Buried away in this week’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter was a brief reference to WWE looking at starting up some more tournaments later this year. There’s been plenty of hype about the renamed-Cruiserweight Classic that’ll be filmed in the coming weeks, but perhaps WWE is fishing the same pond too soon, particularly when it comes to a rumoured women’s tournament.
Also mentioned in that brief report was the return of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, which makes sense, given how it filled in a few months of TV following Dusty’s passing last year. However, whilst there’s a decent number of independent wrestlers out there who’d walk into a pre-defined cruiserweight tournament, and not stand out like a sore thumb, can the same be said for the women’s division?
Now, before anyone takes aim at me, let me first point out that this isn’t exactly a new concept – this is something that TNA have done for the last few years as part of their “Knockouts Knockdown” events, with cards featuring existing TNA “knockouts” and some of the best women from the indy scene who returned TNA’s phone calls! For instance, in 2013 TNA brought in the likes of Mia Yim (now Jade) and Santana Garrett (who became Brittney, for a cup of coffee. 2014 saw Scarlett Bordeaux, Veda Scott and Deonna Purazzo get a shot, whilst 2015 featured Alexxis Neveah, Su Yung and Mary Kate (now SHIMMER’s Andrea). Then we had this year’s event, which featured the fantasti-bad match between Rebel and Shelley Martinez.
Although you have groups such as SHIMMER and SHINE, largely women’s wrestling is limited to a match here and there on independent shows. Therein lies the problem; without any full-time independent promotions, it’s harder to be noticed than for male wrestlers – there’s inherently a smaller pool of talent to wrestle against, and thus improve. Of course, there is the “alternative” path of wrestling against men, but that takes you down the murky path of intergender wrestling, which can veer from being awkward (for both participants), to positively misogynistic.
Save for the women signed to TNA, Lucha Underground and Ring of Honor, there’s plenty of bodies out there to fill any kind of tournament that WWE’s looking to run. Of course, in NXT there’s over a dozen “up and coming” women who have had varying degrees of exposure on NXT – be it the likes of the somewhat-pushed Carmella and Alexa Bliss, or the “we were regulars once” duo of Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, or the house-show regulars like Adrienne, Aliyah, Liv Morgan, and the newly-signed Nicola “Nikki Storm” Glencross. How about the twoTough Enough winners Sara Lee and Mandy Rose? Or the freelancers that have been used as enhancement talent in NXT – the Deonna Purazzos, Mary Dobsons, Tessa Blanchards and Rachel Ellerings of this world.
Just from those names alone, we have eleven women who are contracted to WWE – and that’s not counting the likes of Asuka, Bayley, Nia Jax or (shudder) Eva Marie. Include those, and you’re up to fifteen, which means that it’s extremely likely that WWE can run a tournament without adding any outside talent – which would prevent any headaches from juggling bookings, but at the same time would also kill any mystique.
One of the major selling points of WWE’s upcoming Cruiserweight Classic is that you’ll get to see non-contracted talent – such as Zack Sabre Jr and TJP – alongside existing NXT guys and talent who perhaps haven’t been on TV as often as they would like. If WWE were to produce a women’s equivalent, they would need to at least give the impression of looping in outside talent, be it through qualifiers with the likes of PROGRESS, Revolution Pro Wrestling and EVOLVE – or perhaps even the SHINE promotion (SHIMMER, for me, would be a non-starter due to the long lead times between tapings). I’m not saying that WWE would have to have (say) an Amber Gallows, a Leva Bates (God, no!), a Toni Storm or a Jinny win the series, the perception of outside inclusion would benefit greatly.
However, as with any other time where a company leaves their comfort zone, there is also the very real risk that expectations are going to be raised. Very few people honestly believe that WWE will give the cruiserweights any real TV time beyond the Cruiserweight Classic – and short of using it as a vehicle to create a new star in NXT, I wouldn’t forsee any planned women’s tournament having any other result either.
At the end of it, it’ll be fairly cheap programming for the WWE Network – and they’d have to go some distance to pull off a match worse than Shelley Martinez vs. Rebel… (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUQihamFQyE – and yes, we’ll be covering that in a review soon!)