Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On "Hiring Models"

Nikki Bella may have been a model first, but she's growing into a perfectly cromulent wrestler
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Nikki Bella in the last two days has shown the capacity to be a complete WWE superstar. While her promo skills are still a little off (still better than her sister by light years), the two matches in which she wrestled saw her assume a distinct in-ring character, wrestle not just as capably as she ever has but to a level befitting someone on the roster, and she helped enhance a major story over the Divas Championship. The sample size right now is small - one couplet of matches and a few months of being slightly better than her blood is far from definitive - but Bella could end up being yet another vindication of the criticism that the "hiring models" technique doesn't yield anything but no-talent hacks who can't do anything but look pretty.

While this practice had set back the development of the Divas division for a good eight years or so, it had not a whole lot to do with the women who were hired. Blaming someone for taking the opportunity to get fame and decent pay is short-sighted and hypocritical at the very least, and continuing to blame them despite the fact that systemic factors within the company have been revealed, both through the finished product and through backstage reports, that worked against them is ignorant. If someone can't do the job because they haven't been trained properly, how can one blame the employee and not the people tasked with training them?

Despite the toxic environment for women that existed and exists in WWE thanks to fiends like Vince McMahon, Kevin Dunn, and John Laurinaitis, some "models" actually succeeded in turning in worthwhile performances. Eve Torres eventually became a stunning heat magnet who rounded about in the ring. Kaitlyn had zero experience and was hired specifically for her looks, and yet she always had oodles of personality, especially when paired with the right partners on-screen. Layla El, Maryse Ouellet, Summer Rae, and Michelle McCool all came from non-wrestling backgrounds to have careers of varying providence in the company, some of which continue today. Hell, the woman who is considered the greatest performer of all-time for her gender, Trish Stratus, was a fitness model.

Granted, if given the choice between a nameless face who would be unknown to me before her WWE debut one of the countless, talented women already wrestling on the indie/non-WWE scene, I would choose the latter in terms of whom I would want to be hired. The people I've watched for years now are the ones I've grown attached to and want to see make real money doing this wrestling thing. Even if the gender wage gap exists in WWE, a woman will still be able to make more wrestling for the biggest wrestling company in the world than she would doing it for TNA or a random assortment of independents stateside at least.

But good wrestlers can come from all different kinds of backgrounds, and I think automatically dismissing a woman because she doesn't come from a wrestling background is dubious to say the least. Especially now, WWE has the most rigorous focus on women that it's ever had. It has Sara del Rey at the Performance Center coaching up the women, NXT's Women's Championship division is booked exactly as the men's divisions are, and the Divas on the main roster are receiving the best attention arguably since Alundra Blayze wrestled a monster of the month from the various Japanese joshi promotions.

To say WWE's attitudes towards women right now are as good as the men or even healthy may not be a valid statement, of course. Things are getting better, but the Attitude Era plunged the treatment of women so far down the ladder that the work needed to be done to get back to 1996 levels is daunting. But the hiring practices have nothing to do with the state of play. Treatment, training, development, and the aptitudes of the individual performers are the factors as to whether a woman will succeed in the company.

Nikki Bella may not have competed in SHIMMER or proven herself in Japan, but she's proving herself capable of improving to the point where she has to be mentioned for the future of women in the company. Whether wrestler, model, teacher, dancer, or even housewife, background shouldn't be a prerequisite for support or projection of future success. As long as WWE continues to improve the state of women and train them properly, the future for any potential woman's wrestler should remain somewhat similar in ceiling, or at least similar in scale to the prospects of what the men have.