After Raw XXX, Nikki Bella was openly critical about how WWE treated women’s wrestling on the anniversary show.
If Bella’s discussion with Renee Paquette on the new episode of The Sessions is any indication, those comments were the results of years of questionable treatment Nikki & Brie dealt with in their Hall of Fame careers.
During the so-called Divas era, Nikki says WWE wanted fans to see her & her sister as only caring about their reality show careers. That was their response to the popularity of the Twins and the Total Divas reality show franchise (which WWE helped produce & promote but didn’t control all of the creative on) Nikki & Brie Bella were at the center of:
“I remember one time Triple H saying, ‘Perception is reality in this reality,’ so we can perceive people however we want. I think that’s what has happened to Brie and I.
“At that time, they made people believe so much that Brie and I only care about reality TV, we were only there because of our men. They were super cool and doing amazing things as well. I know AJ [Lee, real name April Mendez] spoke about it in her book, and I think she’s regretted a lot, because that could have been a time when we could have empowered women even more and created more change. That was still a fight and that locker room was really difficult. A lot women can speak about that.
“That was a time when I saw so many women with their heads down, and I was like, ‘I’m going to fight real hard for this.’ I didn’t have to come back with reality cameras, I already had them with E!. I chose to come back to make sure we showcased women’s wrestling because I thought what women were doing was so badass and they weren’t being appreciated for it.
“Honestly, Total Divas should have been praised even more. What we were doing was insane, we literally were at the point of almost beating the Kardashians in the ratings. We were shaking the world up, what a great time.
“We could have had the industry behind us but instead they used it to turn it against us.
“As far as the boss [Vince McMahon], I felt it was the first time he lost control of what he could make and not make because when Brie and I won Diva of the Year, we got in trouble, and I got yelled at.
“We came back so happy and it was like, ‘Oh, because you brought in all these new viewers and the women are voting for you and all these new women are here.’
“Everyone around was on the floor like, ‘The Bella Twins are getting yelled at for being successful,’ because it wasn’t what they wanted because they were the storytellers, they push who they want the crowd to be behind. Perception is reality, that is WWE to a T.
“Even though the fans think they own it, no, they laugh in the back, ‘No, we own you at the end of the day.’
“So, I truly believe Total Divas was the first thing they couldn’t control. They couldn’t control the success. They couldn’t control mainstream. There was no control. That was hard on one side, because they lost that. Then, I think, everyone backstage thought we were going to fail. I don’t like to use the word envy or jealousy, but I think there was a bit. We all kind of get that.”
A lot of people will scoff, thinking this is a case of Nikki overestimating her role in history. But Total Divas did play a big role in bringing more female viewers to the WWE product, and those viewers were a driving force in #GiveDivasAChance and the Divas Revolution/Women’s Evolution that followed.
Regarding the internal reaction to the show’s success, one thing that came to mind was Dave Bautista’s story about the dismissive way Triple H & Stephanie McMahon responded when he suggested a return after the release of what turned out to be his breakout movie, Guardians of the Galaxy. The mindset Nikki says WWE had about Total Divas success is very similar.
Nikki’s a business person, and emphasizing her role in changing WWE is good for her brand. But that doesn’t mean she’s not telling the truth about backstage attitudes at the company, especially circa 10-15 years ago.
You can listen to her entire conversation with Renee Paquette on The Sessions here.