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Women Take Top Billing In WrestleMania

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On Sunday, pro wrestling will see something they have never seen before. WWE's main event for WrestleMania will feature all female wrestlers - Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BECKY LYNCH: I'm back in the main event of WrestleMania.

RONDA ROUSEY: I'm going to embarrass and humiliate both Charlotte and Becky on the grandest stage of them all.

CHARLOTTE FLAIR: I was chosen to get the job done.

MARTIN: Women have never taken top billing in the 34-year history of WrestleMania, so this is a big deal. Why did it take so long, though? I asked David Shoemaker, author and host of The Ringer's wrestling podcast, The Masked Man Show.

DAVID SHOEMAKER: For all intents and purposes, this is pro-wrestling Super Bowl, or at least WWE - the biggest company in America's pro-wrestling Super Bowl. It's the night when the biggest stars in the company and some of the, you know, biggest stars from years past come and, you know, do fake battle for everybody's enjoyment.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK. So this is it. This is the main event of the year. And for the first time - women. Who are these female wrestlers in the larger WWE fan base? I mean, are they big stars in their own right, not just a sideshow?

SHOEMAKER: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, there's sort of two kinds of stars in this match and two kinds of wrestling stars overall. There's, like, free agents, and there's homegrown talent, right? And Ronda Rousey - who is a former UFC, longtime champion, superstar in the real sports - you know, in the real sport of cage fighting - was the biggest free agent they could've possibly signed. She has the biggest crossover appeal of anybody, probably, on the roster, unless it's Brock Lesnar, another UFC fighter.

But then on the other side, you have Becky Lynch, who is maybe something - if there's anything more powerful, more potent than a character like Ronda Rousey, it's what Becky Lynch is. She's an organic megastar and over the past nine months, exploded into just, literally, the biggest star in WWE - which is maybe the first time ever that you could say that about a female wrestler.

MARTIN: So why is this happening now? I mean, why has Vince McMahon, the owner - legendary - even, perhaps, to some, notorious owner of WWE - decided that this is the year to headline women?

SHOEMAKER: Because - well, I mean, it's been going on for a few years, this kind of idea called the Divas Revolution. It was - I think it started February 2015. There was one very brief, very inconsequential women's match on this entire three-plus-hour show. And it organically led to this, you know, Twitter hashtag, which is #GiveDivasAChance.

Divas is what they used to call all the women wrestlers. And WWE, to their great credit - I mean, despite kind of dragging their feet on women's wrestling for a long time - they heard that hashtag. You know, they heard the clarion call. And they...

MARTIN: They heard the market responding (laughter).

SHOEMAKER: Exactly true. That's exactly right. But then over the past, you know, four years, they've made this steady progression. They've headlined pay-per-view - I think - I believe one pay-per-view in the past. And there was separately an all-women's pay-per-view. But to headline WrestleMania is - it's really the biggest honor and - you know, the company can provide you. Even if there's three coequal matches that are all at the top of the card - everybody's faces are the same size on the poster - whatever - it matters to go on last.

MARTIN: David Shoemaker is the host of The Ringer's podcast The Masked Man Show. WrestleMania is this Sunday. Thanks so much, David. We appreciate it.

SHOEMAKER: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.