I believe I can speak for us all when I say that we were fed very well over the last week — both literally and figuratively (in terms of wrestling, of course). Because I am sure many of us took a little break from wrestling due to Thanksgiving, I am going to focus the WWE portions of this post on the pay-per-views that just passed: NXT Takeover: War Games and Survivor Series.
AEW, on the other hand, I will discuss as normal.
It seems at the moment that both promotions are focused on pushing certain female stars pretty hard, but holding (or pulling) back on others. It creates a strange balance for each women’s division that has lead to a power imbalance between main eventers and their potential challengers. Let’s dive right in.
AEW/NXT War Games: The women’s War Games match was stellar. Absolutely stunningly put together and performed by each woman. The match truly had everything: conniving heel action, suspense, drama, a power struggle, and a happy ending.
Obviously, the star of this match was Rhea Ripley. This match is one that I truly believe we will look back on as the moment that Rhea became a star. Her power, her agility, and her innovation throughout this match threaded everything together.
But, she wasn’t in the match with a bunch of stiffs. Bianca Belair, Candice LeRae, and Io Shirai also carried their weight. Bianca was able to match Rhea’s strength; her three powerbombs to Candice had me yelling at my TV in awe! Candice showed the heart that makes her character as lovable as Bayley’s NXT persona once was. And Io was both intelligent and high-risk with her spots — I mean, that moonsault from the top of the cage? Chef’s kiss.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget about the shenanigans between Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox. Dakota’s beatdown of her beloved friend was one of the most believeable I’ve seen in some time.
The way she continuously slammed the cage door into Tegan’s recovered leg was uncomfortable to watch, particularly because of how well Tegan sold it. You’d think Dakota was breaking her leg with the bloody murder Tegan was screaming. I am very excited to see what Dakota becomes in the months to come.
On the AEW side, I feel things are sort of at a standstill. Nothing bad is happening per se, and the wrestling is by all accounts good. Last week’s tag match featuring Emi Sakura and Bea Priestley along with Hikaru Shida and newcomer Kristen Stadtlander had a slow start, but more energetic finish.
With repeated exposure, I am beginning to understand the characters of the division. But, as we’ll get into in the next section, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s enough.
Survivor Series: The best part of Survivor Series to me was the traditional elimination match. I worried that the number of women involved in the match would hamper its quality with squash-like eliminations. But, each woman at least had a decent showing before they were eliminated. Not only this, but there were a few minutes between each elimination as well, something that previous women’s Survivor Series matches (with fewer participants mind you) did not achieve.
While I vehemently disagree with the booking of this match, I enjoyed that each woman felt important to the match in her own way.
And of course, I would be remiss to leave out Rhea Ripley from this discussion. I think it’s great that she is being put over so strongly as a future star of all three women’s divisions in WWE. It’s refreshing to see a woman put over for her in-ring talent over more superficial things, such as her appearance, her family relations, or mic skills (although Rhea’s are great!). Rhea’s rise feels more organic, like we actually want it, rather than WWE telling us to want it like they so often do.
Stars are made with weekends like the one that Rhea just had. I am clamoring for other women to have a moment similar to hers.
AEW/NXT War Games: What I’m currently longing for with the AEW women’s division is more opportunity for the women to get themselves over. Jim Ross mentioned on commentary last week that many of the Asian women on the roster only speak English as a second language. Because of that, I think it is likely that producers are hesitant to let any of them speak on a live mic.
However, there are a decent number of women who do speak English as a first language that aren’t even afforded the opportunity to speak week in and week out. Please correct me in the comments if I am wrong, but I believe the only women we’ve heard speak on an AEW broadcast are Britt Baker and Brandi Rhodes. Although Chris Jericho cuts a promo at least once a week, Riho isn’t even on TV every edition of Dynamite.
Promos, or more plainly the act of speaking, is the wrestler’s opportunity to connect with the audience. To get over. Particularly for a division that is not depending on indie-recognition to get itself over with fans, it is all the more important to let the women get their characters across to viewers. Otherwise, to new fans like me, it just looks like people wearing costumes throwing each other around a ring. Life must be breathed into every woman, English speaking or not.
As for NXT War Games, there isn’t a bad thing to say.
Survivor Series: I loathed the booking of the traditional elimination match. Absolutely hated it. And even though I’ve since simmered down from watching the match play out live, I still maintain that the finish of this match defied logic. I’ll explain.
Firstly, there’s the fact that Io Shirai and Candice LeRae weren’t able to really compete in the match. While I will admit it made sense for those two to be the ones to miss out, because they began the War Games match the night before, it still ultimately meant that the level of wrestling in the match was instantly diminished with less NXT talent in there.
Second, there is the frustration that two of NXT’s competitors were essentially taken out of the match only to return later. Trick or not, I feel that WWE too inconsistently enforces the whole Fake Injury in the Middle of a Match thing for me to believe that both Io and Candice were allowed to simply return to the match without incident. Becky Lynch was allowed to just enter the Royal Rumble this year because of Lana’s injury, and it was debated in storyline for weeks whether or not she was an official entrant in the match. But particularly in that instance, Lana was taken out of the match because she went to the back. When things like this happen, it makes me wish WWE had a rulebook. But then I remember that WWE likely hasn’t implemented this for the very reason the angle took place at Survivor Series: so they can bend their unspoken rules when it’s convenient.
And lastly, I did not like this booking because to me, it made NXT seem like the heels of the match. This was a screwy finish that essentially made it look like NXT thought they needed to cheat to win, which is what heels do. I get that they were being led by a “Cerebral Assassin.” I still feel that this potentially made NXT look weak and conniving when they really didn’t need it, especially when they were being led by a defiant babyface like Rhea.
The only potential upside is that this finish protected the main roster most convincingly. It took NXT scheming a bit to get rid of Sasha Banks, and the main roster teams can (in kayfabe) claim that they didn’t lose fair and square.
Ultimately, if NXT is going to be involved annually with Survivor Series, they should shift War Games to another part of the year. This might have worked this year, but it can’t every year.
I know I’ve spoken at great length about the elimination match, but I did want to touch briefly on the women’s champion triple threat. The match was very underwhelming, and played out predictably.
I wanted desperately to love this match, but it just never kicked into that higher gear to make it a main event caliber match. It was sliggish at parts, and if I’m being honest, Shayna just didn’t seem to gel with Becky and Bayley in the ring.
The star of this match was Bayley, who had a great showing throughout the match. But of course, as the feud led us to believe, she was the one to take the pinfall. And after Shayna’s big win, topping off the night for NXT, Becky effectively stole the spotlight from her.
I did not like the way they booked Becky at the end of this match. It was almost as if Triple H convinced the bookers to let NXT take the night, but WWE execs at the last minute were like “Okay, but we gotta keep Becky looking strong.” She acted very cocky here, beating up Shayna and holding out her arms at her sides soaking in the cheers from the crowd. Had a heel done this, WWE would expect us to boo them. But because it was Becky, we were supposed to…..accept it? Well, I don’t. And I don’t think you should, either.
If you’re going to have Becky lose, just have her lose. Especially since Bayley wasn’t afforded the same luxury in this match.
I am simply unsure where things are going right now for the women in either promotion. I’m not sure if it is because it’s the end of the year, but it just seems like things are going nowhere. Matches are made and wrestled just for the sake of it, with no clear storylines or rivalries tying them together.
Rhea Ripley has been the through-line of most of the discussion here surrounding WWE, but we can use her as a general example for both promotions. What WWE is doing with Rhea right now is how you effectively build a star, a new challenger for a title. People are saying that she’s being pushed strongly, but when I was growing up, her treatment was simply the norm for pushing people in any division. Give them dominant victories. Let them cut promos. Invest in them in the most basic way.
While AEW cannot seem to let their women speak, WWE can’t seem to let more than a handful of their women win or look strong at any given time. And that is why we have no clear challengers for any women’s title across either promotion. Nearly every woman should be given the support that a Charlotte, a Rhea, a Becky, or even a Shayna has. But instead we wait, and we watch, and we hope that our lesser-pushed faves will get a shot one day.
One of the better things about the women’s wrestling of the aughts was that the majority of the women on a given roster could at least say they’d won their division’s title more than once. Now, it seems like a gift to any woman to win a championship one time, if at all. We must continue being honest with ourselves about this if it will one day change. Complacency will only become the norm if we let it.
Nearing the end of the year, it is time to start thinking about what we’ve all accomplished this year, and what we hope to achieve in the next. I can only hope the wrestling world is starting think critically about their 2020 vision for women’s wrestling.
Stay legit bossy,