Women's wrestling takes center stage as the spotlight grows brighter than ever

Killer Kelly and Meiko Satomura main-evented the first night of the second WWE Mae Young Classic, in a match that raised the bar for everyone who had to follow them in that tournament. Courtesy of WWE

There have been a few different major flashpoints in the advancement of modern women's professional wrestling. When it comes to the WWE in particular, there was the fans getting fed up as part of #GiveDivasAChance, Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015, the WrestleMania 32 triple threat women's championship match and broken barriers including TV and pay-per-view main events and every gimmick match under the sun.

The average women's match in 2018 is far more physical and comparable to a men's match than it would've been even a few years ago, but there have been moments in which it was clear there's still a long way to go. But over the last week, both within the WWE and all over the world, women in the world of professional wrestling sent a clear message that more change is on its way and there's still plenty of room to grow.

On Sept. 1, All In sold out Chicago's Sears Centre Arena to the tune of over 11,000 fans at the biggest independent wrestling show of the modern era. Most of the biggest names in pro wrestling outside of the WWE, including Kenny Omega, Rey Mysterio, The Young Bucks and Kazuchika Okada, stole a lot of the headlines coming into the night. But the women's Fatal 4-Way match between Tessa Blanchard, Chelsea Green, Britt Baker and Madison Rayne shocked those in attendance and watching at home as one of (if not the) match of the night.

"I think that every single match on the card was one that I would have paid to see," said Green, in an interview on the "E&C Pod of Awesomeness" released on Friday. "I loved it, I had the best time. I would have to say, out of everything I've done in my career, that was the highlight for me. That was probably the biggest moment. And I knew that coming into it, but coming out of it and seeing the reaction on social media... When I checked my phone, that made me want to cry. I'm so not an emotional person, but I felt really emotional coming to the back."

Then, on Wednesday, the first of eight episodes of the second edition of the Mae Young Classic aired on the WWE Network -- showing off some of the best of what women's wrestling has to offer within a WWE ring. Tegan Nox showed a mastery of the art of selling and a beautifully violent shining wizard in a win over Zatara. Back for her second year in the tournament, 21-year-old Australian Rhea Ripley showed off a seemingly endless well of potential against a dynamic personality in MJ Jenkins, while Orlando local and new WWE signing Lacey Lane flashed greatness against a Canadian giant nicknamed "The Mountain", Vanessa Kraven.

But the match that put everything on an entirely different level on this first Mae Young Classic episode was the first night's main event, between Japanese legend Meiko Satomura and young Portuguese dynamo Killer Kelly. It was a match that showed intensity, storytelling and an unflinching commitment by both women to deliver a match on par with anything that could be seen on Raw or SmackDown in a given week, regardless of gender.

The Mae Young Classic is something of a testing ground, mixing women who are under contract with the WWE and those performing for a variety of other promotions. Rayne, for example, who featured prominently at All In, is part of this year's MYC tournament field; Baker was an alternate who performed for the live crowd during the tapings in Orlando.

Contrast what fans saw at All In and at the Mae Young Classic to what we got from the Raw and SmackDown women's divisions this week, and if there isn't a growing pressure being felt by the women currently on the "main roster" from both internal and external sources, they're simply not paying attention. Mistakes are going to happen, and perhaps it's unfair to compare Brie Bella's first televised match outside of a brief stretch in January's Royal Rumble in more than two years to women working far more regularly. But her pair of missed suicide dives in the Bella Twins' match against the Riott Squad on Monday were indicative of how a match that felt out of place in this era was received by the live crowd.

The fact that there were three women's matches on that edition of Raw was striking, to be sure, but volume alone is simply not going to get the job done moving forward. The lone women's match on SmackDown lasted all of a minute, though things certainly heated up between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair -- two of the more accomplished performers on the main roster at the moment.

Evolution is a little more than seven weeks out, and is set to feature a mix of Hall of Famers in matches like Trish Stratus vs. Alexa Bliss and Lita vs. Mickie James, blended with a cross-section of up-and-coming performers from Raw, SmackDown, NXT and NXT U.K.. This is a spoiler-free zone, but a quick internet search will tell you what the finals of the Mae Young Classic is going to be -- and that match is one of the strongest candidates to steal the show on Oct. 29.

So what will be the key to maximizing on the potential of this big moment in women's pro wrestling? It may be a bit much to ask, but if the level of creative freedom is similar to NXT or the Mae Young Classic, Evolution has a chance to allow the women of WWE to flourish when the spotlight is the brightest it's ever been.

Take Green's experience at All In, for example, which showed what could happen when four talented performers have free reign over what they can do in the ring.

"A lot of people came up to us after, and I don't know if I'm even allowed to say this, but asked, 'Who came up with that match? Who was your agent?' We didn't have an agent," Green told Edge and Christian. "That was the four of us that sat down on the bed and said, 'OK. Write a list of everything that we each want to do. We're going to make sure every single person has a holy s--- moment, and we are going to fill that 14 minutes'. We're going to jam-pack it with stuff so that people don't finish that match thinking, 'Oh, that was good for a girl's match.' We wanted them to think, 'Oh my god, that was so good AND they were women.'"