Nylons and Midriffs: Back in My Day (February 26, 2020)

Good day, wrestling fans! I’m back here on your tiny screens to describe how the scenery is looking on the Road to WrestleMania so far. NXT Takeover: Portland has passed, and AEW Revolution is around the corner as well. And in the midst of these events, we’ve been bearing witness to some awesome women’s wrestling, in my humble opinion.

It should come as a surprise to none that I found the women’s bouts at NXT Takeover: Portland to be excellent. As such, I’ll only be discussing that show in the “Good” section this week.

So, with dreamy eyes, let’s take a look.

The Good
AEW: For a change of pace, let me start off with All Elite. The AEW women’s world championship match between Riho and Nyla Rose was spectacular. A match that shouldn’t have even been possible given the size difference, I saw a solid, competitive match between two women who have surprising chemistry. I loved that Nyla could show off her brute strength in a realistic way, and also that she took to the ropes for spots too (like her diving knee to a slain Riho in the ropes).

But the showcase of this match was Riho, and I was happy to see she was given the spotlight in her last match as champion. Her flexibility and agility led us to surprising nearfalls; I couldn’t believe she was able to pull off three suplexes on Nyla!! Overall, I left this match with the impression that these women have so much to offer the women’s division.

And Nyla’s title win….goodness. I found myself tearing up on my couch as she raised that title in the air. The significance of that day — when a trans woman won a world title on a wrestling show on a cable TV network — can never be taken away from Nyla. I am excited to see how she interacts with the likes of Big Swole and Kris Statlander in the weeks to come.

Another brilliant segment for a woman on AEW TV recently was the promo that Britt Baker cut on Tony Schiavone (specifically on the February 12 edition). I’m not sure why this promo spoke to me so much, but if you watch it, you can truly find the essence of everything great about professional wrestling in the span of about 5 minutes.

Tony was asking Britt for a motive behind her attack on Yuka Sakazaki the week before, wherein the doctor “extracted” a tooth from Yuka’s mouth with excessive force, if you will. Britt’s arrogant response was brilliant. Britt is ingeniously intertwining her real life doctoral knowledge as a dentist and working it into her gimmick in a way that makes her loathsome to us. She is the self-righteous heel who thinks she’s a role model, and at the same time speaks condescendingly to people in language she knows they can’t understand.

The intricacies of this promo are what made it great: Britt’s dental jargon, her comment about doing Yuka a favor by taking out her tooth for free when she likely didn’t have healthcare, the cuts to the crowd booing during her pauses. The cherry on top was when she disparaged the fans for eating too much Whataburger, and J.R. said on commentary “That’s sacrilegious!” — it was all so dramatic without being overdone somehow. This was a microcosm of what good professional wrestling is supposed to do. At its best, it riles us up and makes us hate or love the people we’re watching in the ring, all while telling a story. This promo solidified for me that Britt’s character is going into a solid direction, and it feels like she’s having fun seeing where it takes her. This is the kind of character development the division needs, so keep it up!

NXT Takeover: Portland: Both matches featuring women shone in different ways, but whatever the flavor, we were fed some decent portions.

In the street fight between Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai, the bad blood was sold between both women very well. I think the two women delivered well with the stipulation they were given with some hard hitting spots. Some of my favorites included Dakota’s bitch slap to Tegan with the trash can lid, Tegan’s Molly Go Round, and Dakota cleverly throwing a chair into Tegan’s hands only to kick her in the face with it. The intensity and intent to make this match great was there from the beginning, and even if the table spot at the end didn’t go as planned, I don’t think that cancels out the goodness of the rest of the match.

And of course, there was the NXT women’s title match between champ Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair. As expected, this match delivered, from Bianca’s fabulous (pro-Black) entrance to Rhea’s unexpected pinfall.

The story of this match was that both women wanted to overpower each other in the most literal way. Rhea battered Bianca with strikes and clotheslines, while Bianca hoisted Rhea up in the air and out of the ring. I loved the slap-fest between the two in the corner, ending with Bianca’s punishing hair whip and gorilla press. Indeed, this match exemplified how much Bianca has improved in the ring; she looked crisp as ever in this match, and made a strong case for her potential inclusion in the title match at Mania.

But, Rhea was no slouch. She was able to win because she had ring smarts. If you watch the match closely, you will notice multiple points where Rhea was able to either thwart Bianca’s power moves or move in such a way as to minimize impact. Preserving herself throughout the match gave her logically enough left in the tank to best Bianca in the end. We have a few weeks until WrestleMania to discuss Rhea vs. Charlotte, so I will end this by saying that you should give this match a watch if you have the time.

RAW and Smackdown: Smackdown takes the cake in this section for the week. I’ve been enjoying the matches from Bayley, Carmella, and Naomi in the last two weeks. First, Carmella’s match with Bayley reminded us of just how skilled the Princess of Staten Island is between the ropes. It is refreshing to see Carmella wrestling again!

I also noticed in this match how Bayley has really come into her own as a heel. She gets everything right, down to the smallest details. Here, she did such sneaky things as hiding behind the referee only to attack Carmella once she’d turned her back, and rolling out of the ring after Mella’s flurry of pinfall attempts. Bayley’s mind is always thinking ahead as far as how she can keep her precious title; she has fun playing coward so long as it keeps her in the winner’s circle.

Naomi also continues to prove she hasn’t lost a step since being away from the ring. She and Carmella have similar in-ring (leg-based) offense, so their match against one another was a natural fit. It was pleasant to watch overall, even if at points the transitions were a little slow.

The Bad
AEW/NXT: In a shocking first, I don’t have anything bad to say about AEW! I like that the women’s division is finally becoming fleshed out. They just needed a little time.

On NXT, the only negative critique I can conjure is the match on last week’s episode between Kayden Carter and Chelsea Green. But this match isn’t here for its quality — it’s here because of what happened in the middle of it.

Bianca Belair came to the ring to call out Charlotte Flair in the middle of this match and it….didn’t make sense? Why would she need to interrupt a whole match? Why did the ref allow her to interrupt? Why couldn’t this have just been a separate backstage segment? NXT rarely has the issue of giving women their own segments, so this felt out of character for the brand. Both the match and Bianca’s callout could have had more impact if they weren’t occurring simultaneously. This seemed to be an attempt to cram women’s storylines into as few segments as possible, when it otherwise wasn’t needed.

RAW and SD: This time RAW takes the cake. I have one question: why is Natalya, a singles star, feuding with a tag team? After a couple good months, the Kabuki Warriors are back to black; floating through the women’s division and having singles matches when they should be scoping out new competition for the gold things around their waists.

I don’t see how anyone wins in this “feud” — it seems that the Kabuki Warriors keep getting the upper hand, so what do they gain from beating a singles competitor? If Natalya clearly can’t win in this feud, why would she be bothering to pick the fights in the first place?

I’m begging someone, anyone, to intervene and make these titles matter. Put women together and make them stay together. A women’s tag division could be amazing and subversive. But, maybe these titles came at the wrong time. WWE as a whole couldn’t prioritize tag team wrestling even before there were women’s tag titles. So, I suppose it was foolish of us to believe they would change their tune after the belts were born.

The Thorny
I want to talk about a peculiar promo that Charlotte Flair cut the night after NXT Takeover: Portland. And before you roll your eyes, my issues with the promo aren’t with Charlotte, specifically, but more the content of what was said.

In this promo, Charlotte essentially said that Rhea Ripley was entitled and disrespectful toward her. She lectured about how hard she had to struggle to put the NXT women’s title on the map, and that Rhea had a lot of nerve to step to her on “her” show to challenge her at WrestleMania. She took very much the tone of a parent talking down to their child, telling them that they ought to be grateful that their parents had to struggle in order for their childhood to be easier than theirs was. And I suppose as an idea, there is nothing wrong with a parent coming to terms with the reality that their kids struggle less than they did. At the same time, it is how this idea is presented to the child that matters, particularly whether or not they weaponize this fact against their child.

It is something I have noticed in the last two years or so: the more tenured women of WWE seeming to be varying degrees of bitter about how far the new guard of women have come. There is a hue of jealousy from these veterans in-kayfabe that the newer women have it “easier.” Do we remember when Mickie James was feuding with Alexa Bliss? When Trish Stratus returned to face Charlotte? when the Bellas feuded with Ronda Rousey? Whether face or heel, the more veteran women had a mouthful for their less experienced opponents. The argument from these women at their core was something along the lines of the following: the younger women should show more respect toward their foremothers for the struggles they endured so that the youngins could exist. And again, I’d like to say that respecting legacy is not bad. But how long are the new guard meant to be humble? Must they be shackled to the past?

It is interesting to consider just how often this motivation is used in women’s storylines, when we rarely if ever see it used with the men. And that in itself is incredible, considering the sheer number of Ruthless Aggression (and even Attitude!) era stars that are still active roster members or feature attractions in the men’s divisions. You won’t hear Goldberg telling the Fiend to “pay his respects” to the men that came before him. No, this phenomenon is more exclusive to marginalized groups.

It is logical for many Black folks that lived through segregation, women that rode second wave feminism, or queer folks that survived the AIDS epidemic to believe that today’s generations “have it easy.” Yes, they tolerated so that we didn’t have to. And yet, what they do not see is how these oppressions have evolved over time, even past these moments in history. Bringing it back to wrestling, yes — more women of color than ever are under WWE payroll. But they still often have to fight to be seen on TV or challenge for major titles. Women as a whole can now wrestle just like the men, but they still are relegated to smaller sections of weekly TV shows.

So when Charlotte scoffs at Rhea’s “disrespect,” she is ignoring the new hurdles that her successors are having to jump over to maintain the track that was built for them by previous generations. Just because their struggles look different than hers, doesn’t mean that they are invalid. There is no finish line when there is still a race to be run.

Ultimately, this motivation minimizes the work of Charlotte and women of her NXT generation. The whole point of them pushing for change in the women’s division was so that future generations of women didn’t have to. In and out of storyline, that should be what we’re made to believe. We cannot continue to write women to be catty, jealous athletes who don’t want to see those after them succeed. It does not service the women, or the division, in a meaningful way.

Until next time, friends!

Stay legit bossy,

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