This article originally appeared in Calling Spots Issue 20. Republished with permission.
For my latest contribution to Calling Spots, check out Issue 21 featuring my story, “Navigating Kayfabe in the Reality Era”.
I instinctively ducked for cover from the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community) when the idea for this article popped into my head after Eva Marie, perhaps the most hated woman (nay, person) in wrestling today, faced Bayley in a NXT Women’s Championship on Thanksgiving Eve last year.
I’d been ruminating on Eva Marie for quite some time, at least since her debut in NXT in mid-2015, but probably closer to the time we were introduced to her as the “rookie” Diva on E!’s reality show about World Wrestling Entertainment’s women’s wrestlers, Total Divas, in 2013.
Let me first say that I think Eva Marie gets a lot of unwarranted flack for seizing an opportunity that was arguably handed to her. Who among us would honestly turn down a prized position with guaranteed exposure in our industry of choice presented on a silver platter? Just because she didn’t bust her butt on the indies for ten years à la wrestling darlings such as Kevin Owens and Calling Spots cover stars Finn Balor and Daniel Bryan it doesn’t mean there’s not a place for her in WWE.
Let me also say that this is not so much a defence of Eva Marie herself, per se, but what she represents. She may have a background in modelling with designs on becoming “the female Rock” (she shares a manager with Dwayne The Rock Johnson—who also happens to be his ex wife—and Johnson has been a vocal proponent of hers on social media) who only joined WWE months before she gained a starring role on Total Divas, but women like Michelle McCool and the Bella Twins were models before becoming Divas. Oftentimes their success is boiled down to their associations with men in power, but McCool became known as the first ever Divas Champion (a title which she held twice) and a two-time Women’s Champion and Nikki Bella’s in-ring prowess has improved in strides in recent years, landing her the top spot on PWI’s top 50 women wrestlers in 2015 and the Slammy Award for 2015 Diva of the Year. And while much has been made about the IWC’s pride and joy Bayley and Sasha Banks’ desire to be wrestlers since childhood, current Divas Champion (at the time of writing) Charlotte only expressed an interest in wrestling in the last few years, so if the logic surrounding Eva Marie’s heat is to be applied to her, she doesn’t deserve her success either.
If anything, we should be encouraging of Eva Marie’s return to NXT to hone her skills in the foremost wrestling training program in the world. While her in-ring dexterity isn’t at the level it needs to be to warrant a NXT Women’s Championship shot, if we’ve learned anything from the chanting along of Ryback’s catchphrase, “Feed Me More”, implying to the top brass that he’s “over”, the vitriol spewed at Eva Marie from the Full Sail crowd (who are obnoxious at the best of times) signifies that she’s the biggest heel NXT has. If we want her to fail, stop responding to her.
The drama surrounding her championship shot at Bayley on Thanksgiving Eve was pitch perfect and elicited a riotous response from the crowd not seen since John Cena faced Rob Van Dam for the WWE Championship at ECW One Night Stand in 2006. Eva’s pre-match promo where she hijacked William Regal’s office with gifts from her Total Divas supporters, while not good, served to position her as a corporate placeholder along with the insertion of WWE senior official Charles Robinson as referee. (Michael Cole also appeared as the adjudicator for Finn Balor and Samoa Joe’s NXT Championship contract signing earlier in the night, giving the whole show a sort of coopted-by-management feel, perhaps not accidentally.) The deployment of Eva Marie was apt and echoes a criticism often levelled at the corporately-appropriated #DivasRevolution: she was put there by management despite, until a few years ago and a few months ago, respectively, expressing little desire or talent to be a wrestler.
Eva Marie is like the female version of John Cena: she appeals to a certain demographic (Total Divas fans who are often young women), as Cena does to young fans, but is reviled by wrestling purists, smarks and the IWC as exemplified by the Full Sail crowd. Putting her in the go-home match before Thanksgiving was “actually genius”, according to [former] Diva Dirt reporter Jake, and a perfect example of her marketability.
Her season four Total Divas storyline was interesting, and the bust up with the rest of the cast, particularly the Bella twins, was unwarranted (if scripted and dramatised for the reality TV cameras) in my eyes. It wasn’t so long ago that women like Nikki were lambasted for their apparent lack of drive and wrestling talent which has since developed to see her become the locker room leader and voice her desire to “stay and continue to help women conquer this industry”.
But the utter hatred levelled at Eva feels like it has passed disdain for her lack of passion and skill and entered misogynistic territory. A tweet from user @nadavid47 asserted that “The hate for Eva Marie has gotten to such an uncomfortable ‘this is deeper than her lack of skill’ level” while @JulieAnnBird was concerned that “it will become even more obvious if/when the Takeover London crowd throws slut chants at her.” (I’m loath to qualify the “slut” accusations because it implies that certain women are sluts while others aren’t, but for as long as we’ve known Eva Marie, she’s been with the same man who is now her husband. Hardly slutty behaviour, but I digress…) In an interview with Bayley in The Independent ahead of NXT Takeover: London, writer Martin Hines even asked the then-Women’s Champion if she thinks Full Sail’s taunting of Eva Marie is less to do with her character and is more personal. Bayley disagreed as NXT stars are wont to do (Kevin Owens and Charlotte are the only wrestlers that come to mind who’ve spoken out against Full Sail), perhaps in an attempt not to upset an audience that seems increasingly on the precipice of spilling over into hostility. Eva’s treatment is antithetical to the #DivasRevolution and harkens back to the not-too-distant past when women wrestlers were valued for their T&A (as evidenced by the tag team of the same name managed by Trish Stratus in her eye-candy beginnings) and their “popcorn” matches were an opportunity for a bathroom break. As much as the Revolution found its beginnings in NXT, its fans are anything but respectful to women wrestlers, and wrestlers at large, giving priority to their excessive chants rather than what’s going on the ring. If there was a question left as to whether Eva as a person and her polarising wrestling character can be separated, porn site Brazzers tweeted the following to Eva Marie:
But NXT seems to have let Eva fall by the wayside since her Women’s Championship match against Bayley, pushing Eva’s henchwoman Nia Jax (or is Eva Nia Jax’s henchwoman?) into the picture with a title match against Bayley at NXT Takeover: London. Eva has seldom been seen on NXT TV and was in Dubai while NXT Takeover: London was underway. While some may welcome her absence (and I’m glad @JulieAnneBird’s “slut” prophecy didn’t come true), it’s a wonder they haven’t utilised her undeniable heat more. Call it slow burn booking, or maybe she’s upping her training again to feasibly be able to go toe to toe with Bayley and NXT’s burgeoning women’s roster, but WWE has dropped the ball on Eva Marie, much like the #DivasRevolution at large.
Related: The Beginning & the End of an Era—Sasha Banks’ Evolution from NXT to the Main Roster.
Are Divas Finally Being Given a Chance?
Elsewhere: [Junkee] How Caitlyn Jenner, the Kardashians & Total Divas Are Making Reality TV Relevant Again.
[The Independent] Bayley: NXT Women’s Champion Talks NXT in the UK, Eva Marie, Coffee & The Future.
[SBS Zela] A Diva is No Longer the Women’s Version of a Wrestler.
Artwork by Elow Mojo.