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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Stephanie McMahon on why WWE Evolution matters and wanting to work with Serena Williams

The WWE's chief brand officer discusses the growing interest her daughters have in the business and the importance of social media for pushing change

The WWE's women division celebrate following the completion of WWE Evolution. Image courtesy of WWE
The WWE's women division celebrate following the completion of WWE Evolution. Image courtesy of WWE

Stephanie McMahon, the chief brand officer of WWE, has been passionate about developing the role of the women in WWE as part of her role in the company.

Until the middle of 2015 the WWE had focused heavily on their men's product, with the women having limited time in the ring on either Raw or SmackDown, and also at pay per views.

But, the company's new brand NXT, a development brand designed to allow superstars to develop their characters and in-ring performances, proved a huge success in unearthing new female stars, with the likes of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Bayley all shining.

NXT was creating female stars, but the main roster was still giving limited time to the women, with WrestleMania 31 having just one women's match, a tag match between the Bella twins and AJ Lee and Paige.

Things came to a head with a hashtag on social media called #GiveDivasAChance trending worldwide, and WWE chairman Vince McMahon acknowledged it with a tweet that said "We hear you. Keep watching."

Since then things have changed. The WWE Divas title was renamed as the WWE Women's Championship in 2016, and more time and focus was given to matches.

Flair and Banks became the first women to headline a WWE pay per view at Hell in a Cell in October 2016, and in the past three years the women have had a number of firsts including: a Royal Rumble match, Elimination Chamber match and two Money in the Bank matches.

Women were involved in four matches at WrestleMania 34 and on October 28 the company demonstrated how far they had come by having their first ever pay per view, WWE Evolution, dedicated solely to women's matches.

The main event at the show held in Uniondale, New York, was won by former UFC women's champion Ronda Rousey, who signed with WWE in January, who successfully defended her Raw Women's title against Nikki Bella.

Lynch retained her SmackDown Women's title against Flair in the first ever Last Woman Standing match, which was arguably one of the best matches on WWE programming in 2018.

McMahon watched proudly from the back in the production area as the crowd of around 11,000 gave the women a standing ovation.

She spoke to The National during the weekend of the event about the show's relevance, where next for the women's division, and how her three young daughters are becoming interested in the business.

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Read more

Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch win big on WWE’s historic night at Evolution

WWE talking points: Ronda Rousey proving she truly is an all-rounder ahead of Evolution

WWE Evolution: Game changer for Rousey, Flair and the rest of the women's division

WATCH: WWE Superstars Alexa Bliss and Kane pay The National newspaper a visit

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On the importance of WWE Evolution and the role it can play in inspiring women

"Ever since I was a little girl I have dreamed of women being equal to men, especially in our storylines and for this to happen and to actually come true and to be this much further in the evolution of our business is something that is a little beyond words for me.

"I am the mum of three girls, aged 12, 10 and eight, and I want them to grow up in a world where they know they can achieve anything they want as long as they work hard for it like anyone else."

Would WWE Evolution have happened without the #givedivasachance hashtag in 2015?

"It would have taken longer. I do think we would have got there, but it would have taken longer."

On the message the WWE want to give women and girls?

"When you look at Nia Jax, Ember Moon and Alexa Bliss, they all look different and their body types are all different. That is not what this is about. The message is about empowerment and the fact that everybody does look different and we need to support one another."

On why it is important WWE are branching out and are developing a brand in the UK and have had a talent tryout in Dubai

"Paul [Levesque (Triple H), WWE's Executive Vice President of Talent] calls it global localisation. But the notion is to recreate the model we have here with our performance centre and NXT and recreating that all over the world. We just launched NXT UK so this is our first test model with a performance centre and the like to really deepen the engagement and with community within those markets, while of course growing local stars. And those local stars will come through the system. They will come to NXT North America, they will be part of Raw and SmackDown."

On which person she would most like WWE to work with

“Serena (Williams). Yeah I want Serena. She is awesome.”

On how she explained her tag match at WrestleMania 34 and coming off worse to Ronda Rousey to her children

McMahon took part in a mixed tag match at WrestleMania 34. She and Triple H lost to Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle, with Rousey for the narrative breaking McMahon's arm during the match. McMahon was of course selling the move, and was fine, but she explains how she made sure her children knew she was not really hurt.

"In terms of working with Ronda, my kids came down to watch me train in the performance centre with Ronda. They watched us go through the match and Ronda got in the ring with them and she was great. She really is a wonderful person and she got in the ring with them and worked them over a little bit and then it was really cute.

"I was with my kids and it was the day before WrestleMania. It was my two little ones. My oldest one understands it more. I said 'OK guys, this is how the match is going to end. Ronda Rousey is going to break my arm, but she is not really going to break my arm' and they weren’t getting it.

"So I said 'Mummy’s going to lie down on the floor' and I put my arm up in the air and I said 'OK Murphy I want you to grab my arm and push it back like this'.

"As soon as she touched my arm I went like this and reacted she had really hurt me. And then I was Murphy, 'I’m OK, that is what I am showing you, it is all in the reaction'.

"I then asked her to do the same thing and I didn’t react and I was able to say 'see, you’re not hurting me'. And then my youngest was like ‘let me try, let me try!’

"It was their aha moment and they were no longer worried. But mummy going through the table from the year before that was harder to explain. My 10 year old explained it as the stunt table. 'That’s the stunt table, right momma?' they asked."

On the interest her children have in the business

"They love it. My oldest and my youngest, they really love it. My youngest is obsessed with John Cena and wants to marry him.

"My oldest, this is quite cute, said ‘Momma, I don’t want your job, I don’t want daddy’s job, I want Pop’s job. So she is probably going to be the boss one day.

"But the middle daughter she could’t care less unless it is Paul or I in the ring. She wants to have an animal rescue farm."

On the evolution of women in WWE replicating what is going on in the world

"I think there is a movement happening all over the world that is giving women the spotlight. Whether it is in sports, business or in media they are using their voices. They are showing the world they deserve their spotlight. All they need to do is be given the opportunity."

On where things will continue to go following Evolution

"In WWE we like to say there is no ceiling so I would like to think we will continue grow and evolve until we have true parity on the roster."

On how the change has been achieved

"We are all making this movement together. We talk about the WWE Universe. But it is not just our fans. It is our employees and our Superstars, It is the media. Anyone who touches and feels the WWE. We are all apart of making this happen. It doesn’t happen without each other. I think it absolutely is a movement that is organic and authentic because we’ve all demanded it.”

If she has any plans on a rematch with Ronda Rousey or for WrestleMania 35 in New York next April?

"What’s next for me in the ring? Who knows! Maybe I’ve reached my pinnacle. I’m getting a little bit up there, but who knows!"