Once upon a time, the traditionally feminized performance of the wedding ceremony was a ratings season staple of World Wrestling Entertainment, infiltrating the hyper-masculine wrestling ring where relationships were punctuated by violence, not by holy matrimony. And though Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth’s 1991 pay-per-view wedding wasn’t the first instance of in-ring marriage rites, it was the one that kicked off the glitzy shebangs that would follow into the late ’90s Attitude Era—best known amongst non-wrestling fans as the wrestling heyday of sex, drugs and rock and roll that birthed such household names as Stone Cold Steve Austin and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
A McMahon Marriage
At the peak of wrestling wedding fever, the plot device frequently featured the woman as a prop or harridan. Post-ceremony, wrestlers would seek revenge on the bride’s male associates or punish and humiliate her for daring to dishonour the the blood, sweat and tears of wrestling with the feminine performance of a wedding. For instance, Stephanie McMahon—the current flag bearer of the women’s wrestling revolution—was left with egg on her face in all four of her wrestling weddings.
First, she was abducted by The Undertaker to be his Satanic bride and was subsequently rescued by Stone Cold Steve Austin. But don’t get the wrong idea, Austin wasn’t doing this out of any romantic feeling, he simply wanted to deal another blow to the Undertaker in their ongoing feud.
McMahon’s second go around was to her real-life boyfriend, the late Andrew “Test” Martin, but it was revealed that she was already wed to her now real-life husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, who drugged and married her in a drive-through Vegas chapel. Several years later, McMahon was set to renew her vows to Triple H in the ring. However, he left her at the altar when he found out she had been lying to him about being pregnant.
The next most-often humiliated bride is Lita, who had grown to heights of popularity amongst wrestling fans and the general pop culture zeitgeist not normally seen by a woman wrestler. For this she was cut down to size in both of her wrestling weddings, the first of which was forcibly to Kane, during which she was maritally raped and miscarried the resulting pregnancy. Her second wedding to Edge was subsequently ruined by her first husband.
In case it has not yet become apparent, wrestling weddings seldom go off without a hitch, so to speak. Aksana got fired and divorced, Krystal’s much older groom Teddy Long had a heart attack at the altar, and Vickie Guerrero found out her husband was cheating on her with the wedding planner. And that’s in addition to, you know, all the sexual assault.
In the event that both parties say “I do” of their own volition, wedding crashers will inevitably show up without RSVPing, as exemplified by the aforementioned instance of Triple H crashing Stephanie’s second attempt to reveal she’d be committing polyandry if she went through with her vows, and the time the pimp character The Godfather enticed the male guests away from Krystal and Teddy’s wedding with his stable of sex workers.
Not the Kind of Representation They Were Thinking
Perhaps the wedding that drew the most mainstream attention was the 2002 commitment ceremony—same-sex marriage was not yet legal—between tag team partners turned “lovers” Billy and Chuck. Initially supported by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and heavily promoted in the media, the ceremony was later revealed as publicity stunt—both within and outside of kayfabe—when Billy and Chuck hesitated to say their vows. Turning to their manager, coded-as-gay hairdresser Rico, whom Billy and Chuck believed would put a stop to the vows before they said them, they were then attacked by the tag team 3 Minute Warning, a depressing metaphor for the treatment of gay partners even today.
GLAAD claimed they had been misled about WWE’s intentions, with media director Scott Seomin saying that GLAAD was lied to even after the wedding was filmed. “I was told—lied to—the day after the show was taped in Minneapolis that the wedding took place and all was well,” he wrote. “The WWE also lied to The Today Show, The New York Times and other media outlets. Many have contacted me to express their disdain for the WWE’s unprofessional marketing machine.”
Two Weddings and a Funeral
I can count only two in-ring unions that went off without a hitch, so to speak. First, Dawn Marie’s 2002 marriage to Al Wilson, the father of a wrestler Dawn was feuding with at the time. Al subsequently “died” on the honeymoon from a heart attack, so the jury’s out on whether that could be considered a successful union. Second, Maxine and Johnny Curtis’s wedding in 2012, the last year that a marriage ceremony was featured on WWE TV. And though AJ Lee’s nuptials to Daniel Bryan, also in 2012, never took place, Lee has the honor of being the only woman to emerge triumphant from a wrestling wedding, jilting her groom at the altar to further her career and take on the role of general manager of WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw.
Now professional wrestling is in the midst of a “women’s revolution” with more dedication professed to women wrestlers, hence the advent of Total Divas amongst other mainstream interest in the division. WWE has divorced itself from the wedding industry which, it could be argued, inherently subjugates women. Professional wrestling, like reality TV, is widely considered to be fake, so it makes sense that wrestling weddings would take up residence in the highly feminized medium of reality TV.
WWE entered what they call their “Reality Era” around the dawn of the 2010s. Different from the prior Attitude Era and Ruthless Aggression Eras—which occured from the early-to-mid 2000s and launched the careers of Hollywood crossover stars John Cena and Dave Bautista—the Reality Era acknowledges and leans into the fact that fans have unprecedented access to wrestlers via social media and the WWE Network, the company’s on-demand streaming service. So the relationship between Cena and Total Divas star Nikki Bella and the planning of their will-they won’t-they wedding—they didn’t—may have been a cornerstone of the Total Divas franchise, and its spin-off Total Bellas, but it wouldn’t be out of place on WWE programming either—especially since the couple simultaneously broke the rules of kayfabe while encapsulating the ethos of the Reality Era with Cena’s in-ring proposal to Bella at last year’s WrestleMania.
The Reality Era ensures we know that many of WWE’s women wrestlers are married—with many of their weddings having taken place on Total Divas—or in committed, long-term heterosexual relationships, usually with their fellow wrestlers. This obviously makes the work of marriage that much easier, being on the road with partner instead of coming home to them for a couple of days before you have to leave again. In that way, Total Divas is helping to portray an alternative, more empowered depiction of wrestling marriage, which WWE has proven it cannot be trusted to do. In the case that it does acknowledge the marital status of its employees, all WWE can think to do is pit them against each other in tag team competition, as with the currently-airing second season of Mixed Match Challenge on Facebook Watch.
All’s Fake in Love and Wrestling
It’s not a “traditional” wrestling wedding that exemplifies the dichotomy of the wrestling wedding industrial complex at all, but one that occurs in the perfect amalgamation between so-called “women’s entertainment” and wrestling: GLOW.
In the final episode of season two of GLOW, which aired on Netflix in June, Rhonda Richardson (Kate Nash), who wrestles as Britannica, the smartest woman in the world, is about to be deported. Her fellow wrestlers suggest she should marry her stalker fan who had previously proposed to her. Somewhere along the way, the decision to televise the nuptials on the season—and what becomes series—finale of the show G.L.O.W. within the show GLOW, is made and Rhonda is set to become an honest woman.
TAKE YOUR BLASPHEMY ELSEWHERE, CUPCAKE pic.twitter.com/9pbhFvyXfF
— GLOW (@GlowNetflix) August 5, 2018
Rhonda’s wedding is a welcome exception from the trope of wrestling brides being humiliated. This time, it’s Rhonda’s stalker fan Toby who’s left out in the cold (“Love is fake—just like wrestling!” he spits), with GLOW announcer and financial backer Bash coming to Rhonda’s rescue. Apparently they’ve been sleeping together, unbeknownst to GLOW viewers until now. Still reeling from the death of his best friend and butler Florian (Alex Rich) from AIDS-related complications, and Carmen (Britney Young), who wrestles as Machu Picchu, visibly taken aback by this development—no doubt inspired by the late real-life G.L.O.W. star Emily Dole who played Mt. Fiji and confessed in the 2012 documentary about the show that she was in love with IRL Bash, Matt Cimber—it’s foretold that Bash and Britannica’s union can only result in disaster, as with so many other wrestling matrimonies.
But this isn’t the only prophecy GLOW offers when it comes to wrestling weddings. During the battle royale for Rhonda’s bouquet and, in turn, the G.L.O.W. championship tiara, Carmen’s brother Kurt—former WWE wrestler Carlito—and his wrestling buddy Chico Guapo—fellow former WWE star and GLOW trainer, Chavo Guerrero Jr.—make a surprise entrance. Pissed that Carmen stole their moves to use on the show, Kurt and Chico are willing to call it even if she can get their faces on TV.
Say what you want about weddings and reality TV more broadly “sullying the sport of professional wrestling” but the fact that male wrestlers are so willing to participate in them speaks to wrestling’s involvement in capitalism and reality TV wrestling weddings being just another arm of that. Zoya the Destroyer (Alison Brie) says as much when she derides Britannica’s wedding as a “bourgeois capitalist scam for huge TV ratings” during a local radio promotion.
Of course weddings are always ratings gold, and while I don’t have the data, I would wager that most if not all of Total Divas’ and WWE’s weddings took place during season finales—though WWE stages shows every week, so there is no off-season—or ratings sweeps.
As evidenced by the wealth of wrestling weddings, WWE cannot be trusted to portray marriage as the life-affirming partnership that it is for so many who choose to put a ring on it. And until things old, new, borrowed and blue stop being synonymous with the fairer sex, it’s likely we’ll continue to see more wrestling weddings relegated to reality TV instead of the medium that spawned them.