We’re taking off the Nylons today, friends.
I have much to say about the journey we’ve mapped for women’s wrestling in the past three years that Nylons and Midriffs has existed, but I want to take one last review at this unforgettable year first.
So much happened in America in the midst of great trauma, grief, and unrest, that frankly caring about wrestling at various points seemed frivolous. And yet, the disastrous occurrences of 2020 heavily influenced what we saw on screen, as well as the news we read about behind-the-scenes politics at WWE and AEW. In some cases, wrestling even caused some disasters, unbeknownst to the general public.
The start of this decade was the great unveiling, the erasure of any façade of progress that our political representatives led us to believe we’d achieved. As with so many other systemic American issues this year, we saw the various ways that the state of women in wrestling still has far to go. The revelation that wrestling is still, in fact, a misogynist, racist, and capitalist entity was disappointing to see, from both AEW and WWE.
What this year has illuminated to me as a lifelong fan of wrestling is that the business is built on the dreams and hard work of individuals. Individuals that are often exploited, underpaid, and disregarded quickly if they aren’t liked by executives.
For women and BIPOC – and those who have both identities – this reality is compounded. Raising our voices to the exploitative and neglectful nature of the business side of wrestling is imperative in pushing for changes to the material conditions that leave many our favorite wrestlers miserable at work.
Put simply, I want better for the women at these companies. They deserve so, so much more than what they’re given, even at the main event level. And even despite that, they still perform at just as high a level as the men if not higher. Women are that amazing.
With that, let’s change things up and start with the Bad, and then the Thorny. We’ll end things on a Good note.
Terrible booking. The booking for the women in WWE was generally terrible this year. There are so many examples that leap to mind….let’s start with Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania this year.
News has recently broken that, as I and many other fans initially expected, the NXT women’s title match was supposed to be Rhea vs. Charlotte vs. Bianca Belair. This explains why Bianca was featured prominently with Rhea in the early stages of the Rhea/Charlotte feud, even facing Rhea at a TakeOver. But after Bianca’s clean loss to the champ, she was unexplainably scrapped from the title conversation altogether. Huge mistake! Bianca, in my eyes, still hasn’t recovered from that halt to the momentum she had going before Mania.
Surely, this was the WrestleMania we were meant to see NXT’s coronation as the official third brand of WWE, and Rhea was to go over big time with fans cheering her on. Because of the pandemic, that obviously didn’t happen. And thus, against all logic, Charlotte was booked to win. An infuriating move to many fans, some others were willing to be more forgiving, reading the decision at first as a compliment to NXT and its women’s division.
But, as we’ve been shown time and time again with Charlotte, her win ultimately didn’t benefit anyone else besides her. She ran through nearly all of the big names in the division before losing the title two months later to Io Shirai, notably without taking the pinfall. Then, she disappeared for the rest of the year! This really set the tone for nonsensical booking decisions in the pandemic era. In this specific instance, though, Charlotte’s absence after her title loss actually served to benefit other key players in the division as we’ll discuss later.
Speaking of key players…
Becky Lynch shocked the wrestling world this year with her pregnancy, but before that, let’s remember how sour her gimmick had gotten. Let’s face it, “The Man” character had gotten stale, morphing into a meta cartoonish version of the gimmick we’d come to love before Becky’s triumph at WrestleMania 35. Becky needed a formidable opponent to face at Mania, so Shayna Baszler was moved from NXT to further this end. The way they muddled Shayna’s ultra-menacing character was a big shame for the year.
The weird neck-biting Shayna did with her debut and the mess that followed could have been forgiven if she went over at Mania. Yet, in a fairly anticlimactic match, she was defeated by Becky with a submission pin of all things in about 10 minutes.
We can look at that match differently now, with the revelation of Becky’s pregnancy the following month, but reports have said that Becky and Seth didn’t find out their pregnancy news until April. Considering Mania was only 5 days into April this year, it’s highly unlikely Becky knew she was pregnant going into the match. She was also still featured on RAW for a couple of weeks before disappearing, with Shayna as well cutting promos as if the feud was meant to continue.
Through deduction, we can conclude that Becky was booked to go over under normal circumstances. In that case, it was a terrible move. Especially in hindsight when you consider that if they’d just let Shayna win as she should have, they could have let Becky go away for a bit anyway, making her pregnancy reveal and transition more seamless. Hindsight is just that I suppose.
Elsewhere, we had stop-start booking with other notable names in the division.
Remember how Bianca was disregarded in that NXT title feud? Well, the consolation prize she was given was being called up to RAW on the WrestleMania show – but then she went missing for a bit. Not right away, as she did spend a couple of weeks in random tag matches, a brief feud with Zelina Vega, and as valet for the Street Profits with her real-life husband Montez Ford. But for about a month or so, she was off our TV screens. She was given a spotlight pick in this year’s Draft, putting her now in a more prominent feud with Bayley on Smackdown, but we can’t forget how she was wasted for about half the year.
When we talk about stars being wasted among the women, we have to talk about Naomi. After being in a lame storyline with Lacey Evans, wherein she once again took humiliation from a blonde white woman, her fans had had enough. They created a campaign for Naomi on Twitter, #NaomiDeservesBetter, and it caught the attention of WWE and wrestling news outlets. She even had a little Twitter feud with Booker T as well as other internet trolls who fought tooth and nail to “humble” Naomi. Cue eye roll.
As WWE is wont to do, they took this real-life event and used it in storyline, having Miz and Morrison demand of Naomi an explanation for why her fans were rallying behind her. In a very cringey Miz TV segment, Naomi, a Black woman, had to defend her worthiness for opportunity to two white men who chided her for being defensive about questions they asked of her.
A rocky start, but this was going to lead to Naomi finally getting treated better, right?
In a few short weeks Naomi was off TV again, and the world had forgotten any of it had happened. Yes, we know now that part of Naomi’s absence was attributed to her getting surgery for some problematic fibroids. Even still, that was months ago. If WWE were serious about giving her plans, they could bring her back into a backstage or non-wrestling role. It just saddens me to remember the pop Naomi got when she returned at the Royal Rumble this year, comparing it to how far she’s fallen from grace since through no fault of her own. She’s been with WWE for more than a decade. I hope she’s able to get out before she retires from the sport altogether. She has so much she can give, but her talent is being wasted by this manipulative, gaslighting company.
Before we move on, one more bad booking highlight: Lana. What did they do with Lana this year??? They had Nia Jax put her through the announce table somewhere near ten times over about two months, had Nia and Shayna Baszler bully her at Survivor Series, and just when we thought she would finally get to put Nia through a table at TLC, WWE pulls her off TV??? I. Am. Screaming!
I still maintain that Lana inadvertently starting the Twitch controversy, through promoting energy drinks on her Instagram and TikTok, is what landed her in this strange booking situation. Her husband (Rusev/Miro) leaving the company for the rival promotion likely didn’t help, either. WWE remains obsessed with women’s suffering and calling it a push. I’m glad that, after likely losing income because of WWE’s crackdown on third-party deals, she got to make some money by actually being put on TV more. What is the actual cost of that, though, when you are humiliated every week in exchange?
WWE loves a bullying storyline with women: Piggy James, Trish Stratus slut-shaming Lita, even Alexa Bliss bullying Nia Jax for her weight. Which makes this feud more than distasteful, considering it now involves Nia perpetuating the bullying. Shayna shouldn’t be involved in schoolgirl antics, either. We all know wrestling isn’t Lana’s strength. But women shouldn’t be publicly shamed for that and having the audacity to make money for herself because her employer won’t compensate her adequately.
Lack of focus on women’s titles. Across both companies, there was an apparent neglect of women’s championships. With the exception of the NXT and Smackdown women’s titles, all other titles in WWE and AEW lacked focused storylines to a pitiful degree.
In AEW, Hikaru Shida was regularly missing from Dynamite. There was a spell of about 4 weeks where we didn’t see Hikaru on TV at all. We get it, Hikaru doesn’t speak English very well. As we’ve seen in WWE and other promotions, however, a performer not speaking English well or having a thick accent can be worked around. You can either still let the person talk in their native language (and add subtitles if you’re feeling “generous”), or give them a mouthpiece to talk for them. It seemed that AEW chose to do neither, and instead just hid HIkaru until she was needed to defend a title on a pay-per-view.
What’s more, All Elite failed to give Hikaru a consistent title storyline for a majority of the year. Heck, the most consistent booking I’ve seen with Hikaru this year may just be whatever she’s doing with Abadon right now. She had two brief feuds with Nyla Rose this year but, for reasons I’ll get to shortly, it didn’t seem that the writers were interested enough in the storyline to make it the long-simmering feud it could have been.
Indeed, AEW seems more interested at the moment with promoting crossovers with other wrestling companies.
Before collaborating with IMPACT Wrestling, they started this venture by featuring the NWA women’s title on Dynamite and pay-per-views. In the men’s divisions, they can afford to do this, because those divisions have bigger names and more storyline investment. In the star-deficient women’s division, the ladies can’t afford focus being taken away from their title. Still, that’s where we are with All Elite. It was frustrating to write about this year because the division looks promising. It just needs more TLC, and I don’t mean the match stipulation.
In WWE, Asuka was given lots of airtime this year. I’d even go as far as to say she was one of the highlights of pandemic-era WWE TV. She’s just a fun time to watch. Too bad the title she held for most of 2020 was disregarded time and time again.
Recalling Asuka’s big moments this year, I have trouble remembering notable Asuka title feuds outside of the summer squabble with Sasha Banks. Entertaining if only because of the skilled women involved, the decision to have Asuka fake lose the RAW women’s title to Sasha at a pay-per-view just to spike ratings for RAW was straight-up nonsense. Then, to have Asuka actually lose the title on the rematch to decide the actual winner of the match – due to a bogus backstage beatdown by Bayley on Asuka’s departing friend, Kairi Sane – was even more upsetting!
Asuka ended up winning the title back by the end of the summer, but the point is that the entire time, she and her title were simply pawns in a larger feud between Sasha and Bayley. This is apparent when we look at Asuka’s trajectory since winning the title back. In short, she’s done nothing. She lost to Sasha at Survivor Series, and she’s in and out of the women’s tag title scene even without her old partner Kairi. Asuka seems to be a stand-in champion – holding the title because she’s the most accomplished singles star on the RAW women’s roster. She’s there when the writers need to fill an empty spot, in a tag match, a pay-per-view, a storyline. And it’s really a shame, because Asuka was so wicked in NXT.
When we think about the women’s tag titles, the storylines get even more pathetic.
Although we did get an exciting title defense by Sasha and Bayley on NXT this year, the titles were for the most part used as a prop to further the “All the Gold” prophecy for the duo that would ultimately lead to their breakup (once all of the gold was lost). But once they lost the titles, they transferred them to an unbelievable team of two singles stars. You know, when an established team like the Riott Squad was right there. On what planet would Shayna Baszler ever share the spotlight with someone else! Let alone someone she doesn’t even like!
I’m just going to say it: Shayna deserves better. In about 6 months flat they ruined this woman from her NXT tenure. The teaming of her with Nia means that Shayna has the spotlight taken from her and her amazing technical wrestling skills. The saying is “You’re only as strong as your weakest link” for a reason.
The only feud these two have partaken is this year is the aforementioned Lana storyline, which doesn’t involve another team or the titles! They were just thrown into the women’s Survivor Series match this year! Agh!
There are barely any functioning women’s tag teams to justify having women’s tag titles. WWE broke up their longest-standing female tag team, the IIconics, to further Peyton Royce’s singles career. This was a move that happened way too soon; there was plenty of time for Peyton to go solo, but not right now when the women’s tag division needs teams. The whole division is just a mess. So upsetting.
Misusing Nyla Rose. I mentioned Nyla above, and she deserves a little more discussion. Before Nyla lost her title this year, she was improving her mic skills week on week. She was dominant in the ring and brash on the mic. She was doing fairly well; she was a champion with a personality.
But then they took the title from her. And started putting her on AEW Dark. Huh?
Yes, they gave her Vickie Guerrero, a now legendary mouthpiece in wrestling. We collectively thought, “Yes, this means big things for Nyla.” But then they squandered that, too! Vickie and Nyla are sparingly put on TV, and it doesn’t seem like Nyla is at the top of the card as she was mere months ago. As the only transgender wrestler in AEW and a televised wrestling promotion at large, we have to look more closely at this.
Put bluntly, I believe AEW knows Nyla is a controversial figure. They know the audience demographics they’re trying to steal from WWE (young, white, straight, male). They prioritize this audience because it makes up the vast majority of wrestling media/coverage outlets on the internet. If you can get them talking, you get attention. Attention translates to ratings, and the cycle goes round and round.
I don’t find it to be coincidental that All Elite has chosen to minimize Nyla’s prominence in the division this year and has given her a mouthpiece so that the focus is on her less. These things seem very calculated.
And if I’m right, it would be a cowardly move by the promotion.
Although it’s been proven time and time again in other forms of media that featuring marginalized identities on screen yields a more diverse fan base (and often, money), corporate entities continue to cater to the status quo audience described above. There is a sizable portion of wrestling fandom that is queer and non-white. We’ve been here, and we’re growing. So why not speak directly to us and say “Yes, we see you as part of our fandom and we want to make sure our product reflects people like you”?
Featuring Nyla more prominently would instantly make wrestling feel safer for trans people who left the fandom years ago or have been kept out. It would signify that times have changed. Yet it seems as if AEW wants to have their cake and eat it too – keep Nyla employed, but shove her into the background so our “primary” audience doesn’t think we’re promoting “forced diversity.” I hope the company does better by Nyla, and trans fans, next year.
Whew. The pandemic has done a great deal to expose the corruption of various corporations this year, and wrestling was not exempt. Most of the corruption came from WWE, so let’s get AEW out of the way right now.
AEW’S indifference to their women’s division. The theme of the year for All Elite was the ways in which the company disregarded their women consistently. Every week, it was more a matter of how they’d done it.
The promotion missed a huge opportunity to showcase the women’s division in their inaugural women’s tag team cup in the midst of the heavily promoted men’s TNT title tournament. They shunted 90% of the tournament to Dark on YouTube. There were a few weeks in a row where no women’s matches or segments were featured on Dynamite at all. We can count on one hand the number of women’s feuds that were given airtime. On average, I’d venture to bet that the AEW women’s title was given the least amount of TV time of all company titles. Lastly, the women eventually earned their own segment on the show – only it’s typically 30 minutes before the show goes off air.
In 2020, AEW revealed itself as not quite the progressive wonderland it initially pitched itself to be. Tony Khan, Cody Rhodes, and company have made apparent that All Elite is only a wonderland for former WWE stars to write their redemption arcs, and not much more.
Dynamite isn’t bad. The way they treat their women is, and that’s what we must continue to talk about until it changes. Ironically, you could compare AEW to the Democratic Party: making empty progressive promises to convince people to buy into their platform, and then squandering those promises in favor of a cis straight white male status quo. Unless we push for more as fans and consumers of the AEW product, the company – like Democrats – will remain a moderate, centrist entity that doesn’t give back to those that consistently defend it.
Now, let’s touch on WWE, in somewhat chronological order.
Bribery. Shortly after a majority of the states in the U.S. entered shutdowns, WWE scrambled to decide the future of early April’s WrestleMania show. While the company did the bare minimum in deciding to cancel the live event for a crowd, what happened next was shocking. Basically, the McMahons paid off the Florida governor to classify sports entertainment as an “essential service” so that they could film both WrestleMania and their weekly television shows without interruption.
Vince McMahon, appointed to Trump’s “revive the economy” task force, pumped money into the Florida economy in exchange for this rigged classification. Important to note that Vince was also one of Trump’s biggest campaign donors for the latter’s reelection campaign, and his wife served in the Trump Administration. While the designation originally was meant just for WWE, AEW ended up taking advantage of it. By mid-summer, we had other sports like football and basketball migrating to Florida for games. Many Americans don’t realize that WWE set the precedent for all sports to eventually continue under the guise of “entertainment.”
This was beyond sketchy, but it is somehow the least problematic piece we’ll discuss.
After the above shady deal and an acclaimed cinematic WrestleMania, there came…
In the first week in April, WWE laid off a host of on-screen talent, producers, writers, and backstage employees, claiming the cuts were “necessary” due to financial losses from COVID-19. The only problem with this claim is that it was a boldfaced lie. As reported by countless media outlets, WWE had half a billion dollars in cash reserves that they could have used to keep people employed and weather the pandemic. Now at the end of the year, it is common knowledge that WWE has turned record profits this year, largely due to costs saved from no live house shows.
Considering the latter two facts, it is clear that WWE laid off employees for two reasons: to free up money to donate to Trump’s campaign, and to ensure that WWE could not only maintain, but increase their profit margins for the year. The greed of it all is despicable.
We have to remember the degree to which WWE was willing to pay talent more to not leave the company for rival promotions, even if they had zero intentions to use said talent in a meaningful way. The result of this was an intensely bloated roster of very talented people that the company had no feasible way of showcasing individually. They collected wrestlers like trophies, and the second it became not profitable to do so, Vince dropped them all like bricks during the worst time to be unemployed.
The Twitch controversy. It gets even worse, pals!
At the start of the fall, news broke that WWE had sent talent cease-and-desist letters regarding the ubiquitous use of third-party brand sponsorships and platforms, namely Twitch and Cameo. The original order was for talent to stop using their WWE stage names on these platforms or else they’d be required by the company to shut them down.
The logic behind this coming from Vince was that WWE needed to protect its assets and the “integrity” of the company’s image, and that allowing talent to go into business for themselves in that way was demoralizing to WWE as its own corporate entity. Which is basically a lot of business jargon for the idea that Vince owns the talent that work for his company. This was messed up, and yet it seemed pretty on-par with what we’ve come to expect from the company.
About a month later, the order changed. At the beginning of October, WWE gave talent 30 days to shut down any Twitch channels they had going, or else the company would take them over. In business terms, this meant that any income a wrestler earned from Twitch would be absorbed into their downside guarantee, which is basically their WWE salary. In turn, WWE would share any earnings made from Twitch: after they took their cut, the talent would get the rest in their regular paycheck. WWE would also control when the wrestler streamed to the tune of an actual schedule.
I’ll pause here so you can scream.
Wrestlers were livid at this news, but most obeyed the order. The notable exception? Zelina Vega. This Latina woman, now going by her real name Thea Trinidad Budgen, reportedly could not afford to lose her Twitch income since it just about equaled her WWE income. So she stood up for herself and the income stream she secured for herself.
And it resulted in the company firing her.
Shortly before the news broke, Thea tweeted her support for unionization. Since this news shook the wrestling world, she’s had conversations with various prominent union groups.
By this point in the year, with WWE’s other transgressions as public knowledge, I just about committed to no longer watching the product until necessary for this column.
The bottom line of this controversy is that Vince McMahon cannot stand to see people become independent of his company. After reportedly catching wind of this phenomenon by seeing Lana, of all people, promote brands on her social media channels, it probably burned Vince to know that wrestlers – specifically women – had found some financial freedom away from his family jewel. He, like Trump, thrives on the codependence capitalism creates for the 99%. So he huffed and he puffed and he blew the house down. Then, he made painfully clear to his talent the following: I own you, any money you have the capacity to earn, and if you don’t let me take it, I will pull the rug out from under you.
That is what we call late-stage capitalism. We have to resist this at every possible turn, even if it is happening at a pro-wrestling promotion to performers most people have never heard of.
Promoting predators and predatory beliefs. The cherry on top of the aforementioned transgressions was how WWE chose to deal with issues relating to sexual assault, racism, harassment, and pedophilia.
First, some basics. Earlier in the year, wrestling had its own #MeToo moment with #SpeakingOut. Women and a handful of men took to Twitter to share stories of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse experienced at the hands of known and unknown wrestling personalities. From wrestlers to promoters, people finally broke their silence. Some of the collateral damage of this movement was the exposure of two prominent WWE stars: Matt Riddle and Velveteen Dream. The former has been accused of sexual assault by a former coworker, and the latter is accused of soliciting child pornography.
Outside of the movement, another wrestler, Jackson Ryker, was caught proudly proclaiming support for Donald Trump on Twitter during May and June’s #BLM protests, to much clapback from the likes of Mustafa Ali and Kevin Owens. He was taken off TV and has finally resurfaced in the last week or so. A similar controversy with Lars Sullivan happened last year, wherein various posts on message boards and company websites from as recently as 2018 surfaced, featuring Lars expressing racist, sexist, and aggressive comments to others online. He was injured shortly after this news broke and as a result was off TV for a long while. That changed this year when he was drafted to Smackdown.
What all of these men have in common is that, in spite of their wrongdoings, they are still featured on WWE TV.
With Matt Riddle, he was barely taken off television – I think he was gone for maybe a week or two? But even in the midst of what has become a multi-million dollar lawsuit from Candy Cartwright, the woman accusing him of assault, his checks are still clearing. All of these men’s checks are. What WWE made clear this year is that they can keep accused rapists and abusers under their payroll but not a host of other people who did no such things but be employed and unfavorable during a pandemic. It’s pathetic.
And on top of all of this, WWE wrote a storyline this year shipping Rey Mysterio’s 19-year-old daughter, Aalyah, with 32-year-old star Buddy Murphy. The two are just a full-blown normalized couple now, despite Aalyah’s barely-legal status, having turned 19 only this year. It is 2020, and we should be moving past measuring the safety of relationships at the level of “18 is technically an adult, so age no longer matters.”
Discussed in a previous Nylons, legal adulthood and age of consent are arbitrary markers created by much older adults who have no regard for actual benchmarks of maturity. There is a plethora of research put into how quickly a brain matures, and it’s a lot slower than we’ve been trained to think. A brain is not fully matured until around age 25. Before this age, teens and young adults have a harder time with decision-making and reasoning the long-term consequences of their actions. What this means is that they are incredibly impressionable. Therefore, someone who is more than three or so years older than a 19- or 20-year-old has no business dating them. Pursuing teenagers as a fully matured adult is predatory. We must work to de-normalize relationships with staggering age gaps.
But as all of the discussed evidence shows, WWE does not have any real regard for women’s safety. They have no regard for BIPOC workers’ comfort. This year painted a vivid picture of what WWE thinks of power dynamics. They believe that the only dynamic that matters is power, control, dominance. Whoever holds these things in the company ecosystem are the ones that will be saved by the brass at the top. Everyone one else has to simply deal with the repercussions of that choice to protect them. We can no longer applaud WWE for doing the minimum on screen by making women equitable to men in exposure if they are not protecting the real women behind the characters off screen.
Though it seems foolish to reminisce on the Good after all of the horrors described above, I find it important to end this column on a positive note for the women who worked their butts off this year.
Wonderful wrestling. The troubling aspect of this year was that much of what we saw was good if not excellent in contrast to the bad things happening backstage. This year had some of the best matches I’ve seen in the entirety of writing Nylons, and many of them were just on weekly television! My top matches of the year are as follows:
- Sasha Banks vs. Io Shirai (non-title match) (NXT)
- Io Shirai (c) vs. Rhea Ripley (11/18 edition, NXT)
- Sasha Banks & Bayley (c) vs. Shotzi Blackheart & Tegan Nox (NXT)
- Sasha Banks vs. Bayley c) (Hell in a Cell)
- Tegan Nox vs. Io Shira (c) (NXT)
- Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Bianca Belair (TakeOver: Portland)
- Mercedes Martinez vs. Rhea Ripley in a steel cage (NXT)
- Candice LeRae vs. Io Shirai (c) (NXT Halloween Havoc)
- Asuka vs. Sasha Banks (Extreme Rules title match and Survivor Series champ vs. champ)
- Shotzi Blackheart vs. Io Shirai (c) (NXT)
- Serena Deeb (c) vs. Thunder Rosa (AEW Dynamite)
- Big Swole vs. Serena Deeb (AEW Dynamite)
As you can see, this year had its MVPs in my book. For AEW, it was Serena Deeb in the ring. Hikaru Shida gets an honorable mention, since she is the women’s champ after all. However, because I did not watch AEW pay-per-views this year and this made up a sizable chunk of Hikaru’s matches, the matches left don’t make the cut I’m afraid. Hikaru’s curse is that she was never given formidable opponents, perhaps because of Britt Baker’s unexpected injury early in the year.
In WWE, the best matches took place either in NXT, or on pay-per-view. The star players included Rhea Ripley and NXT women’s champ Io Shirai. Although Rhea began this year with momentum that was illogically ground to a halt, she steadily built her momentum back up in the second half of the year. In December, she finally feels like a big deal again. Let’s hope they keep her away from Ms. Flair for a good while.
Io proved to be a silent-but-deadly force this year, speaking in (subtitled!) promos only when necessary and letting her ring work do the talking for her. She was continually impressive against a wide array of opponents and proved why she earned her place at the top of the division. A tiny woman, but mightier than most to get the job done!
Other honorable mentions not quite reflected in my favorite matches were Team KC, Bianca Belair, Candice LeRae, Dakota Kai, Alexa Bliss and Shotzi Blackheart. Big ups to Shotzi! This was certainly a breakout year for her. Initially believing her to be just another punk-rock aesthetic girl, Shotzi showed her in-ring grit on various occasions to win us over. She is so much more than her gimmick, and with consistent match and promo time could be championship material by sometime next year. She’s electric to watch! Alexa, too, was captivating in her clownish, sadistic spiral into the Fiend’s universe.
Lastly, I’m giving a shout to Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose. Wow, what an unexpectedly intense feud these two had! Both women stepped up to the plate in promos, using their real-life friendship chemistry to sell audiences the boiled-over hatred they had for one another in their story. Sonya really shone, delivering one of the most convincing promos of the year in a sit-down on Miz TV. It was a rare women’s storyline that was focused, long-term, and well-written without the involvement of a title. I pray to the wrestling gods that we get more women’s feuds like this!
When I think of 2020, though, my memories really come down to the gems brought to us by these four women.
Britt Baker. The D.M.D. of AEW began this year inconspicuously enough. She had begun to do vignette segments to get over her heelish doctor character when she got injured shortly after the start of the pandemic. AEW took this opportunity to do something unique with Britt: keep her on TV throughout her injury. Not only that, but Britt herself told the audience that she wasn’t going anywhere and to expect her back in action at All Out. The weeks and ultimately months of shenanigans to follow were more entertaining than I could have imagined.
Britt and the writers were smart. They recognized that Britt had just started to gain steam with her character when she injured herself. So, rather than putting a lid on it until she was healed, all parties chose to keep Britt fresh with various comedic sketches. The silver lining of not competing for most of this year for Britt was that she got to have fun and be creative with the D.M.D. persona. I cackled when she declared herself a “Roll Model” in a wheelchair, when she pulled a barbell plate by a string attached to said chair, and the countless times she poked fun at her BFF Tony Schiavone. She was, for better or worse, the best thing about the women’s division in AEW this year, along with her bumbling assistant Reba (Rebel? Commentary still doesn’t know).
The Doctor has charisma for days. I hope that the other women in the back (outside of Big Swole) take notes and match her performing chops next year. Britt needs foils or else her character will become boring. With as awesome as she was this year, no one wants that!
Asuka. Oh, Asuka. A woman so strangely neglected and overworked at the same time.
In spite of some lazy booking this year, Asuka reminded us for another year why we are so endeared by her. When she was given capable opponents, Asuka shone in the ring. Heck, even when she didn’t have great opponents, with the likes of Nia and Shayna, she still sparkled like a clear night sky. I continue to be blown away by Asuka’s untamable energy no matter who she’s wrestling. She managed to pull a decent match out of a much greener Zelina Vega, and continued to push Sasha Banks to her limit.
She also had many fun moments this year on commentary! The early months of the pandemic were truly a different dimension, because WWE was throwing everyone behind the commentary desk (remember when Triple H did commentary with Cole on Smackdown??). Asuka would scold her foes and cheer her friends in Japanese behind the desk. She would sometimes become so impassioned that she’d stand up to jump around in excitement. And who could forget how ecstatic she was for Becky Lynch when she made her groundbreaking pregnancy announcement, peacefully transferring the title over to the Empress.
Asuka is a champion for us. She just wants to be entertaining, whether that is with some unparalleled wrestling or hyperactive mic performance. It’s just a shame she didn’t have more to do this year. Indeed, she spent most of it in the shadow of the Smackdown women’s title scene. I suppose this isn’t surprising when you consider that Asuka wasn’t even supposed to be champion. Even still, in the seven months that have passed since Asuka was given the RAW women’s title, the writers had every opportunity to treat her as her own formidable champion. In 2021, WWE should strive to make better use of this force of nature. All of us, including the woman herself, deserve it.
Sasha Banks. I couldn’t be prouder to be a Sasha Banks fan right now. My girl had one heck of a year.
Many will remember this year as Bayley’s. As we’ll get to next, that isn’t wrong. But almost as much as this year belonged to Bayley, it too belonged to Sasha. You could accuse me of being biased with my top match picks of the year. Sure, go ahead. I do feel, however, that you could objectively say that Sasha Banks, even more than her partner-in-crime, was the workhorse of the division this year. This was done pretty much by design: the crux of the dissention between Bayley and Sasha was that the former used the latter as a shield. Any person that wanted to face Bayley had to go through Sasha first. This meant that Sasha was written to do more of the heavy-lifting in the ring between the two. The results of this were magical.
Sasha is an elite performer because she is always looking for ways to freshen up her own persona. Whether it is a different spin on her “Boss” character, her incredible fashion sense and ring gear, or her moveset, she understands that characters must evolve to maintain audience investment. I joked online that each iteration of Sasha Banks can be pinpointed to a change in her hair color, but it’s absolutely true. When we consider sheer match quality, title wins, and actually good booking with Sasha this year, it’s clear The Boss is peaking right now. This has been her career-best year by far.
I personally am still flabbergasted that WWE has booked her so strongly for this long. As a cynic, I recognize it may have to do with the fact that Sasha is featured on the current season of The Mandalorian on Disney+, so WWE is looking to keep her strong for crossover appeal. As a fan, though, I’m enjoying this ride and receiving it as the treatment Sasha has deserved for years but never got. I don’t find it coincidental either that Charlotte Flair’s absence is likely what made it happen. Which finally brings me to…
Bayley. Wow. Looking back at this year, I am blown away with Bayley’s transformation. Always at the bottom of the Four Horsewomen pecking order, in 2020, Bayley proved to us that she is a sturdy pillar in the stable of former NXT darlings.
I’ll admit, I wasn’t initially convinced with Bayley’s heel gimmick. Honestly, I don’t think Bayley herself was that sure of it in the beginning either. Some of her mic work was questionable as she figured out exactly what angle to present her character from. Once she started linking up with her best friend Sasha, it all clicked into place.
Bayley was a condescending “role model,” claiming that she was simply being herself and should be rewarded for it. All the while she ran scared against challenges she knew she couldn’t overcome, used her best friend as protection, and clowned the audience with bad jokes about her successes. The Bayley we have now is an interesting swirl of comedic/chicken/cheating heel that is uniquely her own. With her new attitude, she began dressing in clothes and ring gear that more closely reflected Pamela, the woman behind the gimmick.
Most of Bayley’s brilliance this year involved her character work, but let’s not forget the woman can go in the ring as well. Her best matches in my opinion included Sasha, but she was still very consistent in the ring against all opponents. She showed up to work every week, no breaks. As an aside, I do hope she takes some time off soon, because I can’t recall one week during her reign where she didn’t make an appearance on TV, and she’s still showing up each week. Some weeks, she even appeared on all three shows with Sasha.
Bayley disrupted commentary, played referee, and even shaved ice cream cones in her head. Bayley created a larger-than-life character this year that she should be proud of, and you could tell that she had darn fun doing it. Her hard work earned her the #1 spot on the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Women’s 100. She had a historic reign as Smackdown women’s champion, carrying the title for over one year. Even in defeat to her friend Sasha, she still feels important.
A career-best year, indeed — and a role model to boot. Put some respect on Bayley’s name!!!
Here we are, the bittersweet end to Nylons and Midriffs. Looking back on where women’s wrestling was at the beginning of 2018 when I started writing here, I can see some lanes where we’ve traveled far. There are other lanes where we’ve made minimal movement forward, and even some where we’re right where we started. Wrestling fans have an entirely new promotion to enjoy women’s wrestling on, and in general, that’s fantastic! We have a trans woman wrestling for a major wrestling promotion, as well as an openly lesbian woman. Both WWE and AEW have the most diverse women’s locker rooms we’ve ever seen, with every race and ethnicity represented.
There have been countless “firsts,” including women’s Royal Rumble, Elimination Chamber, Money in the Bank, War Games match, and main event to WrestleMania.
At the same time, the conditions of the pandemic have exposed the depths of racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and capitalist exploitation that still exist in this industry. Oppression is alive and well.
But I ended on the “Good” for this year because I know firmly why I still want to give a crap about wrestling despite all of that: the women. I love what women do between those ropes. I love specific women that work for these companies. And it is my love for everything that women in wrestling have given me, from kindergarten on up, that drives me to fight for them. To speak up. To call out oppression when I see it – clearly and vigorously.
As I walk away from Nylons, I want to leave you all with this quote by Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley: “Very few leaders lead; most are pushed. Pressure is a good thing. Tension is a good thing. We’re going to have to be comfortable with tension if we want to really have a breaking through.” With protests in the streets, white supremacists rallying, people dying by the thousands, and most of us getting cabin fever from staying inside habitually – tension was and is everywhere this year.
And you know what?
For a community that is so routinely dismissed by the public, I’m glad that wrestling fandom finally had its shakeup moment this year. I embraced this tension because it put things in perspective as a women’s wrestling fan.
So as I’ve said numerous times this year, I invite you dear reader, to sit in the tension with me. Embrace the discomfort that comes with watching wrestling knowing that WWE and AEW could be doing better by their women, their BIPOC, their queer workers. Maybe you, like me, decide to take a break from wrestling for a bit.
Whatever you do, never shut up. Keep pushing. We have the power if we choose to use it. And when you get weary, remember your love of women’s wrestling. I know I will, no matter where life takes me.
Forever legit bossy,