We are on the road to WWE’s Survivor Series and AEW’s Full Gear, which means that 2020 is nearly drawing to a close. With Hell in a Cell now in the rearview, I’ll be taking a look at the epic meeting between forever rivals Bayley and Sasha Banks, as well as where the rest of the women’s division is heading to finish out the year.
Surveying the landscape, things certainly look promising across both promotions, if the cards in front of the writers are played correctly.
AEW/NXT: Britt Baker continued her shenanigans two weeks ago with her new BFF Tony Schiavone over at All Elite. The week’s lesson in How to Be a Role Model was the importance of being a “bad b*tch,” and she gave this lesson sitting side by side with Tony at the spa. At this point, I’m not sure if I’m smarter or dumber for these skits, but I still find them funny. Maybe I’m alone in this, who knows! But I couldn’t help but laugh at Tony getting his chest waxed. She’s just here to make us laugh, and during these times, I can’t fault her for giving us some levity.
Last week, Britt faced off against Kilynn King in a pretty and pink crushed velvet number. Bad b*tch indeed! Once again, this match served to shake off some ring rust for Britt. She had some fantastic maneuvers in this one, including a wicked fisherman’s neckbreaker into a curb stomp. I also have to commend Britt (or the producers) for the modification to her finisher. She didn’t always put on a glove before administering her Lockjaw finisher, but likely as a COVID precaution, she gets Reba to hand her one before locking it in. This fits seamlessly with her obnoxious dentist gimmick, always prioritizing correct and sanitary procedures as the resident “doctor” of the women’s division. Even after COVID is over, she should definitely keep this little character touch.
Women’s world champion Hikaru Shida also wrestled Big Swole in a competitive matchup. Outside of one botched sunset flip powerbomb by Swole, this match still delivered holistically. Hikaru delivered an impressive straight jacket German suplex, while Swole fought back with devastating cutters. She even kicked out of Hikaru’s falcon arrow finisher – a rarity for opponents of the champ! Hikaru ultimately prevailed with a shining wizard to end this competitive matchup. Generally, I think these two women have potential together in the ring. Their styles are similar, yet have just enough contrast to make their encounters entertaining. I think if these two were to actually feud even in the short term, they could develop some chemistry to deliver gripping matches that the division sorely needs.
Over in NXT, Candice LeRae and Shotzi Blackheart battled for the opportunity to challenge Io Shirai at Halloween Havoc tonight. Candice prevailed with a brass knuckle assist from new friend Indi Hartwell, but as we’ve come to expect, Shotzi gave her hell beforehand. Shotzi is really getting her fundamentals down the more that she wrestles; she executed a beautiful step-up enziguri and a spontaneous vertical suplex. Candice as well shone bright with a gorgeous springboard moonsault and a middle rope German suplex to Shotzi.
I am curious to see the capacity in which Indi is used in the Garganos’ quest for gold. Will she become physically involved, as we’ve seen with Raquel Gonzalez to Dakota Kai, or will she be somewhat of a silent benefactor, as Zelina Vega was to Andrade?
We also saw the returning ladies, Ember Moon and Toni Storm, in action last week. Ember wrestled Jessi Kamea in a quick bout. Furthering my hunch that Ember has a heel turn in her future, she had a very condescending flair in this match! She patted Jessi on the head and talked smack to her while Jessi was sitting down, and continued to trash talk throughout the match. I could be looking too much into these mannerisms; after all, Sasha Banks’ face persona is often just as vicious as her heel one, it’s just a matter of context. The same could be true for Ember. Regardless, Dakota Kai came out to attack Ember at the end of this one, so it looks like she will be playing face….for now.
Attitude aside, this match made evident to me why sending Ember back to NXT was in her best interest. She moves with lightyears more intensity than she did on RAW; she also seems higher energy. For example, she busted out not only a stellar standing dropkick, but a standing moonsault as well. Jessi got some offense in, like a textbook roundhouse kick to stun Ember. But the War Goddess secured victory with a new submission finisher, as of writing unnamed. It can only be described as a….reverse cloverleaf crossface?? It looked miserable, so I do hope she comes up with a menacing name for it.
Toni Storm wrestled her first match in NXT in more than a year against Aliyah of the Robert Stone Brand. I absolutely loved Toni’s entrance; she gives me cool 1960s punk rocker vibes (think: Beatles/Ramones). This was a match for Toni to shake off her ring rust and she definitely delivered. Since I was not an avid watcher of NXT or the Mae Young Classic during Toni’s initial run, I’ll be keeping my eye on her to deduce her signature ring style. One thing I can say with certainty though: I admire her Storm Zero finisher!
RAW and Smackdown: Post-Draft, both shows sought to establish the new stars on their respective brands, to mixed results. Focusing on the good, I can say that I am enjoying the pushes of Alexa Bliss and Bianca Belair right now. On RAW, we saw Alexa announce the Fiend to the ring, and officially join him in the Firefly Funhouse universe. Once again, the timing and pacing of Alexa’s integration into the Fiend’s world is perfect; having her cameo in a Firefly Funhouse segment after the Draft was the next logical move to cement her alliance with the Masked One. Alexa was gifted with a beautiful smile, but in a darker context, her pearly whites read as incredibly eerie.
She cemented her place in the universe by appearing in her first Funhouse skit this past Monday. She cheerfully poisoned one of Bray’s puppets with arsenic, and the he eventually hacked the poor puppet to bits. Later in her Moment of Bliss segment, she arrived with a new warped version of her theme music, as well as a youthful aesthetic. She wore white sneakers, overalls, and a striped t-shirt like she was ready for Picture Day at school. She interviewed Randy Orton with that possessed smile of hers and small bites of her bottom lip, until Drew McIntyre arrived to exact revenge on his opponent from the previous night’s pay-per-view. As Drew beat Randy down, Alexa adorably sat atop the turnbuckle in the corner, pointing and laughing at Randy like a schoolgirl.
Everything Alexa has done thus far has been great. I think what she needs now is a focused feud with one other woman. As we’ve seen the Fiend wrestle fully in his gimmick, I want to see the fully turned Alexa in a wrestling/storyline context with an opponent. You know she can use her double-jointed arms for some wicked spots! Ultimately, what I don’t want for her is to be reduced to a sidekick for Bray Wyatt. She is, without being superlative, more successful than Bray Wyatt has ever been in WWE. She should be utilized as such, and be given freedom to act on her own without Bray by her side.
Over on Smackdown, Bianca Belair finally made her in-ring debut on Smackdown against old foe Zelina Vega, also a Smackdown recruit. Before this, WWE ran an amazing video package for her, set to a rap song with a montage of her executing incredible athletic feats. The package was littered with superlative “-est” adjectives as well. It was wonderful to see her, particularly being one of the handful of Black women in WWE, being hyped so heavily. Even commentary sang her praises during her match with Zelina. A showcase for Bianca, the match mostly featured her showboating her strength with the diminutive Zelina. At one point, Bianca did a power clean into an overhead press with Zelina’s body! She looked like Wonder Woman.
I do hope that WWE positions her as a superheroine-esque figure in the women’s division, because her raw strength and athleticism are something to behold.
Now, for the remainder of the “Good” section, I will be engaging in a Sasha/Bayley love fest. You’ve been forewarned.
Before HIAC, we had conflict between the two women regarding the contract for the match. At the initial contract signing, Sasha absolutely slaughtered Bayley on the mic. Bayley asserted to start with that Sasha was waiting to turn on her, but Sasha responded tersely by saying if she wanted to turn on Bayley, she would have done so years before now. The Boss proceeded to take credit for much of Bayley’s successes: bringing her up as a tag partner when Sasha was on the “main” roster and Bayley was in NXT, helping to get her over once Bayley was called up, and of course, Bayley’s recent record-breaking title reign. Sasha finished her promo by asserting that her name was bigger than Bayley’s title. Ouch, burn!!! Bayley left with her tail between her legs – and without signing the contract.
On the go-home to HIAC, Sasha came out to force Bayley to sign the contract, snatching Bayley’s title and kneeing her in the face for good measure. She forced Bayley’s body to the mat and coerced her into signing the contract. At this point I was fairly suspicious. For a few weeks now, the writers have been building Sasha up as a valiant, yet vicious babyface. Sasha was fierce and unrelenting for several weeks in a row, in a way that actually made sense. WWE is prone to utilize 50/50 booking: one wrestler getting the advantage one week, and their opponent receiving the upper hand the following week, and so on. What’s more, we all know the unspoken rule of wrestling: whoever is standing tall on the go-home show to the PPV is losing. A tactic of unpredictability that has become predictable. So particularly because Sasha had been booked so strongly in the weeks leading up to HIAC, I surely thought she would lose the match. How happy I was to be wrong!
Hell in a Cell: Go and watch this match. Seriously. Go find it, and come back to this.
This was the match of the night without a shadow of a doubt (yes, over Roman vs. Jey and no, don’t argue with me about it). My notes for this match are so long; there are simply too many memorable spots to describe here, but I’ll do my best to give you the highlight reel: Sasha kicking Bayley’s trusty chair clean out of the ring as the Cell was lowering and the camera captured it perfectly; Sasha running up a table to give Bayley a meteora against the Cell; Bayley delivering a sunset flip powerbomb into a chair propped between the turnbuckles; Bayley catapulting Sasha neck-first into kendo sticks stuck between the steel steps and the Cell wall. These two women choreographed amazing sequences featuring weapons and their signature movesets.
The story of the match was Sasha on offense, Bayley on defense. Bayley’s strategy in this match was to thwart Sasha’s offense by using Sasha’s momentum against her. The majority of Bayley’s big spots in this match were yanks, slams, and dodges that sent Sasha crashing into the environment around her. This maneuvering fit perfectly with the story, since Bayley has consistently tried to escape accountability for her actions since she turned on Sasha.
The finish of the match was so poetic, for the duo’s past and present. Bayley went for a Bayley-to-Belly with a chair in hand, hoping to slam Sasha onto the chair. But, Sasha countered this and grounded Bayley to the mat, causing her to land face first on her own chair. Sasha then used the chair to lock in the Banks Statement, wedging Bayley between the opening, and stomping on the chair legs to squish Bayley all the more. Bayley tapped out, giving Sasha the win. The leg stomping by Sasha was of course a nod to the pair’s legendary Takeover: Brooklyn match 5 years ago. The chair itself also represented Bayley’s karma. Bayley, desperate to exercise power over Sasha with her chair and blindsided attacks, was defeated with her own weapon, thus proving that what you reap you absolutely sow in the end.
I went into this match actually hoping Sasha would lose so the feud could continue, ideally to WrestleMania next year. But, this match was so brilliant, so much like lightning in a bottle, that I think things might work out if the feud ended here, in the short- or long-term. Bayley definitely needs some rest, and I hope she gets it after an incredible year-long title reign (and notably, no days off). Sasha could feud with different people and perhaps if things go back to “normal,” the two can reignite their feud ahead of WrestleMania.
All in all, one thing is for certain: Sasha needs to hold this title for a while. She has been cursed in the past by losing her singles titles on her first defense; it’s still a running joke among fans and commentary despite her strong booking as of late. Bayley can’t just win the title back in a week or a month, and I am praying that WWE resists the urge to do this. Doing this historically has meant that, despite being a now eight-time champion, all of Sasha’s combined title reigns don’t even equal one calendar year. The other three Horsewomen have had their lengthy reigns at the top. It’s Sasha’s turn now. WWE, you better recognize!!!
AEW/NXT: I don’t have anything negative to say about NXT – I look forward to seeing Shotzi host Halloween Havoc tonight!
I’ll be discussing my issues with AEW in the last section.
RAW and Smackdown: Whatever was going on with everyone outside of Sasha and Bayley the past two weeks had me scratching my head.
Asuka defended her title against Lana on RAW on the go-home show to HIAC, which signified that she was not going to be on the show. What the heck?! The match itself was nothing to write home about; it wasn’t terrible, and it was fairly short. I’m beginning to question if WWE has long term plans with Asuka – it certainly doesn’t seem so. This was evidenced by the fact that Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax came down to the ring immediately after Asuka won, only for Nia to Samoan drop Lana through the announce table for a fifth time. The champs cut a brief, bickering promo prompting the entire women’s tag division to come out. The Riott Squad, Mandy Rose & Dana Brooke, and Peyton Royce & Lacey Evans ended up in an impromptu non-title match with the champions. By the time the bell rang, I was wondering why this had to be tagged onto the end of a segment featuring the brand’s women’s champion? So quickly, Asuka became an afterthought.
Onto the match, it was as fine as a four-way tag match can be. Because women are so often thrown into multi-person matches, they really have gotten them down to a science. In my opinion, these types of matches for the women are lazy tactics to get them on the show with as little time taken from the men as possible. It’s clear that these segments are branded “the women’s segment” and every available woman that night is thrown in to keep female fans’ off their backs (or so they think). With that said, it is still miraculous to me that the women manage consistently to make them interesting and figure out a way to let everyone shine.
That happened again in this match, but even still, I simply hate watching multi-person matches, especially tag matches. Comparatively, they don’t happen as often in the men’s divisions. There are simply so many bodies flying everywhere that it is hard to keep track of, and none of the action feels important for anyone involved.
I do hope this redefinition of the divisions spells good things for the Riott Squad, because they stand out in any conversation about the tag division in my mind. Also, the way they flew off the top ropes in this one was rad!
Post-HIAC, we’re now setting up Survivor Series. So this past Monday on RAW, Adam Pearce wasted no time putting the entire team together. He flat out announced that Nia Jax, Shayna Baszler, Mandy Rose, and Dana Brooke would all be on the RAW team. The final member of the team would be the winner of a Fatal 4 Way involving Nikki Cross, Lana, Lacey Evans, and Peyton Royce. My initial thought was: they really put three blondes in that match when two blondes were already on the team?! Cue eye roll!
The match itself was entertaining enough, if only for Nikki and Peyton. Nikki dove out of the ring and delivered wonderful DDTs to her opponents, while Peyton delivered both a tower of doom suplex and a Widow’s Peak of all things! I’m very excited to see just how much Peyton has to give, even if I’m still salty about the ripping her away from Billie. WWE opted for the shock win of Lana, rounding out the team of mediocre blondes and the tag team champs. Granted, the three blonde women have either historically or recently not been doing much, so I suppose it is grand to see them given a chance on a Big Four pay-per-view. Yet, it does beg the discussion of why WWE didn’t build these women up before this, so their inclusion on the Survivor Series card doesn’t feel so lackluster. I digress.
Additionally, the Nia/Lana table spots were funny at first, but if it isn’t going anywhere, what is the point? Who backstage hates Lana to seemingly rib her in this way week after week?
The obligatory “women’s segment” in every RAW, Smackdown, and Dynamite is driving me up the wall, so let’s talk about it.
As I described last week, there is a point during every TV episode of wrestling that has become territory exclusive to the women. In NXT, this pattern feels more like an organization or pacing tactic, one that helps to integrate the women into the show in a pervasive way. For the rest of the shows, it feels more like an inclusion of afterthought – isolated segments featuring women that read as a “break” from the more competitive men’s action. Frankly, outside of the wonderful feud between Bayley and Sasha, the women in WWE and AEW alike feel like sideshows within their own companies.
We have to watch 90 minutes of men’s action on Dynamite before we are blessed with the appearance of two women in the ring. Why are we to accept this? Nothing screams “token diversity” more than throwing women (or other marginalized identities for that matter) into a condensed segment 30 minutes before the end of a two-hour show.
On Smackdown, other women’s feuds have been nonexistent for some time now, and with the melodramatic feuds involving company guys Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns also on the brand, that likely won’t be changing anytime soon. RAW, despite having three hours and two championship divisions for the women, still can’t seem to help throwing just about all of them in one messy segment. Often times, they try to diminish the women’s time even further by connecting the women’s title shenanigans with the paltry tag division booking. Kill two birds with one stone seems to be the motto.
This is further evidenced by the fact that the RAW Survivor Series team was simply assembled without a handful of qualifying matches. Unlike the men who all had to fight to earn their spot on the team, four of the five members of Team RAW were given their spots arbitrarily, and four women had to fight over the last coveted spot. Isn’t that just a nice metaphor for the women’s division?
The effect of this tactic means that fans were robbed of the opportunity to see at least four additional women’s qualifying matches. It wasn’t as if we lacked time to spread these matches out before Survivor Series. Leave it to WWE to figure out a way of minimizing visibility for women.
The insidious problem in both companies is that men are prioritized to the detriment of women. The amount of screen time given to the women is dependent on what the men are doing that night, and for how long. Once the men have their storylines figured out and allocated throughout the show, the women are given the scraps – creatively, and quantifiably in time on the episode. If women are to be featured on the same shows as men for the known future, then they must be fully integrated into the show’s format like on NXT. We must always be reminded that they’re there because they matter. Women’s stories and women’s wrestling matter. We as fans must keep reminding both promotions of this fact.
The next two weeks are going to be filled with stress and uncertainty. Find your loved ones for next Tuesday. We’ll need all the support we can get!
Stay legit bossy (and vote!),