Image used with permission from @OliRingside
Wrestling fans love complaining their favourites don’t get pushed. It’s all half of Twitter does, and if you’re as sick of Dolph Ziggler as I am then it’s probably wearing thin. When it comes to female wrestlers, though, the distinct shortage of opportunities relative to their male peers makes it much clearer that virtually nobody is being used to their full potential. This is as true in WWE as it is in the smallest independent promotion, so when a talented woman finally starts to get some of the opportunities and recognition that she deserves, it’s satisfying to watch people stand up and take notice.
Revolution Pro Wrestling (Rev-Pro) recently made Jamie Hayter its women’s champion, after she dethroned inaugural champion Jinny in June. The move has put her on the radar of more wrestling fans than ever (although anybody who saw her break Laura Di Matteo’s undefeated streak in Pro Wrestling: EVE last year would have known how good she was) and has also coincided with her booking in Stardom’s 5* Grand Prix. Hopefully this means great things are ahead for one of the UK’s most talented wrestlers – a sentiment echoed by Rev-Pro in a recent Twitter Q&A which you can read HERE
The tweet doesn’t suggest that Rev-Pro are the ones who are underutilising Hayter, but it does imply that it’s a shame she hasn’t had more opportunities. Something about that didn’t ring true with me, coming from a promotion which isn’t exactly known for the prominence of its women’s division, so I went back through every Rev-Pro show in 2018 so far, according to cagematch.net, and I looked for all the women’s matches I could find.
Rev-Pro started the year with an eight-woman tournament to crown its first women’s champion, which was won by Jinny. She then defended her title against Bea Priestley and Millie McKenzie at High Stakes at York Hall on 20 January – one of Rev-Pro’s most prestigious and popular events. Shows at York Hall can usually accommodate over 1,000 people, and the heavy input from New Japan Pro Wrestling to most of Rev-Pro’s shows at the venue all but guarantees a large, international audience.
That is the only women’s match on any York Hall show this year. Since then, Cagematch shows Rev-Pro has run 12 more women’s matches in and outside of London – including the match in June, where Jamie Hayter won the belt from Jinny – over 25 events. That’s roughly every other show.
Jamie Hayter has had three successful title defences in just over three months. Given that she’s been in Japan this seems comparatively healthy, except that her matches account for 75% of the four women’s matches recorded on Cagematch after her title win.
It stands to reason, then, that if Rev-Pro’s current women’s champion is under-utilised, RevPro could be doing something about it. By making more use of her, they would also provide more opportunities for the women who get to work with her, creating a stronger pool of talent for them to work with. In the meantime, if they really tried, they could hire enough women for a second match, and then they’d have something approaching a division to build up credible challengers leading to matches that will draw.
Promotions across the UK fall into this trap a lot. Common complaints (or excuses) from promoters include claiming that they haven’t found enough sufficiently talented women to fill a division, or that their women’s divisions are not yet well-established and high-drawing enough to warrant a place on a major show. Such excuses wilfully ignore the role of promoters themselves in developing that talent.
The way a promotion books wrestlers tells the audience what to think of them. Those the audience sees as important are the ones in prominent spots on the card. That puts promoters in a great position to invest in any performer they choose and contribute to their success.
If you want an established women’s division, where the wrestlers can not only deliver but draw on the big stage, you can signal to your audience that your women’s division matters by treating it as such. Book women’s matches on your high-profile shows. If you don’t seem to think they are on a par with all the men on that card, why should anyone else seek them out?
A women’s championship and the odd all-female match are not enough to justify any claim to support women’s wrestling, while focusing on one woman is useless without investment in her competition.
PROGRESS responded to growing demand by introducing a women’s championship to integrate their popular women’s matches into the fabric of the company. After the long-awaited Natural Progression Series crowned Toni Storm, it felt to many fans like the company shrugged, said “That’s sorted then”, and proceeded to book one women’s match per show for months on end. Usually there was very little story or build, because women weren’t afforded a match on the card, or even a promo, to justify gaining a title shot.
Although more women have made appearances on smaller shows – the all-female Revelations of Divine Love took place at The Dome in Tufnell Park – female representation on the flagship Chapter events in larger venues has rarely been very strong. Similarly, women don’t make many appearances on Rev-Pro’s biggest events of the year at York Hall.
Jamie Hayter has wrestled at that venue, but not for the company where she is champion. She was part of an eight-woman tag match in a steel cage at Pro Wrestling: EVE’s Wrestle Queendom, a month before she beat Jinny for the Rev-Pro belt. Hayter got a great reaction: she was already over with the EVE fans thanks to several months of strong matches and promo time. Not every promotion can or should be all-female, but that response from the crowd shows what can be achieved with the will to invest in female talent.
Promoters are not consumers in the same way as the audience: they are content creators, and they are the ones whose choices shape the industry. Pro wrestling still has a problem with recruiting, training, booking, and building up female performers, on which it is only just starting to work. But promoters can fix at least two of those issues, because the UK is already full of talented women looking for a break. By showcasing those performers, they can probably help with the others too.