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.