INDIANAPOLIS — Pro wrestling is as big as it’s ever been over the past several decades, but it’s not just for the boys anymore. Women are invading the scene like never before.
An entire women’s wrestling promotion took center stage at the Marion County fairgrounds during a weekend of wrestling shows called “The Collective.” The event combined a large handful of independent wrestling promotions from across the country.
“Women are getting opportunities that we never had before,” explains pro wrestler Marti Belle, “A lot of schools back in the day would just teach you how to be a pretty girl.”
For years, women say they were simply “eye candy,” escorting men to the ring, or were being pushed into more sexualized storylines rather than being wrestlers showcasing their athletic gifts.
“I remember, even when I started in, this was in 2009, 2010, there were matches where the intermission was a cat fight,” remembered Belle’s tag partner Allysin Kay.
Up until 2016, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) called their women’s division “The Divas.” They later dropped the moniker, and now feature women in some of their biggest matches.
“I think they really took what could have been a negative connotation of the word “Divas,” and really made it their own,” said former wrestler turned business owner, Allison Danger, talking about female wrestlers during the Diva era of WWE.
In 2005, Danger helped start Shimmer Wrestling. The promotion is an all-women’s roster that competes as an independent promotion. Their shows serve as a launching pad for women to grow their abilities with the hopes of one day making it to bigger television promotions.
“Dave [Prazak] and I really believed that women had the ability to be taken seriously as athletes. Now we are seeing women headline major events on TV, on our pay-per-views. Everything we do, we are building them to essentially leave the nest,” said Danger with pride while listing bigger wrestling promotions who have taken notice of their wrestlers, “WWE likes our girls, NXT likes our girls, but AEW took a bunch of our talent. You see Shimmer women so many places. We are like web. One of my girls gets a title, and I’ll text them, “Ugh, baby I’m so proud of you!”
Danger says female wrestlers now are breaking through perceptions and stereotypes, showing they are not only athletes, but headliners. Despite their major draw with fans, some female wrestlers believe their pay still doesn’t measure up to the men.
“Absolutely, a majority of the women, if not all the women, will make dollar to dollar not the same,” explains Danger, “That’s just how it is. Does it need to change? Yes.”
“There is still a big pay gap in big companies where you are making hundreds of thousands of dollars,” details Belle.
Kevin Fertig is a former WWE wrestler turned real estate broker in the Indianapolis area. He remembers seeing similar struggles for women when he was on his way to becoming a star at Wrestlemania.
“They were bringing in just as many fans as the men would, and granted I didn’t see their contracts or anything, they weren’t getting paid the way the rest of the top guys were,” adds Fertig, “I think they used the women. I don’t think they paid the women what they should have been paid. I want my daughter growing up in a world where if she wants to explore something, she can go explore it.”
“It gives [younger girls] somewhere to look and go, “Oh that could be me,” says Danger.