Nylons and Midriffs: East Coast, West Coast (November 20, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

As we round the corner toward the holidays, I find myself becoming a little burnt out from a tumultuous year for wrestling fans and journalists alike. We’re nearing Survivor Series, and it is usually after this pay-per-view that WWE starts to relent on their break-neck sprint through pay-per-views to end the year. But, with All Elite Wrestling only just coming off the heels of their first proper pay-per-view after debuting on TV, WWE may not have the option to slow down during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

That said, I think both promotions are doing great things with their respective women’s divisions. As with anything, though, there is always room for improvement, hence why we’re here week after week! First, let me discuss with you all the beauties (pun intended) that we’ve come across in AEW and NXT in these last two weeks.

The Good
AEW/NXT: I have many scattered thoughts about the excellent wrestling and storyline development I’ve seen in both promotions since I last wrote. I want to first talk about them individually, and then together to point out a coincidental — but positive — thing that both divisions are excelling at right now.

As far as AEW, I am pleased now that we are now entering a phase of television where we can see repeat characters on screen, with new women still showing themselves bit by bit. In the tag match featuring Jamie Hayter and Emmy Sakura versus champion Riho and Shanna, I got more of an idea of each woman’s persona and the stories that they try to consistently tell in their matches. This is what I’ve been wanting from AEW for the past few posts, is for a bit more story to be told with a level of continuity. I absolutely loved the sequence between Riho and her former trainer Emmy to end the match; so smooth and amazing I was actually yelling at my TV in awe watching their grace! I am sad to say that I was unable to see their meeting at Full Gear, but if it was anything like what we saw in that match, I am positive it tore the house down.

In other areas of the division, we saw the return of Nyla Rose and Awesome Kong, the former of which I was beginning to get worried was only used as a diversity trophy of sorts for Dynamite’s big premiere. Seeing both of them return on the same episode of Dynamite made me realize that, just by their shared presence in the division, AEW’s women’s division may be more believable than WWE’s. For example, if Nyla Rose were to ever win the women’s title, she would have believable competition in her weight class to challenge her in the form of Awesome Kong.

The curse of the monster in WWE’s women’s division is that WWE is too obsessed with thin bodies to allow a bigger woman to prosper in the division, let alone allow more than one of them past an initial tryout. They want to continue to put over more conventionally attractive women, so they awkwardly find ways to have said big women lose when challenging for the title if not keep them from the title scene altogether. With two equally-bodied women in AEW’s women’s division, maybe that will change.

In NXT-land, I continue to be impressed by the levels to the division. It seems that various women are allowed to shine in flickers here and there, even if they are not currently involved in main event storylines. I saw Xia Li for the first time last week and, my goodness, is she a firecracker! I’m disappointed we couldn’t have seen more from her, but she is certainly one I will be keeping my eyes on in the future.

I was very satisfied with the ladder match between Mia Yim and Io Shirai last week as well. These women brought the intensity from the jump, and put together some spots that made for an entertaining match. I have to give credit to both women for the bumps that they took in this match. From Mia’s suplex to Io into the ladder at two different points during the match, to Io’s gnarly springboard dropkick to Mia holding a ladder in front of her face, I found myself wincing at the high points of the match. I also have to give credit to both women for how they handled Mia’s injury toward the end of the match. Credit to Mia for soldiering on like the “baddie” that she is, and Io for doing her best to stall in the ring with some convincing selling (well, convincing as it could have been given how long she had to stall). Moments like those, though scary, are what remind us that wrestlers are humans, and the people in the ring are coworkers that look out for each other.

In watching Mia and Io go at it, and knowing that Emmy Sakura recently challenged Riho for her title, an interesting thread ties together the women’s divisions of NXT and AEW right now. Both brands are abundant with female Asian stars.

It is no secret what a gem women’s wrestling is in Japan, but the women that we see every week cover just about the full spectrum of Asian representation. You have East Asian beauties like Xia Li, Io Shirai, and Hikaru Shida; West Asian standouts like Aliyah; and even biracial, American-born stars like Mia Yim and Shayna Baszler. Not to mention, the aforementioned Baszler is the women’s champion of her division, as Riho is the champion of hers.

Gone are the days of Gail Kim acting as the token Asian woman on the roster, before leaving a drought of Asian stars in the years since her WWE departure (and more general departure from wrestling). Women of Asian descent are making their presence known, and I have to applaud both promotions for showcasing them prominently, and dominantly. More of this, please!

RAW and Smackdown: I’ve generally liked the build toward the women’s Survivor Series matches. I dig that NXT is being showcased on the bigger stages of RAW and Smackdown; only part of me does wish there was more interaction the other way around.

I think the women are doing a good job of balancing their desire to prove brand supremacy, but also prove themselves with their participation in their Survivor Series matches. It seems that particularly for Shayna, Becky, Bayley, Sasha, and Charlotte, there is something to prove about their own (kayfabe) roles in the company. And that has certainly helped me to feel invested in these match-ups just one week ahead of the pay-per-view.

The Bad
AEW/NXT: Keeping it short and sweet — I have nothing bad to say!

RAW and SD: One thing that stuck out to me in the last couple of weeks has been how nonsensical it is that Shayna and Becky have interacted physically so little. What I mean is, on two separate weeks, Shayna allowed Becky to walk free, but ambushed Bayley at the end of the same week. It seemed odd and unintentionally targeting of Bayley, and even if she did eventually give Shayna her comeuppance on NXT, it still doesn’t make sense. Why would someone as ruthless as Shayna not take the opportunity to weaken both of her opponents?

And even for Becky, whose gimmick is all about no-B.S. bravado — why would she do the same? This made evident to me that Becky has now reached the highest echelon of WWE: the very exclusive club of wrestlers who are protected in storylines. This is the only logical explanation for why WWE is minimizing her involvement in the dirtier parts of the feud — WWE is ensuring that she looks strong by having her keep a “strategic” distance from potential beatdowns. And to a degree, I understand the desire to want to protect the popularity of one of your biggest stars (particularly with Becky, compared to the sinking popularity of her fiance).

My opinion, though, is that the writers are doing this to the detriment of logic for both Shayna and Becky’s characters. Let! Them! Fight!

The Thorny
In this section I’d like to spotlight WWE. To be honest, not very much of note has been happening in the women’s division to warrant my usual “thorny” take. But as I pondered the truth in that thought, I realized that that’s sort of where we’re at right now. And after so long, the absence of substance (and in turn, critique) can also be bad.

This week on RAW, we had Becky and Charlotte acknowledge their awkward, continued association with each other in WWE storylines. Although I’m sure this was written for them to acknowledge, it still felt strange for them to plainly point out that WWE can’t seem to imagine more innovative alliances (or rivalries) in the women’s division. Their resistance to mix things up is why there are essentially no women’s title feuds going on right now.

Even with the Draft, things just feel stale, like the bread and butter of the writing has been left out just a hair too long. Being meta about unimaginative storytelling doesn’t make up for said unimaginative storytelling. Writing meta does not make better unoriginiality. So that’s where I think we are right now. As a fan I feel like we’re sitting at a long red light that won’t turn green.

Give us fresh feuds, give us characters we can care about more than once every 12 or so months. I know we deserve it.

***

Despite my general qualms about where things are going as we look past Survivor Series, I am still stoked for this Sunday. Hopefully Smackdown is able to pull out some big wins this year; perhaps as the new “flagship” show, they will.

As far as the women, which Survivor Series team or champion are you rooting for?

Stay legit bossy,

AC

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