The energy following the monumental July announcement of WWE’s very first all-women’s pay-per-view ricocheted around Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena and through the televisions of every women’s division believer. Triple H, Stephanie McMahon and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon called our female Superstars forward and rewarded what began as a revolution with an event all their own: Evolution. WWE’s entire roster of Superstars enthused over social media about the seismic shift that had been a dream for so many since girlhood. WWE’s resident Glamazon, WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix, proved “brevity is the soul of wit,” tweeting a single word that said it all: “Finally.”
Echoes from members of the WWE Universe in Abu Dhabi chanting, “This is hope. This is hope,” last December rang in my ears as I considered this monumental announcement. As a woman, mother and sole provider for my daughters, this endorsement of women’s progress emboldened my own resolve. In the three years since #GiveDivasAChance trended and was answered by Vince McMahon with, “We hear you. Keep watching,” the WWE Universe has been treated to a revolution that culminated in an Evolution Sunday night at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, N.Y.
Reading the love and encouragement from the WWE men’s locker room in support of their friends, their sisters, their wives, their partners in crime made me proud. Speaking to Seth Rollins about his thoughts increased my already deep respect for him as a professional, a friend and a true advocate:
“The one thing that’s stood out to me from a performer’s perspective is that I find myself racing with this group of girls for the main event spots and competing with them to have the best matches on the shows. So not only have they elevated each other, even greater, they’ve inspired generations of girls and boys to be better,” Rollins said.
“Evolution, like a spectacular supernova, is simultaneously the culmination of years and years of hard work, and the first step in whatever will come next. I’m proud to know these women, look up to them, love them, and I’m so looking forward to seeing what lies ahead. The sky’s the limit ... or is it?”
Every journey requires time, determination, destination, perseverance and passion. Nothing we envision or endeavor to achieve that has meaning can be accomplished single-handedly or with imposed force. Along with the in-ring Superstars, I’ve had a front-row seat to the evolution of WWE’s Community Relations initiatives and how the organization has made it its mission to give back to the communities who graciously host our events. Additionally, WWE has forged partnerships with organizations keeping step with ever-evolving global issues so the chant, “This is hope,” can galvanize socially-conscious people to impact others near and far! The empowerment of our female Superstars translates not only within the WWE Universe but around the globe. The WWE is providing powerful role models, in and out of the ring, who just happen to be women.
Two such organizations shaking the ropes during Evolution Weekend were Girl Up and Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The announcement of a newly-forged partnership with Girl Up by WWE Chief Brand Officer Stephanie McMahon and WWE Executive Vice President, Talent, Live Events & Creative, Paul "Triple H" Levesque, on Z100’s “Elvis Duran and the Morning Show” was a power surge in the effort to bring sports to girls around the globe. Gathered high atop the New York City skyline, young women from Girl Up were ready to tackle issues of gender equality in sports.
Charly Caruso hosted and moderated the inaugural Sports for a Purpose Forum where Girl Up Co-Director, Anna Blue, and Stephanie McMahon were the keynote speakers. Following opening remarks, Girl Up members had the opportunity to hear about the benefits of sports for girls from an inspiring panel: WWE Superstar Charlotte Flair, WNBA legend and New York Liberty Director of Franchise Development Swin Cash, former NFL player and equality advocate Wade Davis, Women’s Sports Foundation Senior Advocacy Director Sarah Axelson and Girl Up leader and softball standout Alexa Zartman-Ball. After words of advice and encouragement, the group identified the issues, strategized and problem-solved for gender inequities and biases for girls in sports. The event concluded with two Girl Up leaders presenting the issues and recommended solutions to the panel.
Seeing an opportunity to examine the girls’ process, I circled up with these future leaders and listened to their thoughts on issues relevant to their personal narrative. Amazingly, what came up most often was the fact these young women felt the inequity of attention paid to their vast intelligence, skills and athletic abilities. They felt the marginalization of their voices and a lack of endorsement in society for body positivity. Their thoughtful solutions left me in awe. One common theme echoed WWE Superstar Sonya Deville’s opinion when she was my guest on the October edition of my podcast, Total Warriors: Sports are the ultimate equalizer, and when we see others as our teammates, we see commonality instead of our differences.
Also during Evolution Weekend in the New York City area, WWE Superstars lit up Connecticut’s Stamford Boys & Girls Club when they met 35 girls and future “Queens.” “She’s Crowned,” a local program created by WWE employee Chaquanzha Stephenson, is a weekly gathering committed to elevating, enriching and empowering young women to know their worth. WWE Superstars Naomi, Lana, Carmella and Nia Jax, along with WWE Digital & Social Correspondent Cathy Kelley and I, joined the “Queens” in team-building exercises and answered questions about how to cope in a world so shaped by social media. What struck me was how the same struggles with equity, self-esteem, self-worth and body positivity plagued another set of girls in exactly the same way.
As I juxtaposed the young women I met and my own daughters with the girls of the WWE Universe, I was thrilled we were on the eve of Evolution. The diversity of the WWE women’s roster slated to appear at Nassau Coliseum the very next day infused “This is hope” with new meaning, purpose and clarity.
Renee Young, WWE’s first full-time female addition to Monday Night Raw’s commentary table, brought about evolution all her own.
“I’m so proud and honored to be able to provide the soundtrack to the Women’s Evolution,” enthused Young, the newly-crowned Monday Night Raw announcer. “Every woman, in every facet of WWE, has been working so hard, and now it’s our time to shine and own that spotlight!”
An undeniable force in first the Divas Division and now the Women’s Evolution is WWE Superstar Natalya.
“I’ve waited so long for a moment like Evolution to come. As a woman who’s been with WWE for 10 years, I knew one day all of this great change would happen,” Natalya said. “I felt like being patient and working hard and keeping my head up paid off. I also feel proud to be part of an incredible group of women who helped build the division to where it is now.”
No doubt Nattie’s hard work alongside countless women like Alundra Blaze, Ivory and Eve Torres prove her feelings correct.
“Blood, sweat, tears and not giving up on our dreams has brought us where we are today!” Natalya said. “I can’t wait to see what barriers in the women’s division we break down next.”
Neither can I!
Much has been said about the band of bosses who, through WWE NXT, brought the next level of competition up the ranks to main roster contention. The Boss herself, Sasha Banks, reflects upon the journey.
“WWE Evolution, to me, is exactly what the name implies. An evolution. Another step forward toward something better,” Banks said. “We still have so much that needs to be done in order for women's wrestling to reach the heights that I know it can reach -- the heights I dreamed about as a little girl -- but WWE Evolution is proof positive that we're moving in that direction, and it makes me really excited for what the future has in store.”
The women’s division delivered an unparalleled show at WWE Evolution. Every match outdid every expectation. WWE Hall of Famers Lita and Trish Stratus proved not only that “they still got it,” but that they never lost it, in a tag team match against Alicia Fox & Mickie James.
The Battle Royal was full of color, combat, shock, awe, betrayal, near misses and ultimate victory for an Irresistible Force! Nia Jax stood tall in her triumph, especially as she and Tamina both made clear this match was dedicated to The Big Dog, who deserves our biggest prayers, Roman Reigns.
Becky Lynch ironically calls herself “the man,” but it would take a woman’s steel will to endure the Last Woman Standing Match she and Charlotte Flair withstood. Each combatant pushed her body to superhuman limits. When Charlotte couldn’t make it to her feet after the count of 10, Becky retained the SmackDown Women’s Championship, and we all wondered how either warrior walked away at all.
In the Evolution main event, Ronda Rousey put her Raw Women’s Championship on the line against Nikki Bella, and the WWE Universe witnessed two of the most respected sports personalities and athletes square off. The audience wondered if Nikki’s experience might best Ronda’s brute strength, but The Baddest Woman on the Planet did not succumb.
After Ronda’s arm was raised, every woman in the building felt a shared victory for what we hope will become commonplace ... all-female events that electrify sold-out crowds.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” That quote is stuck to my bathroom mirror as a daily creed. I don’t particularly admire those who snark and criticize what “isn’t.” I hold instead the highest regard for those who embody what it is they wish to see. Those were our women’s division Divas who became Superstars!
Those were the Then, Now, Forever who gave hope and delivered belief.
In 2003 Triple H declared something nearly prophetic from the place we now stand: “Today marks the beginning of a new era. You see, in this industry – just like in life – everything evolves. And what you see in this ring before you is the greatest example of Evolution you will ever see.”
He might have been right Then, until Now, into Forever.
I believe in Evolution ... Always!