Where did the fall go? As temperatures plummet around the country, so goes down this year in wrestling history as well. I cannot believe we are in December!
All Elite made some improvements in women’s visibility per my suggestion in the last Nylons, and WWE put on a decent Survivor Series, albeit with some questionable booking. We’ll take a look at the last of the Big Four pay-per-views for WWE, some stellar NXT action, and the various female appearances in AEW the last two weeks.
AEW/NXT: As I mentioned above, Tony Khan clearly reads Nylons, because no sooner do I write about his company’s shortcomings in the women’s division does he make women more visible on Dynamite. In the last two weeks, I’ve seen more women on primetime TV than I have in a long while. They achieved this mostly through featuring women in backstage promos.
First, Jade Cargill made another appearance after her scathing promo on Cody from three weeks back in a backstage attack on Brandi Rhodes. Fended off by your local babyfaces, Jade was backed up by Nyla Rose and Vickie Guerrero for some reason. The following week, Vickie (with Nyla in the background) cut a backstage promo explaining her business partnership with Jade. To be honest, I’m still not sure I understand the Vicious Vixens’ motivation behind aligning with Jade, but nonetheless was happy to see the pair of them on TV.
Another interesting backstage promo featured one of the members of the Dark Order hyping up Anna Jay ahead of her title match with Hikaru Shida. In addition to this, AEW ran a hype package for the match as well, explaining how Anna is a different wrestler now than the one who debuted against Hikaru several months ago. Tay Conti was featured in this package, explaining that she’s been helping Anna in the ring given her jiu jitsu background. Important to note, however, that Tay is still not technically aligned with the Dark Order, but rather just a close friend of Anna’s.
Hikaru also got to talk a little, which was exciting! She didn’t say too much as her English is still shaky, but she was able to get her point across which was the important thing. More of that, please!
Before we get to that title match, we have to speak of another. The NWA women’s title was defended by Serena Deeb against former champ Thunder Rosa in a satisfying match. The two seem to be developing great chemistry with one another, as there were rarely any moments where things felt awkward. Serena utilized her technical skills, executing such delights as a dragon screw to Rosa’s leg and a stacked powerbomb-pin combination. Rosa, on the other hand, worked her legs with powerful roundhouse kicks and leg-based submissions. The match was interrupted by Britt Baker, who made a surprise appearance with Reba to stun Rosa with a fisherman’s neckbreaker. AEW easily could have pulled a WWE there, and had Rosa lose immediately. Instead, they protected Rosa by having her valiantly kick out of Serena’s pin attempt after Britt’s sneak attack. Rosa eventually lost a few minutes later, but choosing to keep her strong after outside interference was a welcome change of pace from what we’re used to.
Rosa enacted revenge on Britt after the bell, so perhaps a new feud between these two women awaits on the horizon.
The following week, with the aforementioned hype, Hikaru Shida defended her title against Anna Jay. A quick note before getting into the action: Justin Roberts gave us false hope by saying the match had a 60-minute time limit. I question why the promotion would make this choice if they knew the match was going to go for a significantly shorter amount of time. I feel more cheated than if it had been announced as having a 20- or even 30-minute time limit. I digress.
For all of Anna and the Dark Order’s talk, Anna doesn’t seem to have progressed that much in the ring. She is better, don’t get me wrong, but she understandably couldn’t carry the match much longer than it panned out. There wasn’t much remarkable about the match itself, besides Tay and Anna once again bickering over whether it’s right to cheat by using a steel chair. Ultimately, I’m including this match in the “Good” section because it was good for what it was. We saw more development in the relationship between Anna and Tay, and we got to see Hikaru once again defend her title against all-comers.
Speaking of, with a spooky appearance post-match, it appears that Abadon will be the next to challenge the champ. Hooray..?
Over in NXT…
Barnburner. Slobberknocker. Show-stealer. Whatever you call Rhea Ripley vs. Io Shirai for the NXT women’s championship, you better put some respect on that match!! A bout that absolutely deserved a crowd, and I’m so sad that it didn’t have one. Rhea and Io left it all on the mat, in one hell of a main event to NXT two weeks ago.
My notes on this match are LONG, but I’ll share a handful of my favorite moments: Io delivering a German suplex to Rhea on the top rope; Rhea delivering a superplex with both women on the top turnbuckle; Io countering a Riptide into a tornado DDT; Rhea locking in her cloverleaf Prism Trap, spinning Io around with the hold still intact, and then slamming Io to the mat without letting go. The climax spot of the match was Io executing a sunset flip through the middle rope to the outside and powerbombing Rhea through the announce table. I was at a loss for words!
The story of this match was Io working Rhea’s arm to make it too weak to properly deliver the Riptide. Both women sold like death for the other, but my hat’s off in particular to Rhea. That woman can scream. She makes every move convincing with her voice alone, but her body language as well is exaggerated but not too cartoonish. I’m sure at a certain point some of her pain was real; about 10 minutes into this match, Rhea’s ear – with a giant guage inside the lobe – somehow tore and started bleeding. As someone with a facial piercing, my worst nightmare was realized upon seeing that. Even unintentionally, this match was not for the faint of heart!
This was, in my opinion, Match of the Year potential. Yeah, I said it. Put women in the conversation. I beg of you, if you have WWE Network or can find this match somewhere online, watch it. When I imagine the fearless potential of women’s wrestling, I imagine this match. Man, women are truly amazing.
As for the rest of the women’s division, we’re setting up for WarGames on Sunday. Boy howdy, is it shaping up to be a great match
Before last week, I hadn’t really put together the full depth of the NXT women’s roster. But seeing the brilliant way the writing is bringing all of the stars of the division together into opposing alliances for WarGames has me shook!
It started with a match between Ember Moon and Candice LeRae last week. The match was great as you would expect from these two, but the real meat came after. Candice won the match with the help of Indi Hartwell, Dakota Kai, and Raquel Gonzalez. Dakota and Raquel forced a referee distraction which allowed Indi to jump into the ring and take Ember’s Eclipse finisher to save Candice. Stunned at missing Candice, Ember fell victim to the Wicked Stepsister for the dirty loss.
After the match, Ember had the odds stacked against her, so Toni Storm came out to make the save – or so we all thought. In a shocking turn, Toni went bad, attacked Ember, and aligned herself with Team Candice. Later in the night, Rhea Ripley cut a promo addressing rumors she might be leaving NXT, and was interrupted by Candice, Indi, Raquel, Dakota, and Toni. Raquel held a slain Io Shirai over her shoulder, enraging Rhea to attack. She was ultimately outnumbered, and once again the squad stood tall. Elsewhere, Shotzi Blackheart could be seen backstage building what appeared to be a new tank, replacing the one that Candice ran over and destroyed on Veteran’s Day. Shotzi, in more ways than one, was preparing for a war.
The magnificent thing about the writing of the NXT women’s division is the way the brand seeds future storylines so subtly. When all of the seeds start to blossom and the feuds come to fruition, as a viewer, you feel incredibly satisfied. That is what I’m feeling going into this WarGames match; it won’t be a thrown together match featuring all of the top heels versus the top babyfaces; it will be the payoff of weeks, even months of smaller stories told within the division. Isn’t that just the perfect way to end a year?
Survivor Series: On the whole, I thought both women’s matches at Survivor Series were great. I was initially skeptical of the placement of Asuka vs. Sasha Banks before the seemingly thrown-together women’s five-on-five, but it ended up working out.
The Empress of Tomorrow faced off against The Boss in a competitive match, even if it didn’t go for as long as it should have. They were only given a little more than 10 minutes in hindsight; as usual, though, the women figured out how to make the most of the little time they were given. They got all of their spots in and made the match worth watching for the minutes they had our attention. The greatness of this match was the one-upsmanship of it all. Both women worked hard to thwart offense by the other by countering the moves into near-fall submissions.
Sasha executed skilled takedowns and blistering kicks, while Asuka responded with some kicks of her own as well as surprise double knees to Sasha’s face. The match ended similarly to the way it began, with a series of rollup attempts before Sasha finally prevailed. It was a believable finish, with Asuka finally succumbing to Sasha’s craftiness, but I did question once the bell rang if Sasha winning was the best move. I don’t feel strongly enough about the decision to put it in the “Bad” section, yet I think it would have been a wiser decision to have Asuka win. Asuka hasn’t been booked as strongly as Sasha has in recent months, so she would have benefitted more from this win. At the same time, as a Sasha fan, part of me is also skeptical – fearful almost – of Sasha’s recent strong booking. The Sasha Krew is so used to her losing and looking foolish that this feels like a fluke and the other shoe is sure to drop soon. In that regard, I suppose it isn’t all bad that Sasha is being booked dominantly for a change.
Later down the card, the traditional women’s Survivor Series elimination match was a pleasant surprise; I was shocked at how well it turned out! I wasn’t looking forward to seeing it honestly, but nearly every woman in the match proved my doubts incorrect. Putting aside the Lana/Shayna/Nia nonsense for now, I liked the choreography in this match; it flowed together nicely.
I was very excited to see Peyton Royce be given such a showcase on Team RAW! To start, she eliminated Bayley from Team SD first, which was a huge rub for her! Before the elimination, Peyton had a spotlight moment wherein she superplexed Bayley onto a pile of women on the outside of the ring. She had other great segments with comparable women on the other team like Liv Morgan. I chuckled when the two double clotheslined each other. Speaking of Liv, I continue to believe she’s one of the most promising women on the entire roster. She did a Matrix backbend a la Trish Stratus in this match to avoid a clothesline, and delivered an impressive basement DDT to an opponent. She expectedly worked well with her tag partner Ruby Riott, blitzing their competition with tandem offense before they were both eliminated.
Perhaps the brightest spotlight in the match was that shone on Bianca Belair. The EST showed off with flips and jumps aplenty, as well as valiance against tougher opponents like Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax. In a strange moment, Shayna locked in the kirafuda clutch on Bianca while Bianca was near the ropes. Bianca held on as long as she possibly could before collapsing onto the bottom rope. Before she could be given her Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, she passed out. Shayna didn’t relinquish the hold within the ref’s five count, so she was disqualified and eliminated. There were some people slamming this booking, but I actually didn’t mind it. It kept Shayna looking strong (if not a little stupid) and protected Bianca. It got Shayna out of the match without her looking weak. It was the path of least resistance and an act of protection for two of the division’s top stars.
I’ll share my thoughts on the actual match result in the next section, but the execution of the finish was smart, in my opinion. It saw Bianca and Nia tumble to the outside and slug it out a bit, all while the ref did his count. At the count of nine, Bianca impressively lifts the giant Nia over the barricade, but in doing so couldn’t run back into the ring in time to beat the count, losing the match for Smackdown. Once again, this protected Bianca, because it showed her impressive strength and resilience and at the same time allowed her to lose without sacrificing dominance. At the beginning of her main roster career, this was a wise move.
RAW and Smackdown: Let’s revisit the goings-on with our beloved Alexa Bliss.
She had a match with Nikki Cross following a hilarious Firefly Funhouse segment with Bray Wyatt (go find it), and in it we got to see a glimpse of what in-ring Alexa has to offer with her new gimmick. Before the match, Nikki explained in an interview promo that she hadn’t given up on Alexa, but that Alexa had given up on her. She vowed to beat the Fiend out of Alexa.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Alexa took on a childish persona, wrestling in her Firefly Funhouse outfit complete with tube socks and bunny sneakers. She offered her hands to Nikki only to snatch them away, and led Nikki on a chase around the ring as if they were playing tag. Alexa smiled and batted her eyelashes all the while. Nikki begins to lay the boots to Alexa, and eventually, Alexa starts wailing. She sobs in the ring until Nikki extends a hug to her, then blindsides Nikki with a modified Sister Abigail.
At this point, it is clear Alexa will kill any segment you put her in. And with her interesting segment with Randy Orton this past Monday, she may hold more power over the Fiend than we previously thought. However, part of me does miss Alexa as just a wrestler. I know WWE is very cautious with Alexa wrestling given her history of concussions, but I wonder how much longer this will go on?
On Smackdown, it looks like Sasha and Bayley are going their separate ways….for now. Sasha attacked Carmella in a backstage promo segment, and Bayley antagonized Bianca Belair during her match with Natalya. Bianca inadvertently hit Bayley over at the commentary desk; in turn, Bayley attempted to get in the ring to enact revenge, only to inadvertently give Bianca the win with her distraction. Two women I wouldn’t have selected to feud with one another, but I think it may actually be a great move if WWE goes with it. Bayley is experienced. charismatic, and just had a historic title reign — Bianca could learn a lot from working from her. Not only that, but pairing Bianca with someone as over as Bayley is a big rub for her, and a launching pad for future title contention. Give Bianca a title, dangit!!
AEW/NXT: Some small notes for both brands this week. For AEW, I take issue firstly with the fact that the NWA women’s title match was given more time on Dynamite than the AEW women’s title match. Yes, one is more established than the other and has more mainstream appeal. However, if AEW continues to treat its own women’s title as second-fiddle to the “bigger” titles, then it will never feel like a big deal. In contrasting the prestige the NXT women’s title has, how women will wrestle the matches of their lives just to get their hands on it, AEW should be trying to build prestige for their women’s title as much as for the women themselves. The two go hand in hand. If the promotion doesn’t care about building one of their titles up, why should we?
Secondly, at the start of the NWA women’s title match, the commentators once again plugged the online community for women’s wrestling fans, AEW Heels. I’ve explained my gripes with this tactic in previous posts, but in this specific plug, something Jim Ross said about it really irked me. He jokingly asked if the women involved in AEW Heels would be holding a bake sale. *Sigh.* J.R. seems to have forgotten what year it is, because it most certainly is not 2001. Such a subtle, sexist comment that we shouldn’t let slide even if he was joking. Women’s wrestling fans are not followers of Phyllis Schlafly, happily baking cookies and breads to earn the favor of the world (namely, men) around them. How patronizing of him to insinuate women would do a stereotypical activity like that for the simple fact that it’s a community of women. Perhaps if more men actually talked to women they would discover that our interests reach far beyond domestic interests. This coming from a woman who herself has picked up a baking habit this year.
Lastly, for NXT, I have a mightier bone to pick. Immediately following the NXT women’s title match already discussed, Finn Balor was scheduled to come out and address the audience regarding his whereabouts. After a grueling and entertaining match, Io Shirai started to make her exit. While Io was walking backwards up the ramp in exhausted victory, Finn Balor’s music hit. The two exchanged triumphant glances, while one of the male commentators remarked “From the NXT women’s champion to THE champion…” I instantly cursed at my screen.
After watching an amazing match between two women that gave their absolute all, I was reminded abruptly that no matter how well women do, they will always be seen as secondary to the men. Using “the champion” rather than “a champion” or not stating the gender of the titleholder (“men’s”) confirms that all champions are considered men unless otherwise stated. Men are the default, the standard under which all other gendered titles are born. Men represent the brand which is why they don’t need to be identified by their gender. The WWE, NXT, and Universal Title holders represent the company. The women’s equivalents simply represent the women.
I understand that the statement made by commentary wasn’t technically wrong. Finn Balor is the champion of NXT, while Io is the champion of the women, as indicated by the names of the titles they respectively hold. In 2020, however, we have to question title names and why women are identified and booked as secondary to the men’s divisions. I believe we should be pushing for either referring to men’s titles as “men’s” as we do with the women’s titles, or drop gendered title names altogether. This, of course, would make room for conversations about the purpose of having separate divisions in the first place. I think the important thing is that we follow the conversation down this path to determine the real validity of women’s wrestling in the industry. There should never be a singular, omnipotent male champion as long as women are out there casually outperforming men on TV. Give women the importance they deserve and watch the level of competition change instantly.
Survivor Series: Okay, so Lana won the match for Team RAW. Whatever, that’s not the problem. The problem is the way that went down.
Fairly early on in the match, Lana had the audacity to tag herself into the match against Nia and Shayna’s wishes. So, the tag champs scolded Lana for daring to participate in a match she earned the right to be in, and essentially told her to stand in the corner and watch the rest of the match. I was flabbergasted.
So, because Lana didn’t compete for 90% of the match, she was never eliminated. Meaning that when Bianca couldn’t make the ten count, Lana was the sole survivor for her team.
Look, I wouldn’t have a problem with Lana finally sticking it to Nia and Shayna; in fact, I expected her to in this match. But the way she won, by basically being bullied into inaction, makes her look incredibly weak. We get it, Lana isn’t the best in the ring. That’s no reason to write a storyline where she is consistently belittled and abused by two other women for simply existing. Let’s also remember that the women doing the bullying are women of color, which makes this storyline even more uncomfortable. (White women often claim to be antagonized by women of color, so portraying a storyline where that is actually the case is very problematic.)
I also took issue with the way commentary sold the bit of the match where Shayna and Nia were berating Lana. They were sure to mention how Lana “looked like she was about to cry.” What is it with men’s voyeuristic obsession with women’s tears? Why do we repeatedly portray women’s feuds as catty, Mean Girls-like, schoolyard bullying where one woman is the big fat meanie and the other is the one crying in defeat? WHY???
Try to imagine someone like AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan or even Shorty G, who himself has been the object of weird demeaning storylines about his height, in Lana’s position. You can’t, because these types of storylines depend on women’s perceived weakness and sensitivity. The men’s divisions rarely participate in storylines like this one, and even if they do, the victim babyface in the feud never cries, or mopes, or frowns. They don’t act nearly as pathetic as Lana is instructed to in this feud. It’s sickening!
RAW and SD: On weekly TV, it seems as if Lana is forming a temporary alliance with Asuka to feud against Nia and Shayna. These teams had two matches in the last two weeks of RAW, and while I would love to accept these matches for what they are, I can’t help but groan at them. I watch Asuka wrestle in these matches seeing that she is the clear star of them, despite having little to work with in the way of Nia and Lana, and shake my head. She is the RAW women’s champion, and her championship feels like an afterthought. The writers toggle back and forth between developing the tag division and developing the singles division and use Asuka as the buffer for both. Not only this, but you have the women’s tag champs messing around with singles stars and being put in matches that should involve singles stars only (i.e. Survivor Series elimination match).
Even Shayna deserves better. In NXT, she wasn’t a childish bully, she was a menacing, dominant, disrespectful heel who cheated to win. There was depth to her heel character, but it seems Vince and company only understand women’s darkness as one-note bullying. Honestly, this entire feud is infantilizing to every woman involved. Women shouldn’t be picking on each other like 5th graders. They are grown women. Give them grown women problems.
I don’t have an insidious problem to discuss here this week, because frankly the imagined drama of wrestling right now pales in comparison to the real-life perils that the industry – and women – are facing. I discussed them at length in last Nylon’s “Thorny” section, so please review that if you haven’t already.
As indicated by my signoff every week, I am a Sasha Banks fan. On one hand, I am elated to see my favorite wrestler be given the ball in a big way in 2020. Nearly as much as it was Bayley’s year, it was also Sasha’s. I am shocked that she’s being booked so strongly. And at the same time, I can’t ignore the multitude of problems with WWE that have come to light this year. I hate that I can’t enjoy her ascension to the top because of my disgust at everything surrounding it. It makes me terribly sad. I wonder if she or some of my other favorite (underutilized) women may be better off in AEW. But looking at how that company treats its women, I can’t even be encouraged by that possibility.
But, if I do know one thing, it’s that women in this industry have survived unspeakable exploitation and oppression. My faith tells me that they will survive. The darkest hour of this year will pass, and I do believe that the industry will be better for it.
Stay legit bossy,