Ho Ho Ho and so forth!
We are a fortnight away from a new decade and closing yet another chapter to women’s wrestling history. But before we look back fondly (or otherwise) on the year that was, let’s take one more dive into the weekly happenings of WWE, NXT, and AEW for the women.
Because the last pay-per-view for WWE just happened on Sunday, we’ll spend much of our WWE-focused time going through Tables, Ladders, and Chairs. But, I still have a few bones to pick with Smackdown toward the end.
We have no time to waste! The ’20’s are on our tail…
AEW/NXT: On NXT, I am enjoying the new direction for Dakota Kai and her developing feud with Mia Yim. In such a short time, the two women have cultivated a believable disdain for one another that will be sure to create an exciting bout.
Additionally, I am glad that Rhea Ripley has finally secured a championship win against Shayna Baszler. I really think Rhea was a clearly formidable challenger for Shayna’s title and proved to be a convincing conqueror of the former MMA grappler. As Mauro Ranallo said, the tide has surely changed!
As for AEW, I am really sorry friends, but I just can’t find anything especially good to say. Things are just there. Matches just happen. Brandi cuts a cryptic promo. But that’s it.
The division is still growing with new stars on seemingly a weekly basis, with a new star Big Swole showing herself in an athletic match against Emi Sakura. But the division desperately needs something. It needs an X-factor and powerful voices to carry it along.
Tables, Ladders, and Chairs: The lone women’s match on the pay-per-view was the women’s tag team championship match between the Kabuki Warriors and Becky Lynch & Charlotte Flair. I want to first focus on the positives of this match, because the negativity surrounding it has more than overtaken the discourse.
First off, we have to recognize yet another first that this match represented. Our first-ever women’s tag team championship main event TLC match. When we look back on this match in a decade, I’m positive that it will be remembered as a flagpole match for the women’s division, rather than just That Match Where Kairi Got Hurt Real Bad.
I actually really enjoyed the first half of this match and thought the back-and-forth action was entertaining. Kairi and Asuka were clever as always looking out for one another, dragging the defensive Warrior out of harm’s way while still weakening their opponents. The use of weapons was creative as well; the use of the rope to whip each other throughout the match, their tying of Becky to a ladder, and the fire extinguisher spot by Kairi were good, clean, wrestling fun.
I also have to commend Becky and Asuka for the way they looked out for Kairi in this match once she was concussed. Yes, I’ve left out Charlotte for a reason, and we’ll get to that. But once again, it was encouraging to see the women call audibles to look out for their own. Wrestling in that way is still a team sport.
AEW/NXT: There was a contest between Xia Li and Shayna Baszler a couple of weeks ago that I wish was given more time. Xia Li is an up-and-coming star, and Shayna was, of course, the champion, so I think both women could have benefited from this match going on for another 5-7 minutes.
Perhaps I missed a crucial period in her reign wherein she “proved” herself in the ring more regularly, but to me it seems that Shayna’s graduated to the tier of “protected star” that only competes on special occasion. Regardless, they could have saved this match if they weren’t going to use it to effectively build either woman. Xia, being new, doesn’t need to be challenging the champion at this point either. To me, it just didn’t make sense.
As for AEW, they finally used a tactic overused by their rival promotion: they went meta. In her mysterious Nightmare Collective promo last week, Brandi Rhodes made reference to the fact that we have not seen champion Riho on TV in weeks. Yes Brandi, we know. Thank you for letting us know that you do, too!
To repeat takeaways I’ve discussed here before, acknowledging your shortcomings doesn’t make up for them. It’s still a shortcoming. I think Brandi was a little more clever and comical about it than WWE typically is, but it still doesn’t excuse the fact that the women’s champion is the least visible on the roster. If All Elite is going to have the title on Riho over other women, she needs to be just as present as them. The champion of a division is sort of like the head of the division for a given time. Who it is and how they’re booked can say a lot about how the company views their division. If Riho is the champ, but the writers don’t care about getting her over, what does that say about AEW’s perception of the whole division?
WWT TLC: Oof. Where do we start.
As I discussed the positives of the first half of the tag match above, I have to say plainly that the second half of the match wasn’t good. Although I’ve put it in the “Bad” section, I am hesitant to say it was flat out bad. I do believe those four women put it all out there and gave it their best, and worked as well as they could with the cards they were dealt generally speaking.
Because of Kairi’s concussion, the action came nearly to a screeching halt at points. Re-watching it after news broke about Kairi’s concussion made me feel all the more sorry for just how long she had to stay in that match injured. In the wake of this, I think a larger discussion about competing limits when someone is injured in a match are warranted. In a sport like football or basketball, if someone is concussed, they’re immediately taken out of the game. But wrestling, because it’s classified as entertainment and not a sport, doesn’t work that way, even if it should.
But the worst thing about this match was what a specific wrestler didn’t do to help the situation: Charlotte Flair.
I’d first like to qualify some positions that disagree with mine. Some fans have said that it’s possible Charlotte did not realize that Kairi was out of it. That is probable. I’ve seen from others online who were at the event live that it appeared that Charlotte showed more care off-camera. I wasn’t there live, so yes, that could be.
However, as a writer and fan I have to simply write it as I see it. And from the camera angles that were served to us home viewers, it seemed that Charlotte acted not only carelessly, but selfishly.
About halfway through the match, Charlotte delivers a suplex to Kairi by launching her into the outside barricade. It was after this point that Kairi began moving differently in the match. Kairi stumbled and held her head, and slumped her way through the motions of the match. There was a point where Charlotte went for a spear on Kairi, and Kairi wasn’t able to take the spear properly. After watching Kairi no-sell the spear, Charlotte slaps her (presumably to cover for this botch, which I suppose is fair) and proceeds to lift a limp Kairi up for a heavy powerbomb. This is where I find it difficult to argue that Charlotte was doing anything but trying to save her own face.
There are only two reasons that could explain why Charlotte continued to inflict pain upon Kairi at the points she did: she either could not tell that Kairi was out of it, or she did but did not care. You have to call a spade a spade. Neither one of these explanations are acceptable or a good look for the Queen.
As a wrestler, it is your job to look out for your opponents. They are your peers, your community, your coworkers. And most importantly, you hold their lives in your hands with everything you do between those ropes. You cannot simply ignore very clear cues that someone is injured in a match because you are “in the zone” or trying to play to the crowd. And if you do pick up on something not being right, you definitely don’t deliver a powerbomb to that injured person.
I believe Charlotte is a high caliber performer. And yet, I think that very trait about her is what caused her to act the way that she did during that match. She knows that she has a reputation to uphold as one of (if not the) top star of the women’s division. She is always seeking to look strong, but this time it was to the detriment of someone else.
Charlotte should not be above critique because of her place in the company. She must be held accountable for her mistakes. At the same time, wrestling will always entail accidents like the one that happened on Sunday. Wrestlers are people, and people make mistakes. We shouldn’t hold this over Charlotte forever. And we definitely should not use this as a reason to never have women main event, or do women’s TLC matches. Let’s remember that the men were given a decades-long head start on many of these stipulation matches. The women will need to learn, fail, win, and make mistakes just like the men did before them. Let’s leave them space to do that without crying wolf.
In this section, we have to flesh out the current problems with the new direction for someone that WWE refuses to give up on, for better or worse: Lacey Evans.
You might have noticed that on the last few weeks of WWE TV, she has entered into a feud with Sasha Banks and champ Bayley. As you might have also noticed, Bayley and Sasha are currently heels, meaning that Lacey in this feud has been portrayed as a face.
Plainly, none of us, just about two decades into the millennium, should accept a 1950’s housewife gimmick as positive. Full stop. Of course, it isn’t the femininity of Lacey’s gimmick that makes her babyface portrayal distasteful. It is the way that WWE is going about manipulating fans into her corner.
WWE is strategic in what parts of Lacey’s gimmick they want to milk to get fans on her side. What are two of the most unobjectionable occupations in the United States? Being a mother and being a veteran. In the promo she cut against Sasha last week, Lacey ferociously defended the honor of her child, like any lioness would, to applause from the crowd. She also touted her toughness, having been in the Marines.
Now, before I go any further, I would like to state that I am not anti-motherhood or anti-veteran. Specifically for veterans, I am simply critical of our country’s tendency to cloak imperialism and colonialism with a veil of “patriotism,” as well as citizens’ general degradation of all other lines of work in U.S. as less brave or noble than being in the military. Additionally, there is the fact that we spend so much money on our military (to fund wars that often are unnecessary) over things that would improve the lives of everyday Americans, like education or infrastructure. I could go on.
But WWE having Lacey now incorporate heavily her veteran status into her character, coupled with the traditional, feminine undertones of motherhood, seems like WWE promoting an ideal, especially embodied by a blonde, conventionally attractive white woman. When Lacey makes comments about her military status, but juxtaposes them with how she laboriously made Thanksgiving dinner for 20+ people, she is asking fans to applaud these seemingly unobjectionable traits.
Her gimmick is regressive because it confirms traditional womanhood and women’s place within patriarchy by combining unending support for the military industrial complex with a steadfast duty to motherhood and domesticity. She makes a great foil to Sasha and Bayley, two women who have essentially said “screw you” to respectability politics as powerful women in their division. I don’t find it to be a coincidence either that the guinea pigs for Lacey’s face turn are two women of color.
But of course, in the world of WWE, Lacey is being pushed as a face for the reasons I’ve described. And it should be unsurprising to us all, considering Smackdown’s move to a Big Four network, particularly one with older viewers and more conservative leanings.
I can only hope that fans don’t fall for the tricks. But, it is unlikely that the majority of casual fans would reject a proud, white military mom. And so, with a woman who is “so traditional” playing hero in 2019, we have to wonder how far we really have come for women’s representation.
We are only about a month away from the Road to WrestleMania — and whatever AEW has cooking in their offices to compete with the big dogs in April. Hopefully next year I have more to say about the latter promotion, with more time for them to adopt a more mature and settled approach to their storyline building.
Join me in a couple of weeks to look back on the year that was. Until next time!
Stay legit bossy,