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Sara Del Rey: The secret behind the NXT/WWE women's wrestling resurgence?

WWE in a recent Vice Sports article has pushed the company line that Sara Del Rey is the trainer responsible for "ushering in a new golden era for women wrestlers", but the reality is that it's much more of a team effort than they are letting on.

Sara Del Rey: The WWE's poster girl of gender positive training.
Sara Del Rey: The WWE's poster girl of gender positive training.

The name Sara Del Rey (aka Sara Amato) may only be familiar to the most hardcore of WWE fans, but she's finally being given public credit for her role behind the scenes in the recent resurgence in the skill of NXT's female trainees and the quality of WWE Divas matches.

For those who aren't aware of her background, Del Rey was one of the top female wrestlers on the American independent scene from 2002-2012, working both for companies that specialised in that niche like Shimmer, and those that didn't like Ring Of Honor, CHIKARA, Jersey All Pro Wrestling and many more. Unfortunately, she never got a shot as a performer in either WWE or TNA, as she lacked the requisite swimsuit model looks that both companies tended to favour in their female hires at the time. However, Paul Levesque (aka Triple H) was wise enough to recognise the need for a female trainer in NXT and hired her specifically for that role in the summer of 2012.

The results to a large degree speak for themselves. Under Del Rey's watch she's helped groom the likes of Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch to where NXT fans are chomping at the bit to see them called up to the main WWE roster, so good is their work together. It should be noted that all of these women had at least some training before being signed by WWE (Lynch, in particular, had a strong reputation as a worker on the indy scene before injuries derailed her career in 2006), but clearly Del Rey had a significant part to play in their growing confidence and poise in the ring.

Of those that have been trained from scratch within the NXT system, it's a mixed bag. Lana has been arguably the hottest female act on the main roster for the past year, but that's in a role where she hasn't had to wrestle or do anything physical. Alexa Bliss shows potential, but others like Carmella and Dana Brooke haven't looked good so far.

That said, it is still an impressive résumé, which has been highlighted in a must read piece about Sara Del Rey by Luke Winkie for Vice Sports yesterday that features quotes not only from Del Rey herself, but also Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Paul Levesque who all sing her praises to high heaven.

From a newsworthy perspective, the most revealing quote was Levesque officially confirming that Del Rey now also works as a producer behind the scenes on main roster WWE television tapings, which may have contributed to the improved Divas matches on Raw, Smackdown and WWE pay-per-views seen in recent months:

Whenever people say 'Oh, it's so great you brought in a woman to train the women,' I say 'I didn't hire a woman to train women, I hired a woman to train. She's great with the women, she can relate to the women wonderfully, but she's more than that. It's the same when I bring her up to the main roster; I'm not doing that so she can just work with the women, I'm doing that so she can be a road agent. It's irrelevant to me that's she's a woman. What matters is that she can do her job extremely well.

Both Banks and Charlotte also corroborated that Del Rey is a force for good in production meetings, fighting for the women to be given more television time, better storylines and a greater push. Indeed, Del Rey is 100% confident that we'll be seeing the Divas headline Raw in the next couple of years, arguing that "there's no limit to what this generation of girls can do."

Levesque publicly patting a backstage employee on the back for a job well done is highly unusual behaviour for WWE management, which usually takes all the credit for themselves. Those who believe the glass is half-full will see this as a positive reflection of how Triple H will run WWE differently when Vince McMahon finally passes the torch to him. More negative observers will see this as a cynical attempt to wash out the bad taste from the recent Bill DeMott training scandal that called into question Paul Levesque's own judgement over the affair and AJ Lee calling his wife Stephanie McMahon out on Twitter for the company's gender inequality that gave oxygen to the #GiveDivasAChance movement, rather than a corporate leopard changing its spots.

However, my main criticism of the Vice Sports article is that it completely ignores the positive contributions of the other trainers and backstage personnel at the WWE Performance Centre, like Norman Smiley, Robbie Brookside, William Regal and Dusty Rhodes amongst others, that also teach the NXT women. They too deserve a share of the credit for the current crop of talented NXT women, which bodes extremely well for the future of the WWE Divas division. Perhaps more than even Sara Del Rey, as they are universally praised, not just when the public spotlight is on them. Privately, from multiple sources over the years, I've heard a much more mixed response to Del Rey as a trainer, which suggests that the spin that she is solely responsible for "ushering in a new golden era for women wrestlers" is not to be completely trusted.

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