The oddest WrestleMania in history has come and gone, folks. And well, with all due respect to AEW, I think the historic nature of WrestleMania this year requires me to focus on it exclusively this week. Still, I will give some general thoughts on AEW at the end of this post.
All in all, I like many fans enjoyed WrestleMania more than I thought I would. However, the long-term implications of some of the booking decisions has me scratching my head at best and actively raging at worst. Without wasting any more time, let’s talk about each women’s match on the main card. When we’ve reviewed each bout, I’ll zoom out and talk about the Good, Bad, and Thorny.
Women’s Tag Team Championship: The Kabuki Warriors (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross: This was quite a fun match between these two teams! Essentially the glue of the women’s tag team division, both teams displayed wonderful chemistry and energy to begin WrestleMania weekend.
Asuka and Kairi Sane worked seamlessly as a tag team, isolating their opponents and “cutting the ring in half” to effectively weaken them. This match reminded us that both Japanese stars are first-class competitors. They were also the snottiest little heels, with vicious tactics such as smearing Alexa’s face with boots and pulling her hair when she was down.
Although I don’t normally care for their matches, I was also very impressed with Nikki and Alexa’s work in this match. It was evident that Kairi and Asuka forced them to step up their ring game. They both used the Kabuki Warriors’ own momentum against them, countering their power moves and escaping their charging attempts in the corners of the ring. And with every escape or strike or clothesline, both Alexa and Nikki sold their grit in a convincing way.
I hope their second reign as champs is a bit more eventful than their first based on their Mania performance.
RAW Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler: From the first stiff punches thrown after the bell, you could feel the intensity that each woman was about to throw into this match.
This match, for its fairly short length, was packed with great spots, such as Becky’s hurricanrana, Shayna’s modified spinebuster, Becky’s Rock Bottom on the apron, and Shayna’s powerslam into an armbar. The match felt as if each woman had something to lose if victory wasn’t achieved.
The booking of this match though…very disappointing for multiple reasons. The first is probably the most obvious: Shayna lost to Becky because she was unable to escape Becky’s reversal of her own finishing move. What?! A woman whose moniker is the “Submission Magician” couldn’t predict or regain control of her signature submission maneuver? That she’s used repeatedly to victory for two very lengthy NXT title runs? I don’t think anyone can suspend their disbelief high enough to believe that, when Shayna has an MMA background.
Second, this makes Shayna look like a chump. The effort in building her up as a monster, a final boss of sorts, from the Royal Rumble to now was in vain. The story we’ve been told for months is that Shayna is a formidable threat to not only the whole women’s division, but to Becky. I find it hard to believe that WWE built Shayna up as a Big Bad for months just to make Becky look stronger in victory against her at WrestleMania. It just doesn’t seem like the original plan.
Lastly, and perhaps most insidiously, this buries the rest of the women’s division on RAW. Shayna tore through every woman in the Elimination Chamber in minutes to get across the point that she could do the same to Becky. And for Becky to beat Shayna clean as a whistle by outsmarting her at her own game spits on all of the other women that Shayna so easily destroyed. It makes them all seem even weaker now that we know Becky can beat Shayna in less than 10 minutes. If the endgame was to have this match be a competitive one that saw Shayna lose, we could have given the rest of the women more of a showcase and realistic chances of victory at EC.
Now, because of this booking, Becky has literally no one who can realistically beat her. Because she’s beaten the final boss and now has no one else to face…besides maybe another former MMA fighter...(insert screaming here).
NXT Women’s Championship: Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair: I’d first like for us to have a moment of silence for Rhea Ripley’s vocal chords. AJ Styles wasn’t the only tragic death of Mania weekend. That girl can scream.
Now onto the match. In my opinion, this was the most compelling match of the weekend. The sheer caliber of wrestling from both women was on full display. Similarly to the women’s tag match, you could tell that both women wanted desperately to win. You could feel the hunger in every grunt, scream, and reversal attempt.
Rhea was dominant early, but this match unfortunately for her was Charlotte-dominant. The story of this match, like many others where Charlotte is the eventual victor, was that of the weakened leg of her opponent. Charlotte kicked, stomped, and tripped Rhea in ways that caused her knees to buckle throughout. Rhea had some flashes of offense, such as her big boot to Charlotte and inverted cloverleaf.
And yet, as I predicted, once Charlotte finally clinched in the Figure Eight, it was all over. The journey we took to get there had me on the edge of my couch willing Rhea on, and that’s how you should feel during every WrestleMania match. If you only had time to watch one women’s match from the weekend, definitely make time to check this one out.
That said, you will find it unsurprising that I’m not thrilled by this booking decision. Before Mania weekend, I figured out that without a crowd to boo Charlotte if she won, that WWE would probably change their booking decision on a whim. It’s their favorite thing to do: choose the person to win that fans and critics generally have not predicted, just for the sake of trolling us. You will notice that nearly all of the matches that were foregone conclusions one month or even one week ago had the shocking victors (Becky, Strowman, Charlotte, Bayley, Morrison/Miz). For whatever reason, WWE thinks that because fans are smart enough to piece together logical stories that it means they aren’t making interesting television. But the gag is this: just because we can see the ending coming, doesn’t mean the ending should be changed, or that the path to get there can’t be entertaining. In fact, if you give your audience the ending that they predicted, it rewards them for their investment in your storytelling. But instead, TV writers (looking at you GoT) do the unexpected thing for cheap shock and attention. Yawn.
Anyways, news has since broken that Rhea’s work visa has actually expired, and thus she needs to renew it to keep competing. So, this could have been the reason for her loss. Do I think that WWE could have decided on the match outcome before they knew about Rhea’s work visa? Absolutely, because we have evidence that they’ve made such decisions to strap Charlotte in the past. But if this is the sole reason for this move, then I feel terrible for Rhea. Hopefully she can sort her situation out soon so we can see her back on our TVs when things go back to normal.
I have some other hypotheses relating to this win for Charlotte, which we’ll talk about further down.
Smackdown Women’s Championship Fatal 5-Way: This match was entertaining if not a little mediocre. It has some good moments, but it was clear this story was more about the unfolding tension between Sasha Banks and Bayley.
Some of the great bits included everyone hitting their signature moves to get out Tamina, Naomi’s one-woman-takedown of both Sasha and Bayley, and that mean Woman’s Right by Lacey to eliminate Sasha. I really liked Naomi in this match and I’m glad she was able to show off a bit before she was eliminated, and although I’m not a fan of her, I have to admit even Lacey pulled her weight in this match.
I do think the accidental knee to the head that Bayley gave Sasha is a bit of stretch as the genesis to their eventual breakup, but hey, after years of waiting for the sequel to this feud I’ll take anything! The camera work on Sasha and Bayley really told a story — there were many shots of Bayley posing with her title and soaking up the spotlight in the foreground, while Sasha stood in the shadows of the background. There was also the fact that even after Bayley hurt her, Sasha still helped her to win. The tension! The resentment! The narcissism!
Ugh, I am begging the wrestling gods to let this one play out right! These women deserve it, and so do we!
With the matches reviewed, let’s step back and think about the show and its meaning, in a general sense.
This year’s WrestleMnaia was a stark contrast to last year. You may recall there was only two women’s matches on the entire card last year. This year saw five matches including the pre-show match between Natalya and Liv Morgan. We’ll never know if this was a direct response to many fan complaints about the Smackdown women’s title match being excluded from last year’s Mania, but regardless I’m happy to see the improvement.
And, as I’ve detailed above, all of the matches were good from an in-ring standpoint. We love to see it.
Overall, this WrestleMania put in perspective what Vince really thinks of NXT and its stars. I know that the booking of Rhea vs. Charlotte was likely affected by Rhea’s situation; however, there is no excuse for Shayna’s loss. If WWE knew going into Mania that Rhea had to lose, they could have at least balanced things out by having Shayna win so NXT came out looking at least a bit credible. Having both NXT-bred women lose on the same show is a subtle indication that, despite being positioned as a third brand competing with AEW, that C-suite execs still see the “main” brand Superstars as superior.
To go even deeper here, I think both booking decisions were calculated marketing moves. Think about it: we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and WWE is a publicly-traded company. The economy is tanking because people aren’t working and in turn not producing profit for billion-dollar companies. WWE, as we’ve seen in the past, bows to the whims and wants of their investors and network executives. Remember how the Draft last year saw WWE actually tell us that the picks were based on which network wanted who? Remember when fans campaigned to Snickers to force WWE to rename the Fabulous Moolah Memorial Battle Royal, and it actually worked? WWE is all about that money, honey. And because of that, I believe that they didn’t want to take any risks on newer faces during a time when they desperately want to hold on to the money in their pockets. They kept their women’s titles on recognizable, “marketable” women like Becky and Charlotte (and I suppose Bayley as well) to please their investors and keep the money rolling in.
Put simply, WWE did the safe thing with both matches. They are a business, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they did “what’s best for business” during this chaotic time. I do wish at the same time that WWE would for once do something innovative and build new stars, so that during times like this, they don’t have to keep going to the same well to throw pennies into. There are plenty of other women patiently waiting for their chance to be picked.
Speaking of wrestling being a business, I have to take a few paragraphs here to scold WWE and AEW alike. I understand that both companies feel a “duty” (however misguided or sincere that belief may be) to provide entertainment to fans living through this pandemic. The first couple of weeks with empty arena shows, I was thankful. But now that things are getting worse across the country and coronavirus is spreading more rapidly, it’s time to just say it — wrestling should absolutely be cancelled.
I am ashamed that both WWE and AEW are defying state governments by either positioning themselves as “essential business” or filming at undisclosed locations. Wrestling is not essential. We can live without it for a month or two; both promotions have to know that the diehard fans will come back — likely even more excited to consume it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Wrestling, to my knowledge, is the only sport still going on through all of this. We should not be proud of that.
I am willing to give AEW a bit more of a break, because they generally treat their performers better, provide them health insurance, and gave them the option to not perform if they felt unsafe. They are at the end of the day a startup promotion in their first year — I can imagine how at this point they may not be able to afford scrapping weekly TV for a month.
But WWE? No excuses. They are a billion-dollar company. They should have enough money to pay all of their performers for an off-season and then some.
Are the wrestlers getting hazard pay? Will the promotions cover any healthcare costs for the wrestlers if they contract the virus while working? What does worker’s compensation look like for these promotions? Do they have it at all?
I don’t care of WWE and AEW are being as sanitary as they can be. Wrestling entails being in close contact with other people, wherein it is fairly likely to exchange bodily fluids with your opponent(s). No amount of cleaning or precautions can prevent that. As long as wrestling is happening, these performers are in danger. Not only that, but the longer corporations find loopholes to force their employees to continue working, the longer this pandemic will go on. Shame on local government as well for allowing both promotions to continue taping. Any person not sheltering in place is a social danger; state governments should know that and be more strict with what constitutes “essential” business.
I want you to imagine your favorite wrestler. Imagine them contracting the virus. Now imagine them getting sick and dying. Would seeing them every week during this pandemic give you enough joy to hold you over for the years and years you’ll miss them wrestling if they succumb to the virus?
Wrestling should be cancelled. This is not a debate. Protect professional wrestlers.
As long as wrestling is going on, I will continue writing for you all. Yet, I hope the American wrestling world comes to its senses before one of its own inevitably contracts the virus.
Until next time, pals!
Stay legit bossy,