The summer is drawing to a close in this marathon of a year. And as far as wrestling is concerned, there’s been plenty of heat in and out of the ring in both WWE and AEW. For the women, there have been some definite highs, but mentally I’m drawn more to the bad stuff, unfortunately.
In this week’s Nylons I want to discuss how, despite some excellent wrestling and storytelling involving women, the big overarching problems plaguing both promotions are becoming too distracting to ignore.
One last thing: I was unable to watch All Out. I know, I know, call me biased. But extra expenses during a pandemic are ill advised at best. I do hope to purchase at least one AEW pay-per-view before the year’s end, just to get a taste of what All Elite serves up under brighter lights. Until then, I’ll only be discussing Dynamite.
AEW/NXT: It’s always thrilling to see new faces in the AEW women’s division!
In the last two weeks, we’ve seen Tay(nara) Conti formerly of NXT, Serena Deeb formerly of WWE, and, of course, Thunder Rosa of NWA in Mexico. The latter of the three hailing from “the graveyards of Tijuana”….sick!
Thunder Rosa made her All Elite debut on the Dynamite before All Out, and it served as a nice debut for her. She faced Serena Deeb, also making her debut in the match. It seems her style is ground-and-pound, but lucha libre style. She utilizes quickness in both chain segments leading to submission holds and low drop kicks. Serena proved to be clever in her own way, at one point reversing a cross-arm choke by Thunder Rosa into a backstabber. It would have perhaps benefited Serena in her TV debut to face someone other than the #1 contender to the women’s title. There was no way Rosa was going to lose in her debut match with a pay-per-view title match three days after, so as a result Serena didn’t really get the showcase a debuting star deserves.
Elsewhere in the division, I must say I was very impressed with Tay Conti’s slickness in the ring! I was expecting her match with Nyla to be a straight squash, and while the match as a whole was pretty short, I was shocked to see Tay slide through Nyla’s legs like butter to lock in submissions. Nyla, on the other hand, still wows me with her power. I’d love to see a powerbomb face-off between her and Keith Lee!
After her victory, Nyla attacked Tay, leading champ Hikaru Shida to come out and make the save. It’s clear that Nyla is next in line for the title, which is…fine? Hopefully this leads to more showcases for her and Vickie, or as they’re now known, the Vicious Vixens.
On NXT, the match that took the cake was the “Battle of the Badasses,” or the meeting of powerhouses Rhea Ripley and Mercedes Martinez in a steel cage. If I could go on a brief tangent before we get into this awesome match, I learned during Mercedes’ entrance that she is only 5’5”??? I had a mini existential crisis upon seeing that statistic. I am 5’7’, and Mercedes is about equal in height to Rhea. I’m not sure why I thought Mercedes was about six feet tall, but I guess I was just assuming based off her aura! Talk about tall woman energy! In seriousness though, I feel that the camera does a great job of working Mercedes’ angles to make her appear taller than she actually is, cleverly showing her in wide shots and almost underfoot to her menacing walk. Anyways, on to the match!
This match was purely awesome. From bell to bell, these two women pulled no punches, and went for spots that would make the women of the “main” roster blush. The distinctive thing about this match was something that is hard to come by on the main roster, particularly from the women: top rope spots. There were several in this match: Mercedes’ brutal yet majestic-looking release German suplex hanging from the top rope; Rhea’s vertical suplex from the top to the middle of the ring; and of course, Rhea’s Riptide from the top through a table to add an exclamation to the end of the match. I really wish they’d let the women of RAW and Smackdown go as hard with higher-risk spots as they do for the women in NXT.
Even without the top rope action, there were still plenty of other moments in this one, such as Mercedes’ terrific delayed fisherman suplex and Rhea swatting Robert Stone with a kendo stick while he climbing the cage. As someone who wanted to see this feud come to fruition for a while, I feel satisfied that this is how it (ostensibly) ended. It was every bit as hard-hitting as one could hope and expect. If you watch a women’s match back from the last two weeks, make it this one.
Lastly, it looks like Shotzi Blackheart may have staked a claim at the NXT women’s title! After a failed ambush attempt, Alyah found herself on the bad sides of both Shotzi and champ Io Shirai. Shotzi and Io chased her to the ring and promptly made an example of her. But, at the end of the beatdown, Shotzi picked up the women’s title and went to give it to Io, before smirking and faking Io out, bringing back to her side. She relinquished it like a good babyface, but we now have a non-title match-up on NXT between the two. I don’t think it’s Shotzi’s time quite yet, but tonight will certainly be a pivotal moment in her career thus far.
RAW and Smackdown: Oh, you already know what it is….
It happened. A moment literally years in the making, that fans of both women have been pining for for ages, actually came to fruition between Bayley and Sasha Banks. It was beautiful. I darn near shed a tear. Baysha hive, we’re eating!!!
After a decent match with Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax for the women’s tag team titles, a (kayfabe) injured Sasha pushed away medics trying to assist her. Bayley also shooed them off, telling them that she could take care of Sasha. With Sasha grabbing for her bum leg, inching out of the ring with Bayley’s assistance, Bayley kicked her best friend while she was down. And then proceeded to beat her down in a dedicated segment. Altogether this was given close to 10 minutes, not including the immediate aftermath of the match. Bayley threw Sasha around, kicking her, punching her in and out of the ring, and ended her mauling by jumping on a steel chair wedged under Sasha’s neck. This is a betrayal worth watching, but if you missed it, WWE will undoubtedly rip footage from this in hype packages in the months to come.
Last week on Smackdown, Bayley cut a promo explaining her actions. She said it felt great to beat down her friend because more or less, Sasha was asking or it. She reminisced on how Sasha didn’t have her back in the past, and the ways in which Sasha was always side-eyeing Bayley within their partnership. She claimed that Sasha would inevitably turn on her, so Bayley was simply getting Sasha before Sasha could get her. The champ punctuated her promo by saying that she did use Sasha to help her achieve such a long, dominant reign, and that she discarded Sasha when she was no longer useful to her. All of this stated in a very measured tone sitting on a steel chair. Give Bayley her props!!!
I am so glad that WWE is going the direction they are with this. Everything Bayley said is what most fans online agree upon as logical justification for Bayley turning on Sasha first. I appreciate that the writing isn’t giving a revisionist history of Sasha engaging in heelish behavior. Instead, this is a story of friends that were never really friends; two enemies that simply kept each other close for ultimate personal gain.
Sasha is apparently returning to Smackdown this week. Personally, I feel that bringing her back this soon after such a definitive attack from Bayley almost undersells the brutality of it. Sasha should have went a way for a while, even just one additional week, to heal from the physical and emotional wounds that were inflicted upon her. Returns feel most impactful in wrestling when the person has been gone just long enough to miss them and accept their absence. I fear returning her too soon will cause WWE to rush this storyline and Sasha’s response for the sake of ratings. Plus, now that Bayley is facing Nikki at Night of Champions, there really is no need to rush Sasha back. Oh well. That’s just my nitpicking, don’t mind me.
Also on Smackdown, Alexa Bliss continues her great work as part of the Fiend’s universe. During a match to determine Bayley’s opponent at Night of Champions, Alexa overhead Michael Cole say “Fiend” at the commentary desk. Upon hearing the name, Alexa becomes still. She pauses, then walks over to Nikki Cross and delivers a Sister Abigail, a move we all know as The Fiend’s finisher. Alexa then walks up the ramp to the back, in a trance. I really do think Alexa is the only woman on the roster who could make this interesting and believable. I’ve mentioned this before, but she is the most interesting thing to me about the Fiend’s universe. She serves in every segment she’s given. Fan boys, come at me.
Lastly, over on RAW, it looks like Zelina Vega is striking out on her own and challenging for the women’s title! In a delicious promo after Asuka’s successful defense against Mickie James, Zelina came out and told viewers in so many words that she’d wasted too much of her time serving men. Amen, girl. She said that she was going for hers, and she’s ready for a title. Now, I’m overall putting this in the “Good” section because I complain constantly about giving different women title opportunities. This is a great way to freshen things up, and I’m excited to finally see Zelina be treated as a wrestler. With unparalleled mic skills, if she has the ring talent to match, she is on the fast track to stardom. And yet, I can’t help but feel for some of the other women that do wrestle regularly or even those who haven’t been on TV as of late, like Natalya or Bianca Belair. Perhaps others deserve to cut the line before Zelina. I’ll talk a little more about this in the next section.
AEW/NXT: I discussed earlier the match between Thunder Rosa and Serena Deeb, and I left out something that took me out of the match greatly as I watched. Jim Ross on commentary, whom I generally like, made a remark that this match was competitive. He said that he “might get in trouble” for saying that this match was one of the most competitive ones we’ve seen in AEW for the women’s division. His fellow commentators assisted him in cleaning up that callous statement, by backtracking to say that the women are competitive generally (this one was just extra competitive), but it left a bad taste in my mouth. What’s more, the commentary team seemed unsure of how to call the match at points, often just stating over and over how “technically sound” the action was. It came across as robotic, like they were trying to convince the audience of such out of duty rather than genuine interest. It was distracting because the match was good but by no means great.
While I can understand the possibility of J.R. fumbling his words, I have to wonder if it was a fumble or an accidental divulgence of his true feelings. He can come across in some matches as bored or confused with the wrestling, so it’s not implausible that he feels that way with the women. My discomfort stems from the fact that he may not be far off base. It has to be said that every week, NXT whoops AEW when it comes to the gravity given to their female performers. In NXT, the women feel like a part of the show, an important chamber in the heart of that brand. In AEW, they most often feel like a courtesy, an optional part of Dynamite. A kidney or an appendix, if you will. Do most people have them in their bodies? Yes. But do you actually need them to survive? Not necessarily.
I’m not sure what came first: the mediocre wrestling, or the lack of exposure. Do the women of All Elite shine dimly because their collective skill level isn’t great, or are they not improving because they are not given enough high-pressure exposure? I’m not sure. I am sure that I am sick to death of All Elite being a place where the male WWE rejects can debut and enter feuds with all the energy and gravitas the promotion has to offer while the women have barely had more than two consistent storylines in the one year AEW has been a promotion. It is infuriating to watch an entire hour pass of Dynamite before a woman even appears. Cody, Kenny, Bucks, Tony – what’s going on?
It is my obligation to both hold promotions accountable when they are undeserving their women and critique the wrestling that I see from them. It can be simultaneously true that the women of All Elite are not that exciting to watch and that they should still be given the space to improve, just as the men have. The only way one gets better is with practice. If AEW doesn’t have a training facility as WWE does, they need to be making room for their women to improve with the same pressure that the men have. End of story.
This week for NXT the only thing I have is Candice LeRae’s shenanigans. She faced Kaci Catanzaro in a match a couple of weeks ago, and I was initially stoked! The two tiniest women on the roster going head to head was sure to be interesting, especially considering we don’t often see the two in one-on-one action. But it only was given about 5 minutes?! What is this nonsense! Both women could have easily gone at least 10 minutes deep, and it is always a blessing to see Candice specifically wrestle. But it seems NXT is utilizing Candice more in vignettes with her husband, Johnny.
She invited Tegan Nox to her home for dinner after defeating Kaci, and the following week this dinner happened. Spoiler alert: Candice was a witch to Tegan, and the dinner ended with food thrown everywhere. For some performers, I think long vignettes can be an excellent way to build their characters. For Candice though, her strength is far and away her wrestling ability. It feels a little uncomfortable to me that she’s been domesticated for the last few months, existing mostly in segments at “home” with her husband, Johnny. I’d love to see her Poison Pixie character manifest more inside a ring.
RAW and SD: Outside of the lovely Bayley/Sasha storyline, the two main shows have been an absolute mess. Where do I even begin….
Let’s start with a glaring one: the IIconics breakup. As I mentioned briefly last week, the IIconics were randomly put into a match with the Riott Squad (Liv Morgan and Ruby Riott) with the bogus stipulation that whichever team lost must disband. The IIconics lost this rather short match in what was ultimately a swerve; a few days prior at the Payback pre-show, Ruby Riott was acting rather heelish with her partner, despite picking up the win. She wrestled more roughly, and blind tagged Liv to take more of the spotlight in the match. All arrows pointed to the Riott Squad losing, but of course because fans were anticipating that, WWE did the opposite. And it now seems that any dissension on the part of Ruby has stopped. What. The. Heck?!
Not only did the IIconics breakup come completely out of nowhere with zero build, but they were coerced into disbanding in a short, throwaway match. The only truly cohesive, unproblematic women’s tag team on the whole roster, and they were broken up because Vine wants to make Peyton a singles star? When the women’s tag division is struggling, and the singles division has so many women being underused? This is a felony!
I’m glad that Peyton Royce is seen as a potential star. However, the IIconics never truly reached their full potential as a team. Even as tag champs, their reign was unremarkable. They almost never wrestled, and were off TV for most of it. Although they have insane chemistry, they were given paltry screen time and feuds for the duration of their time on RAW and Smackdown. Tag teams used to only be broken up after the team had run its course successfully. And sometimes, tag teams never broke up, and that was okay!! I strongly believe it is a disservice to both Peyton and Billie to split them up when they were so excellent together. I think this speaks to Vince’s inability to see tag teams as holistically valuable units unto themselves; he remains unable to recognize tag teams unless both members are established singles stars on their own and then paired together.
Switching gears, I have to comment on the RAW women’s title match we saw between Asuka and Mickie James this past Monday. I was disappointed that this match just didn’t click. Although not nearly as bad as some on the interwebs have made it out, this match felt awkward at several points. It had its moments, such as Mickie delivering a beautiful Mick Kick to a stuck-in-the-ropes Asuka, but unfortunately it was Mickie that made this match clunky. She was very hit or miss, while Asuka was just sort of…there. The latter didn’t seem as sharp in this one, and many of her spitfire moments were extinguished by an overly-prepared Mickie. The plague of this match was that Mickie would begin to move into position to receive Asuka’s offense half a beat too soon, to the point where it was apparent to the viewer. We know it’s choreographed, but moving too quickly into a move that you are meant to lay down for is a bad look.
And what was that finish??? When Asuka finally cinched in the Asuka Lock, Mickie squirmed about for about 7 seconds before the ref just called for the bell. She sort of goes limp and gives the ref a blank stare, and Asuka is also confused. Was Mickie supposed to tap but took too long? Did the ref just call the match because they were running out of time on the show? I hope dearly it wasn’t the latter, but in any case the match is one we should all forget.
To zoom out, I’ve been very disappointed with the amount of abbreviated matches I’ve seen the last two weeks. Matches featuring the likes of Natalya, Ruby Riott, Mickie James, Tamina, and Lana to name a few. In regards to Tamina specifically, I felt terrible to see her exist in a match with Lacey Evans, Nikki Cross, and Alexa Bliss to be the punching bag for everyone else. I pondered while watching her match: can Tamina even wrestle? And I don’t even ask this pejoratively; I ask it because I genuinely do not recall if we’ve ever seen Tamina given the opportunity to really go in a focused match. She’s been utilized so poorly, so sparingly in her decade-plus tenure with the company that I don’t actually remember if she has talent at all. And you really do have to wonder: is that what WWE wants us to think so we don’t question her treatment?
The women we do see are often put in segments so abbreviated that you could miss them if you went to the bathroom and came back. And then there are certain women who aren’t even put on TV every week. Where is Bianca? Where is Naomi? Remember when WWE pretended to give a crap about Naomi for a week to get the Universe off their backs and then went right back to having her sit on a shelf waiting to be played with? While the summer months were somewhat of a renaissance for Black men on WWE TV, with the Hurt Business domination and related feuds, Black women did not fare as well. And while Black men continue to be more visible (something that I’m still very happy to see!), Black women are silent and still in the shadows.
I am thinking back to earlier this year, when Fit Finlay was let go as part of the COVID layoffs. It had been long known that Finlay was the agent, trainer, and caretaker of the women’s division in WWE for a generation of women. While I certainly had my critiques of the women’s division during his tenure, I still recognize that I felt safer about the women’s division as a vital part of WWE’s programming, at least on RAW and Smackdown. And now, with him gone, it seems the undercard of the division is being mishandled more often. So many feuds start and stop after mere weeks, and while yes there have been exceptions this year, most of the women feel like afterthoughts in a male-dominated story. Who is advocating for the women now, and when will they reevaluate the directions they’re going in?
By now, I’m sure many of you are aware of the controversy involving WWE and their wrestlers’ use of third-party platforms like Twitch and Cameo. If you aren’t up to speed, I’d recommend reading up about it before proceeding. Even a politician like Andrew Yang has gotten wind of it.
To summarize, Vince sent out a cease-and-desist to his performers about their use of third-party platforms such as Twitch and Cameo, as well as sponsorship deals with third-party brands. He also stated in a separate conference call that WWE owns not only wrestlers’ ring names but their birth names as well. The company is giving talent only a couple more weeks to wrap things up, but rumors speculate that talent are not having it. There is very little intention on complying by talent, with some of them even asserting that if they were to be forced from making money from third-parties that they would demand more money from WWE.
The “business” logic for this is that WWE is an (oligarchal) enterprise similar to Disney, and as such its assets, apparently not limited to performers’ real names, must be doggedly protected. Where does that leave wrestlers who had their ring names before entering WWE, such as AJ Styles and Samoa Joe? Where does the wrestlers’ own creative input into character names, gimmicks, and aesthetic come in?
This whole situation has highlighted with scorching clarity that not only does WWE need to stop classifying their Superstars as independent contractors, but the wrestlers need a union to protect and collectively bargain for fairer treatment. I cannot overstate how ridiculous and oppressive this is.
WWE is different from Disney in that there is a clear separation between actors and the characters they play with Disney. Sure, Chris Evans wouldn’t be able to don the Captain America outfit in public without Disney’s say-so, but that doesn’t mean that they control Evans from making money doing other film projects, like Snowpiercer for example. Chris Evans is hired to play a role that was already created, he does his job, makes his money, and moves on. In WWE, performers are way more involved in the creative processes involving their characters, and this only becomes more true the higher up the pay scale you go. WWE expects wrestlers’ personas to follow them into every facet of life, including their social media where they must constantly promote the storylines they’re in – and then turns around and gets upset when wrestlers bring these personas to third-party brands? But, even when they use their given names, like Paige did after this news broke, you still have a problem?
It is clear that Vince’s problem isn’t with business or conflict of interest. The fervor with which he asserted that using third-party brand promotion was “detrimental” to the company was disgusting. Your talent are independent contractors because of language you insisted upon in their contracts, and yet you want to control them in this way? Vince is tapdancing on legality at this point and society should be collectively outraged that something like this can happen in this country.
Even going as far as to assert that the company owns people’s birth names, the only thing one truly owns in a capitalist society – I can’t. This is late stage capitalism. What do you call owning a person’s name if not slavery?
We should also remember that this controversy came about not because Vince watched AJ Styles’ Twitch stream, but because he saw Lana — of all people — promote an energy drink on her social media. Lana, a woman who has been underused and picked over for years in the company, was the catalyst for such sweeping prohibition. A woman. A woman who figured out she wasn’t going to wait for a man to pay her the money she deserves for her hard work. A woman whose gimmick for so long was being a good wife/manager to her husband. She figured out ways to make her own bread. She figured out what else she was good at and monetized those talents for herself. That level of autonomy from a woman was likely unbearable to Vince.
But there are so many female Superstars like Lana. In fact, I’d argue that this ban would most affect women, who have for years looked to sponsorship deals, ads, and collaborations on their social media to bring them closer to pay parity with men. It’s a well-known fact that the female Superstars, even the most successful ones, don’t make as much as your Romans or Seths in WWE salaries. So, as with society generally, they ventured into the social media influencer market to supplement the money they weren’t making. And many of them are doing it well.
WWE is implementing Trumpian politics into their business model. After seeing the likes of The Rock, John Cena, Stone Cold, and Batista become Hollywood household names, their endgame is to create an environment of dependency on the company for its performers. Vince doesn’t want any of his talent to get big enough to leave without his permission. He doesn’t want wrestlers making side-hustle money because it may mean the people might recognize their value outside of a wrestling ring with a WWE logo on the side. They might get too big for their breeches and start to demand more for themselves.
Capitalism functions on citizens’ absolute dependency on employers to provide livelihood, including housing, healthcare, and food. If we make money equal those things, then billionaires like Vince can sleep easy at night knowing their cash flow will never stop. Capitalism falters when folks decide to go into business from themselves, and seek out financial independence. Vince McMahon, who is busy helping to fund Trump’s reelection campaign, is an ego-maniacal capitalist that wants greed for himself and his family. He feels most comfortable when he feels in control. That’s all this so-called ban is. A power move to exert ultimate control over people’s lives – and money.
One day, Vince’s judgment day will come. I think with this backlash, compounded by others this year, it may be coming sooner than he thinks. A new future is being built before our eyes in this country. Old systems that don’t serve the people will be destroyed. It’s just a matter of time.
Stay legit bossy,