 hour show makes no sense at all, but that will be rectified soon.
- Total matches: 56
- Matches per week: 1.33
- Matches under five minutes: 35
- Women with over 10 matches: 6
- Women wrestling per week: 3.45
- Main event matches: 4
High points: Top of the division, emphasis on title, promo segments
Low points: everything else
Well, if Monday tells one story, Friday tells a different one and it’s not good. The saving grace, the only thing that has made the division palatable this year has been the three Hall of Famers and soon to be Hall of Famer at the top. Bianca Belair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and now Becky Lynch have managed to at least somewhat obscure what has been a mess of a division as far as booking goes. That the title has been held or contested by all four this year has made things look a lot better on the surface than they are beneath. As for the rest, well…..
The match distribution has stunk all year so far. They get only one match most weeks, have had five weeks with no matches (including three times in five weeks surrounding Summerslam), and almost two thirds of their matches have been under five minutes, the worst of any show. Ruby Riott was criminally underused while she was there, Bayley was inexplicably a ghost for several weeks leading up to WrestleMania, and Liv Morgan has been MIA for as many as nine weeks at a time. When we all tweet ‘oh, a second women’s match tonight?’ that’s not a good thing. And lately that itself hasn’t been a good thing either.
The individual breakdowns really spell this out. Only five women have worked ten matches or more this year; Carmella, who could have been working a ton of 5 to 7 minute matches against the entire roster was mostly kept in mothballs through WrestleMania. Morgan, while getting the second most total matches (16) has been stopped and started all year. Naomi worked 16 matches on RAW but zero since she was moved over to Smackdown (but at least has been working a storyline around just that!). Mia Yim was reportedly moved over but didn’t even work one match before getting drafted back to RAW. It begs the question of just what is going on over there?
Well, the men’s side looks like it’s 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 command space by their mere presence but they’ve also been intertwined and even they get trimmed down to fit more for the guys in. Outside of Nattie and Tamina’s tag title quest and reign everyone else has been largely been banished to the shadow realm until they’re needed to build a multi woman pay per view match. New arrivals Toni Storm, Tegan Knox, and Shotzi Blackheart have gotten some screen time but like so many others have gone weeks at a time with no action.
The worst part is that anything not involving the women’s title is relegated to sub five minute matches, many as short as two minutes or less. September saw more promo time and vignettes but was not reflected in match time or opportunities beyond a scant few. In fact the only to get more than five minutes for a women’s match on Smackdown, is for it to be against or involve Becky, Bianca, Sasha, or Bayley. Post draft that will likely change to facing Sasha or Charlotte, but we should demand more.
Overall grade: C, and that’s almost entirely due to Sasha, Bayley Bianca, and now Becky.
How to improve: Give the women outside the title picture more matches, particularly against each other and use some of that to try and move someone up the ladder. Use the women who are listed on the roster but haven’t been seen yet, and use the ones who disappear for a whole month at a time consistently. In other words do something, anything, regularly with women who are not feuding for the title. The top two have mostly been taken care of all year but the rest of the roster’s deployment leaves so much to be desired.
- Total matches: 76
- Matches per week: 1.95
- Matches under five minutes: 39
- Women with over 10 matches: 7
- Women wrestling per week: 5.13
- Main event matches: 3
High points: match allocation per show, overall talent depth
Low points: No real ace of the division
Of all the shows NXT has made the most efficient use of time for its women’s division. This year they’ve run almost as many matches as RAW 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 (6) than anyone else other than RAW. They use everybody from the champion at the time down to newest arrivals. Raquel Gonzalez has been a fighting champion since she won the title.
But there is something missing. There’s no established ace of the division, someone who works lots of matches and clearly is positioned as the top dog regardless of titleholder status. On RAW Charlotte and Asuka have at different times held that position this year and on Smackdown it’s been Bianca all year. On NXT, well……. Io Shirai as champion took a backseat to all the women’s tag team stuff they were doing earlier this year. Raquel Gonzalez, while working regularly as champion, did not immediately radiate authority like you want your champion/workhorse to.
To make a basketball analogy the NXT roster is 12 good players with a few All Stars but no MVP candidate. They can hang with every team and even beat the best ones sometimes; they’ll win 55 games every year but lose in the second round of the playoffs or the conference finals. Losing Belair, Ripley, and Baszler has taken a toll at the top and the depth has taken a hit with Tegan, Shotzi, and Storm moving on while Dakota Kai has been in dark match limbo on Raw and Smackdownthe past few months.
Now while those losses matter, the NXT 2.0 launch had shuffled the deck in an interesting way. Kay Lee Ray coming over from the UK along with Mandy Rose returning 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 we have a whole new roster. From a statistical standpoint there has been a lot of turnover as the stalwarts from the past couple of years stopped accumulating matches and the newbies start doing so. The total numbers should remain the same, though.
Overall grade: B+. Consistently good all year, but outside of a few moments nothing that really jumps and sticks. The best thing going as far as buzz was the Index storyline. But all in all the best usage of the women’s division of all the shows.
How to improve: Now that the mission has changed in midstream it’s simple. Be about development of the newer girls while establishing Raquel more firmly as champion.
- Total matches: 44
- Matches per week: 1.1
- Matches under five minutes: 7
- Women with over 10 matches: 0
- Women wrestling per week: 2.5
- Main event matches: 2
High points: average match time, Britt Baker’s development
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 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 are the only one to have no one get to ten matches yet this year. Britt Baker, the current champion and most highlighted woman in the company, still has fewer matches on TV all year than Gallows and Anderson who aren’t even signed there!
If you want to make a different comparison Bayley has more matches on Smackdown than Britt despite not wrestling since June 25. Dana Brooke has wrestled on RAW once in the last three months and has more matches on TV. Piper Niven has more matches on RAW than Britt despite not debuting until June 14. And as of the week of October 8 RAW has almost twice as matches as Dynamite. That’s pretty pathetic.
I will give them credit for two things: (1) Baker being groomed to win the title and take over the division, and (2) match times. Outside a few squashes everyone regardless of matchup gets more than five minutes to work, and they have the smallest percentage of sub five minute matches. No truncating what should be seven minute matches into two minutes here; now whether or not that’s good thing depends on who’s involved but if nothing else at least they get time every week to put together a match with a planned beginning, middle, and end.
But that’s it. To be blunt, it looks like they care about Baker and the rest are just names in a hat to be pulled out and sent to the ring. Hikaru Shida was sitting in the stands like a fan many weeks while she was champion, and has been on once since losing to Baker. Until that mentality changes then it is what it is. The excuse/rationale for this, that there are plenty of women’s matches on their YouTube shows, just doesn’t fly either. Everyone wants to be on the main 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.
Overall grade: D. Baker saves it from being an F, but outside of her there is little to no effort put in here outside of her weekly segment and/or match, whether she’s been champion or not. 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 only one woman makes it to TV every week.
How to improve: See everything I said about Smackdown and swap Britt Baker with the top 3. Add a second match more often so that everyone can get more reps in. 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. Work on developing at least one more woman on the roster to be a consistent television presence.
- Total matches: 52
- Matches per week: 1.268
- Matches under five minutes: 14
- Women with over 10 matches: 7
- Women wrestling per week: 3.9
- Main event matches: 0
High points: Consistency, overall talent depth
Low points: No main events
Impact has had the most consistently well booked women’s division for the last ten plus years and it’s not even close. 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. Things were going along very well in Impact for most of the year but in the last month or so they have regressed into having fewer matches and even a week with no matches. 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. Match times started out good across the board but have since fallen off. The champion is well established and presented as important. The only thing that’s missing is main events. Impact has had women main event TV and Pay Per Views in the past but not at all this year.
How to improve: Book some women’s main events on TV before the year is up. Get back on track with the match times and allocation.
Conclusions (for now)
The ideal women’s division would have the top star presentation that WWE has on Raw and Smackdown with the usage rate of Raw and NXT. The biggest problem in WWE on Raw and Smackdown is 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 time. 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 is operating from the old 80s model where the existence of a division is there for the purpose of feeding opponents to your top woman whether she is champion or not at the time. Nothing else matters to be honest. No feuds, no fights to climb the ladder, nothing. 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.
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.
So that’s where we are as of now. I’m going to keep logging in numbers and I’ll update it accordingly.