It has been just short of two years since a February 2015 episode of Raw birthed the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance, during a poorly received women's tag team match that lasted all of 30 seconds.
The impact of the fans joining together to place pressure on the WWE to treat its female superstars with the same level of respect as their male counterparts has been well documented, if a bit selective in excluding AJ Lee's role as the spark that lit the flame (likely because of her relationship with CM Punk, and departure from the company soon thereafter).
The ensuing timeline of events that followed are also quite familiar, as slowly, but surely, women's wrestling began to represent a more modern vision of what they could accomplish with some support and some time to show what they were capable of.
It may have taken some time to gain steam, but the change in WWE's presentation of women -- initially branded the "Divas revolution," but later called the "women's revolution" when the term "Diva" was dropped by the company -- has opened a lot of new doors for female talent. From the introduction of a new women's championship at WrestleMania 32, to an unforgettable feud between Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks that routinely fought for top billing on almost every show they performed on, 2016 was a powerful step forward in equality.
So what's next?
The answer is an easy one: the first women's Royal Rumble match.
The reason is just as simple: it's time.
Sure, there have been women's battle royals in the WWE in the past, but nothing gets the WWE Universe more excited each year than the unpredictability of the Royal Rumble -- and it's the official kickoff to WrestleMania season. Not only does the match itself provide endless stimulation for short-attention spans with a format that sees a fresh superstar run in every 90 seconds, it triggers the start of a fresh season of booking where anything feels possible.
The period between Survivor Series in late November and the Royal Rumble can often feel like a wasteland for creativity to WWE's most dedicated fans, as the company tends to play it safe in the face of competition throughout college football bowl season and the NFL playoffs. But the surprise returns and fresh beginnings of new feuds -- elements that have long become staples of what make the Royal Rumble so good -- could do just as much good for the women's division.
The second half of 2016 alone produced both the first women's match to headline a WWE pay-per-view and the first Hell in a Cell match. This week's episode of SmackDown Live continued that trend in the main event as Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch competed in a women's championship main event inside a steel cage.
If you listen to interviews with WWE's top female superstars, a common theme can be heard regarding their individual and collective goals. From Flair to Banks, Lynch to Bayley, the same phrase is constantly repeated: "My goal is to one day compete in the main event of WrestleMania."
Less than three months out from WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Florida, it's difficult to gauge whether this is the year we will see that dream -- once thought of as entirely unrealistic -- become a reality. Either way, the best news of all is that the WWE has worked hard enough to establish a new culture in which such a milestone wouldn't just be tolerated by fans -- it would be accepted with excitement and praise.
And whether it's 2017, 2018, or beyond, a women's Royal Rumble is as natural a bridge to that occasion as the WWE is likely to get.
The biggest concerns for adding a women's Rumble match typically surround two things: the amount of active female superstars available to fill out the match, and the idea that two Rumble matches on the same night might dilute the overall enjoyment due to overexposure. In truth, the latter is the much more valid complaint.
As far as sheer numbers are concerned, the WWE has more than enough superstars to put forth a smaller (and still high-quality) 20-woman Royal Rumble match. In fact, breaking it down by brand is an even easier sell.
In theory, both Raw and SmackDown Live could easily produce five superstars apiece, as could NXT, which would provide WWE a strong opportunity each year to test out its young prospects on the brightest stage. The final five spots could be reserved for the kind of surprise returns and celebrity one-offs that fans love most, including superstars of the caliber of a Stephanie McMahon, Lita or Trish Stratus.
The concern regarding the watering down of the impact of the Royal Rumble by having two such matches in one night could be counterbalanced by proper pacing. A 20-woman Rumble, in theory, would be a much shorter match than the hour-plus men's version -- and if bookended as the opening match of the pay-per-view, it would have the potential to set the tone for the evening.
Similar to Money in the Bank, the winner of the Royal Rumble is instantly elevated (without necessarily having to win a title) thanks to the notoriety and opportunity that comes with winning the match. There's no reason why an up-and-coming superstar within the women's division shouldn't benefit from the same kind of push that their male counterpart would get.
From a pair of groundbreaking NXT main events featuring Banks and Bayley, to a women's triple threat match at last year's WrestleMania that nearly stole the show, WWE has come a long way in the 22 months since a forgettable match pairing the Bella Twins against Paige and Emma unknowingly birthed the start of a revolution. For all of the incredible growth WWE has made in less than two years in its women's division, there's no reason to stop now. If the goal is to truly build a WrestleMania main event-caliber match, a women's Royal Rumble is the next big logical step to take.