On April 22, 1974, the Nassau Coliseum hosted its first women’s pro wrestling match when “The Fabulous” Moolah and Donna Christanello took on the tag team of Sharon Brooks and Daisy Mae on the undercard of a World Wide Wrestling Federation event headlined by Bruno Sammartino.
As was the case then with women’s pro wrestling in the United States, the match was meant as little more than a titillating sideshow on a card otherwise dominated by men. But when World Wrestling Entertainment, as it’s now known, returns to the NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Sunday, the women of WWE won’t be just a small part of the show — they will be the show.
Evolution, the WWE's first all-women’s pay-per-view event, marks the latest milestone in the company’s efforts to reinvent its women’s division from a tawdry novelty act into a showcase for some of the toughest and most gifted performers in the industry.
“When it comes to performing and creating captivating storylines for the audience, some of the women are even better than the men,” said Dan Murphy, co-author of "Sisterhood of the Squared Circle: The History and Rise of Women's Wrestling" (ECW Press, 2017).
Murphy noted that today WWE’s women’s locker room is filled with “phenomenal athletes,” including Ronda Rousey, former Olympic bronze medalist in judo and Ultimate Fighting Championship headliner who has successfully transitioned into a career as a pro wrestler. “It's tremendous to see WWE shine such a large spotlight on its female competitors and to present them as elite athletes and not eye candy,” he added.
Among those excited about an internationally televised, all-women’s WWE event is Carmella, a former professional dancer who joined WWE in 2013, following in the footsteps of her father, Paul Van Dale, who worked matches for the company in the early 1990s.
“When people find out ... they’re like, ‘Oh, what do you do? Do you hold up that little card that says what round it is?’ It’s like, ‘No.’ That’s not at all what we do. We kick butt and we do it just as good, if not better, than the men,” added Carmella, a former WWE champion known to her fans as the Staten Island Princess. “I think it’s important to show little girls: I worked really hard and put my mind to something. And now, here I am, along with all these other women, making history.”
In addition to female WWE fans, Evolution will be watched closely by prospective WWE performers, including women training to become pro wrestlers on Long Island. Among them is Danielle Paultre, of Franklin Square, who began watching wrestling as a child in the early 2000s. At the time, it was commonplace to see the women competing in WWE lingerie matches and posing in Playboy.
“As a kid, seeing that, it didn’t really make sense to me why you’d want to be a wrestler and also do that,” said Paultre, 24, who believes the shallow presentation of women’s wrestling sowed the seeds for its evolution. “So many girls growing up and seeing that were like, ‘This isn’t what I want to do. This isn’t what wrestling is about. Wrestling is about competition and athleticism and storytelling. There’s so much more than, like, ‘Look at my boobs and booty.’ ”
Paultre, who wrestles across the United States as Willow Nightingale, has been training for four years at the New York Wrestling Connection in Deer Park. Hours before Evolution, which she plans to attend, Paultre will wrestle on another all-women’s show at the NYWC Sportatorium featuring local female talent and promoted by Women's Wrestling Revolution, an independent group. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, if this is a day that we’re celebrating women’s wrestling, we want to be a part of it and we want to kick it off,’” she said.
It will also be a big day for Kris Statlander, the first female graduate of the Create a Pro Wrestling Academy in Hicksville, who said she’ll be at Evolution as an on-screen “extra.”
Although she said that WWE’s putting its women in the forefront is “a big deal,” Statlander, 23, is also uneasy about celebrating overdue gender parity in pro wrestling.
“We 100 percent had this ability in us the whole time,” said Statlander, of West Islip, a former stunt double who began training in pro wrestling almost three years ago. “For me, personally, I’ve always had to go out there and prove that I can be better than the guys. That’s just how I’ve been my entire life ... I don’t want to be a good woman wrestler. I want to be a good wrestler.”
That dream is shared by Emi Thornton, a lifelong fan who has trained in pro wrestling for three years. She called it “just awesome” that the historic event will be hosted at same venue where she watched WWE events with her dad as a child.
Said Thornton, 34, of Valley Stream, who plans to watch Evolution with her son Ricky, 7: “I hope the message that my son gets is that it doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl. If there is something that you love and want to pursue, then go for it.”
All-women's pro wrestling event comes to LI
WHAT WWE Evolution, live pay-per-view event
WHO WWE's female superstars, including "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Carmella
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Oct. 28, NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, 1255 Hempstead Tpke., Uniondale
INFO Tickets at wwe.com