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Inclusive honors: PWI’s commitment to recognizing female performers

As wrestling fans debate the latest winners of Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s (PWI) annual achievement awards, a unique perspective arises from the inclusion of female performers in all of the magazine’s award categories, most notably Wrestler of the Year. Despite this inclusive approach, PWI continues to honor women separately with the Woman of the Year accolade.

For several years, PWI has extended eligibility to female performers for all its awards, including Wrestler of the Year, while maintaining the tradition of presenting the Woman of the Year award. Sensing that the annual recognition for women was perhaps outdated, PWI’s Editor-in-Chief, Kevin McElvaney, sought to change that after taking over the reins at the magazine four years ago.

“When I became Editor-in-Chief in 2020,” said McElvaney in an exclusive with Cageside Seats, “my gut instincts told me the ‘Woman of the Year’ award was a bit antiquated, especially considering that women wrestlers had been honored in other categories in recent years.”

At that time, McElvaney decided to retire the Woman of the Year award while emphasizing that readers could vote for female performers in every other category, including Wrestler of the Year. However, McElvaney was stunned when he received an overwhelmingly negative response from readers. According to McElvaney, readers felt that the Woman of the Year award still had a place in the yearly achievement awards in part because of the historical significance the award had.

PWI readers named Rhea Ripley the 2023 Woman of the Year. Ripley also won Match of the Year and Faction of the Year honors.

The renowned PWI Achievement Awards have a long history that predates the magazine, tracing back to the early 1970s under founder Stanley Weston’s London Publishing company. The accolades, which were, and still are, voted on by fans, later shifted to Pro Wrestling Illustrated, which first hit newsstands in 1979. Thanks to its extensive coverage of professional wrestling worldwide, PWI swiftly became one of the nation’s most beloved wrestling magazines.

The Woman of the Year category was initially known as Girl Wrestler of the Year. The inaugural award was presented in 1972 and was retired by 1976. It returned in 2000 as Woman of the Year and was open to all performers, wrestlers and non-wrestlers alike. Stephanie McMahon, who was more a performer than a wrestler though she captured the original WWE Women’s title that year, won the newly minted honor.

But more than history, Woman of the Year means something more: representation.

Despite the evolution of women in the industry within the past ten years, unfortunately, they are still underrepresented as winners in the other categories, according to McElvaney.

“Getting rid of the category, some argued, was only going to create one less opportunity for women wrestlers to be recognized. Respecting the demand from our readership, who vocally wanted to see this award stick around, I made the call to bring it back,” McElvaney said.

In an ideal world, McElvaney, who began as a freelance contributor for PWI in 2007, would like to see everyone compete for the same awards and be honored equitably. McElvaney continues to stress that women are still eligible for Wrestler of the Year and other categories that readers have a chance to vote on. Regarding Woman of the Year, readers and performers alike don’t have to worry about it going away anytime soon.

“I understand why many of our readers, and quite a few among our staff, don’t think we should get rid of the ‘Woman of the Year’ award at this time,” said McElvaney.

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