No doubt one of the biggest stories at the end of the year in professional wrestling is Mandy Rose’s sudden release from WWE after some of the adult content she was producing on the side got leaked onto the internet. Rose’s 400 plus day NXT women’s title reign came to abrupt end when the December 13th episode of NXT was rewritten that day to take the title off of her and she was released the next day, and by weeks end it had been confirmed that it was all in response to the leaks as they revealed that she was doing work that fell in violation of her contract. As of now the only unanswered question is when did WWE know about it; was it when the rest of us found out or some time before?
Now what Rose was doing was absolutely a breach of contract and WWE was correct on legal grounds to do what they did. The only rebuke I would have is if they knew a while back and either said nothing, or did warn her but did not take any other action. Having your women’s champion commit a fireable offense and then continuing to have her on TV as women’s champion for weeks or even months afterwards, while continuing to commit said offense, is legal but is a big heaping pile of inconsistent BS. WWE of course will never tell us if that was the case so unless Mandy tells us or someone leaks it we’ll never know.
On the moral end of things whatever you think of what Mandy was doing, the WWE’s track record on that front is nothing to take up for. WWE itself has gone from allowing and encouraging its wrestlers to pose in Playboy and Playgirl to making that off limits as it has pursued a more corporate and family friendly place in America. They’ve gone from having sections in their own website dedicated to their women wrestlers striking sexy poses in bikinis or lingerie, to wiping that completely clean as if it was never a thing. But even in this family friendly era Rose’s entire character has from day one been a sexualized object of desire first and a competitor in a fictional sport second, with the ledger only recently coming closer to being balanced. In her case WWE only has legal ground to stand on, and nothing moral as the only consistent thing they have done over many years is demand control over how it’s wrestlers profit off of their own bodies, no matter where it has chosen to draw the line in sexualized content.
Before I go any further this thread, on women in wrestling and particularly Mandy Rose, is worth your time:
Of the many good points he makes, there’s one in particular that I wanted to focus on, and that’s age. Look back at the last 20 years and check the ages of top WWE women when they got released, and either quit or retired from full time action because the money they were making wasn’t worth it and they could make more elsewhere. Trish and Lita were 31. Mickie James got released the first time at 31 and Maryse at 28. The Bellas finished their last full time run at 34. Beth Phoenix quit at 32 and Kelly Kelly did the same at 25. Stacy Keibler left at 26, Torrie Wilson got released at 32. Sable first quit at 32 years old. Eve Torres retired at 28. Rose at 32 falls right into that age range and while her release is something she forced through her own choices, her story of not making enough money in the business, needing a way to supplement it and ultimately being out at an early age, is not uncommon at all. This era we are in now, when multiple women who are at or near the top are over the age of 35, is an unprecedented time in the business. (Before you bring up Fabulous Moolah please go research the circumstances of how she hung around that long).
And those names were the top women – multi-time champs getting the biggest storylines, the most PPV matches and all. (Assume that whatever I’m saying about these ladies went worse for the ones who didn’t reach their heights in the business.) The oldest were done, either as full time performers if not altogether before 35. Some came back in various capacities, for spot duty or second runs, some didn’t. The ones who left the business entirely on their own, without being released, would make more money afterwards from photoshoots, conventions, small acting gigs, etc than they ever did wrestling. Many of them have horror stories about harassment and bullying backstage from higher ups and their male counterparts, and all of them have stories about being flat out being told that couldn’t wrestle the same as the men for fear of outshining them. WWE OG Fit Finlay, who has served as a trainer for lots of the women over the years, was known to have worked with the ladies in secret to teach them how to be good wrestlers because it wasn’t wanted by the men in charge.
Have times changed? Well, yes and no. The women of this era have been able to put on some epic matches as good as anything the men have done, and have several match of the year candidates under their belt. They’ve main evented TV episodes, pay per views, even WrestleManias. But there is still a flip side to it. There are still weeks on television where their time is rationed out or cut down. They often get just one match on a three hour show, Monday Night Raw, while the men get at least five every week. They rarely get more than two matches on a seven or eight match Premium Live Event – it happened once in 2022, while three different times they only had one match – and even the two night, 14 match WrestleMania 38 saw them have only three matches. And to this day the only surefire way to get consistent week to week TV time is to either be holding or fighting for one of the women’s championships, or alongside men like Rhea Ripley with Judgement Day. Then there’s the persistent pay gap. While there aren’t any trustworthy or official numbers out there regarding anyone’s salaries it can be noted that whenever a top 10 salaries list gets floated around on the internet there aren’t any women on it, save for the times when Ronda Rousey is working there, despite many of them playing much bigger roles on the show than several of the men who outearn them. And as is the case in other forms of entertainment the only time you hear of a woman wrestler possibly making seven figures (and we have no idea if anyone other than Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch even comes close) is to shade them for ‘making too much’ or ‘not being worth it’.
As with pretty much every profession women who seek more money are met with long explanations about revenue generation and the bottom line all while men who contribute less or nothing to that same bottom line get paid more than them. The question isn’t whether the top women should get paid Roman Reigns money, because quite frankly only one or two other people in the entire industry should, but whether they should get paid more than the men they clearly outdraw and outrank on the card. And based on what we know as fact, not speculation or rumor, there is no reason to believe that it’s happening outside of one or two cases. That also pertains to old question of who’s a draw. In the WWE in 2022 we have documented evidence that Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, and John Cena have made a major effect of some kind on business be it ticket sales, TV ratings or merchandise sales. That’s it, so unless you’re comparing somebody to one of them the evidence is inconclusive and contradictory at best. For all intents and purposes how much time the women get on each show and how much they get paid is very much a choice and not any kind of decision that is forced in one direction or another.
Now back to the age issue. As mentioned before, today there are multiple women in big roles who are at or over 35: Charlotte Flair is 36, Becky Lynch is 35, Asuka is 41. And there are other top women who aren’t 35 yet but are already the same age or older than several of their predecessors were when they left WWE: Bianca Belair is 33, Bayley is 32, and Alexa Bliss is 31. Rose who was the top woman in NXT is 32. But there’s already talk among fans on social media (no doubt accelerated by Banks rumored departure from WWE) and other corners of the internet that it’s time to move on from the quartet of Flair, Lynch, Banks, and Bayley, the Four Horsewomen of WWE. Bliss at 31 is already being booked as if her time at the top is on the clock if not over. Asuka, always one rung below Bliss and the Horsewomen, doesn’t look as if she’ll be more than a participant in big matches going forward. Within the Horsewomen Bayley has spent the last most of the last two years putting over Belair, as Lynch did in 2022 and Flair is rumored to be next up to do. Which begs the next big question: will women be allowed to get old at the top in pro wrestling now or will they be unceremoniously dumped and/or forced out in frustration again, albeit at five or six years older than the previous generations?
Randy Orton main evented two pay per views and won a World Title at 40, then main evented again was slated to main event another one this year before he got injured at 42. HHH was 41 when he moved from full time to part time and continued to work big matches on pay per views until he was 50. The Undertaker did the same at 45 and 55, respectively. John Cena main evented Summerslam and a whole leg of the WWE’s road show at 44. Chris Jericho was 47 when he last worked full time in WWE, was in a World Title Match at WrestleMania 28 when he was 42, and has gone on to be a headliner in AEW into his 50s. Jericho is the only one of the four who didn’t work straight through for 10 plus years, but even after taking breaks to work with his band he’d come right back in at the spot he held when he left. These men were all allowed to work through over a decade of peaks and valleys in performance, popularity, creative material, you name it.
Then there’s Edge, who in his late 40s, and coming back after nine years off due to neck and back problems, won a Royal Rumble, main evented a WrestleMania and checked off a virtual bucket list of opponents from Roman Reigns to Seth Rollins to AJ Styles. Contrast that with James who in 2016 came back at 37 and never got higher than being an opponent of the month or participating in a multiwoman pay per view match before being released again at 42. And while to many the notion that Flair or Lynch would get canned or leave in frustration to make more money doing something else is insane, based on history until it doesn’t happen it’s not off the table.
So will we see continued progress or not? Those two frontiers, time and money, are the ones that need to be inhabited next if we are. Based on whatever amateur math detective work you want to use Rose is making more from her subscriber site than she ever did from wrestling. We know the same was and is true for outside income from the women who came before her as well. The Mandy Rose’s of the past, present and future should not need to do that kind of thing to make more money unless they just want to. Women in the business who work at the highest levels shouldn’t be forced into finding side income that they don’t want to pursue, while men of lesser station get paid more than them just for showing up and being a man. And lastly the women in wrestling should be allowed to have the same kind of long careers as their male counterparts, at whatever space on the card they occupy. Because at the end of the day the Mandy Rose story starts with inequality. She has to deal with the consequences of her decisions, and appears to be doing so just fine so far, but the environment that led to those decisions needs to be changed.
And as it stands so far those changes only seem to come either through the benevolence of management when they decide it’s time to give the women more to do, or when a few women manage to secure more for the entire group while looking after their own interests. In an industry that punishes any attempts at labor activism, be it individual or collective, some of this is on us as fans. You can’t pin your hopes on the performers and you should never pin them on management. Hopefully some good can come out of Mandy’s situation for the better but it’s gonna take everyone, including us.