Will WWE Get the First All-Female WrestleMania Main Event Right?

WWE made history this year. Do we trust them to stick the landing?

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After nearly endless speculation, WWE finally declared that WrestleMania 35’s main event will feature Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch fighting for the RAW women’s championship—or perhaps even a unified women’s championship—thus marking the climax of an almost year-long story involving the three fierce athletes. Although WWE has a penchant for fabricating “historic moments” for the sake of publicity, this achievement is indeed remarkable: This is the first time women will be the main attraction at wrestling’s biggest event of the year. Although it sounds hyperbolic, this juncture truly represents a kind of reckoning for the underappreciated generations of female talent in the wrestling world who tirelessly worked to be taken seriously against impossible odds.

The question on everyone’s mind now: How will WWE screw it up?

What may seem of small significance to outsiders is actually part of an immense tradition: The last match of any wrestling show is always considered the most important, esteemed and honored of the night—and the glory of WrestleMania itself can’t be understated in the industry. Until rather recently, it was essentially unthinkable for women, whose matches were often derisively described as the perfect time for a bathroom break, to be given this venerable slot within WWE.

With that in mind, the cynicism of wrestling fans, especially when it pertains to WWE’s historically appalling treatment of women, is actually quite deserved. For decades, fans have watched Vince McMahon’s product use misogynistic imagery and sometimes even rape-driven story lines as fodder for lowbrow entertainment. And although WWE seems to have worked earnestly and successfully at revamping the women’s division since 2016, a project beset with missteps from the outset, the innumerable screwups they’ve encountered while doing so have forced feminist-minded audiences to proceed with either cautious optimism or pure pessimism. From the controversy around the Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal (an event that was named after a known sex trafficker until fans complained to sponsors and the company was forced to drop Moolah’s moniker from the event), to the screwy ladder match finish at the first women’s Money in the Bank match (which, somehow, a man won), to the obvious lack of diversity in the company’s most prominent female stars, to WWE’s inclination toward petty historical revisionism: For every two steps forward, it feels like there’s been one step back.

Immediately following the announcement of the WM35 main event, audiences on Twitter and Reddit could be seen attempting to figure out how WWE would blow it this time. What at one point seemed like a clear story has taken so many unnecessary twists and turns, it feels as if the writers are trying to sabotage the entire arc.  

After Flair won the SmackDown Women’s Championship on March 26, it was hard not to wonder if the plot would get even more tortuous before the actual show. Would they try toforce yet another co-main event to keep the women far away from the last match of the night while still using the historic women’s brawl as a publicity tactic? Will they give them enough time for an actual competition? Will a man somehow win—again?

In fact, there’s a name for the sociological phenomenon that could be at play here. The glass cliff is the idea that women often achieve opportunities when the risk of failure is the highest, sometimes so that they can be easily blamed when something goes wrong. The WWE is in a perilous situation in the wake of plummeting ratings and criticism around its shady deals with Saudi Arabia and is constantly facing new waves of scrutiny around its handling of both race and gender. The company will also soon face competition from Cody Rhodes’s burgeoning All Elite Wrestling, so the stakes of this WrestleMania feel higher than ever. Is McMahon taking booking risks with the hopes of pinning anything less than a stellar reception of WrestleMania on his female wrestlers?

It’s unfortunate that these kinds of fatalistic analyses have, in certain groups of wrestling fans, overshadowed the actual outstanding work of the three warriors involved in this fight. Needless intervention from higher-ups notwithstanding, it’s almost universally undoubted that the performers chosen for this are beyond capable of telling breathtaking stories and have earned this position through hard work and sheer will. Rousey lends both her prodigious talent and her mainstream cultural legitimacy from MMA and UFC to the bout, Flair boosts the event’s prominence with her family’s legendary name and her immense athletic presence,and Lynch adds her impressive charisma, zeitgeist-rapping popularity and a bit of gender subversion for good measure. It actually seems like WWE would have to go out of its way to botch this—but the real fear is that they could and would.

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