Nylons and Midriffs: Boss of Who? (April 22, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: stillrealtous.com

It has been an interesting two weeks since WrestleMania for the women’s division. I know the drama surrounding a certain female wrestler has filled the dirt sheets for the better part of that time (and don’t worry, we’ll get to that), but in the midst of that controversy, there was also a Superstar Shakeup.

Title unification for both women’s titles is ostensibly out of the question for now, so how did things shake out for the ladies? Let us consider together.

The Good

Image credit: newsweek.com

The only real good I saw in the past weeks’ RAW and SmackDown Live episodes was that SmackDown’s division is shaping up nicely. Formerly the smaller division of the two brands, SmackDown finally got some big names to freshen up the matches and rivalries. They got work-rate girls like Bayley, Ember Moon, and Kairi Sane, but also some padding for the middle of the division like Liv Morgan. The roster now feels like it has layers, something it was missing before WrestleMania.

Unfortunately, that is where I will have to end this section. Because while it is good that SmackDown’s division is now stacked, that leads me to…

The Bad
…the RAW women’s division. The worst thing about the Shakeup for the women was that it left the brands severely unbalanced. The biggest name RAW got was Naomi, which is a start but it isn’t great. Sitting to ponder, I am actually struggling to think of significant names that are still on RAW besides Alexa Bliss and sort of Becky Lynch. I just feel that it is odd to add the majority of your big names to the show that has less time to work with.

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

I also noticed that The Riott Squad was split up during this draft, which is a shame. The faction of Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan, and Liv Morgan were never given the opportunity to shine atop the division. They were used as enhancement talent in the most literal sense of the term, only used when WWE needed to portray the dominance of the main event players. But as a unit, they worked flawlessly together, and they had excellent tag team offense. I guess we should have taken it as a sign when they were taken out of the women’s tag team title picture immediately after Elimination Chamber. Despite being underutilized, I do think the Riott Squad deserve a load of credit for making the best of the cards they were dealt from the beginning of their main roster careers in WWE.

Switching gears, an additional negative apart from the results of the Shakeup is the push for Lacey Evans. Yawn. I’m so tired!! Lacey is the same as every other white, blonde, heel woman on the roster, only the twist this time is that she’s Southern. But if you were to compare the heel gimmicks of Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose, Charlotte Flair, etc. — at the core of their characters, could you truly find that many differences? They are all arrogant, they all think they are “chosen” in some way, they all think they’re the hottest things since Playboy, and they all believe they are above the rest of the women because of either their sass or their class. But each of them have merely found a different trait to fixate on and exaggerate, and/or found a different aesthetic to present their gimmicks. But at the end of the day, they are all nearly the same person. And as I’ve said, it is tiresome to see them constantly in the main event.

In addition, WWE choosing to push Lacey Evans further exposes what I have noticed is another pattern with blonde white women: WWE Creative, and in turn fans, are more willing to be patient with them.

Image credit: sportskeeda.com

WWE is more willing to give white women the ball and let them run with it until they improve in the ring, rather than give the ball to a more ring-savvy woman of color. Many popular wrestling critics online (namely white and male ones) will make excuses for these women when they are gifted their places at the top. When the pushes for these women begin, they will say that they have killer mic skills, or that they ooze charisma, or that they have potential to develop in the ring — even if they are green in the ring at that time. WWE Creative in turn allows these women to skate by on mediocrity, giving them time and space at the top of the card to develop their in-ring skills. They’ve used this strategy with Alexa, with Carmella, with Mandy Rose (until plans changed), and even with the legendary Trish Stratus. Now, they are doing it with Lacey.

Obviously all of these women rose to the occasion after several months of high-profile matches. But I wonder how much more fleshed out the division would look and feel if we afforded women of color that same opportunity to grow at the top as many of the aforementioned women are.

The Thorny
As the wrestling world is well-aware by now, rumors have been swirling since WrestleMania about Sasha Banks’ dissatisfaction with WWE. I’ve followed this story so closely that I am unsure what is even truth or innuendo anymore, yet my opinion has remained the same. I am firmly on Sasha’s side.

As many of you might have deduced by my salutation at the end of every Nylons, I am a Sasha Banks fan. However, regardless of my feelings about Sasha as WWE Superstar or human being, I still believe that to be critical of Sasha in this circumstance is not only malicious, but hypocritical.

Some people have said that Sasha (and Bayley, by association) was acting childishly for her protest against dropping the tag titles, after seemingly being promised a lengthy title run. Some fans have accused Sasha of being entitled by taking a vacation after WrestleMania to consider her future in WWE. But were these not the same fans that dragged WWE through the mud before WrestleMania after one John Oliver segment? Did all of Oliver’s statements somehow become not true between then and now? Because if WWE still treats their performers like employees, even though they contractually are not considered to be, if they still do not provide health insurance — why should Sasha have to smile and be thankful for the mere opportunity to wrestle for WWE exclusively, especially if they aren’t even using her to her full potential? Why should she put up with all of the other crappy technicalities of being signed by WWE if they mostly just keep her around so she doesn’t go anywhere else?

I want to take a moment to step in Sasha’s shoes here. Let’s try to empathize with her.

Imagine you have worked to become a wrestler since you were a teenager. You overcame poverty and living in hotel rooms with your single mother and autistic sibling to make it to WWE. Then, you have an amazing run in NXT where you were at the tippity-top of the division. Once you are called up to the main roster, fans are ecstatic, and they chant “We want Sasha” when they are bored with the women they see in the ring, whoever they may be.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

You win your first main roster title after one year on the main roster, and then you lose it one month later. Okay, can’t win them all. Then you win the title back. Awesome! You’re a two-time champ now. But then you lose it again a month later, again at a pay-per-view. This happens for a third time. The fourth time you win the title, you lose it after just 8 days. After this, you sort of just exist in the women’s division. Fans start to cool off on you.

Then it looks like you might have a feud with your NXT rival. There’s no way WWE could mess this up, right? Only they do. They start the feud then stop it again. They send you to “counseling.” Then they put the two of you in a tag team, and while it isn’t ideal, you make the best of it and actually begin to see a long-term plan: to start a women’s tag division. After months of badgering higher-ups, your dream comes to fruition, and the titles become a reality. You win the titles and promise to defend them everywhere. It looks like WWE is finally going to give you a long title reign.

But then, at the last moment before the biggest show of the year, you find out that not only will you lose the titles, but that the team that you worked so hard to build is being broken up. And the titles are being put on two less experienced in-ring workers. Another short title reign. Another opportunity to shine ripped away before you could even get started.

Given all that you — Sasha — have been through, do you believe you would be anything less than pissed off?

For all of the protest that Sasha and Bayley displayed in the wake of their loss, everything that they feared would happen is coming true.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

The IIconics have the titles, but outside of the first match they worked after Mania (a comedy squash match at that), every match they have competed in thus far on TV they have lost. The belts are merely props for them. We could have had so much more with Sasha and Bayley.

And to those that say they are acting entitled, I say, so what if they are? Why can’t women be entitled to more?

Men in the wrestling industry have been infamously entitled. There are stories of male wrestlers who just flat out refused to lay down for certain people (like Hulk Hogan). There are wrestlers that we praise today that were notoriously awful to work with backstage at certain points in their careers (like Shawn Michaels). There are men that made it a point to stay perched at the top for several years at a time (like Triple H). And there are men today that have openly alluded to their discontent with their booking, such as The Revival and the recently departed Luke Harper, that are applauded for taking a stand. CM Punk is still an urban legend in WWE lore.

So why is it suddenly problematic when a woman does the same? When men stand up against personal injustices, they are martyrs. When women stand up against personal injustices, they are entitled.

And look, as more has come out about this story, I have reformulated my thoughts on it. I do think that Bayley and Sasha, after all that they’ve been through together, might fare better on their own. Their partnership really became codependent, and having to work their gimmicks around each other truly held both of them back. Their characters are simply oil and water, and I think in the long term re-building their gimmicks separately will help to establish them as the strong singles competitors they were always meant to be. And with Ronda Rousey out of the picture for the foreseeable future, for Sasha, this could be her chance to have the substantial women’s title run she’s been vying for.

But, that idea holds true if and only if WWE puts in the work to rehabilitate her character, and put her in a main event feud with a significant title reign. Can we trust them to do that? Maybe we should ask Asuka…

Well. Looks like we’re right back at square one.

***

Now that the Shakeup is over, we can begin the next chapter in all of these women’s stories. Time will tell if for most of them it is a chance to write their stories anew. Or if for others, if they must close the book altogether.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Trump and Wrestling Rhetoric

Works-In-Process

by David Beard, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, University of Minnesota Duluth, and John Heppen, Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin River Falls

[unpublished notes from a recent project]

We’ve been puzzling through the relationship between rhetoric and politics.  Everyone is.  Works like “How Professional Wrestling Explains American Politics (Especially Donald Trump)” by Oliver Willis make broad attempts to describe American politics in terms of “faces” and “heels,” using the overarching narrative, the soap operatic structure of the wrestling match as an analogy for American political life. Heather Bandenburg tells us that “wrestling and politics both rely on over the top characters to clamour for popularity in outrageous PR stunts.”  Everyone wants to understand politics, now, in terms of wrestling.

I’m curious, at the moment, about Trump’s relationship to audiences in wrestling, because I think that his relationship to the WWE audience can help explain his relationship to his base.

So I’m surprised to read that he was, at one point, a heel…

 

PWT ISSUE #1300 - APRIL 20, 2013

This clipping, from Professional Wrestling Torch, will feed into our research.

“Our Uncle Vanya”: Red Ladder’s production of ‘Glory” (April 2019)

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

By Claire Warden

In 1957 Roland Barthes famously said, “The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess. Here we find a grandiloquence which must have been that of ancient theatres”. In fact the histories of professional wrestling and theatre are deeply intertwined, from the music hall where wrestling pioneers such as George Hackenschmidt and Eugen Sandow plied their trade to the contemporary showbiz performance of the WWE. 

Nick Ahad’s Glory, produced by Britain’s leading radical theater company Red Ladder in Spring 2019, both builds on this legacy and swerves it.

I caught it in Leeds, Red Ladder’s home city, in a dusty old industrial space, the Albion Electric Warehouse, which had been transformed into a chilly, rundown gym: no “grandiloquence” here! It tells the story of faded wrestling star Jim Glory, a bigoted but not entirely unlovable throwback to the days of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. Under his wing he takes an unlikely trio of Dan (a Chinese British young man, fighting back against the racism he experiences in his father’s chip shop), Ben (an ex-squaddie, traumatized by his experiences in Afghanistan), and Sami (a Syrian refugee, who arrives in the UK having endured an unimaginably horrific journey). The three battle with each other, their desire to be wrestlers and, indeed, their own demons. 

Glory is both all about wrestling and nothing about wrestling.

On the one hand, the actual physical combat in Glory is pretty impressive, orchestrated by fight director and wrestling fan Kevin McCurdy. Indeed, the Albion Electric Warehouse audience (predominantly theater rather than wrestling fans) was visibly shocked at the brutal slams and punches. Glory also confirmed wrestling’s theatricality: its liminal identity as both a sport and not a sport, a theatrical spectacle and not a theatrical spectacle. At one point Jim turns to the predominantly artsy crowd and claims wrestling as “our Uncle Vanya”; the “our” here connotes Northern working class, perhaps male and white. Glory, and I suggest professional wrestling more generally, confronts what we define as art, as theater, as legitimate.

But wrestling also makes for a compelling backdrop for Glory.

During its history, wrestling has both validated offensive racial stereotypes and challenged them. Glory uses this tension. Director Rod Dixon, to whom I chatted before the show, cites the unique actor-audience interaction of professional wrestling, which makes it the perfect “vehicle to challenge the refugee narrative.” An uncomfortable example: Jim grabs the mic and makes up a story about Sami coming to “take your jobs and your women.” He tries to lead the audience in a chant of “Send him back, Send him back.” This deeply provocative moment exploits the fact that there is no fourth wall in wrestling, jolting audience members to have the shock of experiencing narratives currently advocated by mainstream British newspapers. 

When I asked him to define Glory’s genre, Dixon described it as a “State of the Nation comedy,” and certainly in these uncertain times, seemingly defined by discord — particularly racial discord — the tough, challenging Glory stands as both a depressing revelation of Britain’s endemic bigotry and a hopeful beacon of potential friendship.

Watching Glory, it occurred to me afresh that the most beautiful thing about professional wrestling, despite its appearance, is its reliance on cooperation and collaboration. The Squared Circle is a space of learning and meeting. For Ben, Dan and Sami, wrestling provides a forum to overcome xenophobic prejudices and deal with their histories. Watching them celebrate in the ring at the end, I left feeling that wrestling might symbolize some political hope in troubled times. 

For more on the production, including images, visit http://www.redladder.co.uk/whatson/glory

Nylons and Midriffs: WrestleMania Review (April 11, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: sports.yahoo.com

WrestleMania “weekend” has finally come to an end and whew! I am just about burnt out on wrestling content!

As I discussed a little before WrestleMania, there were only two women’s matches on the main card. And although they both were given decent time (certainly compared to the last few Manias), I still found myself wanting more, but not in a good way.

This is the first time I’ve had to go back and watch WrestleMania matches in order decide my thoughts on them. I think the 7.5 hour run time caused many of the matches in the second half of the night to become one big blur. That combined with having watched NXT TakeOver: New York two days prior, I had just lost all sense of what good wrestling looked like after several bouts.

Nevertheless, let us discuss how the women fared at the Showcase of the Immortals, so we can put it to bed and look forward to pastures new.

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

Image credit: WWE.com

Ugh. I’m including this match only out of respect for each of the women involved. There is nothing newsworthy to report from this match, besides that Ember Moon made her return from injury in it. The action was sloppy, almost as if the women in the match didn’t really care to be there. (Or maybe that’s me reading too much into things.)

Both the Riott Squad and Absolution (are Mandy and Sonya still called by that name?) predictably dominated the eliminations. Interestingly, Sarah Logan was the choice to nearly take the win, until a hiding Carmella last eliminated her. Which was fine, Carmella is a solid shout. But I think Sarah Logan could have used the win more, and it would have made for a more interesting ego boost for the Riott Squad as a whole.

Women’s Tag Team Match: Sasha Banks and Bayley vs. Beth Phoenix and Natalya vs. The IIconics vs. Nia Jax and Tamina

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

This match wasn’t bad by any means. It just wasn’t….great? It was a fairly average match. I think overall the element it lacked was chemistry between the competitors, which was a worry I had going into the match. Each pairing have chemistry with their respective partners, but they had issues translating that chemistry to their adversaries. And that’s mostly due to a lackluster build to this match.

Something weird that I noticed watching this match back was how absent Nia and Tamina were for about 90% it. There is a whole section in the middle where the two of them were nowhere to be found, and I didn’t actually notice this watching the match live. That’s a problem; if the audience doesn’t even notice when a quarter of the competitors are missing from a match, that means that their presence does not contribute to the whole enough for people to care. Which is a shame for both of them. But it only reinforces the opinions of many others, myself included, had about their inclusion in the match: we probably could have done without them involved.

Another aspect of the match that I did not notice as much watching live was how well this match showcased the IIconics’ intelligence as a tag team. The two of them tagged in and out constantly to keep one another fresh for their opponents. They stayed out of the way when they needed, and waited until the perfect opportunity to steal a pin, successfully executed by a sneaky tag by Billie Kay — while Beth Phoenix was setting up for her top-rope Glam Slam — to make herself the legal Superstar.

When the IIconics won, my gut reaction was joy for the two of them. Everyone knew going into this match that Billie and Peyton were the truest, bluest of teams in that match, but no one really thought they would win. Their story of being longtime wrestling fans and friends since high school that trained, traveled, and struggled together is the epitome of a tag team — and life — partnership if I’ve ever heard one. So to see them win after their long journey together, and the ugly crying faces they made when they held up those titles, was so heartwarming.

However, I do worry about Sasha Banks, Bayley, and the future of those titles now. For the two of them dropping the titles after only a couple of months, neither woman had a truly strong showing in this match. Their performances certainly aren’t the caliber we know the two of them can deliver. In my opinion, it would have been more ideal to have Sasha and Bayley have a long inaugural reign for the belts, similar to what Pete Dunne did with the NXT UK Championship (although not nearly for that long, but you get the point) to legitimize the titles and their prestige. I do not feel that we got to see all that Sasha and Bayley could do with their reign, and that is sad for both women. Especially since neither of them were exactly in favorable places on the card before they won the belts. Taking the tittles off both women should mean that they move on to better feuds or title contention — or more salivating, a feud with each other — but I think we know that that won’t happen.

Thus, while the IIconics’ win was certainly a feel-good moment in a Mania full of other such moments, long-term, I worry about where this leaves the Boss and Hug Connection, as well as the future of the titles around the waists of two underdeveloped in-ring Superstars.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Sasha reportedly tried to quit WWE at WrestleMania and is currently on leave from the promotion.)

Winner Take All: Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair

Image credit: tpww.net

Chills. I felt utter chills as the ring announcer said Charlotte, Becky, and Ronda’s names at the start of this match. I have never felt that while watching the main event of a WrestleMania. And yet, it just felt so normal. I thought “Why did this take 35 years to do? Women belong here, they own this spotlight right now.” And I hope that this won’t be looked back upon as a one-time experiment, because I never felt more than in that moment that women can carry a marquee.

We’ll start off by discussing the entrances. Each woman’s entrance told the story of their characters in a brief snapshot of time. Charlotte entered the match with the pomp and circumstance of a peacock, showing us her elevated (literally, by helicopter) status in the women’s division. Ronda showed her laser focus and kill-or-be-killed attitude marching to the ring, with rock legend Joan Jett playing her signature “Bad Reputation” at the top of the entrance ramp; by bringing in another celebrity, WWE reinforced Ronda’s mainstream appeal. And Becky, equally as focused, simply strode to the ring with her theme music and understated steam shooting up at the top of the ramp. Each woman had their role, and they played them to perfection.

This match was actually a lot better than I remembered, but again, at this point in the show on Sunday it was well past my bedtime and I was anxious to just get the show over with. Unlike the previous women’s match, these women had a lot more room to breathe and time to work with, and therefore they could work many more memorable spots. There was Becky and Charlotte’s triple powerbombs to Ronda, Becky’s dropkick to a dangling Ronda knocking her to the floor, Charlotte’s Spanish fly. I think the action in the match logically progressed in intensity as each woman became more and more desperate.

There was a table spot that didn’t quite have the impact the competitors were perhaps hoping for. Charlotte went to spear both of her opponents through a table she’d set up in a corner of the ring, but when Ronda and Becky moved out of the way, Charlotte crashed herself into the table, causing it to break…sort of. We’ve seen similar failed spots in other women’s matches (Charlotte’s match with Sasha Banks at Hell in a Cell is a good example), and it makes me groan every time. There is a reason you rarely see male competitors do dainty table spots like the one in this match. I suppose due to sheer practice and repetition through using tables, superstars like the Dudley Boyz and Hardy Boyz knew that the best way to make a table break with the intended effect (clean in half) was to simply fall into it. I am unsure if the women themselves were responsible for choreographing this spot, or if they were told to by producers to keep it light, but either way, we need to start letting women go for those big spots. Because when the table only cracks upon impact because the Superstar didn’t hit it with enough force or crashed into it at a weird angle, it makes the women look weak. And because the women are smaller than men, they have to be sure to work extra hard to make those tables break.

But, the table spot pretty much marked the end of this match, which is where unfortunately most of the conversation around it has been centered. Upon re-watching this, I can say with a good amount of confidence that the botch in question — Ronda’s shoulder coming up during the three count — was neither Becky or Ronda’s fault. Ultimately, I think the referee started his count too soon. If you re-watch, you will see that Becky does eventually get Ronda’s shoulders down, and that Ronda remains pretty still, but the ref started counting before Becky could roll her leg back to allow Ronda’s shoulder to fall to the mat into the crucifix pin.

Despite coming to this conclusion, I felt deflated when this pin came out of nowhere. It felt almost as if I was robbed of the satisfaction of being able to predict the three count, similar to Kofi Kingston’s win earlier in the night. I did not like that I felt confused as to how Becky achieved the three count with the shoulder controversy. And therein lies my main gripe about this finish. For as well as they built Becky up to be this bad-ass, this lass-kicker, this determined and tough-as-nails woman — they had her win her two titles by what many will look back on as a fluke pin. I, as well as many other fans I’m sure, felt that Becky deserved a more decisive victory over both of her adversaries. I do not believe it fits Becky’s gimmick to win based arguably upon luck and a miscalculation on Ronda’s part. I wanted her to win because she was the best woman on that night. I wanted her to show Charlotte and Ronda not that she was lucky, but that she was that damn good. But it wasn’t to be. While Becky is intelligent and cunning in the ring, I do not think this pin was the correct way to culminate her ascent to the top of the mountain.

But I guess in the end, the result is all that matters. #Becky2Belts indeed.

***

Now that the Grandaddy of Them All is over, I will sit back and survey the developments of this new season of sorts of WWE television. With the Superstar Shakeup looming, I wonder what refreshments it will give to the women’s divisions, if any.

Or, if a potential title unification will throw a wrench in it all…

Tune in next time!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Wrestling Is Both a National Media Phenomenon and a Local Periodic Market

Works-In-Process

by David Beard, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, University of Minnesota Duluth and John Heppen, Professor of Geography, University of Wisconsin River Falls

[unpublished notes excised from a recent project]

The wrestling industry is both a national media phenomenon (visible nationally on cable and soon, again, broadcast TV) and a periodic market (as national promotions appear periodically in local venues and as local promoters arrange for local events).

A periodic market is a type of market whose meetings are separated by market-less days. For example, farmers’ markets might be bustling with people on the weekends, empty and shuttered for the rest of the week. Periodic markets are necessary when a threshold population is not present to support the market on a regular and continual basis. In microeconomics, a threshold population is the number of people necessary before a particular good or service can be provided in an area (one place for more info about periodic markets can be found here: http://periodicmarketsandruraldevelopment.blogspot.com/2011/02/periodic-markets-and-rural-development.html).

Nationally, few cities or regions are strong enough to sustain regular wrestling in one location more than a few times a year.  The traveling WWE shows (Raw, Smackdown, etc.) address this; so does the WWE NXT system, for example, as it rotates across several locations in Florida (e.g. Crystal River, Daytona Beach, Cocoa, Dade City, Tampa, Venica, Sanford, Largo, Lakeland, Casselberry). WWE NXT appears in these venues periodically, rather than calling one “home” (the way that other forms of entertainment, like the movies, are available regularly at movie theaters).

Similarly, local pro-wrestling shows, as events of limited appeal, rarely meet the threshold population for even weekly shows in a single venue. In a market as large as the Twin Cities metro area (approximately 3,000,000 people), still, wrestling operates as a periodic market, moving from venue to venue on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly rotation.  In Minnesota, shows are dispersed across a half-dozen venues from Western Wisconsin to the Twin Cities area (more on this at http://mpcaaca.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Volume-6-Number-1-2018-.pdf).

In economic terms, periodic markets reduce the distance that a buyer must travel to obtain goods and services. In functioning as a periodic market, wrestling promoters reduce the distance to commute to a wrestling show for at least some of the audience, some of the time. (There are diehards, the core of the community of fans, who will travel across the distances from venue to venue.)

Even if a single wrestling venue were built in the Twin Cities, there would be good reason to keep rotating venues. Veeck (1992), in a study of periodic markets in rural China, found that, despite the growth of permanent vendors, periodic markets still held appeal for social functions. Villagers continued to patronize periodic markets because it gave them a chance to see friends and relatives and allow for continued social interaction with people.

As periodic markets, local indie wrestling shows serve a social function for fans of the local wrestling community. Though the action they see in person may not match national promotions seen on television, the local show continued to provide the personal and social interaction that is not possible via television.

Periodic markets in wrestling bring the national to the local and they bring the fans into social interaction at the indy level.

Who Really Loses When “Winner Takes All”?

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: Twitter.com (@StoryofEverest)

I thought this year would be the year.

The year when finally, I thought to myself, WWE would give us what we want. For the first time to my knowledge, we were going to have three women’s matches on the WrestleMania card, and we were going to see women of color competing for or defending titles. We would have a black man challenging for a world title.

And then, just like that, the fantasy was ripped away. Charlotte had won — or in actuality, was gifted — the Smackdown Women’s Title in an impromptu match with Asuka. It had been reported (and seemingly corroborated on Twitter by each performer in real-time) that a Fatal Four-Way match was scheduled to take place to determine Asuka’s opponent for WrestleMania. The competitors were to be Carmella, Naomi, Mandy Rose, and Sonya Deville. That match clearly never happened, because plans changed.

In doing so, WWE accomplished a feat for their golden girl. A less highlighted point in the wake of Charlotte’s win is that by defeating Asuka, Charlotte became an 8-time women’s champion, beating Trish Stratus’ seven reigns for the most of any woman in WWE history. Trish won 7 titles in 6 years, while Charlotte won 8 titles in just 4.

And she did it by beating the woman she handily defeated last year at Mania, in almost the same fashion, merely two weeks before this year’s WrestleMania. And I cannot stress enough that watching this happen was infuriating. I was incensed.

And like me, fans at large were pissed. The majority could not believe that Asuka had been screwed over so transparently, that she was collateral damage in the explosiveness of the feud on the opposing brand. And not only was Asuka cheated out of a title match that any other year she would have been entitled to, but so were the women of Smackdown Live. They missed out on this opportunity, too, and some of them weren’t as shy in expressing that.

I was filled with so much fury for each of those women. I considered the injustice of this move in the context of a larger theme of this past week — WWE doesn’t care about its performers. Having watched this excellently done John Oliver segment on WWE, and then seeing what happened to Asuka, I began to consider the sociopolitical implications of this move to include both women’s titles in the same match. I considered how Oliver, in his critical analysis of the company, did give credit to WWE for coming a long way in women’s wrestling. Although he isn’t incorrect in his statement, that’s just what the public sees. For those of us that care about the entire division, the well-being of women’s wrestling as a whole, us diehards — we know better. We know that there is still a long, long way to go.

And so, I concluded that by throwing away the Smackdown women’s division, WWE proved themselves to be paper feminists — easily swayed by the winds of change, but too thin to weather a storm. WWE exemplified this in three main ways.

First, is the racial aspect of this booking. Once again, we saw how easily women of color are disregarded and sidelined to make room for white women at the top of the card. Since she has been called up from NXT, WWE writers have failed consistently to put some respect on Asuka’s name. Instead of treating her as the world-class wrestler that she is and recognizing her success in Japan — arguably the wrestling capital of the world — in the WWE she is seen as nothing more than a strange foreigner. Something to be gawked at, used for comedy, but never taken too seriously.

I’d previously written about my distaste for WWE’s similar burying of Naomi in her so-called feud with Mandy Rose. The same laziness and unimaginative storytelling is at play here. Naomi and Asuka are guilty not of being bad performers. They are guilty of not fitting the blonde, white, “conventionally” attractive mold that WWE (read: Vince) sees as push-worthy. And while, yes, I recognize that white women were also affected by this decision, most of them have not had careers as long as Asuka or Naomi, whether in WWE or out.

It seems that WWE still enforces a racial hierarchy within their women’s division. If women of color are in any matches at WrestleMania, they are either jobbing to white women, included in secondary matches, or left off the card altogether.

We have to move past women of color being nothing more than transitional champions. They are worth more, and they deserve more.

The second aspect is the sheer sexism of it all. It looks to me as though WWE is keeping a glass ceiling of sorts on the number of women’s segments on the WrestleMania card. If we think back to the WresleMania cards of the last few years, you might notice that there have usually been no more than two women’s matches included. With the addition of the women’s tag titles this year, I suppose this inadvertently nixed the Smackdown women’s title match. Even though this year we may see the most female competitors featured on a single WrestleMania card, to me, the impact is minimized if these women are being squeezed into the same number of segments. Because then it makes it harder for each of them to shine individually, as they will essentially be competing for the spotlight. This tactic makes evident that WWE sees the women as monolithic segments rather than individuals involved in focused storylines.

And that is the crux of my issue here — the women are not entitled to space on the WrestleMania card. Think of all of the men’s singles matches slated to go on on Sunday, both with and without a title involved. You have the boss’s son-in-law, the boss’s son, Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Finn Balor, The Miz, Kurt Angle….the list goes on. Many of these feuds did not come to fruition until Fastlane or after. But yet, the writers found a way to give these men a spot on the card. Because they were prioritized. Their spot on the card was likely never called into question. WWE failed repeatedly to keep that same energy with the women outside of their chosen few. And it becomes apparent in instances like this.

For the women, their matches are always a question. They are the first to go if a card is running long. They are thrown out if the writers don’t feel like coming up with a storyline for them. They are not entitled to space, in the most basic sense. Let us not forget WrestleMania 29, where the only women’s match on the entire show was cut because the men decided to take their sweet time in the ring. (Ironically, this year’s Mania is taking place in the same exact venue. Funny how history repeats itself.) We have been told time and time again that the women are expendable. They are sacrificed for the “greater good.”

WWE Superstar Naomi summarizes what a title march would have meant for the women of Smackdown Live.

Which leads me to my last point of contention: the capitalist undertones of this unexpected change. Many fans and wrestling journalists have provided not an excuse, but a rationalization for adding the Smackdown women’s title and the Winner Take All stipulation to the main event — that it was a wise business decision. The logic goes that by adding both of the women’s belts to the main event, it elevates the prestige of the match, and in turn the credibility of the winner. There is an added impressiveness to the winner of the match doing PR the week following WrestleMania with two belts on her shoulder rather than one. And given that logic, I do actually understand those points.

However, at the heart of that assertion is what is generally considered “good business.” Why does “good business” usually entail doing the morally questionable thing? Why does “good business” almost always disadvantage the most vulnerable members of a business or community? And I’m not naive. I understand that in life, people do not always get their way. But isn’t it about time we start asking why certain people always do get their way? That speaks directly to the idea of privilege, and the privilege of each woman in that main event is a direct threat to the rest of the women in their division, whether they intend it to be or not.

But ultimately, it is clear that all of my complaints will just be echoes in the wind after WrestleMania. Because a good match will make the dudebros of the wrestling media forgive the road it took to get there, and that will transform the narrative. And as much as it will pain me, I know deep down that I’ll enjoy the match. And I hate that. I truly do. I want to carry this bitterness with me through the match, but I know I won’t.

Perhaps we, the fans, are the real losers in this. No matter what we say, we still watch, still engage. But even if WWE gives us the desired result, with Becky holding both titles on the turnbuckle as the screen fades to black, we will feel an ominous pang of guilt, and of loss. We’ll remember all of the women sacrificed for this moment. The months of throwaway storylines, the lazy feuds, the scrapped matches. Even if our girl Becky wins, what exactly did the rest of us lose to get her there?

Nylons and Midriffs: The End of the Road (April 5, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

We are just about out of gas on the road to WrestleMania, folks, and how did we do on mileage? Well….well……

We’re rolling on two flats, friends.

While things certainly looked promising after Elimination Chamber, proceedings have gotten more than messy since then. So much so that, although I intended to write a shiny new post for you all last week, believing innocently that nothing important would develop in the last two weeks before WrestleMania — I was sorely mistaken.

I will be suspending the typical format to examine the two women’s matches on the WrestleMania card this year, as well as a certain Goddess hosting the show. Let’s begin!

Women’s Tag Title Match: Sasha Banks and Bayley vs. Nia Jax and Tamina vs. Natalya and Beth Phoenix vs. the Iiconics

Image credit: WWE.com

The unproblematic fave of the women’s matches on Sunday, this match is shaping up to be more interesting than I thought it would be. I am first of all happy that Nia Jax and Tamina won’t be singularly challenging for the titles. They are too bland and clumsy in the ring to carry a WrestleMania caliber match with the likes of Bayley and Sasha. That sounds harsh, but it’s true, it’s damn true. Anyways.

As I suspected after Fastlane, Beth Phoenix has thrown her name into the contendership hat with Natalya by her side. And that’s exciting for her! I am all the way here for women stepping back into the ring post-childbirth and motherhood. In the history of WWE, it is such an uncommon thing up until the last two or so years to have a woman leave WWE to start a family and return to the company to wrestle. I want to take this quick second to give props to all the mamas who have done this recently: Trish Stratus, Michelle McCool, Maryse, Maria Kanellis (Bennett), Brie Bella, and now Beth Phoenix. All inspiring women who continue to break the taboos of working motherhood.

So I will be delighted to see Beth wrestle again, especially since she somehow looks more stunning and fit than she did when she did when she was a full-time performer.

Next, we now have to contend with the IIconics, who have made their intent clear: they, too, will be coming for the belts. With home-brand advantage, Billie Kay and Payton Royce defeated the champions, which apparently earned them a place in the inevitable four-way at Mania. And I think it just about sums up the top contenders for the women’s tag titles.

I believe this match will have a balance between skilled technicians and greener competitors, leading to an average to great match at WrestleMania. I do hope these women take the time to choreograph and build chemistry away from the cameras, however, as I think that may be the only thing holding this match back. There are too many women in this match that have never even been in the same ring with each other.

I’d also like to take a brief moment to express one gripe I have about the women’s tag division: it doesn’t really feel like a tag division. It feels more like an assemblage of mid-card women that were stuck together in pairs. The only team that actually shares an entrance theme is the IIconics, which in my mind is an argument for them to win the titles sooner rather than later. They are a team, and this is apparent in nearly everything that they do. Sasha and Bayley still come out to their own entrance themes, and still have their individual gimmicks. While I can see the obvious effort the two put in with their ring gear as well as on social media to portray themselves as a team, they still feel like they should be feuding rather than fighting together. Their individualism shines too brightly. The tag division is the place where you don’t want that to be the case.

To compare the division to the men’s (although I hate doing that), look at the men’s tag teams. Their unification is shown by their team names: The Usos, The Bar, The Revival, War Raiders, Heavy Machinery, The Undisputed Era. Even though there are still quite a few thrown-together men’s tag teams without unified names, there is a stronger case to be made that the men’s teams at least feel like pairings that are codependent. As it stands right now, any of the women’s tag teams could break up tomorrow and we could all say we saw it coming — with the exception of the IIconics.

Hopefully in the future we will see more women entering WWE as pairs to put the “team” in tag team division.

RAW & Smackdown Women’s Title Match: Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair – Winner Takes All

Image credit: WhatCulture.com

I’ve written about this feud at length thus far in 2019, so much that I don’t have very much to critique at this point. But, as a result of all of that nitpicking, I have now arrived at a general opinion about how this story unfolded from the Royal Rumble until now.

While some praise could be given for the unpredictable writing every week, in the end I feel that this feud was overbooked. The story after the Rumble could have nearly written itself, with all three parties having heat with each other in the confines of storyline. Becky was never an official entrant in the Rumble, either, and that could have been played up in the build.

But WWE took several detours to get us here — Vince McMahon’s involvement, the injury to Becky’s knee, that still baffling Twitter beef between Becky and Ronda. It became all very confusing and convoluted, more than it could have been.

I think in the end this feud peaked prematurely. I would be lying if I said that I was as amped for this match as I was as the Rumble went off the air. My waning enthusiasm is due to the saturation of promo segments that strung together the weekly episodes. Looking back, it is a little astonishing how little the three of these women wrestled leading up to WrestleMania. I understand wanting to sell the animosity between the women, but if nothing else, WWE could have utilized the rest of their women’s roster to face the three of them in the meantime. Shockingly, I think the person that wrestled most was Ronda. There are only so many different ways you can say “I deserve to be in this match and I’m going to kick your ass at WrestleMania.” Two months of that got boring.

That said, I also think we could have gone some weeks without seeing Ronda, Becky, or Charlotte. Again, while I hate comparisons to the men’s roster, take the Universal Title feud for example. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but not having Brock Lesnar appear on RAW every week kept Brock feeling fresh and the feud going until Mania. Not having Brock on TV means that we see Seth in more concise segments, and although you could argue this works against the feud, I think it helps fans build anticipation because we’re left wanting more. If Seth was going to cut a promo on Brock, or Brock was showing up to RAW, you knew it meant something; it wasn’t just done for the heck of it. That’s where I feel the Ronda/Becky/Charlotte story went wrong.

But all of my gripes are ultimately minuscule compared to the larger picture of this match. As we all are well aware by now, this match is the main event of the show. When we look back on the great WrestleMania main events, triple threat matches, and women’s matches in WWE history, people don’t recount the meticulous build it took to get to the matches. You remember the matches themselves. There are obviously exceptions to this, particularly if the build to a certain match was great. But shaky build can be forgiven if the match exceeds expectations. And despite how this match has shaped up in the end (and what was sacrificed to make it as big as it is), I do know that this will be a good match. I don’t have any doubt about that.

Yet, outside of the questionable stipulation that was added to the match in the wake of Charlotte’s championship win, something else makes this “victory” for the women’s division bittersweet.

In short, it is upsetting to know that it took an outsider, a mainstream star, to get the division to this point. Not only that, but the flagbearer of this chapter of the Women’s Evolution is a woman who has shown herself to be socially ignorant at best and downright problematic at worst. Someone who thinks that “The Man” is a literal statement relating to genitalia rather than a metaphorical finger to gender politics in WWE. A woman that slut-shamed Nikki Bella for being in a long-term relationship with John Cena. Basically, a woman that, in the one year she’s been with the company, has proven in many ways to be the antithesis of the very revolution she claims to be progressing merely with her presence.

I suppose this was the point of bringing a star like Ronda in, for this to be the payoff. And it is frustrating that credit must be given to her for leading the women’s division to this position on the card. But this credit is only valid if after WrestleMania, Ronda steps to the side and allows the rest of the women to shine. It is undeniable that there has been a hierarchy of importance within the women’s division since Ronda joined the company. If she does not relinquish her place at the top and reach her hand down to pull WWE’s homegrown female talent up, then what she did was not progress the division, but merely carve out her own space on the Mount Rushmore of women’s history in WWE.

It is not lost on me, either, that this women’s main event is also made possible by whiteness. There is no way that WWE would have allowed a competitor of color in the main event of their biggest show of the year. Can you recall the last WrestleMania where that was the case? (Note: I am excluding Roman Reigns from this statement, as his half-Italian ancestry allows him more proximity to whiteness, in addition to being “white passing” in appearance.)

So while I will probably still find myself choking up as this main event starts, one part of my identity will be questioning when women of color will be given this same opportunity. Until we see an Ember Moon or an Asuka or a Zelina Vega in Ronda or Becky’s position, I will not pat WWE on the back too hard. Female liberation is not achieved when white women reach the same level of prominence, success, and wealth as white men. It is attained when that success is feasible for all women. We’ve gotten this far. Let’s not wait another 20 years to make it happen for black and brown women, too.

Alexa Bliss, Our WrestleMania Host

Image credit: wrestletalk.com

I actually was delighted to see that WWE created a role for Alexa Bliss, who has been in uncertain health for the last several months. Similar to The New Day before her, Alexa has the charisma to carry a very long show. She’s funny and bratty and cunning, and the combination of these traits could make for some entertaining segments, or moments of brevity throughout the pay-per-view. And boy howdy, we’ll need them as long as this card is…

Anyways, Alexa will be a great WrestleMania host if she doesn’t hijack the show. Like a good General Manager, a good WrestleMania host should interject themselves into the show at logical points to energize the crowd (and audience watching at home). But, they should still ultimately allow the matches and the show to speak for itself.

I do wonder what’s next for her after WrestleMania, though. Will she return to the ring? Will she continue to plateau as a talk show host? I am not really sure, but perhaps it will become clear during WrestleMania itself.

***

It just doesn’t feel like WrestleMania season. The week before the show is almost exhausting as a fan, as there’s so much anticipation and fantasy booking and predictions and rumors flying all over the internet. I am nervous for some of the outcomes of the matches (men’s included — please let Kofi win), but I’m more ready to see where things go.

I’ll be saving up all of my rage tweets for Sunday! Get your snacks and drinks ready friends — we’re in for a slobberknocker!

Stay legit bossy,
AC