Nylons and Midriffs: Fastlane, or Roadblock? (March 11, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

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Life comes at you fast, wrestling fans, hence why we are less than one month away from the show of shows, WrestleMania. As Fastlane was last night, and it’s been a few weeks since we’ve discussed what’s been going on with the women, I think we should just dive right in. Lord knows we have a Marie Kondo-sized mess to sort through. Let’s see what sparked joy in the last three weeks, and what we’re hoping to leave in the discard pile.

The Good(?)
RAW and SD Live: Up until about two hours before writing this, I had decided that I would add the main event feud of Becky Lynch/Ronda Rousey/Charlotte Flair into this section. But, upon thinking about all the developments of the past seven days more critically, I began to question that assessment. On the whole, I do believe that the feud is still good, but boy howdy did we take the most convoluted path to get where we are now.

In the last three weeks alone, we had Becky getting suspended, then violating that suspension twice, the second instance landing herself in “jail.” Meanwhile we had Ronda relinquishing the women’s title, only to be given it back (by a suspiciously willing Stephanie McMahon) before turning heel…maybe?

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And then in the midst of all that, there was Charlotte, arrogantly watching over it all, picking her spots to speak and pounce on her prey. I held out hope in my previous post that the storyline wasn’t going to become over-complicated, but I was unfortunately wrong.

Nevertheless, I think the feud is still on its way to the main event of WrestleMania. What I like about it is that for better or worse, I can’t predict where the story is going. That is rare nowadays in WWE, where we can often see a feud made up of nothing more than back-and-forth matches with 50/50 booking.

I find myself wanting to watch or at the very least keep up with the developments of this particular story, especially as it pertains to real-life events. For example, in the Twitter-beef Heard ‘Round the World, Becky and Ronda went toe-to-toe, blurring the lines of kayfabe and reality. Ronda rubbed much of the WWE Universe the wrong way by calling out things like “scripts” and Becky’s real name. In addition, she called Becky’s finisher, the very finisher she sold months prior, a “fake” move. Whether she was intending to or not, she effectively turned herself heel on social media, forcing WWE to incorporate that attitude into the storyline.

All in all, the feud demands attention, which is the smell of a good WrestleMania feud. It is exciting all the more to see women demand that attention, in and out of kayfabe.

Fastlane: Similarly to my thoughts on RAW and Smackdown Live, I have mixed emotions about the events of last night’s pay-per-view. Nothing really stuck out as amazing to me on the show, as the outcomes for the women’s bouts were largely predictable. The build and execution of Fastlane truly felt more like filler to get to WrestleMania, which is ironically the opposite of what WWE likely intended.

However, I can take two positives out of the show. The first is that all of the right women won their matches and will now advance to WrestleMania. Now that I think about it though, all of them were faces, which usually means that not all of them will win at WrestleMania. But, that’s only sad if you’re fans of all of those women like I am.

Second is that I really like the use of Beth Phoenix as a guest commentator for the big women’s matches on pay-per-views. It adds a tenderness to the matches emotionally for fans of Beth in her prime, but also a female in-ring perspective that women’s matches usually lack. Plus, it’s awesome to hear an equal ratio of female to male voices calling the action, something unthinkable during the era of wrestling I grew up in. Women’s voices didn’t have authority back then. Little by little, they are gaining it now.

Not only that, but it was intriguing to see Beth play a role in the story after the match. I popped internally when she threw that punch to Tamina! Natalya coming to her rescue got me thinking about the possibility of Beth coming out of retirement to team with her BFF at WRestleMania for the titles. While this could have been a one-off for Beth, it would certainly be a ticket-seller to have her on the marquee of a monumental match at Mania.

The Bad

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RAW and SD Live: On the flipside, a frustrating side effect of the RAW women’s title feud is that it is sucking the life out of the division on both brands. That story is thriving in color, while the rest of the division is muted in black and white. It goes back to one of the most consistent critiques I’ve had about WWE and its treatment of female performers, which is that they have tunnel vision. More than one feud can’t matter at a time, and the success of those “chosen” women at a given moment is almost always at the detriment of all others.

Sasha Banks and Bayley are the new women’s tag champs, but they were simply thrown into a feud with two of the blandest performers on the roster for Fastlane, Nia Jax and Tamina. Alexa Bliss, despite my many qualms about her past successes, is being wasted in talk show segments each week. She’s still thirsting after the likes of EC3 and Finn Balor after being cleared to wrestle. Carmella has been jiving next to R-Truth since the Mixed Match Challenge, even before all of the Corey Graves drama came out.

And then, there’s Asuka. Poor, forgotten, Asuka.

The Smackdown women’s champion was absent from WWE TV for nearly a month after the Royal Rumble. I’d hoped that this was done temporarily for WWE to create a WrestleMania storyline for her, or to buy some time to build up a worthy next opponent for the champion. But alas, neither of those things were happening. She returned to wrestle in a match against Mandy Rose, where she foolishly lost, and then out of thin air was placed into a match with Mandy at Fastlane.

Besides the fact that Mandy’s gimmick and current push are highly problematic (we’ll get to that in the next section), she also has not been given the opportunity to prove her in-ring prowess at the same level that someone like Asuka has. And when you’re feuding with Asuka, you need a strong track record to back up your talk. I hope that Mandy versus Asuka isn’t the WrestleMania feud for the Smackdown women’s title, but I have a sinking feeling that it might just be.

I can only feel bad for the women not named Becky or Ronda or Charlotte at the moment, because they aren’t being valued at their full potential. WWE is wasting the majority of the women on their roster in the build to what will admittedly be a tear-jerking moment at Mania. I suppose it is our job as fans (and mine as a writer) to account for the whole of the story, not just the flashy headlines. We must read between the lines and see through the bullshit. Who fades to the background when stars are born?

Fastlane: The wrestling last night was unimpressive. The Smackdown women’s title match was obviously the most competitive, and Asuka had a good showing. But the tag title match was a little frenzied, certainly sloppy at points. I can applaud Sasha Banks and Bayley trying hard to sell their tag team dynamic. We got to see them expand on their tag team moveset in their match; it will be exciting to see how they continue to develop their arsenal.

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The match between Charlotte and Becky, though….has me scratching my head. I didn’t really understand the point of it. I understand from a storyline perspective why it needed to happen, but going back to what I touched on above, it was making a simple story more complicated than it needed to be.

I don’t like the injury angle for Becky. It doesn’t fit her character, and there should be more effective ways for the writers to gamer sympathy for Becky other than making her an underdog. The classic underdog in WWE is someone who we should feel sorry for because they have a distinct, physical disadvantage compared to their opponents. Or, they have a losing streak behind them, finding it difficult to land victories when needed. Neither of those things fits Becky’s character. Other wrestlers have had kayfabe injuries that they worked through to overcome odds, but it seems unique to this story that it has played so heavily into the proceedings. I almost feel as if Becky’s knee is the fourth person in the feud!

Image credit: WWE.com

Becky is more of a cunning, badass heel. It would make more sense for her to be feigning this injury to get in the heads of her opponents. Or to acknowledge it but not favor it so heavily. But instead, the knee has perhaps unintentionally made Becky look weak. And I don’t think that should be the angle for her going into Mania.

Furthermore, I hate how Ronda continually factors into such important match decisions. There was her debut at the Royal Rumble 2018 (albeit a post-match appearance, it still overshadowed Asuka’s victory), her run-in at TLC in December, and now the match between Becky and Charlotte last night. She single-handedly got Becky into the RAW women’s title match with her interference, which again made Becky look weak, like she couldn’t fight her own battles. We can expect Ronda to get involved nearly anytime something big is going down in the ring concerning her adversaries, and it’s getting a bit annoying and predictable. Sometimes, WWE, less is more.

The Thorny
A huge thorn in my side since before the Royal Rumble has been Mandy Rose (no pun intended). I absolutely hate the way that she has been pushed in the last two or so months. She was randomly put in a feud with Naomi, who is a former women’s champion and WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal winner. The pairing of them on paper is fine, inoffensive. But, the way the story developed between the two was heavily biased toward Mandy, who, remember, was supposed to be the heel. She tried at various points to put a wedge in Naomi’s real-life marriage to Jimmy Uso, doing so by playing into jezebel stereotypes common in the era of yore.

Yet, in nearly every segment with Naomi, Mandy came out on top. In key moments of the “feud,” — the hotel room brawl, the Royal Rumble, even the match last week on Smackdown — moments where the babyface usually gains their momentum back, Naomi was the one left reeling.

The reasoning that Mandy gave for hating on Naomi was that “she’ll never look like me.” My ears immediately perked up at this because of how jarring a reason it seemed when I heard it. I considered that perhaps the line just fit with her Playboy modelesque gimmick.

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But, when facing off with Asuka, Mandy repeated the same line again. To another woman of color. That she would again promptly defeat in a throwaway match. Seeing this play out with Asuka as it had with Naomi before made it clear to me and many fans of color that this is dog-whistle racism at its finest.

In Vince McMahon’s world, the pretty, sexed up, blonde white woman will obviously defeat the Japanese woman speaking in broken English and the dark-skinned black woman. It is moments like these where I wonder who is present in the writer’s room where these decisions are being made. Who is present in the Room Where It Happens that writers scripted that line for Mandy, pitched her saying it to only women of color, and thought that it wouldn’t sound offensive in any way?

This is why it is important to have representation not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well. Women of color have been mocked, discriminated against, and made into minstrel in both the past and present based on the very notion that they would “never look like” the standard of beauty in America, the blonde white woman. It is a disrespectful reminder to Asuka, Naomi, and women of color watching that we are not the standard. There’s a reason that this gimmick can only work for someone who looks like Mandy, rather than someone that looks like Naomi. You will never hear Corey Graves fawn over Asuka the way that he does Mandy. And while Mandy did lose to Asuka in the end, her characterization was gross and unnecessary in the lead-up to the match. In 2019, cheap and lazy writing like this should no longer be acceptable. Do better.

***

Seeing the promo during Fastlane that WrestleMania is only 28 (now 27) days away made me laugh out loud because of how absurd that is. The first quarter of any year is truly a blur that doesn’t feel real.

I guess for me, the year really begins in April, and I am only a little ashamed to admit that this is partly due to it being the essential end and new beginning of the wrestling year. We’re almost there, friends!

Stay legit bossy,

AC

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