While updating our exclusive WWE depth chart last night, I discovered a startling — and largely overlooked — fact about WWE’s Divas Division. It was certainly a bit odd for anyone watching last night’s episode of Raw to see two heels — Naomi and Brie Bella — wrestling for the right to face the heel champion, Nikki Bella, at Extreme Rules. As I watched the match, I glanced over at my computer monitor, and the problem was so strikingly obvious that I couldn’t believe I had not yet noticed:
Emma is the only active babyface Diva on the main roster.
That’s right. Emma. With A.J. Lee’s recent retirement coinciding with Paige taking a hiatus to film a movie, the rarely seen Australian enhancement talent known as Emma is the only female babyface on WWE’s main roster. (This is made all the more awkward by the fact that Emma has been appearing on NXT as a heel recently, but we’ll try to disregard that, seeing as NXT is a separate universe.)
Don’t just take my word for it, take a look for yourself (wrestlers listed in the order they appear on our depth chart):
- Nikki Bella – Turned heel when she attacked Brie Bella at Summerslam 2014, costing Brie her match with Stephanie McMahon.
- Naomi – Turned heel by assaulting Paige on April 13 Raw.
- Brie Bella – Turned heel by re-aligning herself with Nikki at Survivor Series 2014 (never explained).
- Natalya – Turned heel by fully aligning herself with Tyson Kidd and Cesaro, providing a distraction in their victory at FastLane, then interfering in their rematch against The Usos on the next night’s Raw. Now dresses like a dominatrix.
- Alicia Fox – Turned face briefly to feud with a then-heel Paige in October/November 2014. Turned heel again with no explanation in January, when she targeted a then-face Naomi and aligned herself with The Miz.
- Cameron – Turned heel by dissolving the Funkadactyls and attacking Naomi on July 7, 2014 Raw.
- Summer Rae – Briefly turned tweener/face recently by aligning herself with Damien Sandow, but doubled down on her prior heel status by siding with The Miz on last night’s Raw.
- Layla – Turned heel by betraying Kaitlyn on August 2, 2013 Smackdown.
- Rosa Mendes – Has essentially worked as a heel ever since May 2011, with a couple entirely insignificant and completely unexplained brief face turns along the way.
- Eva Marie – Is Eva Marie.
That leaves Emma, who according to profightdb.com last won a match on the February 2 Superstars taping, when she pinned Summer Rae. Did you watch that? Me either. The only active babyface Diva on the main roster last wrestled a singles match on Raw on November 3, 2014 (a loss to Nikki Bella). As if that wasn’t enough, Emma has been portrayed as a heel on NXT as recently as three weeks ago.
The problem, of course, is not Emma herself. The problem is what I’ll refer to as “A.J. Lee Syndrome,” now manifesting itself as “Paige Syndrome.” Ever since the Lita/Trish days, WWE has been more than happy with having one female wrestler alone at the top of the card. Hell, most of the time, they haven’t even had that.
When they do have that — as they did with A.J., and now again with Paige — the booking gets painfully repetitive. Every time they run out of viable heels to challenge the top female, WWE simply turns the No. 2 (or lower) face into a heel. These heel turns usually depict the wrestler as a crazy person who has finally snapped, after keeping her insanity percolating below the surface for an indeterminate amount of time.
Much like this isn’t an Emma problem, it’s also not an A.J. problem, or a Paige problem. It’s also not the Bellas’ fault, nor is it Naomi’s or Natalya’s. All of these women are doing what’s being written for them, and what’s being written for them is still clearly an afterthought.
Sure, we’ve gotten some longer TV matches from the Divas ever since the #GiveDivasAChance movement started. Still, the WWE has ignored the entire division to the point where there’s only one babyface, and she’s a jobber. That’s how we get ourselves into awkward “heel vs. heel for the right to chase a heel champ” booking like we saw this Monday.
Many point to the forthcoming influx of NXT talent into the main-roster Divas Division as the salvation of mainstream women’s wrestling. The problem, though, isn’t how much talent or potential there is on the roster. The problem isn’t a lack of quality options — there’s plenty of talented women on that list up there already.
Let’s say Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch all get called up. How long will Sasha last on the main roster before her gimmick devolves into simply “she’s crazy”? How long until Bayley is a comedy jobber? Sure, Charlotte could give the main-roster Divas Division a shot in the arm, but how long have we been waiting for that? Six months? And how long will it last, before she’s lazily written into a stereotypical trope of a gimmick? Again…six months?
At best, this is all symptomatic of the WWE’s belief that women don’t draw, and it’s a sort of willful ignorance of the potential for quality women’s wrestling as a serious commodity. That’s the best-case scenario, and it’s still pretty offensive to female fans — not to mention the women employed by the company.
The worst-case scenario is a form of corporate misogyny — a company run by people who view women as either perfect princesses or a crazed, irrational brand of subhumanity. Both of those tropes are offensive in 20-freaking-15. Neither of them lends itself to interesting characters, much like fans have rejected The New Day, due to the group’s racially charged stereotypes.
Thankfully, The New Day is getting more tolerable (due to a heel turn, imagine that), partially because they’re just one small corner of the wide world of men’s wrestling in WWE. Fans were able to largely ignore them for months on end, until the gimmick got too offensive to put up with anymore. The major issue is that the majority of the entire Divas Division has been constructed with the same cultural blindness that produced The New Day.
My frustration with all of this comes from the fact that WWE only has to look within themselves to see how women’s wrestling is done right. The Women’s Championship program in NXT has at times been far more compelling than the NXT Championship picture. Take the first Takeover special, for example. Do you remember Adrian Neville winning the title from Bo Dallas in a ladder match? Bits and pieces, maybe. Do you remember Paige and Emma beating the hell out of each other for 15 minutes? Damn right, you do.
The problem isn’t a lack of talent. “Paige Syndrome” is a byproduct of WWE’s refusal to dedicate enough of an effort to build up more than one female wrestler at a time beyond stereotypes. Maybe it’s willful ignorance, maybe it’s outright misogyny. I don’t know the answer to that question.
What I do know is that when the company’s one top female wrestler gets hurt or takes time off, you’re left with an issue like the one facing WWE right now:
Emma is the only active babyface Diva on the main roster.