If you’re a long time wrestling fan like me, you know how this time of year feels when it comes around. While it infamously has no off-season, wrestling — when viewed as a cyclical sport — is now entering playoff season. We’re rounding third base into home, and the payoff for months of rivalry and storyline-building is soon to come to fruition.
I unfortunately don’t have the (financial) capabilities to watch AEW pay-per-views at this time, but I am hoping to start watching those events at some point in the near future. Because of this, I have no choice but to be heavy on WWE and NXT content in this week’s Nylons.
We’ve just escaped Elimination Chamber, and although two of the three women’s matches at WrestleMania seem to be pretty clear, the outlying one is feeling the deja vu of last year’s Mania (we’ll get to that later).
Because the wrestling action of the last two weeks was on average mediocre in my opinion, I want to focus less on individual matches and more on philosophically where the women’s divisions are right now. To start, we can talk about the Good.
AEW/NXT: If there is one thing that AEW and NXT are good at with their women’s divisions, it is the consistency of the matches. On All Elite, I continue to be impressed with the likes of Big Swole and Kris Statlander in the ring, and the character work of Britt Baker on the mic. Although I am naturally partial to WWE’s style of wrestling, out of the sheer amount of exposure to it I have had for upwards of 20 years, from a truly competitive standpoint I think I may prefer All Elite. The women’s wrestling there feels a bit more authentic and individualized to each performer; the storytelling isn’t as important. I feel that unlike the men’s divisions of both companies focusing great energy on storytelling, there is a stark contrast between the women’s divisions of each company in that way: one is focused on wrestling first (AEW) and the other is focused on story first (NXT).
In NXT, I continue to be impressed with the roster depth. The women outside of the title picture feel important, and it is made clear with a majority of the women that their motivations transcend simply winning gold. We have everything from grudge matches between Tegan Nox and Dakota Kai and routine competitive contests featuring the likes of Xia Li and Shotzi Blackheart. The former being, from my observation, a dark horse of the division. Watching Xia move is like watching a video game character fight a CPU. She strikes and jumps with such grace and precision; I genuinely hopes she becomes a next generation star of NXT once some of the top women graduate.
And lastly, the match between Charlotte Flair and Bianca Belair was top tier performing from both women. I honestly had chills seeing these two finally mix it up. For me, this match solidified that Bianca simply oozes charisma. Her handsprings and butt-smacking were both entertaining and defiant in the face of the company’s top female star, and I lived for every second of it. Various wonderful spots to mention: Bianca walking up the ropes to escape a hold by Charlotte, Bianca’s interpretation of a Bitch Clamp to Charlotte, and Charlotte catching Bianca in a moonsault to counter into a Boston crab — all chef’s kiss. Indeed, Charlotte has proven that she can always outdo herself when the occasion calls for it.
Yet, as we’ll discuss in the Thorny section, the booking of this match left a sour taste.
RAW and Smackdown: I don’t have much to say in this section, but there are a couple of things I will comment on.
First, it was good to see Sasha Banks return to action. To me, she’s a performer that you don’t realize you miss until she’s gone. She’s always a reliable worker that can instantly make any match a little more interesting.
I like seeing the Riott Squad on TV and developing a feud with each other. Even if it feels a little rushed and the motives are missing, any time I see women feuding without a title involved is a victory in my book. The bar is low, but baby steps I suppose.
Elimination Chamber: Eh, unfortunately not much to say here either. I can pinpoint a couple of positives from this match, though.
The first is that the match was good before Shayna Baszler entered. I’m glad that WWE at least let Natalya, Ruby Riott, and Sarah Logan have a competitive bout before they were handily eliminated.
The second is how Shayna methodically eliminated each woman in the Chamber. I’ve seen Shayna wrestle on quite a few occasions, but this showing is one that did a good job of establishing Shayna’s intelligence and cunning strategy in the ring. She eliminated almost every woman in the match the same exact way; a tactic that shows how effective her combat style is. She knows what combinations to use for maximum damage, almost like — wait for it — an animal.
Not only that, but I was struck by just how aggressive Shayna was in this match. Her knee strikes were punishing; her swinging of Liv Morgan into the side of a pod was brutal. I can’t remember too many women who were allowed to show that level of brutality that weren’t plus-sized women. It was really something to behold, and seeing it live almost makes me want to see her do the same to Becky, whom I’ll discuss a little bit later.
AEW/NXT: A negative aspect of the AEW women’s division right now is that it seems to be undecided as to who its top stars are. I suppose this could be interpreted as a good thing — the division not being presented as hierarchical is certainly subversive when many casual fans are used to “upper” and “mid” cards in WWE. At the same time, I find myself going back to the same old gripes I had with All Elite’s women’s division initially, which is I struggle to figure out why I should care about each woman I see on my TV. For many of the women, we’re still asking the question “What drives this person to succeed?” The answer to that question can make a woman’s character, but it seems that no one, not even the commentary team, really knows how to answer that question for the women, as a whole and individually.
I don’t have any particularly negative things to say about NXT as a whole, so let’s move on to the “main” shows.
RAW and SD: Ugh, I have some big issues here.
I’ll start with RAW. It has taken nearly a year, but I think I’m finally over Becky Lynch.
She’s had probably the most significant women’s title reign of the last decade, and I will always remember her rise to and time at the top with great fondness. At the same time, I feel that WWE has almost started to run away with Becky’s “coolness” in the same way they did with her fiance Seth Rollins last summer.
I got this thought while watching RAW last week. Becky came out to interrupt a match between Kairi Sane and Shanya and posed on the ramp in a flamboyant yellow faux-fur coat. Her face was adorned with rhinestone-framed sunglasses, and she completed her look with Jerry “The King” Lawler’s crown. Al of it, including her arrogant commentary throughout the match, were too much.
One of the reasons we loved “The Man” gimmick when it began was because it was Becky essentially giving two middle fingers to kayfabe establishment politics within the WWE. She was a rebel against anything that WWE wanted her to represent. From a smark perspective, we also loved how defiant Becky was with her opponents, and how she always seemed to be wresting from beneath. Put simply, there was a valor that she carried with her proudly; she was sure of herself, but in such a way that made her feel relatable.
But, now that she’s been champion for nearly a year, she has clearly evolved. She’s started to drink her own Kool-Aid and now she’s become the establishment. And behind the scenes, WWE are now trying to manufacture her “cool” to keep Becky marketable. While it may certainly be possible that Becky still has creative control over her character, WWE’s own track record of controlling her storyline direction doesn’t give me much confidence that this is the case here. You can’t try to make someone cool — the second you try, it becomes less cool because now we can pick up on the effort being put into it.
And the thing that gets me most about Becky right now is that she has a smugness about her half of the time. She’s just a lot of trash talk and no action most weeks. It’s hard to tell if Becky’s persona and attitude are intentionally written this way, but as we’ve established numerous times in Nylons, WWE lacks basic self-awareness in most situations. Regardless though, this should be the reason that she loses to Shayna at WrestleMania: her hubris.
And as for Smackdown, I’m very disappointed that the division is once again taking a back seat to RAW. The only difference this year is that now NXT can also have a part in eclipsing Smackdown’s potential Mania match.
For a few weeks, it seemed that Naomi was staking a claim to challenge Bayley at WrestleMania. But it turns out she was only cannon fodder for Bayley at Super Showdown. Her momentum is grinding to a halt by losing to Bayley in unfocused, random tag-team action. And even if she does end up being Bayley’s challenger, it is clear once again that there is no fire behind the storyline developing between them.
If WWE went the other obvious route, that being Bayley facing Sasha, it would be rushed. Between Sasha’s absence and the continued tagging between the two, there is little to no time to build dissension that would be fitting of the two’s long history.
So here we are again — the Smackdown women’s champion with no clear challenger less than a month away from WrestleMania. Bayley is now the longest-reigning Smackdown women’s champion in history, but somehow this fact feels insignificant given the mediocre feuds she’s had along the way. Unlike Becky, Bayley has clearly only held the title for as long as she has because WWE wasn’t interested in building anyone else up to the point of it making sense to have her lose it.
You know what they say, if you don’t learn from history, you’ll end up repeating it. Which leads us to the last section.
As I mentioned earlier, Charlotte Flair faced off against Bianca Belair a couple of weeks ago on NXT. The match was great, but Bianca lost. On the last NXT of Black History Month, about a week and a half removed from Bianca’s stunning Black history-themed entrance at Takeover: Portland. And do you know what? Even as a Black woman I wasn’t even bothered that much by the latter point. This could have been a coincidence (albeit an unfortunate one).
No, I’m more mad that it was once again a woman of color bowing to Charlotte when it made zero sense for her to do so. When it was clearly her time to shine. Bianca, with this booking, fell victim to what I like to call Sasha Banks syndrome.
Sasha Banks syndrome is when a woman of color consistently (and illogically) loses to white women to the point where her credibility is diminished. See: Asuka, Bayley, Naomi, and the woman herself, Sasha Banks. After losing to the favored white women they were feuding with (the common denominator in a majority of cases being Charlotte), these women either stagnated or drifted further down the division until no one believed (in kayfabe and out) that they were worthy of challenging for a championship. Women who were once beloved by fans (and arguably more over than their white female counterparts) soon become frustrating to cheer for due to their losing streaks. Fans lose faith in their stock as they continue to lose when they go for “the big one.” And Bianca, by losing to Charlotte when she could have benefited so much by winning, is now joining this hall of shame and fumbled potential.
Bianca was rounding on a critical point in her NXT career. Yes, she lost to Rhea at Takeover, but in the weeks leading up to that show she made a strong claim for her inclusion in the title conversation at Mania. She was gaining fan support. People like me were getting on board with her gimmick and what she stood for. But in the end, if your fave never wins, how long can you stand them being your fave?
The fact that Bianca was denied an opportunity to shine on the big stage by losing clean as a whistle to Charlotte is racism in action. Just like with all of the other women who’ve gotten The Syndrome. All of the women of color that are more charismatic, more likable, and often times more talented than their white counterparts — but still must bend the knee at the end of the day. It’s super disheartening.
And it isn’t just with the women. We’ve seen men of color fall victim to the same racist booking tactics. See Shinsuke Nakamura, Andrade, Ricochet, Cedric Alexander, and Kofi Kingston. People of color, and definitely women of color, are considered lucky in WWE’s eyes to even have the opportunity to challenge for titles. That attitude carries into the booking decisions, because writers and executives think that having the mere opportunity to face big (white) stars like AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, and Charlotte is prize enough on its own for these non-white stars. Well, it isn’t. And it should never be. The narrative is often times “But the rub that _________ gets from this is huge!” or “They lose nothing in defeat here; they still look strong.” But in the end, history books reflect the winner’s name. Superstars of color deserve more than participation trophies. They deserve the big #1 trophy for their hard work.
I hope that Bianca has a strong enough sense of self to know that she’s the shit no matter where on the card she is.
Would I blame her if she didn’t? Hell no. Oppression is the disease that women of color can never seem to escape.
I hope the next time we meet I have more wide-eyed excitement to share. As these past two weeks have shown, however, every week can’t deliver magic, or else we’d forget how good the magic feels.
Stay legit bossy,