It has been a bittersweet couple of weeks, friends. I feel very conflicted, seeing both the highest of highs as far as women’s wrestling, as well as lowest of lows as far as some of the problematic developments since the previous edition of Nylons.
My suitcase is full of thoughts, so let us start unpacking them together.
NXT/AEW: I am still enjoying the women’s wrestling of All Elite Wrestling, even if it is few and far between (more on that in the next section). Right now, I feel that with each new woman that shows her face on weekly TV, I’m getting a deeper sense of the holistic identity of their women’s division. Every woman seems to have their own style and in-ring presentation, that makes each woman distinct in a way that’s different than WWE. It feels almost reminiscent of WWE’s Attitude Era in that the women feel like independent and unique entities that choose to compete for a specific company, rather than a company trying to mold them into a specific shape or brand, like NXT intends to.
If you watch WWE long enough, you figure out that their ultimate goal (and some would argue, particularly with NXT) is to make each wrestler signature to their own brand and style. It’s all about getting wrestlers to assimilate to WWE’s specific presentation of “sports entertainment.” WWE acts as a parent that tells you, “You’re free to express yourself — just not like that.”
In AEW, it genuinely feels that the women are not constricted in that way. They feel fluid and rough around the edges. And that, so far, is what I really like about their women.
As far as NXT? OH BABY. For the women, NXT had a near-perfect two weeks. Let me just talk a little bit about each of the best things we saw.
Firstly, I loved the bout between Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair. Can we see these two feud please? Two physically imposing forces with opposing styles — Bianca more flashy and athletic; Rhea more brutish and defiant — made for a great match. I think their gimmicks as well could work very well together in a storyline. But as far as their meeting, it was an excellent showing for both women.
Io Shirai was given a superstar entrance on one week of NXT, accompanied by a live musical performance. Her manic entrance to the ring as the band’s singer screamed along with her continues to portray Io as an electrifying force. Her work in the ring is crisp and almost angelic, even as she taunts her opponents. It is hard to not be drawn to her wrestling skills.
Lastly, the tag match between Dakota Kai/Tegan Nox and the Kabuki Warriors was fierce. I was absolutely floored at how much time this match was given from start to finish, along with the ensuing brawl post-finish. Watching it endure through two commercial breaks almost felt unnatural, as ashamed as I am to say that. We simply are not used to women’s matches being given that much time on TV, especially if there was already one women’s match on the show. And it wasn’t even a main event!
The work of all four women in this match deserves applause, but Asuka and Kairi Sane were really the stars of this match. A complete 180 to how both women have historically been treated on the “main” roster; they were really allowed to show how good they are. I was surprised with how dominating they were in the match, methodically working the legs of Dakota Kai for minutes on end, while still somehow keeping a fast pace. While we know Asuka has always been her best as a heel, I was pleasantly surprised at Kairi’s heel performance in the match. At points it seemed she was meaner than her own partner, displaying an arrogance of someone who has played the part before. The teamwork between Kairi and Asuka as well was remarkable, at times hitting moves in such quick succession that you would think they were rehearsed.
Then, on top of that excellent match, it was announced that the first-ever female War Games match will take place at the next TakeOver. Everyone, myself included, will be marking out for that match, I’m sure. As much as I often resist giving WWE credit, when it comes to women’s wrestling, NXT is beating AEW by a country mile.
RAW and Smackdown: Not much to report here, but only because it was all about NXT in the last couple of weeks. In general, I am happy to see the Kabuki Warriors being showcased more prominently (and dominantly) on the main shows. Similarly, the feud between Nikki Cross and Bayley continues to be competitive, as it should be.
In other news, I feel obligated to highlight one last good thing from WWE this week, but it is of course tinged in the Saudi Arabia mess. The first-ever women’s wrestling match in Saudi Arabia took place at Crown Jewel. For lack of a better word, I suppose this is “good.” However, that will be the extent of my commentary on the matter, given the continuously problematic nature of the Saudi shows.
NXT/AEW: I struggle to find anything wrong with what has transpired on NXT in the last 14 days. I feel pretty satisfied with the state of the women’s division. As for AEW, I have a bone to pick.
I am still dissatisfied that we are only gifted one women’s segment per week, often just between two women. I will give credit that the women have been different almost every week, but that simply is not enough. The bar should be higher for a company who has prided themselves thus far as a “progressive” promotion. On the October 23rd edition of Dynamite, we went a full 90 minutes into the show before we got our first women’s match. For those not good at math, on a two-hour show, that’s about 75% of the show written as a sausage fest.
I’ve enjoyed seeing competitive matches thus far; I particularly liked the match between Shanna and Hikaru Shida. But, I want more of that. When will they deliver?
RAW and SD: Outside of my usual pining for more women on weekly TV, I have a more obscure, perhaps even nit-picky gripe.
As we know, Crown Jewel was last week. As we also know, women are infamously excluded from this show, with only the past installment allowing just two women to wrestle. So, nearly all of the women on the roster stayed home for the Saudi show.
It became apparent the day after Crown Jewel that most of the roster was stranded in Saudi Arabia, unable to make it to that night’s live Smackdown. So, the show was a mystery to fans and the roster alike. You might see where I’m going with this…
I have to wonder: why couldn’t WWE have used this rare opportunity to showcase the women on their rosters?
To me, this would have been the obvious direction to go in if a good majority of your men physically could not be present on Smackdown. The talent in the women’s division is there. But of course, that trigger couldn’t be pulled.
Yes, you could say that because of the new TV deal with FOX, that WWE has to be very careful with “rocking the boat” so to speak. And I am actually satisfied with the show we were given; the NXT invasion angle in that isolated episode of Smackdown worked fantastically. The show felt fresh. Yet, I still can’t help but feel a loss for the women; even when the odds are theoretically in their favor, WWE figures out a way to shunt them to the back of the line.
Sigh. Maybe one day, we’ll be ready for a show that prioritizes women.
Last week before Monday Night RAW, I came across a story about a Black NXT Superstar who had taken to Twitter to express his discontent with a t-shirt WWE recently put out for him. The t-shirt, all black, contained a red smiling mouth, with the Superstar’s name “Jordan Myles” in white lettering inside it (mimicking teeth). After the release of this t-shirt, Myles berated WWE on Twitter, claiming that this tone-deaf, blackface reminiscent shirt design was proof that the company doesn’t care about Black people.
Finding this story while at my day job, I did not really react to this news, outside of thinking it was a great shame. However, I should note that there was not a surprised bone in my body upon hearing of it.
Once I got off work, I started thinking about it more. I thought about all of the Hulk Hogan pandering and Crown Jewel travesty, in addition to this new t-shirt misstep. I thought seriously about not watching RAW last week in protest, but out of habit (and part obligation, because of Nylons) I turned it on. Immediately, I saw Becky Lynch wrestling Kairi Sane. Suddenly I felt a pang of guilt. And that’s when I realized the true reason for my anger at the Myles situation.
As a Black woman, in life and in wrestling fandom, I am often forced to choose which of my identities is more important to me in certain situations. I saw Becky and Kairi on that screen and I remembered that I feel almost a sense of duty to support them, to support the Embers and Sashas and Naomis and Asukas and Bayleys. A responsibility to uplift women with my voice and my writing, particularly women of color. And so I watched the women’s segments of RAW, wondering why I have to choose when other people do not.
Many Black fans online argued that had there been Black representation in leadership or marketing, then the t-shirt debacle would have never happened, as someone would have had the cultural awareness to shoot the idea down. I find it hard to disagree. But, considering WWE’s tendency to hire Black wrestlers who are willing to go along with racist things (I’m thinking Booker T allowing Vince to say the n-word in his presence, or Ricochet gladly smiling and shaking Hulk Hogan’s hand last week), I still have to question if they would go out of their way to hire Black people in those roles who were truly “for the culture.”
I am upset because I have to choose if I’m to ignore my Blackness, and in turn, this controversy, in an effort to advocate for women. Even still, in spite of this controversy, I still feel obligated to keep tuning in to support the Black men on the roster like Myles, to ensure that they get pushes and visibility. This is the truest sign of white supremacist patriarchy winning: the feeling that the oppressed must “pick our battles” when it comes to public failings like these.
In case you are wondering, racism is a feminist issue, which is why I’m writing about it here. And I know what some of you may be thinking: this is a personal problem. And you’re right. It is personal. My identity is very personal to me. I am myself, Black and woman, holistically, at all times. But this is also your problem. Yes, you, white and/or male person reading this. White supremacist patriarchy is not my issue to fix. It’s yours.
Not only is this problem personal, it’s political. WWE has released a statement saying that Myles signed off on the t-shirt. Believe whoever you want to believe, but only one side of this argument has anything to lose by speaking out. And the fact remains that representation would have fixed this before it ever became a problem. Not having any people of color in notable leadership positions in your company — in 2019 — is political. Having your first Black WWE champion in more than a decade crowned this year is political. Continuing to push the same prototype of white woman when there are handfuls of women of color to choose from is political.
And to those of you saying “it’s wrestling, not politics” — the civility of that argument went out the window when WWE decided that millions in revenue was enough to get them to lie in bed with a government that has been all-but-confirmed to have done all of the terrible things they were accused of. Oh, they know politics. They cannot feign innocence when it suits them.
Forgiveness is not the Oppressor’s to give. Passes are not white folks’ to give.
And yet, with these people controlling the narrative, we have already moved on from this controversy to the next. White male executives in WWE, and subsequently white male wrestling “journalists,” have already deemed this case as closed, an unfortunate event caused by a miscommunication. The “both sides” reporting has shown itself, and we’re left with the takeaway that “the whole thing could have been handled better,” implying that somehow both WWE and Myles (particularly with his very public reaction) could have done better to prevent this controversy.
No. I reject that. Blame must be placed somewhere. And it is not fair for any of it to be placed on Myles.
So, if you aim to address oppression in the wrestling world, choose to care. Don’t choose one issue over another. Make a choice to care about all of them. Because we are not free until we are all free.
Whew! What a load I left up there. In the climate of today’s wrestling world — with burgeoning promotions, racism, sexism, corrupt governments — we as fans must ask ourselves:
Are we complacent with peace, or will revolution come with war for our ideals?
Stay legit bossy,