What was once an anomaly – girls on high school wrestling team – has become commonplace, with some tournaments able to offer girls-only divisions and some areas even hosting all-female tournaments. The question is, however, whether a women’s-only wrestling event on the pro level will be a standalone hot ticket?
Right now, all indicators say yes – and it’s something event owners will want to be aware of. WWE recently announced its first-ever all-women pay-per-view event and it’s already gaining attention. That event, aptly entitled “Evolution,” is set to take place Oct. 28, 2018 at Long Island, New York's Nassau Coliseum. Starting at 7 p.m. ET, "Evolution" will air on WWE Network and be available via PPV platforms around the world. The Raw Women's Championship, SmackDown Women's Championship, NXT Women's Championship, and the finals of the Mae Young Women's Classic will be on the card, among other matches.
Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of WWE chairman Vince McMahon, made the announcement. She has been a leader of the so-called "Women's Evolution" going on in WWE and its minor-league system NXT over the last few years. Other recent signs of progress and equality have included the pro-wrestling promotion's Mae Young Classic, its first all-women Royal Rumble, and the upgrade in name from the "Divas" Division the Women's Division, as it is currently known. That last one also came with a belt upgrade, trading in the butterfly strap for more straightforward "Raw" and "SmackDown Live" Women's Titles, which are much more similar to the men's hardware.
Men in WWE still lead women in salary numbers; as an example, the top earner for men, Brock Lesnar, makes $10 million, followed by John Cena at $8.5 million. Ronda Rousey makes $1.5 million, followed by Charlotte Flair at $550,000. Rousey has been called one of the biggest draws in UFC history and generated at least one million PPV buys on more than one occasion. ESPN also ranked her as the world's most famous female athlete in 2017, when she was the seventh most googled athlete and the most searched female athlete.
The growth in women’s adult wrestling is one part of the sports economy that will continue to be reflected at the amateur level. As those high school wrestlers have aged out of competition and moved through college, they are continuing in their sport.
Phil Andrews, CEO and general secretary of USA Wrestling, noted in a recent interview with SDM, “It has been noticeable (and great!) to see more women coming in. Now, 47 percent of our senior athletes are female, which is something we are proud of. That’s showing effects on the achievement of our national team too. We have had consistently more women than men participation in our events. The last eight events had, at least, 53 percent female athletes. That’s a reflection of our membership growth among women.”
And the girls just keep on coming in. According to Pete Isais, events director at USA Wrestling, participation in wrestling at the national and regional levels for school-aged children was trending up. “We have experienced an eight to 10 percent increase for female athletes in the last three years,” he said. “Currently, we are at an all-time high in total membership with 200,724 (up one percent) athletes and 32,862 (up two percent) coaches.”
According to an article last fall in the SDM Blitz, the National Federation of State High School Associations’ 2016-2017 school year participation survey bears that out. Almost 3,000 schools (2,091) reported having at least one female wrestler, according to the NFHS. That’s 150 more than in 2015-16. What’s more, the number of female wrestlers between 2012-13 and 2016-17 increased from 8,727 to nearly 14,600.