Happy 2020 wrestling fans!
It’s good to be back here with you all, hashing out what we love (and hate) about women’s wrestling in WWE and AEW. We have a lot of ground to cover so far this year, starting with the Royal Rumble and its aftermath. Because I see the new year as a fresh start to wrestling storytelling, we won’t discuss any “Thorny” this week, since I don’t think we’ve yet had the time to pinpoint any insidious habits forming for women’s storytelling.
Let’s get straight into it!
Royal Rumble: I generally thought the women’s Rumble this year was good, albeit not very memorable in my opinion. I am thankful as a women’s wrestling fan that the women actually got a standard Rumble, and not what the men got (wherein Brock Lesnar discarded the entire first half of the entrants, the majority being men of color, within seconds). I still feel that the women could work on threading the bigger spots of the match together, making the countdowns to each new entrant less noticeable. Their biggest struggle seems to be not knowing how to visually keep the pacing of the match up throughout, rather than having highs and lows and lulls like they seem to now.
Speaking of great spots, I thought the near-elimination for Mandy Rose into Otis’ arms was cute. Naomi’s return had me glowing (pun intended), especially seeing her display her natural hair, a rarity for Black women in WWE, historically speaking. Her annual journey-back-to-the-ring stunt this year had me screaming at my TV; she never fails to amaze!
And we’d be remiss to not talk about Bianca Belair. She had an awesome showing in the Rumble this year, with eight eliminations over the course of half an hour. I’m so glad they gave her the honor of breaking Michelle McCool’s former record in the women’s iteration of the match. Shayna Baszler also swooped in at #30 to just about match Bianca’s new record, but given Bianca started in the match at #2, I think we can all agree in the opinion that her elimination record holds a bit more weight.
To close out our talk of the Rumble, I did really enjoy the match between Becky Lynch and Asuka for the RAW women’s championship. This match started off slow, but it earned my investment in the second and third act. Both women proved that they have chemistry in the ring, and they can match each other’s intensity to bring out the best in one another. I’m so glad to be reminded of Asuka’s wrestling skills and general badassery in matches where she’s allowed to show off a bit.
Also, I liked the finish to the match. The story going into this match was that Becky needed to prove to herself that she could beat Asuka, since Asuka had her number. It was almost shades of Shawn Michaels desperate to defeat the Undertaker, only the result was positive for the obsessive party. Just like Michaels before her, it seemed that Becky had Asuka scouted and was able to anticipate her tricks. Becky caught Asuka just a moment before she spit out her green mist, kicking the Kabuki Warrior in the gut and launching the mist into the air. Blinded herself, Asuka fell prey to Becky’s submission. I was okay with this finish because it made Becky look intelligent, rather than making Asuka look foolish. And, since Asuka still holds a championship, she doesn’t lose credibility in defeat (as she has so often in the past). Great job to all involved!
RAW and SD: I’m happy to report that I encountered some pleasant surprises on RAW and Smackdown in the last couple of weeks!
First is a random match between Natalya and Asuka. I had this match on TV sort of half-watching it at first, but both women’s fire lured me into full focus of the action. An unlikely pairing, both women actually seemed to compliment each other very well. They are both technical, but in very different ways: Natalya of the Hart variety, a wrestler’s wrestler in the Western sense of the word; Asuka of the Japanese tradition, with a mix of high-flying and cutting strikes in her arsenal.
The action was back and forth with a good mix of power moves, mat-based wrestling, and chain wrestling. And it all occurred for seemingly no reason. I hope WWE does matches like these more often; something the women’s divisions sorely need is more mixing it up between competitors, so women can feasibly feud together down the line and have entertaining matches.
We were also treated to a RAW women’s title rematch between Asuka and Becky that was phenomenal. The way these two women were so fluid with one another, reversing each other’s moves, running the ropes chasing one another, throwing each other around, and busting out pinning combinations….whew! They truly are magic together in the ring, and I wish they could “fight forever” as fans say. But, I guess they won’t because…Shayna Baszler has to suck Becky’s blood?
Second, I like Zelina Vega’s direction. After Andrade’s suspension, many feared that Zelina would be pulled off TV as well by association. But, instead, they seem to be expanding her manager role to new “clients” — enter Angel Garza. While managers, especially female ones, are often beholden to their male counterparts, having Zelina keep her books open seems more realistic. After all, real-life managers often have a handful of clients, right? Increasing Zelina’s catalog of success stories can only make her a more powerful woman in kayfabe. In this way, it’s great to be exploring different ways women can have power outside of the ropes in WWE.
On Smackdown, I seriously enjoyed the fatal four-way between Dana Brooke, Carmella, Naomi, and Alexa Bliss. The match never slowed down from a sprint after the bell rang. Each woman got their stuff in, and the mashups between the four were fun in any combination. Naomi was obviously the one that was put over hardest in the match, as she seemed to be white hot from bell to bell. Given the promo that she cut on Bayley a couple of weeks ago, it appears that will likely be the Mania match for the Smackdown title. But, you never know!
In any case, I appreciated Carmella being the victor, sneaking in a quick pinfall as a callback to her 24/7 title shenanigans with R-Truth. Similar to the Nattie/Asuka match on RAW that I discussed earlier, I want more of these matches. The women are clearly hungry for them, because any time they’re given more than 10 minutes, they show out.
Lastly, welcome back Ruby Riott! With Naomi returning to TV as well, I’m glad to see the nearly-forgotten ladies of WWE slowly making their comebacks. Now, if only Sasha Banks could get things back together…
AEW/NXT: I first have to talk about NXT, because for the first time since becoming an NXT follower, I am excited about the women’s title scene, and its potential future.
Last week on NXT, we had Charlotte Flair visit NXT to supposedly respond to Rhea Ripley’s challenge for the NXT title at WrestleMania. While she (of course!) didn’t respond, we were treated to something intriguing nonetheless. A loud force who literally would not be ignored: Bianca Belair.
Now, when Charlotte won the Rumble, I was upset. As avid readers likely know by this point, I am in the Charlotte Is Overpushed Camp. She has hoarded the wealth of opportunities in the women’s division for essentially her entire time on the main roster, and I was disheartened to see yet another accolade be added to her already long list of accolades. Especially since it had the potential to take away an opportunity for an NXT girl to have their moment with their roster-mate at Mania.
But, Bianca is challenging Rhea at the next Takeover, which means that she is awkwardly in the middle of this long-term booking. And I truly thought that she would stay an afterthought, until last week, when she physically inserted herself between Charlotte and Rhea.
I would like to point out that the very segment itself between the three of them was how women of color are often treated in WWE: screaming from the margins, trying to be noticed, frustrated, and being belittled or ignored by the white women in the spotlight. Their invisibility is often accepted — but Bianca was having none of it. Rocking a white tank with “MELANIN” written on it (a nod to her Blackness), she told both Charlotte and Rhea to watch themselves. And in doing so, she earned the respect of Rhea, who joined her in slamming Charlotte to the mat.
And seeing this segment, seeing the three of these women staring at each other, it hit me: this is the match. This is the money. Charlotte vs. Rhea would be a good match, but when it was first teased I wasn’t too thrilled about it; it seemed two-dimensional. But with the addition of Bianca, a wild card, the match could have depth. The match needs an unpredictability that only a third competitor like Bianca could bring. And the three of these women in various combinations over the last 4 or so months, since Survivor Series and NXT War Games, have been each their own treat to witness. It’s power vs. power vs. power, and charisma to the third degree. I sincerely hope that Bianca Kofi-Kingstons her way into this match. If she does, WWE can take all of my money!!!
As for AEW, I am still appreciating the increasing depth of the women’s division, with new women still being introduced on a regular basis. Last week, I enjoyed seeing Yuka Sakazaki, or “The Magical Girl,” fly around the ring and pick up a surprise victory over Britt Baker. It is amazing to see how committed to gimmicks female Japanese wrestlers are; they really do see themselves as characters, almost as if they are playing characters in an anime (not to sound patronizing). As I watched Yuka mount the ropes so gracefully and give a flying Thesz press to Britt, I immediately thought that she she felt magical in that moment.
At the same time, I like what AEW is doing with Britt Baker currently. The reviews of her heel turn so far seem to be mixed, but I personally enjoy that she just seems to be going....bad. In the most basic sense. In WWE, we are so used to seeing heel women as mean girls and bullies, who get off on making fun of other women’s looks or other innocuous things. Instead of a catty heel, Britt just seems to be a straight up, capital B Bitch. She thinks she is better than everyone else, and inflicts pain on her opponents just because she can. When she “broke” Yuka’s tooth last week, I instantly felt shades of Randy Orton, a perfect example of a sadistic heel with mysterious motivations (if any). I could be wrong, but it feels that AEW is going that route, and I’m glad that they are going there with a woman. The division doesn’t need schoolyard bullies. It needs real witches with real powers.
My Bads for this week are more broad to each product.
Royal Rumble: The culmination of Lacey Evans’ face turn came at the Royal Rumble, when she faced Bayley for the Smackdown women’s championship. And as I talked at length about at the end of last year, I couldn’t give two hoots about this change in character. The match between the two played out as a plodding and unexciting match, with a surprising finish storyline-wise: Bayley retaining. While from a fan standpoint I welcome Bayley holding on to the title, from a kayfabe standpoint I don’t understand why Lacey lost. I suppose WWE reconsidered her readiness for the responsibilities a titleholder has. But, the way they built this storyline, it just calls into question what the point of painting Lacey as this heroic figure was, if not to eventually strap her.
I would also be complaining if the result was the other way, which is I suppose proof that this feud just didn’t need to happen to begin with.
RAW and SD: On RAW, the entire storyline between Lana, Bobby Lashley, Rusev, and Liv Morgan has been excruciatingly bad television. To be honest, most of it took place during my break from wrestling television, but the bits that I’ve seen have contained the worst acting I’ve seen in a while on WWE TV by Lana. Since she’s been playing her current role for so long now, it is hard to tell if she is acting badly and over-the-top ironically. But I wish she would stop — my ears hurt.
I hope Liv Morgan moves on to greener pastures, because she was always the secret weapon of the Riott Squad when she was a part of it. Perhaps she can reignite her fire in the ring opposite her former teammate, Ruby Riott.
On Smackdown, I am mostly disappointed that the action for the women is inconsistent. Some weeks we have awesome multi-woman matches, and others we have Bayley squashing someone in 4 minutes. This only further reinforces the consistent problem we’ve had on Smackdown for the majority of Bayley’s reign: no clear contenders for her title. We need to see the women having regular scraps, to build chemistry and create interesting matchups for later feuds. I see an inkling of this happening, with Bayley facing Carmella, and likely Naomi in the future, so let us hope the focus stays long after WrestleMania.
AEW/NXT: As usual, NXT is the star student of Nylons. I have nothing bad to say.
On AEW, the worst thing I watched in the last few weeks was a match between Big Swole and Nyla Rose. I really wanted to like the match and appreciated its existence on the card. But these two women did not have chemistry. I can chalk this up to the newness of the roster and match-ups that the women’s division is working with in All Elite; as the division solidifies and the women get to work with each other more often, they will be able to fit their wrestling styles to different types of opponents.
The weakness of this match was that it seemed to be going in slow motion. Each moved felt really thought out, and the transitions were slow. On their own, both women are great! Polishing will make them more flexible in the ring with various wrestling styles.
After a mini hiatus from watching wrestling over the holidays and most of January, I am becoming giddy, as so many of us are, for WrestleMania season. Things are looking promising so far, and I wonder what AEW has up their sleeve for the big weekend in April.
With the likes of Shayna, Rhea, Britt, and Nyla, writers are letting women go there with their stories. Hopefully they lead the charge to an exciting 2020!
Stay legit bossy,