B/R via WWE.com
In a 2016 interview with Bleacher Report, WWE Superstar Bayley predicted that the women’s division would be the main event at WrestleMania in five years. Ambitious talk, no doubt.
Less than two years later, though, the biggest women’s match in the marquee event’s history is taking place on Sunday in New Orleans. Charlotte Flair, the SmackDown women’s champion, will face the undefeated Asuka at WrestleMania 34. And while it may not be the main event, the showdown approaches that caliber
The match pits the two most dominant competitors in the women’s division against each other, and it also carries the weight of history, in that it’s a representation of WWE’s past, present and future.
First and foremost, this is another watershed moment in the ongoing WWE Women’s Evolution.
In 2015, fans demanded female WWE Superstars be given equal time and respect as their male counterparts.
These arrivals were a long time coming, the tangible end result of a long development period that began quietly when WWE hired Sara Amato as the company’s first female training coach in 2012.
The Mentor of Female Champions
Before she signed with WWE, Amato—more commonly known by her ring name Sara Del Rey—was an established, dominant presence in various independent wrestling promotions.
She had been all around the world. She trained at the All Pro Wrestling Boot Camp in Hayward, California, where WWE Superstar Daniel Bryan took an interest in her work. He tutored her in one-on-one sessions, taught her the finer points of the craft and exposed her to different international wrestling styles.
Amato wrestled from Japan to Mexico and worked with promotions such as Shimmer, Chikara and Ring of Honor. Eventually, she was named the fourth-best female wrestler by Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 2012, the same year she retired from active competition.
The hiring of Amato was a major step forward for WWE, which hadn’t always pushed women’s wrestling with the seriousness it deserved. There were great talents from the late 1990s to mid-2000s such as Lita, Trish Stratus, Jacqueline and Ivory (a GLOW alumnus from the mid-80s). Too often, though, the division was promoted on the basis of its sex appeal, often to the detriment of its in-ring work.
However, Amato had a library of different holds, throws, strikes and wrestling styles. She knew ring psychology and how to advocate for herself backstage, because she had worked her way up through varied locker rooms and often emerged as a de facto leader.
One of her first edicts as a WWE trainer was to get back to the fundamentals—to forward the sentiment that ring mastery and beauty were not mutually exclusive.
Amato’s arrival roughly coincided with the building and opening of the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. The facility serves as the company’s official training school, and it funnels its best students into the NXT developmental brand.
In prior years, WWE had farmed its talent from affiliated promotions such as Ohio Valley Wrestling and Deep South Wrestling. NXT (renamed from Florida Championship Wrestling, or FCW) was a concerted effort to bring the entire development cycle in-house.
In a business that had traditionally prided itself on paying dues and working the road, the state-of-the-art Performance Center begged the question: Could a completely green wrestler, with little or no prior wrestling experience, train in NXT, move up to WWE’s main roster and become a top competitor?
Several years later, Charlotte would provide an affirmative answer to that question, She was a bonafide, homegrown talent, almost