Three Ways to Save WWE Evolution

On the July 23, 2018 episode of Monday Night Raw, WWE Chief Brand Officer and the executive face of the Women’s Evolution Stephanie McMahon embarked on an announcement that was designed to change the wrestling industry for the foreseeable future. For the last three years, McMahon has been one of the biggest proponents for the advancement of women in our industry. Much like her brother Shane and father Vince, McMahon has literally grown up in the wrestling business. From life as an on-camera talent, an in-ring performer, and now a WWE executive, Stephanie has a rare yet extremely valuable perspective of this business.

She was present in 2015 at the inaugural NXT Takeover Brooklyn PPV event to introduce the game changing NXT Women’s Title match between Bayley and Sasha Banks. She helped usher in the transition of women from Divas to Female Superstars in WWE in 2016. She made the historic announcement at the top of 2018 to present the first-ever female Royal Rumble match. So it’s no surprise that this summer, she would announce another ground breaking feat for WWE, its first all female WWE PPV event titled Evolution.

While the announcement was met with great support and excitement, the promotion and journey to Evolution has been less than stellar and has lost more steam and momentum with each passing day. With the event coming in less than two months, lackluster ticket sales, and ancillary mentions being buried behind two other events, we’d like to suggest three ways to prevent this event from becoming a disaster.

1. Regain Your Focus.

One of the true ills of WWE Evolution comes as somewhat of a surprise to those who follow WWE. Perhaps more than its in-ring presentation, WWE has been historically genius in their ability to promote. Dating back to the 1980s and their global expansion, no one can promote, market, or generate excitement better than the WWE. Remember the build up to the 1990 Survivor Series? This giant egg appeared at events for months, leading our excitement to a fever pitch. Certainly, the PPV that gave us the WWE debut of The Undertaker would cap things off with something explosive coming from this egg, right? Not so fast, as this giant egg produced The Gobbledy Gooker. However, they hyped this idea enough to excite us.

WWE Evolution has been a prisoner of the WWE machine. This ground breaking event has never had a clear moment to be the sole focus of the company. Consider this. The initial announcement came less than four weeks before the company’s second largest PPV, Summerslam. Since Summerslam, WWE has embarked on promoting not one, but THREE large events. The next PPV is Hell In A Cell (Sept. 16), followed by the Australian stadium show titled WWE Super ShowDown (Oct. 6), and then WWE Evolution (Oct. 28). On every broadcast of Raw and Smackdown, Evolution gets a casual mention, continuing to play third fiddle to these two larger events. Its promotion has been less than subpar.

May we suggest perhaps a series on the WWE Network that would weekly prepare us for WWE Evolution. A documentary style series, similar to brilliant WWE creations such as WWE: 24 or WWE: 365 could be a great space for that. Maybe even create a series similar to what the NWA has done to reinvigorate interest in the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship. Housed on YouTube, the series, for the last year or so, has chronicled the journey of the historic title in a series titled 10 Pounds of Gold.

There should be a regular place we can go to build momentum for this event. It could even be a concentrated 30 minutes to an hour of real programming within the weekly construct of Raw or Smackdown Live that would keep our focus on WWE Evolution. While its too late for them to reschedule the event, they do have the promotional power to make us care about something so historic. Trying to solely build this pay-per-view in the three week period following WWE Super ShowDown would be a drastic mistake. This Women’s Revolution deserves far more time and attention than to be treated as just another mark on the yearly schedule.

2. Listen to the People.

For decades, women’s wrestling was treated like a sideshow or like a filler track on an amazing album. In other words, it wasn’t handled as if it were worthy to stand on its own. Enter 2014, when the WWE Universe launched the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance that eventually caught the attention of the WWE brass to give women an opportunity to participate in competitive matches.

However, it was the NXT movement that was ahead of the curve in this regard. Firstly, NXT never referenced their female competitors as “Divas”. In fact, their championship was known as the NXT Women’s Championship, with their inaugural champion being the “anti-diva” Paige. Back then, NXT listened to the people, and begin eradicating the antiquated term “diva” while treating women as equivalent to men in terms of both ring time and presentation. It was NXT that brought us the aforementioned match at NXT Takeover Brooklyn between Bayley and Sasha Banks that became an instant classic. There were so many other great offerings from the NXT Women’s Division that made them the talk of the pro wrestling world relative to women’s wrestling.

It was the voice of the people who suggested the greatest women’s match in Wrestlemania history, pitting the undefeated former 527 day reigning NXT Women’s Champion Asuka against the top female wrestler in the business and current 7-time Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair. The people KNOW what they want and will support any company that recognizes their voice.

There’s nothing about the current card that reflects a company listening to the collective voice of its audience. Currently, the first WWE All Women’s PPV features two announced matches.

Trish Stratus vs. Alexa Bliss
Lita vs. Mickie James

In addition, the Women’s Championships from Raw, Smackdown Live, and NXT will be defended along with the finals of the Mae Young Classic tournament.

Such ambiguity with six weeks left for this card is slightly staggering. Here are a couple of matches that would garner excitement.

Trish Stratus vs. Charlotte Flair.

Fans went CRAZY over the idea of Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka at Wrestlemania 34, with no one being able to pick a clear cut winner. What match better speaks to the EVOLUTION of Women’s Wrestling than Trish Stratus vs. Charlotte Flair. Stratus has been heralded by many as the best Women’s Champion of all time, with 7 championship reigns to her credit. However, with Charlotte Flair’s championship win at SummerSlam 2018, she is now only the second female WWE superstar with seven title reigns to her credit. In addition, she now has more PPV wins than any other female WWE superstar with 24 wins. So, who’s the greatest? This would be the time to determine that.

(And, if I were to suggest a finish, Charlotte would lose as a result of interference from Becky Lynch, escalating their war to even greater proportions.)

Lita vs. Becky Lynch.

There’s no female with greater momentum in pro wrestling right now than Becky Lynch. With many fans now calling her “Becky Balboa” and “Stone Cold Becky Lynch”, Summerslam proved that she gained more in losing than in winning. Build on that level of support and have her battle the legendary daredevil in Lita. Both women are trailblazers, daredevils, and the antithesis of the “divas” era that WWE continues to fight to shed. This match is a pick-em and could EASILY steal the show.

Asuka vs. Kairi Sane vs. Io Shirai

For decades, Japanese wrestling and wrestlers have been revered here in the United States. Recent WWE signings such as Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor, and Hideo Itami have given fans in the States a taste of what Japan has had to offer. WWE’s signing of Asuka back in 2014 certainly garnered extreme excitement, introducing Japanese Strong Style combat to the female superstars of WWE. The WWE Universe was equally excited with the arrival of current NXT Women’s Champion Kairi Sane and her insane elbow drop and has absolutely LOVED the impending arrival of Japanese sensation Io Shirai.

Just imagine the buildup for this one. The longest reigning NXT Champion Asuka battling the current NXT Champion Sane. Sane, the inaugural winner of the Mae Young Classic and Shirai, an odds on favorite to win this year’s tournament.

The three of them in the same ring at the same time would cause pure PANDEMONIUM and qualifies as an instant classic!

This one isn’t hard WWE. Listen to the voice of the people! We won’t steer you wrong.

3. Focus on the Future.

Many will assert and argue that there was no period that saw more mainstream eyes on the sport of pro wrestling than the Attitude Era. That period from 1996-2001 saw the WWE in a hotly contested war for wrestling supremacy with the now defunct WCW which birthed household names from both companies including Goldberg, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, D-Generation X, and the nWo among others. The truth is that the invisible ink that made this era great is exactly what’s needed to make WWE Evolution great. What’s the invisible ink, you ask?

Thanks for asking. The ink is found in the FUTURE! Consider this. Virtually every star just mentioned from the Attitude Era were talents who became stars during that time frame. The exception being the nWo, where only Hulk Hogan was the star from the past who received marquee attention.

Fast forward to the current evolution in women’s wrestling, which was built on the backs of a lot of talent from NXT. Names like Paige, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair immediately come to mind. However, for an event that has been advertised to feature 50 female superstars, Evolution MUST focus on the future of this business for it to work.

We previously mentioned the inclusion of Trish Stratus and Lita in this event, and, if there is an ode to the past, they should be it. They were the greatest stars of a previous era. However, there is a current wave of female superstars who should be given the opportunity to take the baton and run strong.

For Evolution to work, WWE cannot solely depend on the current rosters from Raw and Smackdown Live. While those rosters have bonafide hard workers such as Natalya, Ember Moon, Nia Jax, The Riott Squad, and The IIconics, building the program around the mere star power of The Bella Twins or the MMA juggernaut and current Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey really isn’t enough. The NXT roster must be on full display. Superstars like the current NXT Women’s Champion Kairi Sane and former champion Shayna Baszler seem like shoe-ins for the card. We should also look to names within NXT like Nikki Cross, Bianca BelAir, and Candace Lerae to be featured.

However, now is the time for WWE to lean in to partnerships to make this work. Already existing partnerships with promotions like Progress Wrestling and Evolve could prove to give us great talents such as Toni Storm, Rhea Ripley, and more. This is also an opportunity to not reinvent the wheel, as there are currently all-female wrestling promotions like Shine and Shimmer which are regularly producing all-female PPVs. Those promotions have produced current WWE talents such as Shayna Baszler, Becky Lynch, and Ruby Riott and certainly house talent that would only prove beneficial to this large of a platform. In addition, there’s this 32 woman tournament currently airing on the WWE Network called the Mae Young Classic that is FILLED with amazing talent waiting to be showcased. Each of the women in that tournament offer styles that are diverse and exciting that would greatly benefit this PPV event.

With the WWE choosing to put their chips on the returning Bella Twins and leaning on names from the past, it states that they aren’t truly ready to embrace the Evolution that they are promoting. Evolution, by definition, is “a process of change in a certain direction; a process of continuous branching and diversification”. This event should accurately display where women’s wrestling is going while paying homage to where its been.

The WWE has done a solid job over the last four years of marking milestones and promoting the growth of women’s wrestling. Gone are the days of pillow fights and bra and panties matches. However, they will need to take some real chances and believe in their product enough to promote it as they would Wrestlemania. After all, Evolution has the potential to be Wrestlemania for the Women’s Division if its done right.

If WWE really does believe in the Women’s Revolution, then they will take these suggestions and countless others and make a true investment in their current women’s product. Evolution has the opportunity to present all that is RIGHT about women’s wrestling. There’s no question that WWE currently has the largest platform to present female superstars at their finest. Let’s hope that the next six weeks sees a major turnaround in the promotion and planning of this event. If not, we could be heading into Survivor Series with a major disappointment.

What ideas do you think are needed to make Evolution a success? Share them in the comments below.

 

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