Nylons and Midriffs: Meritocracy Is A Lie (June 10, 2020)

Disheartened, exhausted, hopeful. These are just a handful of the emotions that I’ve felt in the last three weeks of American life. I, like Black folks everywhere in this nation, had to search deep in my well of stamina to both process the violence hurled at Us and protesters, as well as find resilience to continue living life the best way we can. I am glad that I was able to take time for myself to heal from the trauma of police violence.

My attention to wrestling, therefore, has been shaky over these last few weeks. Please bear with me as I try my best to recap my thoughts on everything I saw, and if I gloss over something you wanted to hear my thoughts on. I did not watch Double or Nothing from AEW, so in fairness to that fact I also didn’t watch NXT Takeover: In Your House this past weekend. For these shows, I’ll provide my thoughts on the booking decisions made for each regarding the title changes.

We have a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

The Good
Instead of breaking things up by promotion/brand like I usually do, I’ll simply categorize here all of the good wrestling bits I witnessed over the last three weeks.

Great wrestling matches. There were so many entertaining bouts that I really have to just list them out:

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube
  • Io Shirai & Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair & Chelsea Green
  • Sonya Deville vs. Lacey Evans (both matches, but particularly their first encounter)
  • Nyla Rose & Britt Baker vs. Kris Statlander & Hikaru Shida
  • Hikaru Shida vs. Christy Jaynes
  • Sasha Banks vs. Alexa Bliss
  • Sasha Banks & Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross
  • Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley

I wouldn’t say that all of these matches were top tier caliber wrestling. Indeed, I would only count the NXT and AEW matches among that class. However, these matches were excellently choreographed, and each woman involved played their part well. Whether it was comedy in the form of Sasha vs. Alexa (with Bayley and Nikki on commentary) or intensity on the part of Io or Hikaru, I think the women are more than proving they can pull their weight in the pandemic era of empty arena wrestling.

I would have to say my favorites out of this bunch were Io/Rhea vs. Charlotte/Chelsea and Nyla/Britt vs. Hikaru/Kris. Even though Britt got injured halfway through the latter match, the women involved handled it well and made it seem like intentional heel work by Britt. And speaking of Britt…

Britt’s promo post-injury. The following week after Britt’s leg injury, she was rolled out to the arena in a wheelchair — the back-rest of which read “Roll Model” — by her assistant, Rebel. Then, she cut a promo with a board of possible “conspirators” in the case of her injury. This board was complete with strings connecting each woman to the next, all leading to the central picture of referee Aubrey Edwards. She even had a pointy stick to help her reach the board.

Image credit: Wrestleview.com

This segment had me cracking up. It was absolutely absurd. It made no sense. And I say, if you’re going to lean into silliness, don’t half-ass it or try to be serious with it. Fully commit to it and people will find it funny. Britt was out there to entertain and she succeeded in my opinion. I’m sad to see her not wrestling, but also if any woman could find a way to be visible without wrestling, it would be Britt. Bravo.

Returns. I am fairly sure that I missed the actual returns of these women, but upon tuning back into WWE I saw the IIconics and Rhea Ripley back in wrestling action. Hooray! Especially for the IIconics, I am glad that they’re finally being given a run in the tag division again. They cut such grating promos and their chemistry is unparalleled. I only take issue with Peyton asserting in a promo on Alexa and Nikki that Alexa was “the office’s favorite blonde.” Now, now, Peyton. That’s unfair. We all know the office’s favorite blonde is Charlotte.

NXT feuds. In tuning back into NXT, I immediately noticed the wealth of interconnecting feuds in the women’s division. Over the course of three weeks, I saw intertwining feuds between Shotzi Blackheart, Raquel Gonzalez / Dakota Kai, Tegan Nox, Candice LeRae, and Mia Yim. Outside of Rhea and Io, it seems that these feuds account for essentially the entire mid-card of the NXT women’s division. And on one hand, that’s rad. Almost all of the main players have something to do. On the other hand, this could get messy and unfocused very easily if the writers don’t figure out a way to refine these feuds. Occasional aligning of feuds is okay, but fans can only invest in feuds if a singular spotlight is shone upon each one. In NXT, I have a bit more faith that this will take place. Let’s hope I’m right.

All women’s title changes. In NXT and AEW, we saw the women’s world titles change hands: the former saw Charlotte lose the title to Io (notably without taking the pinfall), and the latter saw Nyla lose to Hikaru. Ultimately, I feel good about both title changes in that I feel the women who won the titles are deserving. And you know anytime Charlotte loses a title I’m satisfied by default. In the case of Nyla, though, I have a little bit more of an issue, which I’ll talk about in the next section.

Even still, for how long AEW made Hikaru wait as #1 contender to even challenge for the title (I believe the tally was 12 weeks), it made sense for her to finally win it. Plus, I feel good about the fact that they built Hikaru up, put her on a bit of a hot streak, and then allowed her to go over the champ. Unlike in WWE, where 50/50 even booking plagues every division, it was refreshing to see AEW take a different direction.

Lastly, Sasha and Bayley became two-time women’s tag team champions by defeating Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss. This title win was extra sweet because the previous week Alexa had given Sasha a hard time about not having a title in her possession. Sasha said she could win those titles back, and the following week she did. It was shocking (and as a fan of hers, exciting) to see Sasha actually deliver on a promise to prove herself. For once, the punchline wasn’t Sasha’s ineptitude. Hopefully this is a preview of what’s to come when her and Bayley finally feud.

Although, it could be argued that, for the dynamic of their feud and their chemistry, they didn’t need the titles to advance their story. For the life of me, I still do not understand why we cannot seem to build interest or realistic motivations in women’s feuds without a title involved. Women do have complex human emotions; in fact, we’re given more permission to express them than men are. And yet, we are often belittled down to fighting over objects — titles or men — in wrestling. Two high-class performers like Sasha and Bayley can make us care without a title. Let them.

The Bad
Oy vey. So many bad things to talk about, so much so that I’ll have to save some of it for next time. Similar to the section above, I’ll categorize.

Nia Jax. Sigh. Nia Jax reportedly botched a steel staircase spot with Kairi Sane, another potentially career-ending screw-up to add to Nia’s list of victims. First, I’d like to say that criticisms of Nia’s dangerous work style should be left at just that: any attacks on her body or race are disgusting and unwelcome here. That being said, I do think the sheer number of opponents that Nia has banged up at best or injured at worst is too long to justify her continuing to work. That sounds harsh, but when you consider how dangerous wrestling has the potential to be, as well as how consistently Nia literally endangers her opponents, it becomes sobering.

I think Nia’s situation is a combination of two factors. First, her size relative to the women she wrestles. The weight disparity in the women’s division is so jarring between Nia and everyone else it’s ridiculous. In men’s divisions, there is more of a range of weight and size from the lightest to heaviest guy. But, because fatphobia is more pronounced for women than it is for men, we have twiggy female wrestlers and one woman who is easily twice or more the size of the smallest woman. WWE needs to address this and allow Nia to wrestle bigger women she is less likely to quite literally break in the ring.

With this in mind I come to my second point. Nia is not the first giant to wrestle people far smaller than her. Big hoss wrestlers have been doing Nia’s schtick for generations. And if that’s going to be your thing, it is your job to figure out how to convey your power without genuinely being careless with your opponent as you would in a “real” fight. Nia does not seem skilled enough in her wrestling to do this, and so we have women who take gambles wrestling with her.

WWE needs to address this pattern before Nia seriously hurts someone.

Charlotte, Charlotte, everywhere. I couldn’t escape Charlotte watching any WWE programming. RAW, SmackDown, NXT, didn’t matter. Whether she was challenging Asuka or Bayley in champion versus champion matches, or participating in random tag matches, Charlotte was inserted into matches ubiquitously. Why is it when Charlotte is in a championship program that other women can’t seem to be found?

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

I am happy that she lost the NXT women’s title, and yet now that she’s lost it, it appears even more so that her reign was about hogging he spotlight more than it was about elevating the NXT division. She’s so tiring to watch, and I think that more people are finally coming around to this feeling.

Nyla losing her title. As I mentioned above, I am overall pleased with AEW’s new women’s world champion, Hikaru Shida. I am also disappointed that Nyla lost the title just as she was picking up steam as champion. Many forget that Nyla was largely absent from TV for much of her reign. They had finally put her back on TV on a consistent basis when they took the title from her.

Given how historic Nyla’s reign was in the grand scheme of pro wrestling history (as the fist transgender champion for a major promotion), it would have felt more fulfilling for her to lose once she had fully proven herself. I can’t help but feel weird about a trans woman being invisible for most of her reign and then once she finally achieves visibility, her title is taken away. It seems shady to me. Then again, they treated Riho similarly, so it could just be a neutral coincidence.

Heels as lazy. A couple of weeks ago, the IIconics and the team of Nikki and Alexa traded words in the ring. And in this promo, Alexa said something to the two Aussies that just ground my gears. She asserted, and I’m paraphrasing, that the IIconics were given “all of the opportunities” in the world but squandered them. And Nikki went on to explain that she had to scratch and claw her way to success. The takeaway for us viewers was meant to be that the IIconics are bad because they wasted opportunities they were given by failing, and that Nikki and Alexa are good because they worked for theirs and succeeded. This irritating portrayal has me asking why heels are always characterized as lazy wrestlers looking for a handout?

Image credit: fightful.com

Lest we forget, wrestling is predetermined. Like any scripted TV show, writers decide who wins and who loses. WWE’s messaging isn’t subtle. They’re trying to parrot bootstrap ideology: the problematic, individualist notion that any failing is a person’s own fault, and conversely that a person can achieve anything by simply putting in hard work. The implication of this ideology is that success is earned rather than given. And yet, in WWE as in life, the game is rigged. Certain people are chosen to win and lose based on petty assumptions and stereotypes. The IIconics should be insulted that such an assertion would be made even in storyline, as they just returned from a nearly year-long hiatus because WWE didn’t feel like using them. A hiatus that was immediately preceded by WWE not giving them the chance to do much of anything with the women’s tag titles before they were booked to lose to this very team. Alexa as well should have some self-awareness, as there were a few years where she was on even footing with Charlotte as the opportunity hog in her division.

This model is tone deaf because it relies on the very false narrative that people who aren’t successful are such because they didn’t try hard enough, when in reality there is usually some systemic factor at play preventing them from redemption. Which leads us to the evilest example of this I can recall in WWE history…

The Thorny
In a Nylons first, I am going to devote this section to something that happened in the men’s division. Although a specific man, Drake Maverick, was involved, I feel that the implications of his story stretch far beyond men. In fact, it illuminates the backwardness of the current social and political moment in America.

I took my break from WWE in protest of the layoffs that happened back in April. Any wrestling fan I’m sure is familiar with what happened with these by now; we may recall that Drake Maverick was one of the first names revealed as being let go. Drake’s heartfelt, teary video in response to his release was imbued upon our minds and hearts, and turned our sorrow to rage toward WWE. Drake had his dreams crushed by WWE, and with most wrestling companies operating under limited schedules at the time, it felt cartoonishly evil to leave Drake and so many other Superstars without a way to make money in a health crisis.

But, just days before his release, Drake was announced to be part of the NXT Cruiserweight Championship tournament. A day or two after his release, fans were shocked to hear that WWE still expected Drake to compete in the tournament. As far as I know, no reason was given as to why WWE was allowing a man they effectively fired to continue to wrestle. So during my break, people presumably shrugged this confusion off and rooted for Drake to win.

Fast forward to the end of the tournament, and Drake lost. But, Triple H presented him with a new NXT contract anyway. Cue photo ops and good PR.

Image credit: metro.co.uk

Upon hearing this, I was confused and angry. Here’s why.

Let’s go over the possible scenarios here. One of three things went down:

  • Drake was actually laid off and, upon receiving backlash from fans and/or feeling remorse, WWE backpedaled and offered him a new contract.
  • This entire thing was a work (as in Drake was in on it).
  • Drake was actually laid off but WWE knew they would hire him back, and this was an elaborate “wake-up call” scheme (essentially, leaving Drake in limbo without his knowledge).

I’m not sure which of these actually occurred, and maybe we’ll never know. What I do know is that WWE saw a PR opportunity in the midst of a pandemic where they were already the bad guys, and they seized it. Firing a man only to give him back his job after he “proved” himself reeks of bootstrap, American Dream nonsense. And, as the majority of wrestling reviewers are white men, they ate this storyline up and moved on without pushback.

Nope. Not here.

How messed up is it that WWE laid off one of their employ–I’m sorry, independent contractors--during a pandemic, and then essentially made him “prove” he is worthy to receive the paycheck he shouldn’t have lost to begin with??? Rather than putting Drake through the ringer, they could have just let him keep his job and used him better. But no, there had to be some sort of struggle, some paternalistic “tough love” lesson. This felt like WWE was out to give a message to their fans, that being: you can achieve anything if you just work hard enough for it. Vince and company gambled with this man’s livelihood to potentially prove a false narrative true. But should we be surprised? WWE is shameless when it comes to exploiting their talents’ traumas, shortcomings, and labor to convey Vince’s backwards life philosophies. I can believe that Vince, seeing millions upon millions of Americans sitting at home on unemployment, believing that instead of “collecting a handout” that we should be out trying to grab the brass ring.

And that’s where white supremacist capitalism lets us down time and time again. What WWE refuses to admit is that the rich and upper classes decide who gets chances and who doesn’t. WWE handpicked Drake Maverick out of dozens of people they released because, I guess, they saw potential in him. Why wasn’t everyone else given the same opportunity that Drake was to prove themselves before the decisions were made?

Remember when Lio Rush made headlines for essentially asserting himself and demanding more because he knew he was talented? Remember how that was perceived? He was let go just like Drake was, but his story isn’t as sympathetic because he was already known as the angry Black man.

Systemic racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and more are what ensures that only certain people succeed. White men like Drake and Trips and Vince and even Dave Meltzer believe in bootstrap ideology because that’s how life works for them. Meanwhile women, queer folks, people of color and especially Black people have to work twice as hard and hope that even that’s good enough to be “chosen.” If we want everyone to have a fair chance at success, we must think critically about why we get excited when a man “wins” his right to a job from a multi-million dollar company that is likely underpaying him. And, why earning such is a privilege in the richest country in the world.


Next time, I have quite the bone to pick with Charlotte Flair. Until then, stay safe.

Stay legit bossy,

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