I come to Nylons this week very confused. I have so many questions instead of answers from both promotions about, more or less, what on Earth they’re doing with their women. No big deal, I just want to know what the heck is going on. (Sarcasm intended.)
From unconvincing finishes to tangled webs of storylines to “what is the point of this anyway?” – we’ll talk about the full gamut of what we know and what we don’t.
Because WWE has had three pay-per-views in the span of two weeks, I will be mostly focusing on these events. No discussion of RAW or Smackdown, and a little discussion of NXT. Across all shows, though, you’ll find that even some of the best parts had their drawbacks.
AEW/NXT: I don’t have any positives for AEW this week, unfortunately.
For NXT, we must firstly discuss the awesome NXT women’s title match between champion Io Shira and challenger Dakota Kai. I wouldn’t say the two of them have chemistry, but they do work with each other well when it comes to choreography. Dakota is very tactical in the ring, understanding that her legs are her biggest asset and using them accordingly. Outside of delivering brutal kicks, she also used her legs for nearly every submission maneuver she locked in on Io. Also, she utilized the absolute maximum amount of time she was given on a count by the ref before releasing a rough hold. But Io, as we’ve come to expect of her, was no slouch. She moved quickly on her feet to capitalize on even the most fleeting moments of weakness from Dakota, such as when she transitioned into a graceful sunset flip powerbomb with a double-foot stomp at the end for good measure.
I wouldn’t mind seeing these two feud longer term, although I’m unsure if NXT writers know if that will be the case, as I’ll explain in a bit.
As for NXT TV, I enjoyed seeing Mia Yim vs. Shotzi Blackheart. This is one of the best matches I’ve seen Mia wrestle, as it seemed she was moving with more impact in this one. I laughed when both Shotzi and Mia caught the other’s leg and mutually decided to place them down and start their interaction over. It was a cute moment showing that on occasion, wrestlers can laugh at themselves.
I love the way Shotzi uses her entire body weight as a weapon, delivering sentons from all parts of the ring. I do hope, however, she expands her offense a bit more.
Even if I enjoyed the match, I do think it could have benefited from five more minutes; it seemed to end abruptly.
A match that was given time was Io teaming with Rhea Ripley to face Dakota and Raquel Gonzalez. Rhea never lets us forget how hard she is, because in the early stages of this match she gave Raquel a massive headbutt. Ouch! All women were impressive as expected, contributing their signature fight styles cohesively. I cringed at Raquel delivering her finisher to Rhea; it’s a simple one-handed slam but the way Rhea sold it with as much power Raquel threw her down with….that woman is strong! She could undoubtedly be a singles competitor if she ever wanted to ditch Dakota.
SummerSlam / Payback: While the match itself was underwhelming, the storytelling put into the match between Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose at SummerSlam was high class. The package they ran before the match was pitch perfect. WWE’s video editing team is really unparalleled when it comes to making meaningful video packages summarizing feuds. The set up made it feel Ruthless Aggression-like – two women who simply hated each other and needed to sort their differences out in the ring. That’s how all feuds should work!
I also have to commend the intention Mandy put into her ring gear. Part of Sonya’s issue with Mandy is that she was always second fiddle to her “more desirable” partner, and that Mandy’s heart wasn’t as pretty as her face. For this match, Mandy wrestled in a white leotard-type outfit with simple makeup and slicked back short hair. Her midriff wasn’t showing and her leotard covered her buttocks entirely, unlike her normal two-piece gear. Something that men wouldn’t really know to comment on, as a woman I noticed this and immediately recognized that Mandy was putting the story and the things that Sonya said about her appearance into her attire. I could tell she wanted us as the audience to take her seriously as more than just a beautiful face and body, and I commend her for thinking this critically about her aesthetic.
Also at SummerSlam, I once again enjoyed the match-up between Sasha Banks and Asuka for the RAW women’s championship. Insert “fight forever” chant here. There were too many wonderful moments to count here: THAT powerbomb off the apron from Sasha to Asuka that had me questioning if the latter was legit hurt, Asuka’s top rope DDT, Sasha somehow turning a tug on her leg from Asuak into a double knee-to-face combo. They also traded submissions back and forth for a portion, I swear this match was great before the finish.
If you can put the finish aside for this one, I would recommend you check it out. Give Dakota and Io’s Takeover match a view as well.
Lastly, at Payback the only real positive was Shayna Baszler in the women’s tag team title match. The other women involved had their moments, such as Sasha turning a powerbomb attempt from Nia Jax into an insanely high facebuster. But for me, this match was really all Shayna – she carried the key portions of the match and was the focus of the finish. And speaking of, what an inventive finish!!! Shayna had Sasha in a leg lock and Bayley in the kirafuda, and used Sasha’s arm to choke Bayley which led to her tapping out. Now that is who you call a Submission Magician!
The story of the match was Sasha and Bayley throwing all of their tag team arsenal at Shayna and Nia and still not being able to put them away. There was even a point in the match where, after a kickout, Bayley and Sasha look at each other in disbelief that their one-two punch to both their opponents failed. But the finish put the final nail in the coffin for Sasha and Bayley: when push came to shove, Sasha fought until the very end, and Bayley didn’t. Sasha wanted desperately to hold on to the only title she had left, and Bayley couldn’t fight for her because at the end of the day she still had her Smackdown women’s title.
That’s a money story right there. Now it’s just a matter of which woman will turn on the other first. But it seems pretty clear that either way, Sasha will be the face, and Bayley the heel. Seems perfect right? Well….we’ll talk more about the cons to this story later.
AEW/NXT: Let’s start with AEW, shall we?
Nothing on the past two weeks of Dynamite was bad per se, but I have reservations about where things are going with the various women on the roster. Everything is a mess, to put it simply.
Britt Baker and Big Swole continued their feud with a handicap match featuring Swole and Britt’s assistant Reba, along with Penelope Ford. The latter two had reluctantly agreed to wrestle on Britt’s behalf for rights to determine the stipulation for Britt and Swole’s match at All Out this weekend. I was very intrigued at the alliance between Penelope and Britt; they have similar auras, so if All Elite wanted to they could definitely keep this partnership going and it would make sense.
The match itself was nothing to write home (er, here) about, but I just hope that after a summer of comedy skits between Swole and Britt that the match actually has substance. The division could really benefit from a competitive match in the undercard, so All Out will be the litmus test for how the promotion views such for its women.
The conclusion of the women’s tag team cup finals took place on Dynamite, with the team of Diamante and Ivelisse coming out the victors. I was pleased to see them win! Especially considering their explicit tribute to Puerto Rico at the end. I apologize that I didn’t realize this with my original discussion about the women’s tag division in the last Nylons, but apparently the winners of the cup don’t win titles? It appears that they merely win the physical cup trophy, and I have to wonder: is this merely another empty prize for a women’s division, a la WWE’s Mae Young Classic and WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal? What does this mean for the future of women’s tag wrestling in All Elite? It seems strange to me that the last tournament that took place on Dynamite was for a men’s title, something that will have value week to week, whereas this seemed to just be for show, a non-televised show at that.
In thinking about hollow gestures, I also have to question what the promotion is doing with Nyla Rose right now. She is a former women’s champion, and yet she’s competing on Dark?! And now she has Vickie Guerrero, a manager with name recognition and reverence in wrestling fandom moreover, and she’s not on Dynamite every week? What was the point in bringing her in! I hope they rectify this ASAP, because Vickie has built too much of a name for herself to not be seen in a prominent capacity on TV. That, and Nyla deserves that exposure as well.
Lastly, I am confused as to why Hikaru Shida is facing Thunder Rosa, the NWA women’s champion, at All Out. Have we discarded the ranking system for contendership, or is AEW knowingly suspending it for the cross-promotional value of this match? I actually have positive feelings on the whole about the match – the mixing of styles from two countries world-renowned for pro wrestling (Japan and Mexico) will make for undoubtedly a competitive match. I’m just wondering where this fits in the larger story of Hikaru’s reign, as well as the lineage of her title.
On NXT, the only negative thing I have to say is in regards to the direction of Rhea Ripley. She’s in two and a half feuds right now, between Mercedes Martinez, Raquel Gonzalez, and champion Io Shirai. I had to double take a couple of weeks ago when I saw Raquel dominate Rhea in the tag team match mentioned in the previous section. I’d swore the week before I was talking about my excitement over Rhea seemingly beginning a feud with another Latina “big hoss” type in Mercedes, and surely thought maybe NXT thought the two women were interchangeable.
I’m failing to understand how Rhea feuding with all three women at one time is beneficial to any of them. It seems she is primarily feuding back and forth with Mercedes and Raquel, and as rising stars in the division, both women would benefit from a one-on-one feud with a former women’s champion. But instead, the focus is split between them, making neither of them feel especially important. All the while, Rhea has eyes on Io, but is unable to fully enter a title feud with her because of the other two women hunting her down. Io deserves focused title reigns, and Rhea deserves a focused feud where there is equal give and take. Right now it seems like she’s always being beaten down without getting real vengeance. The writers need to pick a lane and stick with it. Rhea feuding with any of these three women would be gold, but too many chefs in the kitchen it seems is making this one crap soup of a storyline.
Payback / SummerSlam: There’s something potentially problematic brewing between Alexa Bliss and the Fiend.
Although she was conspicuously absent from SummerSlam, reportedly a last-minute change due to the sudden return of one Big Dog, she did make a quick appearance at Payback, as well as on Smackdown before that. In a short segment last Friday with Nikki Cross, Alexa seemed cheery and normal, save for her old pigtails and a suspicious single dreadlock hanging from one of them. When Nikki said the Fiend’s name, she became entranced and despondent. At Payback, she could be seen briefly backstage watching The Fiend on a monitor, curiously staring at him while twirling the pink dreadlock.
She’s mentioned how interacting with the Fiend changes you, and how she understands why moths are drawn to flames. It appears that Alexa is playing the role of the moth in this relationship, and that’s…..fine. Only, it reminds me of another toxic relationship that is commonly misunderstood in popular culture: that of Harley Quinn and the Joker.
Now, we don’t know yet if Alexa’s attachment to the Fiend is romantic or not. If she ends up simply being a vessel or lackey to the Fiend because of some spell he cast upon her, we can accept this as merely fiction. But if Alexa and the Fiend do form some romantic connection – as Alexa was implied to have with Braun Strowman – then we have crossed the line into badlands, friends.
Many people romanticize the relationship between Harley and Joker as a Bonnie and Clyde love story; one of two “crazy” lovers who were misunderstood by the world, and sought revenge on all who’d wronged them together. In this fantasy, they are perfect together because they understand each other’s insanity, and together create a “mad love” that sets the world on fire.
But diehard Harley Quinn fans know that this is not the real story. The real story of Harley’s romance with the Joker was that it wasn’t a romance at all, but Stockholm syndrome on the part of Harley toward her abuser, the Joker. Although we don’t know exactly what the Fiend did to Alexa to change her, the implication is that he harmed her in some way, or exposed her to things that would traumatize a person. And at least for now, the Fiend is a heel – a horror movie villain we are not meant to empathize with. Any person that manipulates you into being an altered version of yourself that pushes away those close to you is not someone who loves you. And I fear that, in the hands of a male-dominated writing team, Alexa’s fondness of the Fiend could warp into a Stockholm syndrome fantasy presented as true love. With Alexa’s gimmick being heavily influenced by Harley Quinn (dye-dipped pigtails and all), I find it hard to trust that the writers will resist the urge to write her this way. We’ll have to see, I suppose.
To bring us to the end of Nylons this week, we have to talk about Sasha and Bayley. I know, I’m tired of talking about them, too. However, it’s necessary.
I remain unconvinced that the “interference” by both women in the other’s matches at SummerSlam was blatant enough to justify anger from Sasha. I’d recommend watching the finish to both matches yourself to make your own judgement, but I’ll do my best to describe them here. In Bayley’s match, the finish saw Sasha climb up on the apron to talk to Bayley. Seeing this, Asuka charged at Bayley hoping to hit her, but Bayley realized this in enough time to duck. Asuka then hip attacks Sasha, knocking her to the floor, and Bayley surprises Asuka with a rollup for the pin.
Later, they attempt to repeat the same spot, but I felt that it was done less convincingly. Bayley climbs up the apron to see Sasha, but Sasha ducks away fairly early to escape Asuka’s charge. Bayley moves out of Asuka’s path, causing Asuka to jump into the ring ropes, facing inside. Sasha takes advantage of Asuka’s misstep and throws her down into a Banks Statement, but Asuka was able to transition that into an Asuka Lock for the submission victory. Commentary really tried to convince us at home that Sasha’s loss was Bayley’s fault, but I wasn’t buying it.
Whether or not Bayley took a bump from Asuka would not have interfered with Sasha’s ability to tap Asuka out. In fact, Bayley moving still allowed Sasha to capitalize on a momentary misstep from Asuka. It was Asuka’s submission prowess that allowed her to escape Sasha’s submission and counter with a submission of her own.
I understand the story of Sasha always being willing to take hits for Bayley and the latter not reciprocating. However, I don’t think this far into the story is the time for subtle plot devices like this one. We needed something more obvious to point to, an action more blatantly selfish from Bayley to justify Sasha’s eventual face turn. It seems like the writers are going the route of countless small occurrences rather than a few big ones. This strategy would be fine, if this story hadn’t been going on for months already. Years if you’re including all of the failed attempts at the two feuding previously. We have enough meat to make a meal by now, and at some point we have to start cooking. But we’re not doing that. Instead, we are still waiting for the other shoe to drop, and along the way making Sasha look foolish by again having her lose a singles title on her first defense.
With that, let’s discuss this as a perfect example of the shortcomings of short-term booking.
To summarize the Golden Role Models’ feud with Asuka: Sasha won the title from her in a dicey fashion at Extreme Rules, and then faced Asuka again to rectify said finish on RAW. She prevailed in this match with another questionable finish, becoming the “real” RAW women’s champion. But then, at the next pay-per-view, SummerSlam, Sasha lost the title, in a fashion meant to further her feud with Bayley. The following week at Payback, her and Bayley lost their tag belts to a non-tag team. So as I predicted, WWE gave Bayley and Sasha “all the gold” so they could eventually just make them lose it all, and for Sasha specifically, to book her to lose the RAW women’s title on her first defense. All supposedly to further a feud. We took a million detours to just get right back where we were before the summer. I. Am. Exhausted!
As I’ve said numerous times, Sasha and Bayley did not need all of this dopey nonsense to tell their story. Admittedly, it does make it more complex. However, that doesn’t mean all of it was necessary. Particularly when this feud is ultimately leading to a Sasha face turn, Sasha doesn’t need to be made weak for us to sympathize with her. My question is: if the plan all along was to have Asuka be the champion in the long-term, why book her to lose to Sasha at all? Or rather, if the plan was to have Sasha ultimately lose, keeping in mind her history with title defenses, why not spare her the embarrassment? If this whole mini feud with Asuka had never happened, Sasha could have stayed looking strong and Asuka could have feuded with someone else deserving of a title shot. It is just mind-boggling to me that WWE manages time and time again to choose the route that makes all women involved look like fools.
What’s more, WWE had Bayley and Sasha drop their titles to a thrown-together tag team. They could have easily had them lose to an established tag team, such as the Riott Squad or the IIconics (well, before they broke up), but no. Instead they went with the bigger names like Shayna and Nia. And then had the nerve to break up the tag division’s longest-running team (the IIconics) in a throwaway match this past Monday (the losing team was forced to disband).
This week to week, moment to moment booking is so frustrating as a viewer. WWE believes for whatever reason that doing the “unexpected” thing is what keeps viewers interested. It isn’t. Just because fans may know where a story is logically going doesn’t mean it is a bad story. Sometimes, doing the expected, or at the very least logical, thing can serve as a reward to your viewers – a payoff for paying attention along the way. The best storytelling lives up to fan expectations of where the story is going, and how we’re lead there. When WWE swerves its audience to spike ratings, it only undermines fan investment. It pushes us away. It makes us feel foolish for caring. And above all else, it makes for bad storytelling.
Credit to Sasha and Bayley for making even the worst material somewhat bearable. Even still, WWE is making it increasingly harder to stay invested in the Bayley/Sasha storyline, among others in the women’s division, with spur-of-the-moment booking.
Next week, I’ll share my thoughts on the IIconics’ breakup and what it may mean for the women’s tag division.
Stay legit bossy,