This is a guest post from our colleague Thomas Sherrill of SBNation sister site Underdog Dynasty and Yosef's Cabin, an Appalachian State blog, who was lucky enough to see Chikara's Princess KimberLee vs. Heidi Lovelace Grand Championship main event live this past weekend. It got him thinking about the industry-wide women's wrestling scene, and he contacted us to share those thoughts here at cSs. Let him know what you think below, and follow him on Twitter.
This past Saturday, a small strip mall in Gibsonville, North Carolina, population 6,600, hosted Chikara Pro Wrestling for two events. The main event of the second event (The Secret of the Ooze - order it here) was for the Chikara Grand Championship. It pitted challenger Heidi Lovelace against champion Princess KimberLee.
Both women had earned their match in both kayfabe and in the minds of the fans. The match itself was unlike any I had seen live. It started with front row fans throwing roses into the ring, a completely organic moment organized by a group of fans at intermission.
It wasn't a technical masterpiece, but it didn't need to be. The story was one told through emotion. Heidi's desire to put aside friendship in effort to win a championship and KimberLee's dogged determination to retain. Both competitors when on offense and sensing victory, pleaded with their foe to stay down because they didn't want to hurt each other more.
But there was hurt and a lot of it. At one point, KimberLee hit 13 release German suplexes in a row on Lovelace, eliciting a "suplex kingdom" chant from the savvy Chikara crowd. During this, the entire locker room, rudos and technicos alike, surrounded the ring in observation. It has happened before, notably during big Grand Championship matches. This moment belonged among those matches that involved Eddie Kingston and Icarus, who had already wrestled on the undercard.
KimberLee retained the title with an arm and leg capture submission, which made perfect sense as Heidi's leg had been worked over the entire match. After the match, the two embraced in an emotional moment and when walking into the lobby, got an ovation from the fans still there.
To an outside observer, given the way this bout was treated, it would seem this was the first time Chikara had produced an all-female main event. However, this is not the case. Four and a half years ago, on Saturday, October 8th in NE Tennessee, Chikara had another.
That night, current WWE Performance Center coach Sara Del Rey (now going by her real name Amato) and Kana (now NXT's Asuka) battled in one of the most vicious matches I've ever seen live. Kana, who has a reputation for kicks and strikes, didn't hold back. Del Rey, at that time probably the best female wrestler in the United States, didn't hold back as well.
That 20-plus-minute match, just like KimberLee vs Heidi Lovelace, was a deserving main event. But the circumstances surrounding it were completely different. Female pro wrestling in the United State was in a completely different place.
The show in early October 2011 came just days after the infamous WWE Raw walkout. That featured Divas' Champion Beth Phoenix cutting a promo to Triple H saying "Hunter, we're girls".
Phoenix, who along with Natalya were in a program talking about how they're real divas and not Barbie dolls like Kelly Kelly and Eve Torres, completely killed her character's motivations to put over the dangers posed by R-Truth and The Miz.
That was the state of the WWE Divas' division when Del Rey and Kana beat the crap out of each other in the main event of a Chikara show that weekend.
Now, things seem like they've progressed 20 years instead of just four and a half.
NXT has changed the way people view women's wrestling with Sasha Banks, Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Paige and others having gangbuster matches on par with the men in both NXT, Raw and Smackdown. In PWG, Candice LaRae has been presented as an equal with her male counterparts, even the main eventers, for over two years. Lucha Underground's Ivellise is a two-time Trios champion and even challenged Mil Muertes for the company's main title. And in Chikara, a woman has even won the Grand Championship and defended it.
Women's wrestling has endured a series of ups and downs over the last 20 years. Sex appeal and skin were the major driving forces behind WWE having women's wrestling for about a decade. When WWE went PG in 2009, they were left with a number of women who looked good in bikinis but many of whom were mediocre wrestlers. It wasn't until the last 18 months when women's wrestling got really good in WWE with the aforementioned Banks, Charlotte, Lynch, Paige and others.
During the doldrums of the WWE Divas division, there were great female wrestlers wrestling at indy events all across the United State and Canada. Shimmer has been the main female-only promotion in the United States for 10-plus years now and does well with a diehard fan base. Chikara co-promoted a series of female-heavy shows in Joshimania back in 2011, bringing in many big stars from the heyday of Joshi (Japanese women's wrestling). TNA's knockouts division started with a bang in 2006 and 2007 with Gail Kim and Awesome Kong tearing down the house. But still, serious women's wrestling has only enjoyed a niche audience.
Women's wrestling has been around in a serious format long before NXT made it en vogue. But as the worldwide leader in pro wrestling, WWE's trickle-down effect is very real. When WWE is saying women's wrestling matters, a lot more people take notice.
Is women's wrestling here to stay? People once thought the tag team scene of the late 90's and early 2000's was here to stay, so unless WWE thinks it'll make them long-term profits, there's no certainty. But like tag team wrestling, there's always good stuff to find out there, sometimes just not in WWE.
Four and a half years ago, no one could imagine how women's wrestling would be seen on a national scale. If (of when) WWE's "Divas Revolution" ends, there will still be good women's wrestling out there. But it'll be in a better place than it was in October 2011 and matches like Princess KimberLee versus Heidi Lovelace aren't going away.