It is often said that John Cena is the most divisive figure in pro wrestling, an indisputable babyface that fans either blindly and wildly support or love to hate because he’s just too damn pure. You could almost say it’s a coming of age tradition, to go from John Cena being your absolute favorite to actively cringing every time he gets a win. Night after night, Raw, Smackdown, or live event, this statement is supported by the chant, nay, the heart song of the WWE Universe: Let’s go Cena (CENA SUCKS)!
Here’s the thing: You’d be hard pressed to find a fan who won’t admit that he works hard, that he’s talented, and that he’s necessary to the company, “best for business”. Few people in the world are frustrated by John Cena himself; On the contrary, as a human being and all around good guy, people love John Cena. The point being my blood has never reached a boiling point when defending John Cena nor when complaining about the way creative utilizes him or rewrites his character to suit their needs. So is John Cena all that divisive? Well… I don’t think any of us knew what real division in the fanbase ever felt like until Eva Marie.
On the WWE’s second episode of Breaking Ground, Sara Amato refers to the women’s division as a “shark tank”, and rightfully so. Women’s wrestling is changing, perhaps because of the wave of feminism and emphasis on women’s rights in mainstream pop culture in general, but specifically in sports, with the celebration of women’s soccer teams and the invention of Dwayne Johnson-esque female athletes with the likes of Ronda Rousey. This shift of focus in culture would be enough to inspire revamping the way women are perceived in pro wrestling, particularly in the WWE, but in addition to that the little girls who wanted to be Trish or Lita are now in their 20s and 30s. Some of those little girls are Triple H’s favored athletes: the women of NXT.
While Breaking Ground shows us that even if you have heart and passion and skill, if someone else is willing to take the spot from you, you will not make it in this industry. “An opportunity is not a guarantee,” William Shatner narrates over the demise of Devin Taylor, a young woman who worked hard, contributed to NXT in other capacities while she trained, but who simply could not keep up with the other talent.
But is this the case for Eva Marie? Has Eva ever been in the shark tank? I posit no. For years she wasn’t asked to go in and is now being dipped in, in a cage, with oxygen, and asking the audience to believe she’s as in danger as the women who swim amongst the current of each other, bleeding. While many align with me in this belief, Eva Marie has an impressive twitter following and avid fans who defend any criticism of her. This has caused the most heated case of either/or I’ve ever experienced in the wrestling fanbase, especially amongst fans who prioritize the development and redesign of the women’s division in the WWE.
In the wave of the Divas Revolution, there was a birth of a specific kind of fangirl: the 15-25 year old social media-ite who is here to support and put over women. It’s beautiful, really, especially to someone like me who was born into wrestling fandom and a girl. I lived through Sunny and Sable and Torrie. I lived through “puppies”. Trish and Lita were rare, which isn’t to say that the aforementioned were untalented… they were simply never given much of an opportunity to be more than a sex object, and Trish and Lita were not safe. In fact, both Trish and Lita started as valets in tight dresses who served no other function than eye candy. It is refreshing and inspiring that young fans, particularly young women, refuse to pit woman against woman, to quantify and qualify their looks, relationships, and femininity, and are here to support their contributions to wrestling regardless. This extends beyond the wrestlers… Renee Young has passionate fans and supporters as well. It is something that I feel overwhelmingly positive about… except when it comes to Eva Marie.
Between July 2013, when she began valeting for the Bella’s, and July 2015, when she had her NXT debut, Eva Marie has wrestled a whopping 15 matches, approximately, and this isn’t splitting hairs about what was or wasn’t a squash match, and not peeling apart how much she actually contributed to tag matches. Has she made an appearance at live events? Yes, she has, but in a number that is staggeringly low. This means that she has spent the majority of her actually rostered, on camera time with the company taking breaks, filming for Total Divas, and using her Instagram to promote her brand separately from the WWE. The story that we are supposed to believe is that two years after signing a contract for the absolute best opportunity in professional wrestling Eva Marie finally decided to ask if she could learn to wrestle, so, nursing an injury, she called Triple H and/or Vince, and they gave her Brian Kendrick’s number. Whether you do or do not believe that Eva Marie decided years in to suddenly care about this medium of her own volition, what I cannot believe is that the leaders of this company did not send her to the performance center to see if she could hack it and ONLY THEN send her to NXT to perfect her gimmick, her move set, and her psychology. When I say that I cannot believe it, I do not mean that I think the Illuminati was involved… I mean I cannot believe it in the way that you cannot believe your ex peed in your shampoo bottles when they got the last of their stuff out of your apartment. It is INSANE that this is a thing that happened.
Even if Eva Marie’s July 2015 debut on NXT had been something more than Peyton Royce (then monickered Cassie) moving Eva where she needed to be, including into her own finisher, and even if I thought in her three matches before she left to go hang out in France, her journey in this company undermines the hard work that every other woman in this division has done and continues to do. It is disrespectful to have no interest in bettering yourself in THE promotion and it is disrespectful to not say, “no, let me earn it, let me train like everybody else.” Am I harder on the women of this industry? Likely. Is it fair? Probably not. But professional wrestling isn’t easy on anyone’s body or family life. Doubly so for the women, who have to meet every double standard there is in the fitness world, in the sports world, and in entertainment. Many of these women have to beg and plead to be trained at all, as even some of the most respected wrestling schools in the country will train you “like a girl” unless you make it very clear that isn’t what you want. It isn’t so much the case now, but I had my heart broken when I was ten years old and had several schools I’d written to for information say that they either flat out weren’t going to train women or that it would be very hard on a girl so I should rethink it.
How dare Eva Marie think she can skirt these things? How dare she not want to be the best, not want to deserve this opportunity?
The diehard fans who aim to take their place in the Divas Revolution have the best of intentions to support Eva Marie, but positivity, feminism, whatever -ity or -ism you ascribe to, does not mean suffering fools gladly, and certainly does not mean making excuses for people who are a black mark on this field. Excuses are all that her “fans” have to stand on. Outside the shock of knowing there are people who cannot see how objectively awful she is, I am shocked at how flexible people are with their excuses for her. She has to film for Total Divas. So does every person on Total Divas. The Bella’s certainly don’t take it easy. Natalya lives on the road, even when the WWE has the audacity to not use her. No one else on Total Divas stop wrestling to film something on location. She is new and uncomfortable in the ring. She absolutely isn’t new, but even if we submit that argument… plenty of people are uncomfortable at first. Dana Brooke, who like Eva Marie comes from a non-wrestling but athletic background, debuted in April and was supremely awkward: stiff, clumsy, and you could see her thinking. But now she has owned her heel status, her aesthetic, as well as her move set, and I look forward to her matches. It’s amazing what consistently wrestling will do for your wrestling.
She was called up too quickly. That wasn’t an excuse for Cameron, who has always given her all, and who begged and pleaded until she was allowed to go back to NXT, to retrain and reinvent. It is part of her heel character on Total Divas. The WWE is an ever-expanding and multi faceted company. If they want to hire fitness models for tv shows, promotions, products, etc, I’m for it. I love seeing how big wrestling has gotten and non-wrestling valets have always had a place here. However, if you call yourself a wrestler and a Diva then I need you to come through. Summer Rae did an excellent job of being a heel for a Total Divas season and still getting in the ring and improving (and may the company utilize her as more than a valet in the future). The company let her do this. I cannot wrap my head around the kind of logic that helps you defend a person who did something simply because they could get away with it.
The fact of the matter is Eva Marie is a danger to herself and to others in that ring. She didn’t train to the extent of everyone else and she didn’t train with everyone else, so every person who steps in that ring with her has to give up their safety, their security, and their skill to take care of her. She doesn’t understand why people would be upset that she has so much off time, personalized training, and lives above the law, and she doesn’t bother to try to understand it. The culture and history of this company doesn’t concern her. She can have something nice and shiny, so why shouldn’t she? I want to support every woman who has a dream to be involved with the WWE, but I will not fall for someone’s contrived, faux girl power packaging at the expense of every other woman on the roster or ignore the history of women in professional wrestling.
So women who love this industry, and women who defend her, what would you say if someone asked you when your wrestling journey began? I know what Eva Marie said…
“I would say it started in September. I went to a Divas search because I live in L.A. It continued from there.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I like my love stories a little longer and with a little more substance.
– Mira (@LostWolfling)
image via WWE.com
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