Nick Nelson – Alexandria, VA
Two things will occur this coming Sunday in professional wrestling that have never happened before. For the first time in wrestling history, two women, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair, will fight a “Hell in a Cell” match, headlining a major professional pay-per-view.
“Hell in a Cell” is a modified cage match, with a fully enclosed space as compared to a cage without a roof that may allow for competitor to win by escaping over the top.These matches have no rules and anything goes.
They are known for being dangerous, they are known for being high-risk and they are known for shortening careers. While the idea has been floated previously of allowing women to compete in such a match — most recently, AJ Lee and Paige lobbied for it in 2014 — October 30, 2016 will mark the first time such a match actually takes place.
This marks the culmination of a “women’s revolution” in professional wrestling, a conscious move away from lingerie, bikini and other types of “matches” popular in the 1990s that often served as titillating distractions before the more physical competitions of their male counterparts.
Previous to the 90s, World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation) was once home to such competitors as the Fabulous Moolah, Mae Young, Alundra Blayze and Wendi Richter who competed in highly physical, athletic contests. Moolah (real name: Mary Ellison) was most notable for a championship reign lasting from 1956 to 1984 before she lost to Richter.
But in the 90s, the WWF, desperate to beat its competitor, World Championship Wrestling, in the TV ratings, developed a rawer, more controversial brand of entertainment. Programming switched from kid-friendly to adult content, allowing the use of swearing, more weapons and blood in matches and backstage storylines straight out of the trashiest soap operas.
From this came an increased use of models as female talent. As a result, female rivalries stopped being about in-ring prowess, and more about who was (or was not) in “Playboy” the previous month.
Ratings wise, it was a success. WWF enjoyed a lead in the ratings from 1998 onward they would never relinquish, eventually buying out their competition. But from a feminist standpoint, the product was unforgivable: Bra and Panties matches; Evening gown matches; Mud wrestling; and Playboy Battle Royales. The “Attitude Era” may have been a high-point of pro wrestling’s popularity, but programming blocks that included female talent grew increasingly more exploitative.
The early-to-mid 2000s did plenty to push the focus back to in-ring ability. There were less models and more athletes. Plus size women such as Chyna, Awesome Kong and Nia Jax were signed on to compete, finally sending the message that women can actually wrestle instead of pulling hair, slapping or acting helpless.
The future is bright for women in professional wrestling. Attendance is no longer a boy’s club, and plenty of young girls are getting into the sport with strong role models on the roster. While Sunday’s match is certainly a high-risk endeavor, it will further pave the way for girls and young women across the country to realize one more thing they are capable of.