Nylons and Midriffs: Build It Up, Shut It Down (August 19, 2020)

WWE and AEW are gearing up or their summer-end pay-per-views: SummerSlam and All Out, respectively. And the women’s divisions of both promotions are busy to say the least. In the span of two weeks, countless feuds were continued and begun – some poetically, others haphazardly.

But, minus a few blemishes, I felt very invested in women’s wrestling the last couple of weeks. I suppose that’s a good sign leading up to these flagship pay-per-views. Here were some of the highlights.

The Good
AEW/NXT: I very much enjoy the wrestling and feuds going on in NXT right now.

First, I loved the intensity of Rhea Ripley vs. Dakota Kai. In a match to determine the challenger to Io Shirai for the NXT women’s championship, the bout was a decent back-and-forth between both women, if not a little more dominated by Rhea. She was spicy in this one! One of the opening segments to the match featured Rhea battering Dakota with slaps, and throughout the match Rhea did a lot of malicious hair pulling.

Image credit: theovertimer.com

The spots of this match were a testament to how rough it was: Rhea putting Dakota into a body scissors, Rhea’s Alabama slam of Dakota from the electric chair position, and Dakota’s sick reversal of the Riptide into a DDT! They really went for it here, and the audience benefited greatly. Dakota came out the winner after Mercedes Martinez ran in behind the referee’s back to land a cheap shot on Rhea.

After the match, Mercedes continued her beatdown. As soon as she appeared, I got hyped; I said not too long ago that I wanted her to feud with Rhea, and it’s happening!! These matches are about to be insane.

The following week, Mercedes was in action with her cohort of the Robert Stone Brand, Aliya, against Team KC: Kaci Catanzaro and Kayden Carter. Once again, I mentioned weeks ago how the two KCs would make a great tag team, and I was glad to see that NXT producers agreed. This match further showcased what they could do; they weaved beautifully their unique styles together to create harmonic tandem offense. Kayden has the legs, Kaci has the acrobatics, and both of them together have the speed that can make for a dynamic tag team. I’m excited to see them work together!

Image credit: amoldfurious.com

Mercedes and Aliya came out on top, but Rhea came out to even the score with Mercedes after the bell. Hopefully the two meet in a sanctioned match sometime soon.

Lastly, making it into this section by a hair is Mia Yim in her match against Indi Hartwell. I am still unsure how I feel about Mia’s concern for Keith Lee interfering with her wrestling. (Earlier in the night, Keith Lee was hit with a fireball to the face as planted by Karrion Kross.) The friendship between the two, originating from their feud with the Johnny Gargano and Candice LeRae, is definitely canon. And it is so rare on the main roster for continuity to be acknowledged in a meaningful way between wrestlers away from the main event, so in that way it was excellent writing to reference it.

During the match as well, Mia was visibly flustered. She definitely went through the match in a rush, hitting Indi with move after move in quick succession to get the match over with so she could check in with Keith. This was good acting on her part. In real life, this would certainly be the case; I worry about close friends just as Mia did during her match.

And yet, the whole thing still felt….strange. I suppose I’m just skeptical at Mia’s inclusion on the show at all. Because given that she has no existing feud with Hartwell, it pretty much seemed that she was only included on the show to further drive home the seriousness of Keith’s attack. While everything made sense, I just wonder if perhaps we would have done better without this wrinkle to Keith’s story.

In All Elite, I have merely aesthetic things to discuss.

Initially, wrestling. There wasn’t a lot of it on Dynamite, but the women’s tag team cup is in full swing on YouTube (we’ll get to that). I liked the match between Diamante and Ivelisse vs. Rachael Ellering and Dasha, a backstage interviewer-turned-wrestler…for one night only? We’ll see.

The match itself wasn’t remarkable if I’m being honest, but I was fairly impressed with Rachael Ellering’s showing. She has a certain finesse about her in the ring that makes even the simplest moves mean something. I can’t explain much more than that, but I do hope they bring her to TV soon, because a certain spark is there.

Image credit: WhatCulture.com

Although I gave them criticism in the last Nylons, I thought both Diamante and Ivelisse looked good in this match as well. Who knew that their stock in the ring would rise if they just had each other? In the humble beginnings for a lot of tag teams, I do feel that both partners need each other in order to improve in the ring. The best tag teams are the ones you can’t imagine breaking up because they complement each other so well, and I think Diamante and Ivelisse could evolve to that type of teamwork.

Also, Ivelisse can do one hell of a lotus lock. Please Google that. That move looks like it actually hurts.

Next, I saw promoted during nearly every women’s match an online community for female fans of AEW. Started by the company, it’s called “AEW Heels” (clever indeed), and it’s essentially an online forum for women and femmes to talk about wrestling. I think this is really cool! When AEW steps out of the formula we’re so used to from WWE, they become their own company. I think this is an immensely smart business move from them that capitalizes on the current uptick in internet usage by just about everybody. And, it probably doubles as a focus group of sorts for executives to study what women think about the current product and in turn the women’s division. If you don’t know what to do, listen to the fans, right?

What’s more, I think this speaks to the youth in leadership at All Elite that they came up with this. Younger wrestling fans (let’s say, younger than 30) know that the vast majority of wrestling fandom, especially now, exists online. Particularly, places like Tumblr and Reddit are outlets for marginalized fans – women, queer folks, and folks of color – to gather and discuss booking, fan fiction, and news. In my own experience connecting with wrestling fans on Tumblr, the vast majority of people I interact with are women, queer, and/or femme (if non-binary or trans). So I absolutely approve of AEW giving voice to a group that is still largely typing into the void.

And last but not least, Shaul Guerrero has come to AEW as a ring announcer and commentator for the women’s tag team cup! Shaul, the eldest daughter of Eddie and Vickie Guerrero, has had an off-and-on relationship with the wrestling world for her entire adult life. Fun fact, I actually met Shaul last year at a burlesque show we were both performing at — me as a student dancer, her as a marquee performer. Her stage name is Miss Nyxon, and her burlesque troupe the Vaudettes performed on Chris Jericho’s cruise at the beginning of 2020. We love a multi-talented woman! Excited to see how far her and AEW go together.

RAW and Smackdown: I was legitimately shocked with how satisfied I was with RAW and Smackdown the last two weeks!

We saw the return of Mickie James in a backstage segment last week, and an in-ring comeback this past Monday…sort of. I like many fans hold Mickie in high regard; she really is one of the women that held the Ruthless Aggression era on the tail end of the women’s Golden Age together. She’s got wrestling chops, is great on the mic, and now in the later stages of her career, a certain grown woman-ness that she brings to the table. Mickie has the assuredness characteristic of a ring veteran and mother. I really hope WWE does something substantive with her, because she deserves it. *Checks notes* They didn’t? Oh, well there goes that hope…

Zelina Vega and Bianca Belair have entered a feud of sorts, with the former recently revealed to have poisoned the latter’s husband some weeks ago. Their attitudes grate so well against one another; Zelina being the conniving one with a sharp tongue, and Bianca as the brash one that will put you in your place. The two are clearly dedicated to and having fun with the feud, as Bianca crashed Zelina’s Twitch stream at some point! Really creative stuff that they most certainly didn’t need to do, and it clearly must have come up with since WWE couldn’t be bothered to mention it on the following episode of RAW. Still, the internet noticed so in many ways that matters more.

It could be argued that Bianca as a wrestling talent is being wasted in this feud. However, I’m thinking of this with more of a positive spin. Bianca is such a larger than life character that her first real feud on the “main” roster needed to be with someone who could equal her in sass and promo delivery. There are few other women as good on the mic as Zelina. Bianca needs room to speak just as much as she does to wrestle, and I think this feud will help fans who may not have been familiar with her in NXT to understand her persona.

Also on RAW, we saw Asuka face off with Bayley in a match to determine whether Asuka would face Sasha Banks for the RAW women’s title at SummerSlam. Spoiler alert, she will face Sasha, but wow oh wow if the road to that victory wasn’t earned!! I love when wrestlers go ham for no reason, and in this one Bayley and Asuka put on a submissions clinic. Asuka’s octopus, Bayley’s Indian death lock, that beautiful Asuka Lock reversal out of nowhere to end the match!

I haven’t mentioned this explicitly for some time, but I continue to be blown away by the level Sasha, Bayley, and Asuka have been competing at this summer, or really since Becky left. I hate to describe it as “stepping up,” but more of a stepping into themselves as performers. I know fans have polarizing views on how Bayley and Sasha have been booked, and yet the one thing we can all agree on is that they have wrestled every single match as if they have something left to prove. While still making their opponents look fantastic.

Speaking of the Golden Role Models, I was feeling a little burnt out on them until this past week’s Smackdown. In general, Smackdown has been killing it with the writing for the women, save for Lacey Evans and Naomi. So much of what we’ll talk about for the remainder of this section is all promo work, and I love to see it.

Last Friday, the double champs cut a promo before introducing some of the participants in the battle royal to determine Bayley’s opponent at SummerSlam. Sasha shouted that the night was all about Bayley, and if you looked carefully at her face to the camera after she said this, you would have seen her grimace in annoyance. Then, after Asuka won the match, Sasha and Bayley had passive aggressive words backstage. They were obviously shaken at the news of both having to face Asuka, but there was something more. Sasha said to Bayley, “You need to stop freaking out because Asuka keeps beating you on RAW!” – and then quickly said something else to cover that jibe up. Bayley laughed off this comment and pointed out that her title wasn’t on the line when she faced Asuka earlier in the week. She then told Sasha before walking away, “At SummerSlam, I’ll actually have something important to fight for.” Sasha made a wounded face and Bayley looked back at her before Asuka pounced from off camera.

Image credit: mrawkweird.tumblr.com

The cinema!!!

Surely, this betrayal is happening at SummerSlam. Surely, at the show with the tagline “You’ll Never See It Coming” we will see the double-cross we’ve been waiting on for years. The time for one of them to turn is now, and frankly it may be the saving grace of a feud that’s had a rough few weeks.

Speaking of heated betrayals, Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose have been putting in work!! First, Sonya cut an absolutely brilliant promo on MizTV, wherein she acted dismissive and annoyed at fans’ confusion surrounding her attack on Mandy. She said that basically, because Mandy is an ugly person inside, that she wanted to make her outside match. I know this sounds really simple, but if you have 5 minutes to spare, seek out this full promo online. What got me about it was the shaky anger in her voice. She talked to Miz and Morrison about Mandy as if she hoped Mandy would hear her, like she was complaining to some girlfriends about a crappy coworker. That’s to say, she sounded genuinely incensed by the way Mandy treated her in the past, and was hellbent on revenge. The two of them would have a pull-apart brawl later in the night. Whew!

Then, the following week, Mandy fired back with an impassioned promo telling Sonya and her critics alike that she is more than a pretty face. She wanted to swat away the assertion that she’s never worked hard because of her looks. And you know what? While I would be the first to point out how being a blonde, attractive, white woman can get you far in life – I actually believed Mandy here. She did her job! She brought the heat with her words to match Sonya’s, and challenged her to a hair versus hair match at SummerSlam.

For so long, I’ve written about my desire for women’s feuds about something other than titles, men, or looks. And I think this may be the feud I’ve been pining for! These two women have such chemistry and their promos are so good, that they are making us care about this story that’s been going on for months. They can feud just because they really, really don’t like each other and trust has been broken between them, and that can be enough. More feuds like this please!

To end this laundry list of good things, I want to give Alexa Bliss some kudos. At first I was skeptical about her inclusion in the Braun Strowman and Fiend feud, but in the last two weeks I’ve changed my tune. The last two episodes of Smackdown centered more on Alexa’s place in the story, and with that focus Alexa milked every second. Her fearful, yet intoxicating connection to the Fiend, a connection that saw the Fiend allow her to touch him, is intriguing. During the interview with Alexa about her close friendship (implied romantic love) with Braun, I was hanging on Alexa’s every word. I always knew that Alexa was a good promo and actress, but watching this I legitimately had the thought that she has a future in acting. The woman is fantastic when she speaks.

Yes, Alexa could be wrestling. However, I don’t think utilizing Alexa in this way is misusing her in the slightest. While she has undoubtedly improved in the ring over the years, her first talent was always promo work. She has such ease on the mic, and considering how much Alexa has already achieved, I don’t think her taking a break from wrestling demeans her. If anything, it keeps her character fresh and fans interested in her. WWE’s current use of Alexa is something that I wish they’d do with Charlotte.

A woman’s work has caused me to become invested in a men’s feud I otherwise wouldn’t care about in a matter of weeks. If that isn’t a versatile female performer, I’m not sure what is.

The Bad
AEW/NXT: In a shocking turn of events, I have the same gripe about both these brands this week. They need to give their women more time.

AEW hastily began a women’s tag team cup a few weeks ago. I explained my initial reservations about doing this in the last Nylons, but now I’m adding more fuel to the fire. It seems that the entirety of this cup will play out on AEW’s YouTube page. In dedicated episodes, sure, but on YouTube all the same. I am seething at this! Especially considering the paltry camera time the women have been given even on Dynamite. The last two weeks, the women went on in the last quarter of the show, as one of the warm-ups for the men’s main event. This happening on the same episodes with a mock presidential debate featuring Chris Jericho and Eric Bischoff, and a tag team appreciation segment? Are you kidding me?!

The audacity of Brandi Rhodes to say in a package to promote AEW Heels that she wants “to be part of a movement” and have her voice be heard as a woman. What about the women under your payroll, Brandi? Can they be heard? Can they be part of a movement for equity in women’s wrestling when they have 10 minutes of TV time each week to work with if they’re lucky? Sarcasm aside, are the women featured in YouTube matches compensated the same as they would if they were on cable TV?

I recognize that not all of the women they have under contract are gifted in the ring. Indeed, I may even go as far to say that most of them are pretty green or somewhat sloppy. For example, I felt the tag team match featuring Leva Bates and Rache Chanel vs. Big and Lil’ Swole was a prime example of this. While there were some good moments here and there, the match was simply underwhelming as far as wrestling is concerned. I considered during the match how AEW’s women’s divisions are built largely on new or undiscovered female talent, whereas the men’s divisions are built on already established stars, many of them formerly WWE talent. Without well-known stars, the women of AEW are left with little clout to use to gain them more exposure. The wrestling world is all about backstage politicking, and compared to the men they have substantially less ground to stand on because of their inexperience or unknown status.

This isn’t to say that it is the women’s fault for their lack of exposure; if AEW is going to take these women under their wing, they need to be committed to training them up to standard. Only then will they be made into stars.

NXT has a similar problem, but is more consistent with giving multiple women airtime every week. I noticed that the night Dakota and Rhea went one-on-one that there were no other women’s segments on the show. The next week, there were two women’s matches, but together totaled about the same amount of time as Rhea and Dakota’s match the episode before. Sometimes it feels like NXT sees women as a checkmark to hit on a list of beats for every week’s episode – something to include for a fixed amount of time and no more. I hate that there’s a bargaining likely happening: “Okay, we can have two women’s matches this week but they can’t go more than x minutes total or We’re giving this match x minutes so we can’t fit more women on the show.”

We see this thought process so frequently in other forms of media it has become normalized. The group of male friends can have one woman (always white) and/or one Black person (always male). We can have one gay best friend. One Asian OR Latinx person. Per television show, per movie, per fashion runway, per reality show, the list goes on. As I said, NXT is usually better about breaking this pattern than AEW. Even still, the industry must get rid of these archaic diversity quotas. There is always room for more if you value the people you’re giving the time to.

RAW and SD: You mean to tell me WWE held a battle royal on Smackdown to determine the #1 contender for Bayley’s title that featured talent from all three brands….and they just let Asuka win it?? When she already has a title match at SummerSlam?? Do I have that right??

Why, why, why does WWE shrink their women’s divisions so! They could have had another woman challenge Bayley, literally any other active talent just to give fans some change of pace but instead they just took the easy way out. I am beginning to worry about Sasha, Bayley, and Asuka, because they’ve been working literal double duty for months now during the pandemic. Not only are they increasing their risk of COVID infection, but also generally increasing burnout risk. The pressure they must feel to constantly be “on” for audiences given the state of the country (and let’s be real, WWE itself) has to be taxing. To me, it is just as unfair to ask the trio of them to work overtime as it is to not consider spreading the work to more women. The three of them are not the division; it’s time WWE stopped acting like it.

It is very disheartening when WWE shows us what they really think of the women’s mid-card in times when the focus is so great on the title scene(s). The latest manifestation of their indifference to non-main eventers came this past Monday during Mickie James’ return match against Natalya. In the middle of this match, Seth Rollins stormed down to the ring to scream at Samoa Joe about the possibility of Rey Mysterio showing up. The camera focused on this for the majority of the match, and the mics picked up on his speaking more than the women in the ring. Watching this, you can physically see the women wrestling in the background to Seth arguing with Samoa Joe in the foreground. Mickie ended up losing the match via countout in less than 5 minutes. Giving these two less than 5 minutes, and then taking even more from what little they were given. Disgusting.

Both Nattie and Mickie should be considered legends at this point for their tenures. They are both so immensely talented as wrestlers. To see how easily they faded to the background of men’s chatter, of one man’s whining, is just…I can’t even find the words for it. How do you not go backstage and cry after having to experience that type of erasure? How can that not hurt you deeply? I shudder to think how embarrassed Mickie must feel to know her son likely watched TV thinking he would see his mom and figuring out that wouldn’t be the case.

We talk very fondly about certain women and their tenures in WWE. Trish Stratus was an active wrestler for the company for six years. Six years! That’s it! And yet she is praised while women like Natalya, Mickie, and Naomi are disrespected time and time again. Because they’re too “fat” or too Black or not enough of what Vince wants. I am tired of it; I sincerely hope you are too, reader. I believe all women deserve the world for simply being. Can’t they be enough to thrive in the ways they want?

The Thorny
We haven’t done a COVID check-in in a while, so I wanted to take time to make clear where I stand when it comes to pandemic-era wrestling.

AEW and WWE have both introduced the idea, either actually or tentatively, of bringing fans back to TV tapings. AEW was the first to put the wheels into motion, with a small number of fans being allowed in the Daily’s Center over the last couple of weeks. WWE is moving from the Performance Center to an actual venue, with the hope that they can begin welcoming fans into the arena sometime in the fall.

I don’t think I need to over-explain how illogical and harmful welcoming fans back into arenas is. As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic in the U.S., it seems that Republicans are insistent about moving toward danger if it means putting the most vulnerable populations – namely the people most fervently advocating for their removal — at risk. This is obviously a problem because a lack of federal response has allowed business owners and school administrators to make decisions for themselves. And when you let the rich, wealthy, or moneyed members of society make decisions from the comfort of their homes, they will always choose the option that will make money, regardless of their political allegiance. Continuing as if nothing is wrong when there very much is has been the motto of our nation for centuries. Business as usual. I joked to my husband the other day that the saying about certainties of life – death, taxes, and construction – should include professional wrestling, because here in America, it never stops. Pro wrestling refusing to cease in the middle of a hazardous pandemic is late stage capitalism.

Wrestling should have stopped months ago, but it has instead carried on thanks to Vince McMahon’s lobbying of the Florida governor and his place in Trump’s administration. Revive the economy they said. It’ll be fine they said. But now that WWE successfully achieved the “essential business” label, it has opened the door for other sports like basketball to migrate to Florida for what? Money. Yes, basketball is entertaining, but sports fans aren’t dumb. They know just as the players do that the league and the wealthy white people that own it want them back so they can keep making money.

I am so worried about all the talent I see on TV week after week. I shudder to think of the day that someone inevitably gets sick and infects the other people they wrestled or interacted with when they reached contagion. Wrestling fans, more than other sports fans in my opinion, come to adore the wrestlers in such a passionate way; because there’s no off-season, many of the faces we see on our screens become part of our weekly lives. The amount of talent you have to have to be a wrestler is severely underappreciated by the masses. And because of that, I feel that wrestlers will bear the brunt of whatever curse COVID has coming its way. Because while those basketball players got time off, wrestlers didn’t. But the masses don’t value wrestlers the way they value ball players.

All of this being said, it is ludicrous that either promotion believes fans have any place near wrestling right now, and especially in the future of 2020. It feels fruitless to write about such concerns here, and yet I as a fan with this platform see it as right. If you don’t believe wrestling should be continuing, if you value your favorite wrestlers as humans first, and if you can put aside your selfish desires for entertainment – tell these promotions to cut it out before it’s too late.


Stay legit bossy,

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