|Above: Wendi Richter|
For many years, WWE marketed its female talent based on their sex appeal, with the likes of Sunny, Sable, Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler selling posters, bikini DVDs and even copies of Playboy, with in-ring prowess low in priority. Allegedly driven by the success of women in outside sports, including the Williams Sisters, the US women’s football team and UFC champion Ronda Rousey – who as we will see, eventually joined the WWE – the decision was taken to change the presentation of women in the WWE to one based on in-ring competition and compelling characters, and “Then, Now, Forever: The Evolution of the WWE Women’s Division” is the first WWE DVD to focus on some of the greatest and most-notable female matches in company history.
Those looking for a documentary to tell the story of how WWE made the change should be directed to two episodes of the WWE Network series “WWE 24”, looking at the directive change heading towards WrestleMania 32, and then the Women’s Royal Rumble Match at Royal Rumble 2018. “Then, Now, Forever” is made up of short profiles of key figures in WWE history, dating back to the 1980s, accompanied by a match associated with their career.
There are only three profiles for talent from before the 21st century, which goes to show how low a priority women’s wrestling was for the WWE in that time-period. Although the Fabulous Moolah came to be reviled for her alleged treatment of female wrestlers throughout her career, she appears in the two 1980s matches, first in a profile for Wendi Richter in the July 1984 Madison Square Garden match where Moolah not entirely cleanly loses the WWF Women’s Championship to Richter; and then in the match associated with the late Sensational Sherri – the women’s elimination match from Survivor Series 1987 where Sherri teams with Donna Christanello, Dawn Marie (not the former ECW and WWE wrestler) and the Glamour Girls of Judy Martin and Leilani Kai against Moolah, Rockin’ Robin, Velvet McIntyre and the Jumping Bomb Angels (Itsuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno), with the match proving to be a standout for the style the Japanese tag team displayed which was beyond what most Westerners thought women were capable of at the time.
|Above: Alundra Blayze|
The only 1990s representative on the DVD set is Alundra Blayze, who was infamously fired by the company while Women’s Champion, and then went onto WCW Monday Nitro to throw their title belt into the bin. Her match comes from her great rivalry with Bull Nakano from the April 3rd 1995 episode of RAW, which the commentary team of Vince McMahon and Jim Cornette put over for its in-ring action, which makes people wonder why McMahon got rid of the division later that year.
The first profile for the 2000s is Ivory, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. Although her choice of match is at a WrestleMania, it’s the match where she’s squashed by Chyna at WrestleMania X-Seven, although it does demonstrate how effective her Right to Censor character was at the time. Next is Victoria, who followed the path set by Trish Stratus in converting a fitness modelling career into a WWE run – her match with Stratus from the November 25th 2002 RAW is shown, which is a better example of her in-ring wrestling than the great brawl from Survivor Series 2002 was, although it is notable of the think-tank from WWE towards women at the time, with Jerry Lawler on commentary focused on “puppies”. Victoria also features in the next two matches, first in the profile for Lita, where their steel cage match from the November 24th 2003 RAW is featured – the first one for women in WWE history, and then for Molly Holly, which looks at their Women’s Championship match from WrestleMania XX, where Holly put her hair on the line. Lita returns for the profile on Stratus, which is fitting considering those two were closely associated throughout the early 2000s in WWE. Their title match from the December 6th 2004 RAW is featured, where Lita nearly breaks her neck again, but at a time where women’s main events on TV were not as common as they are now, this match stood out as the peak of the division at the time.
The first woman to feature who currently wrestles for WWE is Mickie James – her match is the classic with Stratus from WrestleMania 22 where the fans went against the narrative and cheered for the psychopath James over the “fan favourite” Stratus. There is a big hole from this point until the next featured match, which suggests that the period from the late 2000s to the early 2010s which was dominated by the Bella Twins was not one well-regarded. A major surprise in the DVD is that there is no profile of Beth Phoenix, who is someone in good standing with the company, and her best matches took place in that time-period. Disc 1 concludes with two stars from the beginning of the movement towards the style we see in WWE today.
First up is AJ Lee, who features despite the company’s feelings towards her husband CM Punk – her match with Kaitlyn for the Divas Title from Payback 2013 is one that was a sign that the in-ring product for the women was beginning to be taken more seriously. The final profile on the disc is for the recently retired Paige, and her match with Emma from NXT ArRival shows the promise that was sadly curtailed by injury and other factors in the young Brit’s life.
Disc 2 begins with Natalya, the division’s most reliable performer when it comes to needing to make a new star. Her match is the one that put Charlotte Flair on the map, their title showdown at the first NXT Takeover, with Natalya’s uncle Bret Hart in her corner, and Ric Flair in his daughter’s corner, but the abilities of both women in the ring outshine the presence of their famed relatives. Although the Bella Twins were seen as part of the dark period of the early 2010s, their second run was more well received, and their profile features Brie Bella’s match with Stephanie McMahon at SummerSlam 2014, which stemmed from Brie’s marriage to Daniel Bryan, and led to a poor feud between Brie and her twin sister Nikki, though this match was better than many considered going in.
|Above: Sasha Banks & Bayley|
The meat of Disc 2 is dedicated to the WWE “Four Horsewomen” – whose success eventually led to all four of the MMA Four Horsewomen being signed to the company. The first to be profiled is Bayley, whose potential to be truly popular among kids and hardcore fans alike ended up being stunted by poor main roster booking, but her Iron Man Match with Sasha Banks from NXT Takeover: Respect showed her at her most popular, telling a great story of the lengths she and Banks went to try and prove who was the better woman, and remains the only women’s match to main event a Takeover special. Charlotte Flair is next up, and her match proved to be a pivotal moment in the rebrand of the division, as it was when the Divas Championship was replaced with the WWE Women’s Championship (eventually becoming the RAW Women’s Championship) – her Triple Threat Match with Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks was arguably the highlight of a poor WrestleMania 32, showing a division determined to prove itself and demand the same respect as the men.
Following the second brand extension in the summer of 2016, SmackDown also gained a women’s championship, and the profile on Becky Lynch shows her becoming the first champion, as she defeated Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Naomi, Natalya and Nikki Bella at Backlash 2016 in a fun scramble which showcases why many people love the Irish Lass Kicker. The final spot on the disc is reserved for Sasha Banks, and her match is the first ever women’s Hell In A Cell match with Charlotte Flair from Hell In A Cell 2016, which although wasn’t the best match in their rivalry, is there mainly for the occasion, a theme continued on Disc 3.
|Above: Charlotte Flair|
Although “first time ever” is the main theme continued over to Disc 3, Carmella’s match is actually the second ever Women’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match from the June 27th 2017 episode of SmackDown Live, mainly due to James Ellsworth’s involvement in the first one at Money In The Bank 2017. The rematch with Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Natalya and Tamina is everything the first match should have been, with a far more satisfactory finish. A jump back in time leads us to a profile on Mae Young, but this leads to the final of the first Mae Young Classic, where Kairi Sane and Shayna Baszler won over a hard-to-please SmackDown crowd in Las Vegas, leading to both competitors becoming staples of the women’s division in NXT.
The first ever Women’s Royal Rumble is shown in full, which was a great encapsulation of the evolution of the division, with many stars of the past returning to interact with today’s stars, including several flashbacks to former rivalries. With no profile of her own, this is as close a showcase as it comes for Asuka, remaining as her standout achievement in the company. Alexa Bliss is featured by way of the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match from the 2018 edition of the event, where she attempted to outlast Bayley, Sasha Banks, Mickie James, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville inside the deadly Elimination Chamber structure. The final match includes new star signing Ronda Rousey, and her standout debut teaming with Kurt Angle against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H from WrestleMania 34, closing out with a hint at things to come from the division.
|Above: 'Rowdy' Ronda|
The WWE women’s division is in a very different place now to when it was when it was only considered good enough for “bra and panties” titillation, and “Then, Now, Forever” tells the story of how it got from A to B. Some may argue how long it too Stephanie McMahon and WWE to drive the change and the outside factors that influenced it, but this DVD set illustrates how welcome the change has been, and some of the great performances that have come about as a result. Coming in at a shade under 9 hours of action, it’s an essential collection for fans of women’s wrestling.
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