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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,