WWE and the rise of the women’s division

Stephanie McMahon and Ronda Rousey. Photo: WWE

Five years ago, WWE was male-dominated.

Flash forward to 2021, the WWE’s women’s division has skyrocketed and is now headlining events and smashing records.

The progress has been led by none other than Chief Brand Officer, Stephanie McMahon.

In an Australian exclusive, McMahon spoke to The Inner Sanctum about how women’s role in the WWE has changed.

“I think that WWE continues the women’s revolution that started a long time ago but became a part of a movement in 2015 which we’ve talked about before with the #GiveDivasAChance that trended worldwide for three days,” McMahon told The Inner Sanctum.

“Calling for more character development and better storylines, longer matches, more athleticism.

“We’ve grown for that point, rebranding the divas’ division to the women’s division.

“Our women showcasing and being the main event at WrestleMania 35, with Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch broke the entertainment revenue record at MetLife stadium.

“Where only six years before the only women’s match on the card was cut for time, which tells you a lot about growth and then you look at the opportunities that are happening in NXT, Raw and SmackDown! and we just continue that.

“It’s actually interesting I was watching NXT the other night and I noticed all the different body types, ethnicities and everything else, characters etc, that were being showcased.

“It really is a representation of women of all different types and I think that so important I do think representation really matters.”

The women’s division is now a massive part of WWE, which is why it continues to develop new storylines and improve character development.

“We are always looking to give our women media storylines and for both men and women,” she said.

“We are looking to improve our storylines no matter what and character development but absolutely Sasha (Banks) and Bayley have something so special and so unique.

“In our business when you capture chemistry like that it gives it legs, so you have the ability to really build on those stories and deepen them as well.

“Hiring in the writing room is really important because it previously has been a really male-dominated writing room and there are big efforts right now to change that.

“I don’t have the stats off the top of my head of how many we’ve hired since we started but I know it’s several, including senior ranking VP.

It is not just in the ring that women are kicking goals in the WWE, but in terms of the company itself there are some women in more senior roles.

“Internally as well, I’m the Chief Brand Officer, Kristina Salen who is the Chief Financial Officer, Susan Leveson is in charge of all WWE Studios, Sarah Cummins is in charge of all our consumer product groups.

“There is a group of successful and accomplished women on the backside of WWE, including what we present.”

McMahon is one of the most powerful women in the world, but she has experienced lots of challenges in her time, including when she came up against Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania 34.

“Facing Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania was one of my biggest challenges for sure. She is amazing but so amazing that I had to train to be able to showcase her,” she said.

“It was her debut in WWE, she was the first Women’s Champion in UFC, the first female Hall of Famer for UFC and the first American to medal in the Olympics for Judaica, an incredible person who has a huge heart and such an incredible backstory but she’s tough.

“It was up to us as it was a tag team, she teamed with Kurt Angle against me and my husband Triple H.

“So, who is the one that doesn’t belong in this professional athlete circle, that’s me.

“So, I had to train three times a day for three months I was getting my butt kicked every day.

“Ronda is so skilled even when she’s pulling her punches they still hurt.

“That was on top of being an executive and a mum.

“On top of everything else, being emotional with my husband, who I would never want to make the business or him look bad in the event that my father created in WrestleMania, in front of over 80,000 people live in attendance.

“It’s a little bit of pressure but that was one of my biggest challenges I learnt a lot about myself and what I’m capable of even though I was scared.

“I had the choice whether or not I would want to do it and I chose to go for it.”

McMahon is known as arguably one of the greatest villains of all time in the WWE, she is able to draw off past experiences to get into character.

“It is so funny, I’m sure I have but not consciously.

“I’ve always gravitated towards the villain in any story as a kid, I just find them deeper and more interesting characters.

“Typically, there is some point in their story that’s a turning point for them and you can understand why they became what they became.

“I draw from all the experiences I’ve ever had with the people; I tend to be respectful and trusting at first and you know sometimes that can bite you in the butt, but I’m not going to change who I am, so that’s been challenging for me in particular in the business world, where it has been a bit more ruthless and cutthroat.

“I’ve had times when I’ve been undermined and taken advantage of all through my life.

“I try to draw from those people and how they were able to manipulate me and I put that lens on.  

“It’s so fun to be able to portray that character and ultimately the bad guy never wins in the end so to be able to give that back to the audience.  

“That was one of the reasons why I was the opponent for Ronda is because I was the biggest female heel at that time especially because of my power and putting profits over people as a character and all this stuff.

“Ronda could come and kick my butt on behalf of the locker room and everyone else watching.

“That’s fun to do too. I love to be able to give the hero that moment because the bigger and the badder the villain, the bigger and more powerful the hero is who vanquishes that villain.”

There are so many powerful women currently on the WWE roster but although McMahon doesn’t like to single anyone out, she does have one particular woman who she thinks is on the rise.

“I will say one rising star that I’m just so proud of and how she is carrying herself after only a few years in our business but that is Bianca Belair.

“I’ve had various opportunities to do various panels with her and get to know her more.

“I get goosebumps just talking about her and all of our women, but Bianca is so authentically herself she has attitude in all the best ways she has unrivalled charisma you can’t help but watch her.

“She owns the room in whatever room she’s in regardless of her athleticism which Is going to make everyone tune in because of what she can do,” she said.

“I think she is one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen and what she brings to the women’s division. I’d say Bianca is on the rise but that’s not at the expense of all the other women we have on the roster and coming up.”

Looking to the future, McMahon is hoping for more equality when it comes to the women’s division

“I’d love to have the roster be 50/50, I would love to see our women more regularly at the top of the card and I think you need more women to be able to do that,” she said.

“That is what I see for the future again more parody on the cards like its wonderful the opportunities that our women have had and often times do main events but typically there are more male matches then female still.

“That’s due to pure size so I’d love to see true parody. “

Looking forward, McMahon is excited so two of the very best in the women’s division compete for the Smackdown Women’s Championship.

“One of the big matches that have already been announced is Bianca Belair who won the Women’s Royal Rumble match is challenging Sasha Banks for the Smackdown Women’s Championship and that is going to be such an incredible showcase of athleticism,” she said.

“Both of those women are so incredibly talented and bring different styles and aspects to the ring and to life.”

  • WWE is celebrating Women’s History Month throughout March with exclusive content, classic in-ring events and original documentaries across programming and social media platforms.
  • WrestleMania 37 will stream live on Saturday, April 10, and Sunday, April 11, on WWE Network (www.wwenetwork.com)

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