Nylons and Midriffs: The Year of the Woman (Year In Review, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

While it’s a bit corny to say, there really isn’t a better time to be a fan of women’s wrestling in WWE. Through the ups and the downs, this year was truly unforgettable for the division and fans who have been clamoring for women’s progressivism since the Attitude Era.

Sure, there are some kinks to work out here and there, as is to be expected when exploring uncharted historical territory. But, the year was a start. It is only the beginning. I truly see it as a new foundation for what is yet to come. With the announcement that there will be women’s tag team championships unveiled next year and speculation that we may see women main event WrestleMania for the first time, 2019 will likely be a sophomore year of sorts — a punctuation mark on the statement that women’s wrestling is here to stay.

Let’s look back n the year that got us to this point. As this is more of a celebratory post from my perspective, let’s do things in reverse this time. We can revisit cynicism next year.

The Thorny

Image credit: EWrestling.com

Catty Characterizations. An underlying issue in the women’s division has always been the way WWE’s female characters are written. This year was no different, as we had many of the most memorable feuds of the year carried by bratty, mean girl antics from heels and faces alike. An example that leaps to mind is the feud between Nikki Bella and Ronda Rousey before Evolution.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tuv7-uVgdJ0&w=560&h=315]

Ronda cut a searing promo wherein she mocked the Bellas for using their men to get ahead, and specifically Nikki for sleeping with John Cena. In addition to that dose of slut-shaming, we had Alexa Bliss bullying Nia Jax for no reason, Ruby Riott mocking Natalya’s actually-dead father, and Carmella being the ditzy, obnoxious heel of our nightmares.

Not only that, but the women were also generally depicted as volatile and shrill. I can’t even count the amount of segments we had this year of women screaming into microphones, over each other backstage, or in cringe-worthy counseling sessions. Again, this is how you can tell that there are few if any female writers backstage. Women were portrayed by how patriarchy caricatures them — as shrieking, hysterical creatures. I hope that WWE learns how to write women next year with realistic motivations, now that they will have to do it for more of them with a growing roster. Speaking of…

The Favorites. A general critique but particularly with the women, WWE has a tendency to rotate the same 5 or 6 women in and out of the title picture on both brands. And it is no surprise that most of these women are blonde and white. The year was dominated by Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and Becky Lynch. While other women had their “moments” this year — like Asuka winning the Rumble and Naomi winning the already-forgotten WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal — they were fleeting in comparison to the title runs and feuds that the aforementioned women had.

Image credit: slam.canoe.com

The women’s locker room is the most diverse it has ever been, and yet we continue to give the same “kind” of women the top spots. It’s infuriating to watch the most prominent wrestling critics praise people like Charlotte and Ronda when women like them are given the big matches continually to prove themselves and show off their movesets. We saw the likes of Bayley, Sasha Banks, Ember Moon, and Asuka sink to the bottom of the card simply because they didn’t fit the mold.

It’s great that the women will finally be given another set of titles to strive for. This may address this issue head-on. Yet, it won’t fix much if the tag titles are only used to pacify the women who can’t seem to break into the “main event” scene.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Short-Term Booking. We saw so much short-term booking this year. Segments that served little purpose other than to get another women’s segment on RAW or SmackDown Live. As I alluded to in the previous section, the rest of the women’s locker room in the undercard had to make do with the segments or actions written for them. And many of them were…bad. Just bad. And also random.

Image credit: theringreport.com

Asuka and Naomi teamed up for a few weeks and then suddenly stopped. Dana Brooke turned face and then heel again two days later with no explanation. Asuka lost not one but two title matches to Carmella because of nonsensical distractions by James Ellsworth. Sasha and Bayley betrayed one another multiple times this year to simply pretend none of their bickering ever happened after a counseling session. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville fell victim to similar booking.

And in all of these examples, there was absolutely no long-term explanation for the events. No reasons given for the temporary alliances and breakups. It was all pure laziness on the part of WWE Creative. And I know it isn’t the worst thing going on, but it’s still irksome. I want to care! Make me care!

The Good

GIF credit: slyasrai.tumblr.com

Every Single First. I hope wrestling historians took note of just how many firsts there were this year. All of the historic firsts could be written about at length, but I’m condensing them in this point because in total there were just too many.

In case you need a recap, we had the first ever women’s:

  • Royal Rumble
  • Elimination Chamber match
  • announcers: full-time for Renee Young and a guest spot for Beth Phoenix
  • pay-per-view, Evolution
  • Last Woman Standing Match (on the main roster)
  • TLC match

…all within a 12-month period!! That’s insane!

We also had the third women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, which was the best of them so far. Every single one of these matches delivered. Not a single one was bad. We saw what happens when you give women the ball. They don’t just run with it, they shoot and score. And, arguably, they made the men step their game up to deliver high match quality. I know that every subsequent stipulation match listed above won’t be as amazing as the first. But, the women have their foot in the door now, and I have high hopes that they will find ways to be inventive and heighten the intensity of each as the years go on.

The Royal Rumble and Evolution. Yes, I am singling out these two events — because they were that damn good. I still remember vividly watching in utter excitement and pride as Jojo announced the start of the women’s Rumble. I will never forget how hyped I was standing in front of my TV, singing every woman’s entrance theme I knew as they walked the ramp for the Evolution battle royal. I actually got chills just thinking back to those nights. I was never, ever prouder to be a fan of wrestling — a fan of women’s wrestling — than on those nights, watching those pay-per-views.

Image credit: alexablissfrance.tumblr.com

And it wasn’t just because they were firsts. That will obviously play into the fondness that fans hold for those events when we remember back to this era. But these events will also stand out because they lived up to their hype. The women wrestled and entertained as if everything was on the line. In many ways, it was. They had everything to prove, just because they’re women; ’tis the sexism that they face just for existing in wrestling to begin with.

You can read my extended thoughts on both shows in my previous blog posts, but I would also recommend seeking out each of them to watch, because they are absolutely worth your time.

Stone Cold Becky Lynch. Yeah, I went there. There wasn’t a wrestler in WWE this year that could hold a candle to Becky Lynch. Not Seth Rollins or Drew McIntyre. Not AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan. Not even Ronda Rousey. It was all Becky. Period.

Becky proved herself to be a bonafide star this year. She balanced actual in-ring talent with stellar mic skills, and crafted a heel character that was just too cool to boo. She was so over that she had fans jeering the likes of Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey, the two golden girls of the division. WWE tried their hardest to make Becky a detestable heel, but Becky’s Stone Cold-esque rebel spirit forced them to portray her as more of an anti-hero by the end of the year, actually acknowledging that fans love her.

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Even though I have complicated feelings about the idea of “grabbing the brass ring” as Vince McMahon puts it (as it typically connotes bootstrap ideology), there are few other expressions that describe how Becky used the spotlight given to her this year. True to her character on camera and social media alike, she definitely proved herself as championship caliber.

My hope for Becky next year is that she finishes her red-hot feud with Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, ideally in the main event. The match is almost guaranteed to happen — but the mechanics of how it happens I look forward to watching. I also hope that we see Becky’s versatility after WrestleMania, giving her new opponents to feud with.

Regardless of the future, 2018 will be remembered as The Man’s year. How ironic, during a year that will likely go down in history as the Year of the Woman.

***

And that’s all folks! It’s been a delight to write about women’s wrestling this year. I began it with the Royal Rumble, innocently believing that the women wouldn’t be given anything else for the remainder of the year. I have never been so happy to be wrong.

See you on the Road to WrestleMania!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

The Best of NXT in 2018

Fan Reviews

This review of NXT from 2018 comes from more of a fangirl perspective than an academic one, and it is meant to reflect only my own preferences for the best part of the WWE Universe. I would love to hear any other NXT fan’s reactions to this past year, and for a second opinion, and a focus just on NXT matches, see https://uproxx.com/prowrestling/wwe-nxt-matches-of-the-year-2018.

Now, I am not going to talk about specific matches here. I don’t remember specific matches well enough to comment on them. What I am doing instead is reflecting on my favorite parts of NXT from this past year. Those parts may be story lines, characters, or moments, but they are all the parts that I think demonstrate why NXT outshines either Raw or SmackDown and why I always hope/dread that my precious NXT babies will be called up to the main roster.

Each entry on this list made me squee in some way this year, starting with the first one, which is basically just one long, sustained SQUEE at the moment (like, seriously, alternating between squeeing and crying).

The Ciampa/Gargano Story, with special guest star Aleister Black

I legit love these men.

After his heel turn at NXT TakeOver: Chicago in 2017, Tommaso Ciampa went out with a knee injury and left Johnny Gargano to rise as the main babyface of NXT. On Twitter, Ciampa changed his handle from Project Ciampa to Blackheart and began foreshadowing his return with a tweet on Dec 31, 2017. In it he retweeted Gargano’s tweet expressing hope for 2018 by just saying “Happy New Year, man.” He had been playing the Twitter game a little in the second half of 2017 but turned it up in the beginning of 2018 when he was prepping to return.

 

Meanwhile, Gargano secured his first NXT title championship opportunity against Andrade Cien Almas at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia but failed to capitalize on it. Instead of interfering in the match, Ciampa showed up after a disappointed Gargano left the ring with the help of Candice LeRae — and attacked Gargano with his crutch.

Thus began a year-long story arc that is still going! And technically was the latest chapter in their entire NXT storyline.

Ciampa and Gargano went back and forth at each other, both directly and indirectly. Ciampa caused Gargano to be released from NXT on Feb 21, but Gargano was allowed back in after he beat Ciampa bloody at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. From there, Gargano quickly challenged Black for the championship in an attempt to get back on track, while Ciampa continued to cement his status as uber-heel; for a time, he even entered to the crowd booing instead of any entrance music. Their “anniversary” Chicago street fight match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II this year was brutal, both physically and emotionally.

When they brought Aleister Black into the storyline, things really took a dark turn. Gargano started to feel that he could not defeat Ciampa without becoming a heel himself. He tried to cost Ciampa the championship title during a match against Black, only to end up giving the title to Ciampa during a regular NXT show that aired on July 25, shocking and surprising everyone — including Black.

Bringing Black in was a masterstroke — but more so for how they responded to a legit injury Black sustained at a house show that prevented him from fully participating in the story.  The idea had been to stage a triple threat match between Black, Ciampa, and Gargano at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV for the championship, but Black’s injury derailed that storyline. Instead, NXT went full steam ahead with Gargano’s turn to the dark side by setting up a mystery that started Aug 8 with Black being attacked outside the Full Sail arena.

General Manager William Regal focused on investigating the attack after NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV until just before NXT TakeOver: WarGames II. During this investigation, Nikki Cross claimed to know who attacked Black and told Regal (more on that below). Yet we the fans never knew the identity of the perpetrator until just before WarGames, when Gargano revealed he attacked Black, setting up a brutal match at WarGames between Black and Gargano and leaving Ciampa to continue to successfully defend his championship.

After absolving Gargano of his sins at WarGames, Black returned looking for a rematch with Ciampa, only for Gargano to demand a rematch with Black. On the Dec 5 show, Ciampa deftly manipulated both Black and Gargano into wanting a steel cage match to end things between them.

That match happened on Dec 19 — ending with a possible DIY reunion.

Throughout 2018, Ciampa demonstrated an amazing ability to play the heel in matches, in promos, and on Twitter. He seems so natural in his Psycho Killer persona and adeptly fitted it into the requirements of NXT/WWE storytelling. Meanwhile, Gargano demonstrated a natural ability to emote and connect with fans, whether as a face or a tweener. His slide to the dark side has been both logical and delicious, allowing him to flesh out his performance skills and show the world why he is Johnny Freakin’ Wrestling.

It is simply stunning that Ciampa and Gargano have built this story line on the basis of their amazing chemistry since their emergence as a put-together tag team for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic back in 2015. It has been over three years now, and their arc is the best storyline in professional wrestling right now. If they can keep it up, it may become the best storyline ever in professional wrestling. There are simply too many moments to recount in this post, and I am already fangirling too much in this entry.

Just do yourself a favor: go back to their beginning and follow their story. The journey is well worth it, and I wait with high anticipation for where the story goes in 2019. I know I am not the only one hoping for a complete DIY heel team, especially if TM61 is kaput, and I would love to see a point where DIY holds the tag team title, Ciampa has the main title, Gargano gets the North American title (even Ciampa wants that!), and LeRae gets the women’s title. Please, WWE, just let this amazing trio hold all the belts before you call them up after this year’s WrestleMania or SummerSlam and ruin them — please!?!

Shayna Baszler Can Legit Kill You (Or Me, At Least)

The Jan 10th episode started 2018’s run of new episodes, and Sahyna Baszler was there to usher in the new era of NXT. This opening match positioned her to dominate the women’s division throughout the year by showing both backstage and in-ring prowess on being able to legit kill people.

After debuting in the inaugural Mae Young Classic, Baszler made her NXT in-ring debut on this episode against Dakota Kai, who would become one of her long-running opponents after receiving a (kayfabe) broken arm after a stomp from Baszler that led to the match being called due to injury.

Not content to let the match end there, Baszler locked Kai in a coquina clutch that brought out champion Ember Moon. Baszler was thus established as the biggest heel in NXT women’s — and perhaps all of NXT — and she has played the role to a T. Every time she smiles, I worry that someone is going to die.

Throughout 2018, Baszler caused bodily harm throughout the women’s division with various opponents like Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, and Kairi Sane, who she battled with for the Women’s Championship title, leading Baszler to end the year as a two-time women’s champion. With her fellow MMA call-ups, the trio is being polished to eventually join Ronda Rousey on the main roster and complete the new Four Horsewomen stable (although Bayley, Sasha, Becky and Charlotte will always hold that title in my heart).

If Shayna goes up this year, I fear for the women of Raw and SmackDown. Heck, I would fear for the men, too, if WWE would get off their duff and let real intergender wrestling happen. She legit scares me, even though in shoot interviews she seems like a nice person I could hang with (thanks to Up Up Down Down).

The Est Becomes Established

Bianca Belair was a minor player in 2017, and even appeared in the inaugural Mae Young Classic to be defeated by the eventual winner Kairi Sane. But she really began to shine in 2018, appearing in the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania 34, and then experiencing a winning streak that saw her tear through the women’s roster at NXT. She won the NXT Universe over with her athleticism, charisma, and hair whip.

Bianca’s year ended with a win in a fatal four-way, giving her a shot at the Women’s Championship against Shayna Baszler. The whip versus the clutch. Should be quite the stiff title match.

What I like about Belair is how natural she seems at this pro wrestling thing. She has amazing power and skill, as her backstory promos have told us about her history of sports competition. But if she couldn’t actually, you know, dead lift other women and toss them aside without a thought, no amount of backstory would matter. The fact that she can do that — as well as all the other moves seen in the video above — effortlessly, and give us a great gimmick with that bullwhip of a braid means she is destined for great things in WWE. I cannot wait to see her and Naomi have a day-glo dance-off, and a triple threat of her, Becky and Charlotte would be amazing.

Just let her run with the title awhile in NXT, because she deserves to shine the bright-EST.

Nikki Cross’ Secret

As mentioned, Nikki Cross played an integral role in the Aleister Black injury angle. She knew who did it (or, per Nikki’s accent, who DEDDIT), and for weeks she stalked the ring and backstage area of NXT’s Full Sail letting everyone know she had a secret, without revealing what she knew. Not even William Regal, P.I., could get the truth out of her. This agent of chaos apparently just wanted to see what would happen when Black got back.

Cross has been a fan favorite since her arrival as part of Sanity, but when they got called up, she got left behind, allowing her to further develop her character and really shine away from their shadow. Now that she is main roster bound, hopefully they don’t dull the crazy from her character, as this wild child is a truly unique example of what women can do in professional wrestling — and by that I mean she shows women can do anything, just like men.

Anything You Can Do, the Dream Can Do Better

At the end of 2017, Velveteen Dream won the NXT Year-End Award for Rivalry of the Year with Aleister Black. This was the “Say My Name” storyline that culminated at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, when Black finally said his name.

His first appearance on May 24, 2017 confused some people (myself included — was he riffing on Prince, who wasn’t that long dead?), but he very quickly became a fan favorite after entering the feud with Black that fall. Their rivalry set the foundation for Velveteen’s elevation to superstardom in 2018 when he feuded with different people and even had a title shot against Ciampa at NXT TakeOver: WarGames II.

However, perhaps his most impressive match was against Richochet at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II. From coming out in his Hulk Hogan meets Prince Puma gear to his attempts to keep pace with and one-up Ricochet, Dream demonstrated that he can have a dream match with anyone.

Two reasons why Velveteen had a breakout year. One, he knows how to perform inside the ring. This match demonstrated that, as he went toe-to-toe with one of the best acrobatic-style wrestlers in the world. In this match it was his undoing, but his power and athleticism will serve him well throughout his career.

Two, as seen from the video, his character work is also amazing, and it shows through his mannerisms and his ring gear. The man went from being a weak contender in Tough Enough to coming up with a gender-defying gimmick that he got over thanks to his performance and costuming. The man borrows from different wrestlers, from Hogan to Rick Rude, but is wholly unique in what he creates from the pastiche.

Side note: I could seriously see him becoming the new Wesley Snipes if he wanted a job in Hollywood.

The Impossible Ricochet

I was sad to see Ricochet leave Prince Puma and Lucha Underground behind, but I am so happy to have him in the WWE Universe, as I hope it helps him earn the oodles of money he deserves.

Ricochet’s in-ring debut for NXT occurred during the ladder match to determine first ever North American Champion at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. While he failed to come away with the gold — because of course Adam Cole would — he still demonstrated that everything everyone loved about him from the indies would translate to the big show — or at least the NXT version of the big show.

Throughout 2018 Ricochet would have some seriously great matches in which he did some very superhuman things. Yet it was his feud with Velveteen Dream that really cemented who he was in NXT by creating several spectacular moments and an amazing match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II.

And this is just a sampling of it all:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F0TPRLEMi8

I first saw that as a GIF on Twitter. My jaw dropped open upon seeing it. It still drops open with every repeat viewing. Because, seriously…how can anyone be that good!?!

Ricochet then defeated Adam Cole for North American Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV and participated in NXT TakeOver: WarGames II with the NXT Avengers of War Machine and Pete Dunne. His high flying moves have quickly made him an NXT favorite.

Hopefully he is not shoehorned with a stupid gimmick on the main roster like Adrian Neville was, taking away that man’s brilliance. Ricochet is another of those men who gravity forgot, and I would hate for him to be as forgotten by WWE creative as they did Neville.

Kyle O’Reilly’s Expressions

I am not an Undisputed Era fangirl, although I do prefer Roderick Strong as a heel than as a babyface (oh man, was he vanilla!). But I do love Kyle O’Reilly’s facial expressions.

O’Reilly is my favorite part of UE. I am always looking at him whenever another of the faction (usually Adam Cole) is speaking. When O’Reilly is in the ring, I worry for the other wrestlers, as his attacks to people’s hamstrings and knees makes my own legs buckle.

I am glad that Bobby Fish has returned so that ReDRagon can continue to have amazing tag matches in NXT. If they are called up, I hope The Revival can be revived and set up against them. Those two teams would be able to redefine WWE tag team wrestling if creative gave them half a chance.

Matt Riddle’s Flip Flops

The King of Bros made his NXT in-ring debut on Oct 31 against Luke Menzies. I like Matt Riddle,  but I am never really excited by him. I’ve seen him live and up-close at AAW, and his matches are stiff and fun, but as a character the “bro” persona leaves me cold.

But I love his entrance into the ring where he flips off his flip-flops. That little touch could make him a big WWE star because it both encapsulates everything he is as a professional wrestler — both in terms of his move set and character — while also just being so damn cool I could see fans being willing to pay just to see it.

Plus, how can WWE not capitalize on it by selling Bro Flip-Flops in 2019?

Come Back Any Time, Prince Pretty

On Dec 12, Richochet held an open call to defend his North American Championship. In the weeks leading up to the match, people wondered which new NXT recruit it could be.

Then Prince Pretty’s entrance music started and Tyler Breeze returned to Full Sail to meet Ricochet in the ring.

Everyone in attendance was so happy to see their favorite wrestler/supermodel return — including me. Breeze and Tye Dillinger are those two NXT favorites who just haven’t gotten enough attention on the main roster. At least Breeze was able to make magic with Fandango by creating the Fashion Police, and his regular appearances on Up Up Down Down further cement him as a cult favorite.

But damn was it nice to see him wrestle again. This match with Ricochet helped remind everyone that there was a time when we loved to watch Breeze wrestle, and that Prince Pretty was not just a gimmick character but a highly skilled in-ring performer.

It also helped to highlight the fears of many NXT fan, to see a favorite return from the doldrums of WWE. I hope WWE creative was watching this match, to be reminded of what Breeze can do in-ring. This man can shine if only you let him. Until then, just let him come back to NXT every now and then to work out the ring rust. We will always be glad to see him. And have him bring along Dillinger, too.

Steaks and Weights

Two big burly men: Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight. These two guys should not be able to do the things they can do, and yet they do every time they enter the ring together as Heavy Machinery. And I love them for it. I hope they don’t go the way of all the other great NXT tag teams that I loved when they get to the main roster.

Heavy Machinery encapsulates everything that is great about NXT. Two exciting characters who seem like they are always having fun, both in the ring and in their promos, who also have great wrestling skills and matches that get the fans behind them. They are, to my understanding, what WWE has always tried to have: great sports entertainers, in every facet of the industry.

So when they get to the main roster, don’t waste them, WWE.

And That Is That

I loved NXT in 2018. But I also loved NXT in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. It always brightens my week to watch the show, and they always seem to find some way to make my heart sing. I look forward to what, and who, they bring in 2019.

For now, just let Ciampa and Gargano form heel DIY — and then call them up as a way to reset them back to faces.

Elections and Wrestlers, Notes IV: Is there a Jesse voter? Is there a Trump voter?

Works-In-Process

From “Where Has the Jesse Voter Gone?” by Andrew Grossbach, Rusty Kath, Alicia Spencer, & Danielle Stuard

So we now ask if there in fact is a “Jesse Voter?” We argue no. Ventura appealed to a number of different demographic groups. Granted, though there was support from the youth, particularly males, Ventura could not have won the 1998 gubernatorial election with just their votes. Our evidence indicates that those who voted for Ventura in 1998 did not vote as a group in subsequent elections. Rather, their votes were dispersed among the electorate. Thus we conclude that there is not a true “Jesse Voter,” but rather a once existing Jesse fan club that spans across a number of different groups.

And is there no Trump voter, in the same way?  Once we move past the Republican base, is this the best way to think about Trump’s electorate?

This is the last post plucking key passages from work about the Ventura election, as it informs work on the relationship between wrestling and voting in the US.

Nylons and Midriffs: TLC Review

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: express.co.uk

Holiday greetings from your favorite wrestling blogger! The Tables, Ladders, and Chairs pay-per-view is in our rearview, and in Nylons fashion, I thought I’d share my thoughts about how the women fared at this show. Because there were only three matches featuring women on the card, I’ll simply talk about the matches generally. Good, bad, and thorny.

Mixed Match Challenge Finals: Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox vs. R-Truth & Carmella
We all knew this match was not destined to be a classic by any stretch, but you know what? It served its purpose, and I found it entertaining. Although many fans were dismayed at arguably the two least appealing teams being in the finals, as commentary mentioned, these were also two teams that managed to stay together for the entire length of the series. The chemistry that the women had with their male partners shone through in this match, and witnessing interesting chemistries is why we all enjoy the concept of the MMC in the first place.

Image credit: WWE.com

Particularly with Truth and Carmella, you could tell that the two of them were simply having fun. I think this was a good transition out of the heel Carmella persona we saw dominate 2018, as abrupt as it may have been initially. It helped to remind us of Carmella’s likability and great character work, which can often be forgotten when you’re playing an obnoxious heel. It will be interesting to see how over ‘Mella is when she returns to singles competition.

RAW Women’s Title: Ronda Rousey vs. Nia Jax
I won’t lie, as much as I wanted to hate it because of Ronda, this was actually a pretty good match. Nia and Ronda work well off each other and know their roles in the match as relentless heel and valiant babyface.

Image credit: sportzwiki.com

I like that Ronda is starting to evolve her offense. I was beginning to get annoyed that she seemed to be all armbars and armdrags, but in this match she tried new things. That run-up Nia into a face punch looked cool, as did her crossbody. Lastly, her headscissors takedown of Nia to transition into her armbar was wild to watch. For the first time, for me at least, her win felt believable and earned.

I suppose this is what sets her apart from Brock Lesnar. If they’re going to let her sit at the top of the mountain arbitrarily, she better at least do something while she’s up there.

Backstage Segment: Nia meets Becky

Image credit: uproxx.com

This was fantastic! Chef’s kiss perfection if you ask me. This is the continuity we beg for in WWE and especially with the women. Becky and Nia were at the same show, both in matches, so of course they would cross paths backstage. Becky got her sweet revenge with a sick right to the face of Nia. She is such an effective anti-hero — exacting her revenge, saying what she had to say, and then leaving. She’s great.

Smackdown Women’s Title: Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

I’ll start by saying that as a match that was put together by three world-class performers, this was about as good as they could have given us. This match was ruthless and desperate as any title or TLC match should be. Each woman had a chance to shine, and it had so many memorable spots that made me genuinely cringe. This is what women have the capacity to do!

Now, to get critical. In short, I feel that Asuka took a bit of a backseat in this match. While I’m not as bothered by this as many fans are, it is worth discussing at length here.

I didn’t feel that Asuka had as many opportunities to hit big spots like Becky and, even more, Charlotte. She sold for so much of this match while Charlotte looked darn near invincible at points.

Image credit: skysports.com

I don’t know why when WWE turns women face they feel the need to neuter their offense. Asuka had one of the longest title reigns (and undefeated streaks) of the modern era. The woman has the capability to be downright deadly in the ring, so I wished she would have had more moments to show this in the match.

And then there’s the finish. Not completely unpredictable, but just…questionable? It makes storyline sense. Ronda has bones to pick with both Charlotte and Becky for good reason. I like that their storyline is being furthered. But this is the second time this year that Ronda has in some way stolen the spotlight away from Asuka. Do we remember what Ronda did at the Royal Rumble? Another historic win in a first-ever match that will have a Ronda cameo in the video packages commemorating it.

Not only that, but Asuka should not have needed outside interference to win. It would have meant more for her character to win this match clean without an asterisk. It doesn’t feel right considering that Asuka is a face.

But, my overwhelming reaction to this finish is happiness that Asuka is finally reclaiming the time that was stolen from her this year. She won the title one year after her debut at this very pay-per-view. She is finishing the year she started by winning the Royal Rumble and losing to Charlotte in her earned championship match at WrestleMania by getting the last laugh and the title to boot. This victory is so sweet, and I refuse to let Ronda’s appearance sour it.

***

I cannot wait to talk to you all about the year in review for the WWE women’s division. Through thick and thin, it surely was one to remember.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Elections and Wrestlers, Notes III

Works-In-Process

John Heppen and I are still reflecting on “Where Has the Jesse Voter Gone?” by Andrew Grossbach, Rusty Kath, Alicia Spencer, & Danielle Stuard.

Ventura was able to pull votes from Democrats and Republicans, as well as Independents. As seen in table 2, the vast majority of votes in the 1998 gubernatorial election for Norm Coleman, the Republican candidate, came from those who considered themselves Republican. Unsurprisingly, the vote makeup for Skip Humphrey, the Democratic candidate, came mainly from party affiliated Democrats. Jesse Ventura also received votes from those affiliating with major parties, which totaled 62.5% of his total support. Only 37.5% of Ventura’s support came from individuals claiming to be “Independent” or “Other”. Thus, 23% of people who claim party affiliation to a major party voted for an independent candidate.

I’d love to see how this compares to what Trump picked up… I don’t have that data easily.

Moreover, as seen in table 3, in 1998 a vote from those who do not affiliate with either of the two major parties did not ensure a vote for Ventura. Of those polled in table 3 (respondents who answered “Independent” or “Other” from table 2), only 39.5% of the independents voted for Ventura. However, Humphrey picked up an equal number of independent votes. Thus, Ventura wasn’t the only candidate gaining support from the independents.

I need to avoid the simple math of “Trump = Ventura + Coleman.”  It’s not that simple.  But these models are helping…

Because Ventura received a large percent of the general vote, which didn’t come solely from independents, we argue that this reinforces the notion that Ventura appealed not only to a single political ideology, but rather, to a large spectrum.

And this is where the analogy collapses, yes?  Trump is working by narrowcasting his message to his base, all the way down.

Complicated.  Anyone out there with some thoughts for me?

Elections and Wrestlers, Notes II

Works-In-Process

John Heppen and I are still reflecting on “Where Has the Jesse Voter Gone?” by Andrew Grossbach, Rusty Kath, Alicia Spencer, & Danielle Stuard”

Our first task was to find out who voted in the 1998 election. We narrowed our data field to incorporate solely those individuals who had the potential to vote for Jesse Ventura. Of the 337 respondents to our 2002 election exit polling, 147 were eligible to vote in the 1998 election.5 We recorded data and split it into two groups: “Voted for Ventura” and “Did not vote for Ventura” to highlight the differences between the two.

So good, so far.  A baseline for how they are building their model for “the Ventura voter.”

The Ventura voter, it turns out, looks like the Trump voter in some key ways.

Our results indicate that, in concurrence with previous literature, Ventura’s voters tended to be young and male. As table 1 indicates, men accounted for 65% of Ventura’s support. Another breakdown of Ventura voters can be seen with age. Forty-five percent of Jesse voters were under the age of 30, 77% under the age of 45. Ventura’s primary support came from individuals middle-aged or younger. Also, Ventura’s voter tended to have, at minimum, some college education. Over 80% of the Jesse voters in our sample had either graduated from or attended college. Noteworthy is Ventura’s lack of support from individuals having some graduate level education. Of the 14 respondents who claimed to have some graduate school experience, none cast their ballot for Ventura in 1998. Income level was the final area of demographic information we studied. Ventura supporters’ incomes varied widely. The highest concentration of supporters, roughly half of the respondents, had individual incomes in the $20,000-$50,000 range.

For comparison here is info about the Trump Voter.

Ventura received only 35% support by women.

Trump’s electorate was not quite as strongly male, but still very male… And so on.

Also, individuals with graduate school experience accounted for 10% of the major party vote. Ventura, as stated earlier, did not have any support from graduate educated individuals. Moreover, voters with an annual income exceeding $50,000 were more apt to vote for Humphrey or Coleman. Almost 30% of the major party votes came from those in the highest income bracket, whereas Ventura received only 16% of their support. Also noteworthy were the votes cast by people over the age of 45; they supported major party candidates 81.6% of the time, whereas Ventura received only 18.4% of the vote.

It’s as if Trump managed to get the Ventura vote, a thumb in the eye to traditional politics, and the Republican vote, manifesting traditional politics, at the same time.

 

Elections and Wrestlers, Notes I

Works-In-Process

John Heppen and I have been reflecting on elections in which pro wrestlers run as candidates, as we move toward a model for understanding the place of wrestling and wrestling rhetoric in American political life.

So we are reading about Jesse Ventura in “Where Has the Jesse Voter Gone?” by Andrew Grossbach, Rusty Kath, Alicia Spencer, & Danielle Stuard.

Jesse Ventura was not a run of the mill third party candidate. There is little doubt that Ventura’s name recognition as a former wrestler, and also as a movie star, aided his political success. Ventura was an entertainer. Thus he was able to approach the campaign as an entertainer, while Humphrey and Coleman played a traditional game of politics (Frank and Wagner, 1999). Ventura’s celebrity status gave him the needed resources to start a political career later in life. As Canon notes: “celebrity status plays the same function as the base office for a career politician: a resource for gaining higher office and a stake that is not casually risked” (Canon, 1990, p. 89). Jesse Ventura’s high name recognition thus put him on the same political level as seasoned politicians. In a Minnesota Poll of the election season in February 1998, Ventura had a 64% name recognition—the highest of any third party candidate, putting him within the ranks of well-known contenders such as Norm Coleman, Skip Humphrey, and Ted Mondale (Daves, 1999). Thus, we hypothesize Ventura’s status as an entertainer greatly aided his bid for governor.

Other research suggests, however, that third party votes are not simply based on the candidate’s qualities. Rosentsone, Behr, & Lazarus present another possible explanation for choosing to vote for a third party candidate. They assert that voting third party is not due to party identification with a third party, but rather a temporary movement from the major political parties. When citizens feel a sufficient amount of distance between themselves and the major party nominees, they begin to contemplate a third party vote (Rosenstone, Behr, & Lazarus, 127). Wattenberg presents similar findings that the public may find the major parties as obsolete and thus cast their ballot for a third party (Wattenberg, 1993). These findings contrast Reiter & Walsh’s assertion that Ventura’s candidacy was a special circumstance that brought people out to the polls, instead arguing that those who voted for Ventura voted regularly, and in this specific case voted for Ventura as a vote against the major parties.

To what extent, we wonder, is the election of Trump like the election of Ventura, in that their celebrity derives in part from a shared history in wrestling?  To what extent was a vote for Trump also something like the energy Ventura received:

[T]hose who voted for Ventura […] voted for Ventura as a vote against the major parties.

For more info on this project, email John Heppen at john.heppen@uwrf.edu, or comment below.

Nylons and Midriffs: Same Old, Same Old (December 3, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: thechairshot.com

Greetings fans and friends. This week I’ll be mostly discussing how I feel as if I am stuck in a looping timeline watching WWE TV every week as of late.

I think around this time of year, WWE Creative starts to get fatigued with storytelling, which is understandable. People are generally less interested in serial TV shows in the late fall and early winter, as most television shows are on hiatus at this time and the holidays are around the corner.

But alas, there is no off-season with WWE TV, and us diehards are stuck watching different variations of the same 5 matchups for the last two months of the year.

As we’ll dive into below, WWE is slipping into repetition and the same convenient patterns they always have with the women.

The Good
As much as I hate to be a downer (hard to believe, I know), I do only have two small things for this section this week. The first is that it seems WWE has leveled out the number of women’s segments on each edition of RAW and Smackdown Live. I’ve noticed that RAW averages about 3 segments per show, while SD Live averages two. It’s good to see that WWE recognizes the women as a regular part of each show, rather than expendable.

The second was Asuka finally earning another chance at the gold at the upcoming TLC pay-per-view. On its face, I am more than pleased that someone as underutilized as Asuka has been given another chance at the spotlight. However, there are some issues about this that we must address in the latter part of this post.

The Bad
There were two glaring problems that I noticed in the last few weeks with the women’s booking. I’ll break them down below.

Throwing Women Randomly into Matches and Feuds
In the aforementioned segments, it seems that once again WWE is resorting to arbitrarily putting as many women as they can into each of them without long term booking in mind. We’ve had the Riott Squad thrown into a segment with Ronda Rousey, Sasha Banks and Bayley jobbing to Nia and Tamina, and every woman on Smackdown entered into a battle royal. It’s exhausting to perpetually try to find ways to care about the women when many of their segments seem to lack passion or planning from Creative. Everything is just very uninspired.

As wrestling fans, we like explanations for the things we see in the product. If a matchup seems random, was there a backstage segment that could explain why the two Superstars want to settle their differences in the ring? If two wrestlers or teams face each other for multiple weeks in a row, is there a larger story being told about why they are seemingly in a rivalry? Although fans are griping about this currently for all divisions, this is a pattern I notice with the women no matter what the season. It’s a recurring problem, one that I hope is fixed sooner rather than later.

Plotholes and Inconsistencies
This is a broad critique, so I’ll give some examples:

Image credit: Official Instagram of Sasha Banks (@sashabankswwe)

Exhibit A: Dana Brooke tagged with the face team of Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Ember Moon (another multi-woman, thrown together match) to take on a heel team at Starrcade. Two days later on RAW, Dana ran in to assist in a beatdown of Sasha Banks and Bayley with the heels.

Exhibit B: Sonya Deville was eliminated in the battle royal by her Absolution-mate Mandy Rose at Evolution. When this happened, the commentators portrayed Sonya as a helpless victim of a cunning plan by her conniving partner. The two also sold this betrayal in the moment as a breakup. But yet, in the weeks since Evolution, the two have continued to team together, but display tension between them because of Mandy Rose’s antics in various matches.

Exhibit C: When Becky Lynch chose Charlotte as her replacement for Survivor Series, she and Charlotte engaged in a hug in the ring. Moments later backstage, Charlotte declared that she would fight Ronda “for Becky.” However, post-heel turn and post-Becky return, Charlotte would have convenient amnesia about what she’d said before. Not only that, but she would contradict herself, saying that she wasn’t fighting for Becky, but rather herself.

In isolation, these things may be forgiven. But when these things are happening over and over, you have to wonder what WWE really thinks of either their fans or women in general. What does the writers room look like that the female Superstars of the WWE are written so erratically? Not only that, but it is super insulting to our collective intelligence that WWE thinks we won’t notice these plotholes, especially when they take place only weeks apart. Each woman deserves better character development than this, especially those lower on the card like Sonya and Dana.

Image credit: WWE.com

With Sonya and Mandy in particular, their stop-start feud is reminiscent of what Sasha and Bayley endured earlier this year. It is baffling why WWE can’t pull the trigger on some of the most obvious feuds for the women. The sheer amount of inconsistencies in the women’s division speaks volumes to how WWE fails to build a coherent picture of each woman’s motivations, which would help them get over with the crowds.

The Thorny

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

I’m going to revisit one of my old favorites for this section, Charlotte Flair. This past week on Smackdown, Charlotte confronted a returning Becky Lynch and somehow, out of this exchange, received another shot at the Smackdown Women’s Title from Paige. This prompted the rest of the women’s locker room to come down the ramp and criticize Paige for favoring Becky and Charlotte. In my head, I’m saying “Yes! Finally they’re addressing this head-on!”

But, then came the letdown. In response to the qualms of her female locker room, Paige made the match at TLC a triple threat, with the winner of the main event’s battle royal being the third person added to the existing match with Becky and Charlotte.

Although this feeling had left me for a time, I was once again hit with the reality that Charlotte is given preferential treatment by WWE executives.

A logical response to the criticism Paige heard from the women of Smackdown would have been to take Charlotte out of the match entirely. After all, what harm could be done in admitting that Charlotte has had more than her fill of title opportunities? For most other Superstars, this would have been their cue to move to the back of the line. We mustn’t forget that Asuka only got one shot at the title before she was taken out of the title picture, and it took her the rest of 2018 to get back there.

Image credit: thebiglead.com

Since Charlotte has been on Smackdown, she has either held the women’s title or been in contention for it at the top of the division. From a hierarchical standpoint, does Charlotte really have anything to lose at this point by stepping down the card?

Not only is it annoying for Charlotte to be given equal weight to a woman she’s lost to in title matches on more than one occasion, but also to see how consistently being in the title picture has truly stunted her character. Before Becky got injured, we were on our way to seeing some character development for Charlotte. The storyline was set to be about the fracture in Charlotte’s ego after having lost at Evolution. We could have seen how the Queen recovered after getting bested by her former best friend more than once. We could have seen how Charlotte coped when she realized that she couldn’t always be a winner.

Instead, things panned out differently, and we’re back to more of the same.

Add to this some recent reports (albeit rumors) that the reason that AJ Styles was pulled out of the Mixed Match Challenge was to create a clever way around AJ or his partner, Charlotte, taking a pinfall to an opponent. Consider Charlotte’s overall position in the company since she was called up from NXT and you’ll start to see the picture more clearly. She is the Golden Girl. She is protected. And she is a priority in the eyes of WWE execs.

The political side of WWE will never cease to frustrate me, and I’m sure many of you would agree. The very notion of protecting certain wrestlers over others is privilege in action. it’s how specific types of people in the locker room are oppressed or made to only reach certain heights. If you’re going to be a wrestler, my guess is that your ego shouldn’t be so big that you literally become the antithesis of the sport, i.e. rarely if ever taking a pinfall.

I wish I could say that Charlotte’s place at the top of the card isn’t realistic, but as we see too often in society, certain people are always at the top of the mountain. And it’s unfair, both in and out of WWE canon.

***

If this post seemed all over the place, I think that very well represents the state of the women’s division right now. I’m giving it somewhat of a pass due to the time of year, but they need to pick things up for 2019. My eyes are already on the Royal Rumble!

Stay legit bossy,
AC