We’re in the heart of spooky season pals, and there are some very scary things happening in the WWE world right now. We’ll talk about them at the end of this entry, but before that we’ll keep our discussion centered on in-ring action.
I apologize in advance that this week’s Nylons will once again tilt more heavily toward WWE/NXT; however, this is only because there is so little women’s wrestling on AEW Dynamite each week compared to the three weekly shows WWE televises. Yes, there is AEW Dark, but the commentators rarely acknowledge Dark as part of the Dynamite canon, or promote it in any meaningful way. So, until that begins to happen, I will give it the same care that AEW seems to give it.
We have lots of ground to cover, so let’s get started.
Because NXT was so packed with matches and storyline development for the women these last two weeks, I’ll be discussing them in their own section.
AEW: We had a pleasant number of returns in women’s wrestling in the last 14 days, starting with Dr. Britt Baker DMD. She competed in a return match against a new talent, Red Velvet. This match essentially served as a reminder of what Britt Baker can do in the ring. She executed excellent moves throughout, such as a lightning quick slingblade and a devastating fisherman’s neckbreaker. Even still, the match wasn’t a total squash, and also succeeded in allowing Red Velvet to get in some offense. I am thrilled to see Britt, arguably the crown jewel of the women’s division in executives’ eyes, begin to dominate the division. Hopefully, All Elite is more responsible about Britt’s rise than WWE is with their top women.
Also, we saw Big Swole wrestle a competitive matchup with Serena Deeb. Even though Swole won in the end, Serena had some excellent offense for her! She gave some nice deep armdrags and even finger bending to ground Swole. One of the best examples of Serena’s prowess was an octopus-like full body submission she locked Swole into during picture-in-picture – but it was cut off by commercials!! Ugh, a perfect example of why that tactic is stupid. Viewers could have seen an interesting continuance of the match if picture-in-picture hadn’t ended. This makes me wonder what level of communication the referee can give the talent to alert them to when they’re on camera, when commercials begin, and when they’re ending. This could have helped get Serena over even more if she had this info, or it was communicated more timely.
Despite this diversion, the match was still a great one. I really enjoyed the match ending, as it seemed like a believable one-two punch that would put someone down for the three. Swole delivered a pump kick sending Serena to the ropes, and on the rebound delivered a headbutt. After Serena bounced off the ropes once more, Swole finished her with a “rolling” elbow as commentary called it. Week on week, the All Elite women are becoming more impressive and giving WWE a run for their money. All they need to do now is increase their visibility by adding more women to the Dynamite cards and develop more vocal, memorable characters.
NXT: So much content for this brand, so we’re going to break it down into sections.
Candice versus Io…and Gargano shenanigans: Ahead of their respective Takeover matches, women’s champion Io Shirai and North American champion Damian Priest teamed to face off against power couple Candice LeRae and Johnny Gargano. This match did a nice job of giving a preview of what to expect from both matches at Takeover without giving away too much. The team of Damien and Io was cute; at one point the pint-sized Io climbed the giant Damien’s shoulders to dive onto Johnny and Candice on the outside. The Garganos played the role of sneaky, underhanded heels well, constantly staging distractions for each other to get the upper hand. And get the upper hand they did, because they earned the win.
That, of course, wasn’t the story at Takeover. Candice lost to Io in a highly competitive bout, but lost no integrity in doing so. Both women kept a fast, desperate pace throughout this one. Io used her agility to thwart many offensive tactics from Candice, such as landing on her feet after attempted monkey flips and hurricanranas. They traded delicious springboard moonsaults in and out of the ring, backstabbers, double knees, you name it. Candice also proved that she is deceptively strong, delivering a definitive powerbomb to Io from an elevated position. Johnny got involved as expected, taking a page from Bayley’s book by trying to count Candice to victory in a ref’s shirt (after the ref was inadvertently knocked out by both women), but to no avail. Io kicked out of Johnny’s fake count, and even kicked out after Candice hit her with the title belt.
Io’s resilience allowed her to hit a gorgeous Spanish fly and then her patented Over the Moon-sault for the win. Check this one out if you have the time!
Elsewhere in the Gargano world, it was revealed that Indi Hartwell bought the couple a new TV, after Tegan Nox broke their old one in a confrontational dinner party. Later, another vignette showed Johnny watching back the women’s battle royal that Candice won a few weeks ago for #1 contendership. Indi had apparently included a USB with the TV for viewing, so Johnny watched it. As he did, he pointed out to Candice how Indi went out of her way to save Candice from elimination throughout the match. They both looked intrigued at the prospect of an alliance with her, with the olive branch Indi extended them in the form of a TV.
I must say, I didn’t even notice Indi’s saving of Candice while watching that match! Now that is some subtle, intentional, long term booking. One of the things that sets NXT head and shoulders above RAW and Smackdown.
Returns: At Takeover, both Toni Storm and Ember Moon returned post-championship match to state their claims to Io. Toni cut a promo via video, while Ember mysteriously rode to the arena via motorcycle.
On last week’s NXT, the brand got right to business making these returns feel important. A nice package was run for Toni, with her explaining how her time away was a rebirth of sorts, and that Io should be prepared for a version of Toni that neither she nor anyone has ever seen before. It was a nice touch that Toni referenced Evolution from two years ago, wherein she defeated Io to win the Mae Young Classic on the show. I had to look that up, because I couldn’t believe how I’d completely erased that match from my mind from that show. To remember Io, Toni, or even Rhea Ripley as being part of that show, given how much their gimmicks have changed and their careers have taken shape since then, is wild to say the least.
On a different note, I am glad to see a woman get a comeback story after being heavily slut-shamed in the past. Hopefully, in the aftermath of the #SpeakingOut movement, a kinder environment can be fostered for Toni.
As for Ember, she cut a promo last week explaining that the old Ember was effectively dead. She stated firmly (nearly arrogantly) that she would no longer accept being walked over. She will do what she wants when she wants, and she wants gold. Perhaps it was mic rust, but it seemed to me that Ember was a bit….off in this promo. She sounded a degree of cocky that I’m not used to hearing from her. My gut reaction to this promo was that it was meant to foreshadow a future heel turn for her, which to be honest, I’d be down for. She felt stale as a babyface, and enough time has passed for her to believably come back with a new attitude.
Io came out to interrupt her promo, followed by Rhea Ripley. Rhea was about to express her interest once again in facing Io for the title, but she was attacked from behind by Raquel Gonzalez and Dakota Kai. Isn’t that just the story for Rhea these last two months?
To settle differences and get Ember back in the ring, she and Rhea teamed to face Raquel and Dakota in a decent match. You could tell Ember was itching to get busy in this one; she darn near sprinted back and forth in the ring delivering clotheslines, kicks, and whatever else she could do to get her rage out. There were some insane moves in this match from everyone: an odd full body submission by Raquel on Rhea that looked like a reverse guillotine, wherein Rhea was somehow in a backbend over Raquel’s back; a flapjack to Dakota from the electric chair position by Rhea; and Dakota’s sickening Kai-ropractor finisher, a modified Canadian destroyer that sees her opponent land back first on her knees. Such excellent creative work by all women!
The star of the match was Ember in the end, as she delivered the frantic finish to the match. A beautiful swinging DDT followed by her signature Eclipse for the one-two-three. Welcome back to Miss Moon indeed!
Xia Li: Something is going on with Xia Li….
In her match against Kayden Carter, she put in a solid effort only to lose, and petulantly refused a handshake at the end of the match. The following week, she had another match, and at the end of it, Boa came out and gave her an envelope with Chinese letters on the front. She opened the envelope to find a letter, and upon reading the letter her face wrinkled up into a frown. She then walked to the back with Boa
None of us know what this means right now, but color me excited that they’re doing something with this promising talent. I’ve pegged her for a long while now as a star of the next generation of NXT. With that generation taking shape right now, this looks to be the start of a major building of her character.
Shotzi hosting Halloween Havoc: Yay for Shotzi! The perfect person to host this revival of the legendary WCW pay-per-view, this is also a huge rub for her. She’ll get to show us the dimension she has on the mic, which is always a very important component to the “total package” of a superstar. Here’s to hoping they don’t give her corny Halloween writing!
RAW and Smackdown: Not all of the great action in the women’s division involves wrestling. Let’s start with Alexa Bliss and the never-ending soap opera between her and the Fiend.
She appeared on the KO Show on Smackdown two weeks ago to answer to Kevin Owens about her strange behavior recently. What sold this interview segment was her facial expressions. When responding to KO’s questions, she seemed aloof, yet knowing deep down what changes had taken place inside her. Saying things like “I’m sorry I don’t know what you mean” and “People change, Kevin.” Her subtle, Cheshire-like smirk throughout this was more than unnerving. The coup de gras of this promo was Kevin saying that Alexa had been brainwashed, and her response that “Yes, my brain has been washed.” She went on to explain that the Fiend has cleansed her mind to the point that she can see the world more clearly. Gah! This is excellent script writing!
It is equal parts thrilling and maddening to see how easily WWE can write compelling dialogue for characters. The key to unlocking it is clearly being a favored talent. Can they do this for the mid-card women as well?
The aspect of this story that I like best is its steady progression. Every week, Alexa’s story is advanced in some way; we’re not given too much in one week, yet its enough to move the story along at a satisfying speed. At the end of the KO Show segment, the Fiend attacked Kevin Owens while Alexa looked on. This past Monday, both Alexa and the Fiend attacked Andrade and Zelina Vega with matching Sister Abigails. The two joined hands and sinister glances to close the segment. This culmination of weeks of speculation about Alexa’s mental state was not rushed or drawn out too long. And for its steady pace, the payoff just feels right. I can’t wait to see where they go from here, just so long as it isn’t a Harley/Joker relationship as I discussed weeks ago.
In other news, I am still delighted about the vignettes being run for Bianca Belair. I chuckled at the “SmartEST” skit, wherein she dominated a trivia game at a table full of white women. With quips like “You can answer too, girl” she had me belly laughing. If that isn’t a metaphor for politics and feminism at large, I don’t know what is. It’s so deliciously Bianca and Black excellence embodied!
In the ring, tag team action has been dominating. Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler faced the Riott Squad in a match that did what it needed to do: it furthered the tension between the tag team champions, and solidified the Riott Squad as a bonafide team. The latter has a burgeoning offensive playbook, with fun tag team maneuvers such as a piggyback reverse slam onto a prone opponent. Ruby and Liv, despite taking a beating for most of the match, still shone in their own ways. Ruby took the most punishment, and did amazing selling for Shayna who insisted on contorting Ruby’s arms, fingers, and shoulders. Liv had a cool hot tag moment, that saw her deliver alternating body checks to Nia and Shayna in opposing corners. The story of the tag champs is that, even in the face of awesome teamwork as shown by Liv and Ruby, that they dominate based on power (Nia) and methodical weakening of their opponents (Shayna).
In fact, most of the drama in the women’s battle royal (for #1 contendership to Asuka’s title) stemmed from Shayna and Nia’s dynamic. I’d venture to say it was the only entertaining thing about it. Although Nia saved Shayna from elimination, it was Shayna who ultimately put the nail in Nia’s coffin by giving the final push in a horde of women trying to get Nia out of the match. I know I should hate this dynamic, but I’m oddly intrigued by it. They could be on their way to Cesaro and Sheamus territory of enemies-turned-unstoppable unit.
A new tag team developing on the RAW brand is that of Dana Brooke and new RAW recruit, Mandy Rose. The two teamed with Asuka to face Natalya, Lana, and Zelina Vega and had a decent showing. If anything, I’m happy for Dana, because pairing her with someone as over as Mandy (with fans and with The Office) will hopefully get her the screentime she’s desperately needed for years. They have a similar look, build, and in-ring style, so if they work on their tag team moveset they can easily be a powerhouse in the tag division.
I also want to give quick props to Lana. The woman has taken four Samoan drops through an announce desk by Nia Jax in a matter of weeks, and won the women’s battle royal on Monday despite that. Whew! Braver than the Marines! I do hope her ring skills are as tough as her back surely is.
Lastly, Bayley and Sasha Banks continue their heated rivalry as the weeks roll on. Sasha challenged Bayley to a title match on the first night of the Draft, but this match ended abruptly after an intentional chair shot DQ by Bayley. This move falls in line with Sasha’s assertions about Bayley needing a lackey to do her bidding in order to keep her title. But, she won’t be able to disqualify herself or escape Sasha for long; after the botched match, she challenged Bayley to a match at Hell in a Cell!!! Things are happening! This is an amazing feat for Sasha, being featured in the only three female HIAC matches in WWE history. How fitting as well that, with this match, each of the Four Horsewomen will have competed in at least one Cell match. With the real life chemistry between Bayley and Sasha, it should be the best one yet.
The Draft: Generally, I am satisfied with the state of both RAW and Smackdown’s women’s divisions post-Draft. The women that most needed a refresh were the ones that were traded, and the ones that weren’t were the ones who’ve become cornerstones of their brand’s identity.
I am ecstatic to see Bianca Belair now on Smackdown, as her hyper-athletic style will fit so well with what WWE wants for the blue brand. And, I’m hyped at the prospect of her feuding with arguably her predecessor, Sasha Banks. Notably joining her on Smackdown is Carmella, the Riott Squad, and Natalya – an interesting mix of singles and tag division stars.
AEW/NXT: I’ve figured out the formula for AEW Dynamite. The men dominate the first 90 minutes, and then we’ll see a women’s match. I began to notice this trend about a month ago, but wanted to see if my hunch was correct by keeping track of when the women would finally appear on the show in a match. Through my unscientific observation, it appears to be this way. Why?
I can generally predict on all of the shows I discuss on Nylons where “the women’s segment(s)” will appear. On RAW, in the middle of the first hour, or halfway through the second or third hours. On Smackdown, the back end of the first hour or halfway through the second hour. On NXT, the beginning, middle, or end of the show. And now I know All Elite’s formula. But AEW is the worst of the shows I named because their show is only two hours, and they tend to only include one women’s match on the entire show. Ninety minutes into a two-hour show is enough to convince casual female viewers that may be tuning in to see women’s wrestling that the promotion doesn’t prioritize them. You gain viewers when someone can tune into the show at any time and see, more or less, something for everyone. Wrestlers for folks to identify with. They need to clean up their act in this regard. It’s a major turnoff to the product.
For the opposing brand, I only have one specific critique. A couple of weeks ago on NXT, we saw Dakota Kai face off against Shotzi Blackheart. I had some great notes on this match, but without looking at them all I can remember is one nasty apron spot featuring Shotzi taking a German suplex onto her head. This is the third time in a matter of weeks that Shotzi has been involved in a ring apron suplex spot that saw her land hard on her neck or head, folding backwards to the floor. During one of her recent matches, commentary mentioned how she was reminiscent of Lita and Team Xtreme. Who wouldn’t be flattered by such a compliment?
But, it is not 1999 anymore. We’ve seen the negative effects that high-risk spots like that have had on all three members of Team Xtreme. Lita broke her neck doing moves that Shotzi insists on including in her matches. Fans still worry for the safety of Matt and Jeff Hardy for continuing dangerous spots well into their 40s. One thing fans like about this era of wrestling is that, generally, it is much safer than it used to be. This new generation of stars needs to uphold that standard, and think of the longevity of their careers – and lives – when choreographing matches. Shotzi, please don’t kill yourself for our entertainment!
RAW and Smackdown: Carmella made her return with a promo on Smackdown two weeks ago. Let me first state that I like Carmella, and was the first to point out how having her play buddy to R-Truth for a year stopped the momentum she was building as an in-ring star. However, I didn’t like her return promo. It all boils down to the reasoning for the change in attitude she has now as a heel: the vague finger-pointing at “you people.”
She claimed that it was because of the fans that she danced and joked alongside R-Truth, thus losing sight of who she really is. Carmella lamented that it was giving into our whims that brought her down. It just didn’t make any sense; fans can’t make a wrestler do anything! We just cheer, boo, or buy tickets to watch the people wrestle. In storyline, I absolutely hate how the writers often opt for the lazy trope of having heels blame “you people” to get cheap heat. Heels will blame us for things against all logic. I understand this is likely The Point and we’re meant to boo them for the holes in their logic. At the same time, good villains are ones we hate because of their actions, not their aimless anger at the universe.
As a heel, Carmella can come across vapid. Had her wrestling skills not improved during her last title run, she would have been largely insufferable. This time around, she must develop depth in her villainy if we’re to take her seriously.
The Draft: As I mentioned, I am happy with the Draft as it relates to Smackdown. In contrast to Bianca, I was most excited about RAW gaining Naomi. In the wake of #NaomiDeservesBetter, I do hope like so many other fans that she is given better on RAW. But, my hopes aren’t too high with the likes of Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Lacey Evans, and Mandy Rose joining her on the brand. She can never seem to escape blonde white women, can she? It doesn’t help as well that she is the only Black woman on the entire RAW roster. In this way, I feel that the Draft was a bit unbalanced for the women, by putting so many heavy hitters or favored women on the RAW brand.
One would think the extra hour would help, but regular viewers of the product will know that it doesn’t actually make a difference. We’ll see who management wants us to see, regardless of how much “extra” time we have. We want Naomi!
There is a whole litany of bad things going on in WWE right now. I can’t devote this section to any one of them, so I’ll briefly throw them all in a sandwich and serve them to you.
Firstly, the Twitch controversy. Following up on my discussion weeks ago about WWE’s ban of third-party platforms and sponsorships such as Twitch and Cameo, things have only gotten worse since the initial reporting. News has broken over the last week that WWE wants to have full control over Superstars’ Twitch accounts if they decline ceasing use of the platform. In effect, this would look like Twitch streaming being written into entirely new contracts for the talent, with Twitch earnings written into their downside guarantee. WWE would take their cut of the performer’s Twitch earnings, and whatever is left would simply be part of the talent’s normal paycheck. Additionally, the performer would be obligated to stream at WWE’s say so.
Oh, and as I asserted at the beginning of this controversy, the wrestlers being hardest hit financially by this policy are women. Women’s Evolution, right? The GASLIGHTING. The words disgusting, despicable, predatory, and exploitative come to mind.
Matt Riddle has been in legal hot water for months now following allegations of sexual assault by former Evolve talent Candy Cartwright. Recently, the woman released a memo she received from NXT executives in January basically telling her that she could not come to NXT because of a “past issue” she had with an NXT talent. Riddle and WWE are being sued for millions.
And yet, Matt is still being featured prominently on WWE TV. He has barely been off TV since this whole mess started. I can’t bring myself to watch anything he’s a part of; I can’t imagine how hard it must be for survivors to stomach his visibility (as a face no less!!) through all of this.
Speaking of deplorables, Lars Sullivan returned to TV right in time for the Draft. He was out with an injury, but some of us may recall that shortly before this he was under fire for some racist, homophobic, and sexist comments he’d made in the not-too-distant past online. I hoped that WWE would have the good sense to keep him away for longer, if not permanently. But alas, as soon as he was well enough, they will bring him back as if nothing happened.
And oh yes, there’s a pandemic happening. There was recently a COVID outbreak among NXT trainees (unclear if talent currently on NXT TV were involved). Admittedly, this is the talents’ own faults for having a party in Florida of all places. Still, there have been reports of some trainees fearing for their safety in the workplace; there are apparently “COVID truthers” in the locker room that do not take the virus seriously. A microcosm of the country, really. But given that NXT is based in one of the worst states in the country for COVID cases, this is a very alarming piece of news to hear.
This is a huge crap sandwich. Two things have become painfully clear about WWE this year. The first is that they do not care about the health and safety of their performers. The second is that the McMahon family believes in the same Trumpian politics currently running our nation. Alleged rapists and racists run wild and free on TV; folks who don’t believe in science are given a slap on the wrist; business first, empathy “later” (read: never). The company has shown us who is valued and who is disposable. Who is worth protecting and whose safety is negligible. To be honest, I wouldn’t blame many of you for not watching the product.
Now more than ever, though, we must not look away from the corruption that is happening behind closed doors. To me, it seems that Vince is getting just as desperate as Trump is for a win in November. He’s sending messages to fans about where his loyalties lie, just like Trump is. He doesn’t care who stands in his way – they will be annihilated for his ultimate victory.
I don’t know about you all, but WWE’s business practices could be its own horror franchise. We don’t need Halloween scares when real life is just about scarier than the movies.
Stay legit bossy,