When Beth Phoenix and Natalya turned heel back in August, WWE Diva fans held their breath. They seemed hell bent on turning the division upside down, separating themselves from the “models” like Kelly Kelly, Eve Torres, Alicia Fox and others. They christened themselves the Divas of Doom, or, alternatively, Sisters of Salvation, claiming that they were out to “save” the Divas division from princesses and perky blondes.

The storyline has mostly gone downhill now, for several reasons. It took Beth three matches to defeat Kelly for the Divas title. Even when she won it, at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, it was only after Natalya interfered by hitting Kelly in the head with a microphone. Hardly a dominant win. Creative also didn’t go nearly far enough with the storyline – Beth and Natalya still refer to themselves as “Divas”, they still do photo shoots, and they have been very selective in who they choose to go after. So far it has only been the faces such as Kelly, Eve, Alicia, AJ and Kaitlyn. If they were after the models, shouldn’t they also target Brie and Nikki Bella, as well as Rosa Mendes? Tamina was never a model, so there is a logical reason why they wouldn’t go after her.

Also, at the start, Natalya was presented as an equally dominant partner. However, her singles wins have been sporadic, at best – any match that she won was when she was in a tag team match with Beth. Lately she has lost out to Alicia on RAW, SmackDown and at the house shows. This weakens the concept of the dominant team they were originally made out to be. Now it seems like they are another version of LayCool.

Recently on WWE.com, AJ and Kaitlyn were interviewed regarding the “Models v Wrestlers” debate and asked where they perceived themselves to be in it. AJ didn’t mention her independent wrestling background but mentioned being a WWE fan before joining, and thought that Kaitlyn (with her background in power lifting) was a “hybrid” – part model, part wrestler. It’s an interesting discussion and deserves further analysis.

For the previous few years, the shift was made from hiring women who could already wrestle to hiring pretty girls and teaching them the basics. With the exception of Vickie Guerrero, there are no female managers or valets – it seems every girl hired must know, at the very least, how to not hurt themselves or others in the ring. But is knowing “just enough” tantamount to being able to label yourself a wrestler? Lets look at the model side of the argument first.

The majority of the women in WWE now were previously models before being signed (or had some other non-wrestling background – Eve Torres was a dancer for the Los Angeles Clippers for example). There is no disputing that. However, is it really fair to deride these women for what they previously did as a career before joining WWE? Kelly was signed in 2006 and went to WWE’s development facility at the time Ohio Valley Wrestling before being called up to join ECW. She started to compete in the ring more in late 2007, crossing over to Raw in the 2008 Draft. Over the years, Kelly has grown as a character and a wrestler, but people still mock her, refusing to take her progress seriously, despite now being the most over woman on the roster.

Eve won the 2007 Diva Search and went down to Florida Championship Wrestling for training. In 2008, upon being called up to the main roster, she was a backstage interviewer, then took part in bikini contests and dance competitions before having her first match later in the year. Since then, her matches have improved somewhat, although a criticism is that there is no “flow” to her matches, just a series of moves. Another criticism is her lack of response from the crowd. Nonetheless, she has started to integrate her Brazilian jiu-jitsu into her matches, which creates the opportunity for some interesting matches. Eve has shown she wants to continue to improve her in-ring skills.

Alicia Fox has been more prominently inserted into the DOD v Kelly/Eve storyline on the latter’s side. She was signed the same year as Kelly, sent to OVW, then FCW before being called up to take part in the Edge/Vickie Guerrero wedding storyline. She was shuffled over to ECW as DJ Gabriel’s valet and made her in-ring debut against Natalya. Although her matches are hit and miss, she has put in the effort to learn. The Bella Twins have, from time to time, shown flashes of knowing more than they show. Rosa Mendes is a mess – the less said about her, the better. We know about AJ and Kaitlyn’s backgrounds.

Beth and Natalya’s complaint that these girls are just models falls flat in the face of the facts. All of them have learned and grown during their time with the company. Not only that, but the last time I checked, doing photo shoots was a type of modeling. The DOD’s argument would have a little more weight if they had stopped doing them yet they haven’t. However, can any of these girls be termed “wrestlers” – including Beth and Natalya?

Vince McMahon has stated time and again that WWE is entertainment, not wrestling. Nowadays, Raw is mostly talking segments for the men, and the matches are an afterthought. You get more wrestling on Superstars and SmackDown. Plus, both Superstars and Divas make appearances outside the company – on sitcoms, game shows, talk shows and various other places. Even the terms are different – you rarely hear the term “wrestler” on the show. You have “Superstars” for the men and “Divas” for the women. Ever since Sable coined the term back in 1999, “Divas” has been the official term for the women in the company, which is why Beth and Natalya made no effort to throw off that shackle in the storyline.

When you look at the wider sport of wrestling, calling women like Kelly, Eve, Beth, Nattie, and the others “wrestlers” diminishes the term. When you have women out there who travel hundreds of miles to compete in a match in front of 20 people for little pay due to their love of the sport; when you have women who are suffering any number of injuries but still go out and put on a solid 30 minute match; when you have women who compete in front of a hostile crowd – and may or may not win them over through their skill but they give it their all anyways; when you have women who have suffered hardships, pain, suffering, loss and despair but still go out there for one more match…

When you look at everything I just listed, and more, can any of the women in the WWE lay claim to being a wrestler? When their matches are limited to 2-3 minutes on TV (possibly more on PPV); when their story lines (no matter how well they start out) wind up going downhill due to hypocrisy and illogical details; when none of them outside one or two of them get any kind of response from the crowd – no. You can’t call the women of WWE wrestlers. You know who I call wrestlers? And this is by no means a complete list – to do that would take hours.

Jenny Sjödin, the Pro Wrestling: EVE champion, who is hell bent on disproving the naysayers with her technical style.

Madison Eagles, who was SHIMMER champion for just shy of two years, who moved from Australia to the United States to have more opportunities to wrestle – and even after suffering several injuries from a car crash in April still put on several amazing matches in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

SHIMMER co-founder Allison Danger, who unveiled her “Womanist Revolution” in 2011, challenging fans, wrestlers and promotions alike to change the way they look at female wrestling.

Sara Del Rey, one of the best female wrestlers in the world who, after being told by TNA that she didn’t have enough of what the Beautiful People (at the time, Angelina Love & Velvet Sky) had, shrugged it off and continues to dominate every place she wrestles.

Nicole Matthews, who refuses to conform to any one’s image just to be signed to a company and continues to improve every time she steps in the ring.

MsChif, who, with her job as a scientist, didn’t go into wrestling for the money – she went into it because she loved the sport. Ten years later, she has virtually no knees left, yet she continues on, for love of the sport.

Mercedes Martinez, WSU Champion for two years now, who has busted her ass for 11 years and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

And beautiful, fragile, trail-blazing Lufisto. The Montreal native, whose journey in wrestling has encountered so much hardship, so much pain, yet so much triumph and so much admiration. She has been wrestling since 1997 – 14 years. She started out wrestling men and gradually developed a hardcore style of wrestling, which got her into trouble with the Ontario Athletics Commission. This woman got the law in Ontario overturned, which allowed independent wrestling to flourish there. She’s wrestled in the U.S, Mexico, Germany and Japan against women such as Princessa Sugey and Aja Kong. She has won several titles, a lot of them held by men only until she won them. She also won the 2007 IWA-Mid South Queen of the Deathmatch tournament by defeating Mickie Knuckles in the finals. Upon debuting for SHIMMER, Lufisto won over fans by showing her technical prowess as well as her toughness – her matches against Cheerleader Melissa, Wesna Busic and her three way against Amazing Kong and MsChif are some of the best in the promotion’s history. Lufisto also helped create Femmes Fatales, the sister promotion to Northern Championship Wrestling, a company she has been with since 1997. Femmes Fatales has now become one of the best female wrestling promotions in North America.

All this has not come without a price, however. It isn’t just the physical problems, it’s also the mental and emotional problems. As Lufisto shared with Ringbelles here, her frustration, her pain and her weariness with wrestling radiates with every word. Compared to her trials and tribulations, can any Diva call themselves a wrestler?

Lets call a spade a spade here. The Divas are entertainers, as are the Superstars. When you sign a contract with Vince McMahon, you cease being a wrestler. You become an entertainer under his rules. You do what he says, you give up almost all creative license, and you conform to his image. If he tells you to do a photo shoot, you do it. If he tells you to have a Baywatch match, you do it. If he tells you to go out and perform in the ring for 2 to 3 minutes (and heaven help you if you punch or kick too hard!), you do it. You entertain the masses that tune into WWE programming. That’s it. Is this a knock on the women (or the men) in the company? No – they have their own difficulties to deal with, including hard traveling schedules and injuries. But when you look at the big picture, it doesn’t come down to models or wrestlers.

It comes down to entertainers or wrestlers.

- Jennifer Logsdon

Sym says:

Entertainers OR wrestlers?

Surely the best in the business are both.

Shane H. says:

“It comes down to entertainers or wrestlers.”

EXACTLY!

Enjoyable read, Jen.