I generally try to avoid looking up factoids about wrestling history, but I had a burning question: When did the Women’s Championship become the Divas Championship? When, exactly, did WWE insist on changing the Women’s division to the “Divas division?” I knew it was roughly in the late 2000s, but that title’s history just wasn’t memorable enough to recall. It sounds a bit insulting, doesn’t it? The Divas. The term “Superstars” is bad enough. We had always just used the inclusionary word, “wrestler.” We were all fine with that. But to appeal to younger viewers, WWE decided to change men’s and women’s wrestlers to “superstars” and “divas.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s smart to have a brand name. “Superstars” are like the “Nicktoons” of wrestling. It separates them from the indie animals. But “Divas?” Where did it come from?

The answer lies in another problem that WWE had in the 2000s. The brand split. Yes, many fans have recently clamored for a new brand split due to the huge addition of talent from NXT and outside organizations, but many of us remember the dark ages of the separate roster. Maybe it wasn’t managed very well, but the Raw vs. Smackdown years were nothing I desire to relive.

The draft was probably the only fun aspect of the brand split. One stipulation in being drafted to either Raw or Smackdown was that if a title holder was drafted, then that championship would be defended exclusively on that show, with that show’s roster. Throughout most of the 2000s, the Women’s Championship was the exception to this rule, until then title holder, Melina, was drafted to Raw in 2008.

This was apparently a way for Smackdown to introduce the Divas Championship. Much like the Intercontinental/US Titles, the WWE/World Heavyweight Championships, and other brand exclusive belts, Smackdown’s Divas Championship was invented to counter Raw’s Women’s belt.

But that design...Ugh. What a gaudy, Lisa Frank piece of garbage. A purple and pink butterfly was not an image intended to bring women’s wrestling into the 21st century. Smackdown had a few solid female wrestlers, but it was mostly made up of bikini models who they decided to hire and train to wrestle.

Sex Sells Better Than Suicide Dives

In the Attitude Era, women’s wrestling was forced to pander to the TV-MA audience. That means: bra and panties matches, lingerie matches, and pudding wrestling. As my adolescent male blood pumped through my...veins...I was not completely against this format. I’m still not, quite frankly. Perversion has a place in all facets of life, especially pro wrestling. But bad wrestling in daisy dukes drove away potentially good athletic competition. Sex sells better than suicide dives, apparently, and the few legitimate lady wrestlers on the roster had to comply. People like Molly Holly and Ivory (I highly recommend their Table For 3 episode with Alundra Blayze on the WWE Network, by the way) were still used as reliable hands in the ring to get women over, but the emphasis was never really on the wrestling for quite some time. Lita and Trish Stratus did raise the bar as far as popularity, but they also had outrageous sex appeal. Though they could put on some quality matches, it was nowhere near the level the men were at, and most women’s matches were considered a bathroom break for a lot of fans; which was also due to the fact that WWF/E never really cared to give the women a decent storyline.

This carried over into the mid-2000s, and we saw model after model being hired by the company.

Women’s champions like Candice Michelle didn’t exactly bring dignity back to the strap. One of my favorite wrestlers of all time, Gail Kim, did bring legitimacy to the title. Women like her and Melina seemed to actually care about the craft, but the belt would always end up back in the hands of whoever looked better on the cover of Maxim (Note: Melina always looked better than everyone and I don’t want her to read this and decide not to marry me).

It wasn’t too long ago that the Women’s and Divas Championship was unified. Though 2010 seems like the distant past in wrestling terms, it’s also not memorable because the entire product was very poor. I was busy watching TNA Impact and their thriving Knockouts division. Now, aside from former champ, Gail Kim, TNA didn’t have a ton of great female wrestlers. However, they did give their women some damn entertaining characters and storylines, with the added bonus of them being allowed to be more adult oriented.

Meanwhile, WWE had gone PG, so not only was the women’s division lacking skill, but the WWE wasn’t even allowed to objectify them! Outrageous! So, what we’re left with is a pretty disinterested audience. I will say that former Divas champ, Maryse, had enough sex appeal to power a small city, and I’m very happy to see her back in WWE. She’s an excellent persona and aptly completes the Miz’s character.
Another fan favorite, AJ Lee, at least addressed the issue with the reality show Divas in an infamous shoot on Raw. AJ was the most over Divas champion in its short history and tried to use her popularity as a catalyst to fix the issues with the women’s division. Though she made progress by playing a major role in a top male storyline, she ended up going into early retirement. She was vehemently frustrated with the division, but it would seem her protest wasn’t in vain.

The Four Horsewomen
And so, as TNA began to lose momentum, and the Bella Twins turned women’s wrestling into a reality show, we begrudgingly sat through convoluted 8-women tag matches between the Divas. Every week seemed to be the same meaningless cluster of women trying to get a couple of moves on camera, while miraculously staying alive with their sloppy botch-fests.

Then, like a gift from the heavens, the WWE Network gives us NXT. This new farm system would revolutionize the current product in more ways than one. As fans can see the development of wrestlers at an early stage, they fall in love with the more-raw-than-Raw style of the NXT men and women. Four women in particular make a name for themselves in NXT. Bayley, Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch form a Kliq-esque group called the Four Horsewomen. Oddly, this isn’t an official on-screen faction, because this group isn’t a storyline. This group is about four women who care about putting on an incredible performance and bringing dignity back to women’s wrestling.

Obviously, the name is inspired by Charlotte’s father, Ric Flair, and his Four Horsemen. And appropriately, these women start to perform on a level that upstages the men. In a match I consider to be one of the great pieces of wrestling art of all time, Bayley and Sasha Banks bring the WWE and NXT Universe (including yours truly) to tears at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. They have the match of the night.

Now, in years past, women weren’t expected to have the match of the night. Hell, they were lucky to be considered “pretty good for a girl.” But for women wrestlers to consistently produce match after match that’s on par or better than any men’s match on the card was practically unheard of. Bayley vs. Sasha was so popular that they main evented the next big NXT event in an iron (wo)man match. I can’t think of another time that women were the main event of a male dominated wrestling show, can you?

So, the women of NXT (sans-Bayley) are brought up to WWE, misused for a bit, but then inevitably begin to take over the women’s division. Slowly but surely, Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha phase out the era of Total Divas. And much to the relief of wrestling fans everywhere, inspire a new Women’s Championship belt. The tramp stamp Divas title is now just a bad memory.

For the reincarnation of this title, Becky, Sasha, and Charlotte have a triple threat match at WrestleMania. Now, it’s fairly unprecedented to have women wrestlers produce the best match of the night at any big wrestling event...but at WrestleMania?

A lot of fans might say that the Intercontinental ladder match was the best match of the night on an overall weak show. But they had ladders...and seven people. It’s hard to compare an insane hardcore match to a triple threat match with normal stipulations. Taking this into consideration, the women had the best match at WrestleMania.

This is the start of something great. Bayley is sure to join the fray sooner rather than later. Now that she dropped the belt to Asuka in another great NXT match, she’s free to get called up. She may be the best pure face of the past decade, which is very hard to come by.

They made jaded wrestling fans care about women’s matches. They forced a very real Divas revolution by destroying the term, “Diva,” completely. This era is not only a great thing for women’s wrestling; it’s separately a great thing for women and a great thing for wrestling. As long as NXT keeps churning out great female competitors, the fans will continue to watch with respect. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that women could main event a major WWE payperview in the near future, and perform better than any superstar on the show. That’s not just good for a girl, that’s just damn good.

Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston. He hosts the comedy podcast, "So Now I'm the Asshole" on Fans.FM and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke