Oh don’t worry, we’ll get to that finish from Extreme Rules in due time…
Returning for another edition of Nylons, we have some good and horrific things to talk about in the wake of The Horror Show at Extreme Rules. But, we also have a few topics to visit outside of that show, and also over in All Elite.
NXT/AEW: Most of the women’s action in AEW has been good the last two weeks. I found myself pleasantly surprised with the developments we’ll talk about here.
Nyla Rose impressed in a handicap match against two enhancement talents. It’s the little things with Nyla, such as sticking her tongue out to the camera while ramming her opponent into the corner turnbuckle, that make her a stand-out performer. I am also very intrigued by where her partnership with a newly-signed Vickie Guerrero will go.
This GIF is an accurate depiction of my face upon hearing Vickie’s voice on Dynamite last week:
In seriousness, I think having a manager could be a big move for Nyla. Managers are often reserved for talents whose first language is not English, but I think in the modern day we can expand that cliche. Really, any talent can have a manager, but certain talent can thrive more with one at their side. I think Nyla is a very promising talent, who is already great on the mic. With Vickie now able to do some of Nyla’s talking, she will allow her client to focus more on her in-ring work, which is an area I believe Nyla could pick up more. We will have to see how things unfold.
Elsewhere in the division, Big Swole showed in a small segment (wherein she was served “papers” by Britt Baker’s legal team preventing her from entering the Daily’s Place) that she, too, can be funny! I often talk about how hilarious I find Britt Baker in these segments, but giving Swole her own was a nice break. It proved that this feud won’t just be one-sided with Britt providing the comedy.
I am also intrigued by the Nightmare Sisters tag team. I had never seen Brandi Rhodes wrestle before her match with Allie against MJ Jenkins an Kenzie Paige, and I must say I was impressed. While Brandi’s offense is a bit vanilla, I look forward to seeing what she can do alongside partner Allie. They seem to have a contemptuous relationship, albeit a successful one thus far.
Lastly, I wanted to break from tradition and talk about a man for a bit. Not just any man, but Sonny Kiss. The queer, androgynous, dancing male wrestler that challenged Cody Rhodes for the TNT championship. On prime-time television. Let’s chat about what this means.
I do focus almost exclusively on women in this column, and yet I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention the gravity of having a femme-presenting man wrestle in the men’s division and have it be presented as serious. Sonny had a full face of makeup, lashes, bright eyeshadow, and some very cheeky bottoms on display. He was also wearing a harness, a staple of gay male nightlife fashion. To see feminine energy represented in the men’s division once again proves that AEW is already at least one light year ahead of WWE when it comes to progressivism.
Although commentary did often remark that Sonny was succeeding in the match only because Cody was apparently off his A game (something Arn Anderson told him to snap out of at multiple points throughout the match), it still matters that they didn’t attempt even once to make fun of Sonny’s appearance. It means even more that Sonny is a Black man, as homophobia and misogyny mean different things in the Black community, and queerness is read differently by the masses with Black people. Here we had Sonny with a chance to win a title, and even though he lost predictably, that he was given the chance at all is the point. For now at least.
In NXT, I enjoyed the action in the ring as well as outside of it.
I am very interested in a returning Mercedes Martinez’ prospects in the division. That woman looks mean! Mercedes’ commitment to her scowl as she wrestles is great; I would find myself actually being scared of her if I were her opponent! I need to see her against Rhea Ripley ASAP.
The match that stood head and shoulders above almost all others in the last two weeks was Tegan Nox vs. Io Shirai for the NXT women’s championship. Boy howdy, Tegan wrestled her behind off in this one! I was fairly indifferent to Tegan going into this match, but she won me over by the end with the amount of heart she laid in that ring. Some of my favorite spots were Tegan countering a top rope crossbody from Io into a fall-away slam bridging pin and Tegan’s Kane tribute in the form of a chokeslam. My favorite thing about Tegan in this match was the way that she disrupted various moves by Io. For example, punching Io’s back once she realized Io had risen from the tree of woe rather than charging into an empty corner. Like one would in a real fight, Tegan reacted to her opponent’s defensive counters to strike when they were most vulnerable. She wrestled like it was her last match; it was magic to witness.
But in the end, Io was that much sharper, that much more intense, and that is why she prevailed. Sit down and watch this one, it is well worth your time.
Rewinding a bit to the week before last, I also absolutely loved the hype package NXT ran for Io vs. Tegan. What stuck out was the fact that they allowed Io to speak in Japanese, and added subtitles to her words. And I thought, Wow, how easy was that to do? For a brand that was not too long ago looking to expand into other countries, it speaks volumes about their intentions that they don’t use subtitles regularly. I think back to Bong Joon-ho’s speech at an awards show, where he said that if Americans were willing to jump the mere inches-high hurdle of subtitles, that they could discover a rich catalog of films. Imagine how much more human wrestlers like Asuka and Io and even Shinsuke would feel to us if we could understand what they were often yelling in Japanese? If their native language was seen as a workable difference rather than barrier? It makes you think.
RAW and Smackdown: I was glad to see two women make their returns to RAW two weeks ago: Shayna Baszler and Bianca Belair. It seems Shayna is sizing up the RAW women’s title, while Bianca is forming a temporary alliance with Ruby Riott (I say “temporary” because Bianca is reportedly only filling in for Liv Morgan.) I do have qualms about the fact that Bianca is being used as filler for Liv, but I suppose the reason she’s on TV isn’t as important as the fact that she is visible. Anytime she’s on screen she’s a star, so the hope can only be the office takes note and uses her better. And frankly, we can say the same about Shyana, because goodness knows the B.S. she’s been through.
Speaking generally, I have been pleasantly surprised by the program between Nikki Cross and Bayley. In her interactions with Alexa, Nikki has really been showing depth of character. We now understand Nikki to be a woman that, although unhinged in the ring, is unsure about her own abilities at times. She has worked hard and reached success, and yet still falls victim to impostor syndrome like so many of us. Relatable content!
And Bayley has been a very good foil for this type of character, and feeds off Nikki’s occasional insecurity. A feud that I didn’t care about initially was turned around in mhy mind in a matter of weeks by convincing performances on both sides.
Extreme Rules: Both women’s title matches were excellent. I preferred the RAW women’s title match to the Smackdown one, but both matches had their highlights. In Bayley vs. Nikki, our favorite twisted sister was fiery hot! She was hitting neckbreakers out of nowhere and flying through the air with reckless abandon. Bayley as well was such an overzealous heel in this one, taunting Nikki with patronizing lines about “believing” in Nikki. Bayley never forgets her role, even in the middle of a match.
Asuka vs. Sasha Banks was an NXT match on a WWE pay-per-view, and it was fantastic to see! I kept thinking throughout the match that it seemed to be one that both women trained for. That doesn’t mean that they did, but given the amount of running around, fast-paced counters, and leg-based offense the two were getting in it was clear their stamina was being tested. From Sasha’s unique butterfly submissions to Asuka’s out-of-nowhere submissions; from Sasha’s drop-toe hold into a Banks Statement to Asuka’s Codebreaker off the top rope, each woman whipped out some new tricks proving that they aren’t one- or two-trick ponies.
We’ll talk about the booking in the next section of course, but I wanted to first highlight how amazing this match was before the finish, because the quality is now being overshadowed by it.
NXT/AEW: For once, I don’t have any negative feedback for All Elite!
For NXT, the bar is so high there that the match I’m going to discuss wasn’t actually bad. And yet, I felt a bit underwhelmed by Mia Yim vs. Candice LeRae. I do think both women were devoted to making this street fight feel authentic in the ways they were throwing things around and utilizing props. And the table spot toward the end of the match, wherein they balanced on a table sitting atop the ropes, was really really cool.
However, I felt this match was strangely unbalanced. It was pretty Candice-heavy, and Mia never really got going in this one outside of a few key spots. Usually when a match seems to favor one person over the other, it is a signal that this person is dominating as a trade-off for losing the match. But…it wasn’t. Candice ended up winning anyway. So I have to ask what the point of this match was for Mia? She simply felt stunted in this one.
RAW and SD: You already know what it is here: that karaoke segment.
For those unaware, Jey Uso hosted a segment on Smackdown a couple of weeks ago featuring sister-in-law Naomi, Lacey Evans, Tamina, and Dana Brooke. The four of them would go head-to-head in…a karaoke contest.
I couldn’t even bring myself to watch this crap. And we wonder why it is so hard for some folks to care about the women’s division…
To me, the most damaging thing this segment has done is prove what we all already know to be true — WWE does not take the division as a whole seriously. What’s more, they see it as comic relief. Women are something to laugh at. The evidence of this came shortly after the segment, when a backstage interviewer said (I’m paraphrasing), “Some people take their karaoke too seriously; but here’s a man that takes his wrestling seriously, AJ Styles.” Read that quote again. The amount of disrespect dripping from a comment like that is unbearable. WWE wasn’t even being subtle about what they thought of the women in that segment. They said, essentially, Now that that crap is over, we can get on to the real athletes..like this man!
The joke continued when Braun Strowman made a joke about something horrific in a promo at Extreme Rules, and then “accidentally” flashed up a clip of the karaoke segment. Haha right?!? No. Not haha. Did this segment really exist to be the butt of jokes? A segment that likely none of these women asked to be in, and were subsequently mocked for participating in.
Please. Just let women wrestle.
Extreme Rules: The only thing to talk about here is the finish of Asuka vs. Sasha Banks. News broke the day after the pay-per-view that Asuka was booked to win this match until Vince McMahon changed the finish at the last minute. Unsurprising, considering it was an NXT match with a WWE finish.
And that’s really a shame, because both women worked to make that match memorable, as if they knew it would be overshadowed by that nonsensical finish. And once again, it is Asuka not being considered, instead being disposable to Vince’s larger plans.
Those plans being, of course, a bump in ratings. RAW had its worst ever ratings last week, so Vince desperately changed this finish to stir ambiguity for views of the next night’s RAW. Perhaps, WWE, your ratings would be better if you weren’t consistently being exposed throughout this pandemic as bloodthirsty capitalists? Just a thought…
Now, we will have a match next week between Sasha and Asuka to determine the rightful RAW women’s champion. If Bayley interferes, Sasha will lose. Fair enough. But what if they let Sasha win anyway? If Sasha wins and the trifecta of championships between the Golden Role Models is complete, who really benefits? Asuka is robbed of another significant title reign; the women’s tag belts are again plot devices; a fairly simplistic storyline between friends inevitably turning enemies is needlessly complicated.
Sure, some say this is a long time coming for both Bayley and Sasha to have this much invested in them. And hell, I’m glad I’ve been seeing so much of them because they’ve always been this talented. And also, when every other women’s “feud” is lackluster in comparison to theirs, it still speaks to a larger problem. Focusing all titles in an entire division on two people simply makes it easier for WWE to ignore booking for three separate divisions. If all of them blur together, that only benefits the writing team that clearly doesn’t want to care about the depth of the stories of the whole division.
Women’s Evolution my behind.
Last week, WWE commemorated the 5-year anniversary of the Divas Revolution, that fateful edition of RAW in mid-July 2015 wherein Stephanie McMahon called up then-NXT women’s champion Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch. What these three, along with Bayley some time after, would do on the main roster in the five years since would be legendary. This pivotal moment in women’s wrestling history in WWE meant that finally, women would matter in ways they hadn’t before.
On Friday’s Smackdown last week, there was a Moment of Bliss segment that featured Sasha and Bayley and Alexa and Nikki discussing that night 5 years ago. On social media, many wrestlers shared supportive words about the so-called revolution-turned-evolution, and WWE shared some during the episode.
And yet some time between the Moment of Bliss segment and sharing those tweets, WWE featured a match between Naomi and Lacey Evans that lasted, I kid you not, less than 3 minutes.
Following the previous week’s karaoke segment discussed above, Naomi and Lacey had this match. In it, Lacey tied Naomi’s braids to the bottom rope, prompting Naomi to untangle herself and subsequently lay down for Lacey following a Woman’s Right. And then WWE had the nerve to include a tweet of Naomi’s in their montage of positive Women’s Evolution tweets later in the show. I was incensed.
The audacity of WWE to pat themselves on the back about “women’s empowerment” is laughable when it isn’t genuinely harmful. Both of these women risked their safety in a Performance Center littered with COVID-infected or exposed people so they could have a 3-minute match. Are you kidding me? A waste of time is an understatement.
Naomi herself even commented on the foolishness of her booking in the karaoke segment on Instagram, saying “[..] we have to make chicken salad out of chicken (poop emoji)” to a fan that said they wanted to see her wrestle. Naomi has a reputation of being candid about the lack of trust and investment she is given on her social media and interviews, and yet it never seems to change her position in the women’s division. If anything, her mouth seems to have further cemented her marginalized status.
And to have her lose to another blonde, white, conventionally attractive heel woman, by having that woman mangle Naomi’s precious braids — well, that’s everything wrong with this so-called “evolution” right there. When you have WWE shoving nearly all of their Black male performers in a single segment every week on RAW for “diversity,” but treat Naomi like this on Smackdown, no, I do not believe WWE sees Black lives as valuable. I don’t believe it for a second.
You cannot pretend to care about Black lives when you treat Black women like trash, as disposable, or only good enough when white options aren’t available. Black women, particularly dark-skinned women like Naomi, are always being put in their “place” by white women, even as this shift in the women’s division has been happening in the last decade. And they are often put down for their very difference to whiteness, as Naomi and her braids endured in that match. Women of any color (as in, natural color, not a really dark spray tans like Carmella and Mandy Rose have) are seen as inherently less than.
Yes, I am happy that the company is largely being held together by two beautiful women of color (Sasha and Bayley), one specifically being a Black woman. But the success of a few does not mean the success of the many.
Naomi has been in WWE for more than a decade, and only has a couple of title reigns and a WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal win to show for it. I remember when Naomi won her first title after a decade with the company, how nearly every woman in the locker room posted heartfelt congratulatory messages about Naomi to their social media. And I realized how, just like Kofi Kingston, she had to wait her turn. And wait. And wait, behind white women who got to cut the line for no other reason than their whiteness. And even after she won the title and attempted to brand herself with the “Glow” belt, WWE never put the steam behind marketing it and Naomi as the face of the division as they should have.
Who protects women like Naomi from insensitive matches like the one she had last week with Lacey?
I’ll tell you who — fans. I was heartened to see that #NaomiDeservesBetter began trending after that crappy match. With the Black Lives Matter movement in full gear, fans (myself included) will clock WWE if they don’t measure up to our expectations when it comes to Black representation. It has been long past time for Naomi to be given better, because a talent like hers could carry any division.
I can’t believe the summer is nearly halfway over, and SummerSlam is around the corner. As Bayley and Sasha’s storyline continues, WWE, do the right thing!
Stay legit bossy,