Nylons and Midriffs: Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse (September 9, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Works-In-Process
A backstage photo of the Four Horsewomen at WWE Evolution. Image credit: jimdrugfree.tumblr.com.

Well, well, well. The more some things change, the more they stay the same.

The Four Horsewomen are finally clashing all at once on WWE TV, and I, like many fans, feel like a kid in a candy store. The four most beloved and polarizing women in the company will be facing off in pairs for the first time since they were all called up to the main roster, next Sunday at Clash of Champions.

There are many good nuggets to get into this week, but underneath those morsels, I still feel that something is missing. We’ll get into what I think that somthing is in a bit.

The Good
For those that may not know, the Four Horsewomen — or 4HW as many internet fans abbreviate — are not an actual stable. Unlike the original Four Horsemen in WWE (Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson, and Tully Blanchard), the Four Horsewomen are simply the four women that, in their NXT days, fans hailed as the cream of the crop of the women’s division. Given Charlotte Flair’s obvious connection to the original group through her father, she carries on the legacy of the name with a new feminine energy. She is joined in this elite class of Superstars by Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch.

While they have almost all feuded at some point in their WWE careers, WWE was careful for years to keep them separated by the two brands. And, if they were to feud, they were sure to not have the two feuds going on at the same time.

But the planets have finally aligned, and Sasha Banks’ return has landed her back in the title picture to challenge Becky, simultaneous with Charlotte challenging Bayley.

These feuds land here in the “Good” section because, simply put, any combination of these women together create magic. On the mic, in the ring, it doesn’t matter — seeing all four of them vying for women’s gold at one time is just a reminder of how talented and unique each of them are. There’s something about their chemistry that just makes their feuds with one another feel personal. They gel together, and that makes their interactions so satisfying to watch.

The cherry on top of this is Bayley’s heel turn. I like that WWE is allowing continuity in their characters by allowing history to dictate a Superstar’s actions. In storyline, as long as Bayley is friends with Sasha, there wouldn’t be any reason for Bayley to stay babyface when her best friend has turned evil. Especially given the context, Bayley was slighted in the same way Sasha was back at WrestleMania. Just because Bayley chose to stay on TV in the months that followed doesn’t mean that her wounds from that night have healed.

Image credit: Sasha Banks’ Twitter (@sashabankswwe)

The writers are recognizing that Bayley and Sasha are two different people who will ultimately still act different ways in the same situation, but that their bond won’t be destroyed by this fact. If you think about it, that is one of the truest signs of friendship. Some of the most interesting relationships are not those where the two people are the same, but those where the two people are starkly different from one another, so as to compliment each other’s qualities.

With all of this in mind, I am excited to see the women’s title matches at Clash of Champions, as well as the tag match announced for tonight’s RAW pitting Sasha/Bayley against Charlotte/Becky. It seems like the writers are pulling out the red carpet for these ladies; here’s hoping they have long-term plans in mind.

The Bad
Thinking about Bayley’s heel turn, the one negative thing I can say about it is that I almost wish it didn’t have to be connected to Sasha in any way. I think both Sasha and Bayley could have used the space from each other after their often-disappointing run together in 2018. Sasha and Bayley can stand alone, and for Bayley in particular I think we were finally starting to see a fire in her belly as a face that had been long distinguished. I think Bayley could have continued being that valiant babyface and build her own name outside of Sasha. Meanwhile, Sasha could have continued to solidify herself as a trifling heel outside of Bayley’s cookie-cutter persona.

While I ultimately like their rekindled alliance, I do think it needs to be short-lived. Shoving their partnership down our throats is what made both of them stale in the past. We need a fresh take on them as singles competitors so that they may reach their fullest potential in that avenue. Even if their partnership is leading to another run with the women’s tag belts, I do not trust WWE to be able to multitask in focusing on both their singles and tag team identities.

There is nothing else to do but wait and see how things turn out between the pair of them.

The Thorny
There isn’t much Thorny for this week, but similarly to last week, I am still left wondering where the rest of the women outside of the title pictures stand. With Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss as women’s tag champs, we are seeing those titles more on TV. We even got a setup for a match between the champs and long-standing tag team Fire & Desire, or Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. And that’s good…I guess. I personally would rather see the Kabuki Warriors challenge for the titles as they were supposed to in the past, but I suppose forward is still a direction for these titles.

Image credit: f4wonline.com

I am glad to see Sonya and Mandy being pushed as a no-fuss tag team. The writers have seemingly tossed any dissention between the two out the window, and the two are now simply a tandem. Their finishing move also looks super rad.

I still feel a pang in my stomach, though, and it is for the women that still go unseen more often than not. Carmella, Ember Moon, Naomi, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Paige, Lana — all missing.

Image credit: WWE,com

Not only this, but the only women of color featured regularly on WWE TV right now are Sasha Banks and Bayley (assuming the good possibility that she is Latina). I won’t even count Zelina Vega, because we don’t see her client Andrade on TV as much as we should, so in turn we are deprived of her as well.

I want the other women to feel worthy even if they are not contending for a title. Although on the whole it is becoming less common, male characters are still allowed to feud or even exist on TV without a title being the central conflict of their interactions. You have storylines like those with Roman Reigns, Rowan, and Daniel Bryan, and characters like Elias who entertain us. The men have King of the Ring to keep them occupied. Why can’t the women be seen for no reason at all, just like the men are?

Women will not ascend to equity with the men if their presence is only allowed when they have a “reason” to be there. Women can exist to take up space. Women’s stories don’t need a reason to be told. They can just be told.

***

I was discussing with my husband which of the 4HW would be each of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. My choices were: Charlotte as Famine, Sasha as Pestilence, Becky as War, and Bayley as Death. He had Charlotte and Becky switched, but I’m curious: who do you think embodies each of these divine prophecies?

I am looking forward to seeing which elements will conquer at Clash of Champions.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Back to School (SummerSlam Review, August 13, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: newsweek.com

School is back in session, good wrestling fans! Well, for me, at least. After taking a must-needed break from WWE over the last several weeks, I am back to my old tricks — giving you the good, bad, and thorny from Sunday’s SummerSlam pay-per-view.

For the most part, I’ve not sat and watched weekly WWE TV during my summer break. I’ve kept up with storyline developments and other backstage news through wrestling news media. So, my analysis of specific segments and matches leading up to SummerSlam will be limited. Still, though, I’ll pepper in my thoughts about the build to the three women’s matches we saw on Sunday, as this will lead us into the sunset of the weeks following the Biggest Party of the Summer.

Open your textbooks, and let’s start this week’s discussion!

Women’s Tag Team Title Match: The IIconics vs. Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross (c)

Image credit: wrestlinginc.com

To be frank, I didn’t watch this match because I didn’t realize it was even happening on the pre-show. I was going into the show blind (as I discussed above), and I never typically watch the pre-show to any pay-per-view besides WrestleMania. But, that doesn’t mean I won’t share my thoughts on the direction of the women’s tag titles, as that’s more significant than anything that could have happened in this match.

Firstly, I feel terrible for the IIconics. So much potential to make those belts mean something — if not for the tag team wrestling, the tag team unity instead. Billie Kay and Peyton Royce have a natural charisma that can’t be taught, and their real-life friendship makes anything they do between the ropes believable. But alas, they simply were not given the opportunity to shine.

As I’ve discussed in previous Nylons entries, it was clear from the outset that WWE didn’t really care about the women’s tag titles. And this was recently (allegedly) confirmed by insiders as well. This explains the absence of the titles (and titleholders) on TV for weeks on end. It seemed at certain points that the Kabuki Warriors could be next in line to challenge Billie and Peyton, but as we’ve come to expect from WWE when it comes to Asuka, they could never pull the trigger.

Enter Alexa Bliss…and Nikki Cross, by association. I guess WWE figured out that even if they don’t care about the titles that much, they could use them as a way to strap another one of their white, blonde faves. So, they put the titles on Alexa and Nikki. Now look, ultimately if this will get the titles on TV finally, it is a net positive. It’s just sort of eyeroll-inducing that they’ve found yet another title to give to Little Miss Bliss.

Hopefully they can build the tag division up moving forward, as one Boss n’ Hug Connection hoped to way back when…

Now, for the rest of the matches, we’re ironically going to go in order. The Good, Bad, and Thorny sections progressed throughout the night as the matches did. I will preface the below reviews with the statement that each match had good, if not great bits within it. But, as we’ll see, sometimes good isn’t good enough.

The Good
RAW Women’s Title Match: Becky Lynch (c) vs. Natalya

Image credit: pinkvilla.com

This match was very well done, as would be expected from two skilled wrestlers like Becky and Nattie. The two understood the assignment as a submission match, and they telegraphed their spots to fit this theme. The adversaries spent much of this match entangled with one another, desperately trying to one-up the other with technical submissions.

The two coolest spots of the match were Natalya’s sharpshooter on the top rope with Becky entangled in the ropes beneath, and the other was the superplex from the top rope. The former was a creative twist on a fairly straightforward submission; the latter just looked like it hurt. What’s more, I was particularly surprised that the two were allowed to do that superplex spot. It seems WWE tends to tease top rope slams often, but rarely allow wrestlers to fall from such heights — especially if the performers are women. I was glad to see both of them go for it!

As an aside, I think it’s about time we collectively put some respect on Natalya’s name. The woman is consistently good, a proud ambassador for WWE, and has more than paid her dues in her career. She pulled her weight in this match and so many others. It’s a shame that she’ll likely never get the meaningful title reign she probably deserves. But I think we should still give her her flowers while she’s still around to smell them.

The Bad
Smackdown Women’s Title Match: Bayley (c) vs. Ember Moon

Image credit: WWE.com

Ah yes, the match that had all the potential in the world to be great and just fell short.

The build to this match was lazy. Fans didn’t have a reason to care about either woman’s motivations going into it because neither were really given the opportunity to build a story together. Instead they acted as fodder for Nikki and Alexa’s storyline many weeks.

As a result of this, the match itself just felt off. You could tell there was little energy for either woman to feed into to keep the action interesting. The few memorable moments of the match came with Ember’s Codebreaker-type sequence to Bayley, and Bayley’s insane Bayley to Belly off the top rope that Ember sold like a champ. (I was honestly amazed at how limp Ember allowed her body to be as she fell from the air — a rag doll personified!)

But these moments were not enough to save the match in my view. Ultimately this match was sloppy in large bits, and I found myself wanting the transitions and reversals to look more crisp. Sloppiness can either be forgiven or corrected by good chemistry between two performers, and that’s what this match lacked. As a viewer I was taken out of the match at various points because I could see Ember and Bayley transitioning between parts of the match and anticipating pinning combinations.

On the whole, I think their wrestling styles clashed in an unfavorable way, and that sucks for both of them. But, I don’t think either of them should be ashamed for trying. The match wasn’t terrible, but I’ve come to expect more from each of them, which is the root of my disappointment.

The Thorny
Trish Stratus vs. Charlotte Flair

Image credit: theringreport.com

This match was arguably the most enjoyable of all the women’s bouts on the SummerSlam card. Trish absolutely has not lost a step, as she did a rendition of pretty much all of her greatest hits. There were such beautiful touches in this match including Trish’s patented chops, complete with a hand-lick before the final one, which doubled as a signature for Trish and a middle finger to Charlotte as a Flair. (The two would later go on to have a chop-off, which was equally as fun to watch.)

Perhaps the biggest pop of the match came when Trish somehow finagled her way into an inverted sunset flip of sorts to cinch in the Figure Four leg lock, that she even successfully transitioned into a Figure Eight bridge. I guess all that yoga has paid off, Miss Stratus!

Overall this was a fun, entertaining, and nostalgic journey of a match, due in large part as well to Trish’s capable opponent, Charlotte, who as usual put on a stellar heel performance.

So why, then, has this match landed in this section? Your eyes are not deceiving you. This match was largely great. However, my problem with this match is that it had to exist in the first place.

In the words of Tom Phillips: “It’s the biggest event of the summer, and what would it be without the Queen?”

There it is.

Charlotte, having spent the last three years in the title picture of both brands, found herself out of the women’s title picture and, thusly, without a match at SummerSlam. This match was transparently given to Charlotte as a way to get her on the card. And of course, if she couldn’t have a title match, they had to give her the next best thing: a match with a beloved legend as her foil.

I am going to smugly point out that the match that many fans had been clamoring for as a “one more match” dream match with Trish was against Sasha Banks. Both Sasha and Trish have expressed interest in this match over the last year or so, but of course Sasha’s absence from WWE at the moment made this match impossible. (And to be a little less biased, Trish had also expressed some interest in facing Charlotte.)

However, that isn’t the whole of what chaps my hide about this match. Upon hearing its announcement, my immediate first thought was: Who is this for? Who does this match benefit? You have Trish who doesn’t really benefit, because she could wrestle or not wrestle for the rest of time and still be loved by the WWE Universe. You have Charlotte who has already beaten Trish’s championship record, main evented WrestleMania, and has a host of other “firsts” to her name. Not only that, but she’s a Flair. She didn’t need the rub that this match could have given to literally any other woman on the roster besides Becky Lynch. She already has it all. Why do we need to give her more?

This match was for Vince McMahon. This was his wet dream of a match having his favorite blonde white women of the last 20 years in the ring fighting against each other. And that, at the root of it all, is one of WWE’s main problems. The writers, the decision-makers, only have one person in mind, and that is Vinny Mac. Whoever he likes, whatever he thinks is funny, whatever he thinks will sell. Even if he is woefully inaccurate with his estimations, it is his way or the highway.

And the result of this is that WWE continues to give the most “marketable” women the majority of opportunities. They give the prototypical stars (white, thin, blonde, etc.) all of the shine, while everyone else withers in the dark. The fact that a match was created to get someone on the card who is almost never absent from it is criminal in my view. Yes, it matters that Charlotte is good. I will never take that away from her; the woman is well on her way to GOAT status.

But I despise that there are so many other women that are just as good as Charlotte in the ring — that have the potential to get to her level of reverence in the wrestling world — but we don’t know who they are. In the most rudimentary way, we don’t know who they are. Because they’re not allowed to show themselves.

And hell, I don’t even mind that Charlotte won. I see the result of this match as poetic justice for Trish, who possibly righted a wrong from her original retirement match in 2006 wherein she went out as the victor. As a true wrestling elder, you are supposed to go out on your back, and that was fitting to see.

I just wonder what the landscape of women’s wrestling in WWE could look like today if they took the time to develop the Litas and Victorias and Molly Hollys and Jacquelines that helped to make Trish into the woman we saw on Sunday. For all of her success, Trish has never, ever missed an opportunity to sing the praises of the women who fought alongside her. I hope that one day Charlotte is able to do the same.

***

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to run down how RAW and Smackdown are doing heading into the next pay-per-view. Ciao for now!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Best of Both Worlds? (July 2, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs
Image credit: comicbook.com

Two weeks have passed, good wrestling fans, and I am still bored. I feel that every week I watch the WWE product, I sink deeper into an abyss of grey. I don’t feel any investment in the women’s storylines, but this is mostly because, as always, WWE is failing to create women’s stories outside of the main event title scenes.

While I suppose it is refreshing to see the likes of Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, and Sonya Deville get some airtime, all of their storylines miss the mark in some way.

Although I typically discuss the most recent pay-per-view separately from the weekly TV shows, I am not going to do that this week. Stomping Grounds was fine but mostly uneventful in terms of the women. But the events of the night for the women’s title storylines were continuations of some problematic patterns I’ve seen developing in the last couple of weeks. Let’s get started once again with The Bad.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE.com

Nikki Cross as an accessory. You may recall that when WWE first went with the pairing of Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss, I was intrigued. This was when I believed that their relationship could either evolve into a crazed tag team pairing, or an intense rivalry to get Nikki Cross over. After several weeks of this story playing out, it appears that WWE is hesitant to pull the trigger on either idea. I do not like the way that WWE is using Nikki Cross as a stand-in for Alexa Bliss. It isn’t hard to figure out what’s going on here: Alexa has a history of concussions, and WWE has been extra cautious with her for the last year. They want to use her sparingly, but still involve her in main event storylines.

So what do they need in that situation? A representative, a lackey. Someone to get across Alexa’s heelish, manipulative persona, but also someone who has a gimmick that can be portrayed as gullible enough to do Alexa’s bidding. Enter Nikki Cross.

This storyline hits a wall for me because every segment with Alexa and Nikki feels like it only exists to further their storyline. The women that Nikki and Alexa have been in competition with in the last couple of weeks — Natalya, Naomi, even SmackDown women’s champion Bayley — don’t really have storylines of their own. They are merely plot devices in the pair’s larger story. All of these women have lost to Alexa and/or Nikki, so I am unsure how they benefit from this story as it is unfolding.

But even talking about the dynamic between Nikki and Alexa itself — I’m not sure if their pairing benefits Nikki, either. I do not like how Nikki is characterized as almost a child: a hyperactive being that listens to whomever talks nicely to her and trusts easily. A woman who has reached mental maturity would realize what Alexa is doing, and I feel that the writing of Nikki is making her look naive and unintelligent. Rather than infantile, we could have gone in another direction with Nikki. She could still be unhinged, but also cunning, or intuitive. She could have been more of a loner who doesn’t trust people.

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

But, the storyline has been going on for so long that I feel that WWE may simply continue it out of convenience, and then drop it when they get bored. But for now, it just feels that Nikki, as well as any woman that comes into contact with her and Alexa, are simply pawns in Alexa’s game.

Ember loses again. Taking a step back from that all-consuming storyline is the story between Ember Moon and Sonya Deville, with Mandy Rose as backup. As I predicted, Ember lost her first contest against Sonya. The bullied rarely benefit from feuds like this, and similar to the women I discussed above, it seems that Ember is just being used to further get Sonya and Mandy over. It made zero sense for Ember to lose their first matchup, and it only makes Ember look like a chump.

I don’t understand WWE’s weird tendency to make their female babyfaces look weak. It’s almost as if they can only see women as damsels in distress, and the only way the audience will know that they’re good is if we pity them.

And as a woman, I would just like to say: we don’t need your pity. We need your respect.

The Thorny

Becky loves Seth…but at what cost? As the universe is well-aware by now, Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch are dating. I, for one, was gushing over this news once it first came out. From a fan perspective, the two of them are uber cute together, and the fact that they are both top champions of their divisions makes them almost a fantasy power couple. They almost seem too good to be true.

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to myself and WWE fans when the company started to milk their relationship week after week. It began with just a few mentions here and there, then to a Becky run-in at the end of Stomping Grounds to save her man, and then into a full blown mixed tag match involving the both of them at the next pay-per-view. It’s only been about a month since they announced their relationship publicly, but collectively we are already growing tired of the obsessive association of the two, especially when there is really no need for there to be.

We talk about women here in Nylons, so I want to take some time to consider the effect that this is having on Becky. Let’s nuance her situation, both in the ring and out.

As a person, we should obviously be indifferent if not happy for Becky with her decision to be public with her relationship. I would like to believe that her Twitter “announcement” (if you could call it that) was a conscious and autonomous decision of hers. Women should be able to be as free or as private as they wish. And when we consider how many women in WWE, past and present, have acknowledged their partnerships on social media and onscreen, we have annals of evidence that the acknowledgment of the relationship can work, if not benefit both partners. An example that jumps to mind is Matt Hardy and Lita. They dated for several years in an era before social media, but we all figured out after some time that they were actually dating. Their onscreen chemistry was something to marvel, but it almost never ventured into something cartoonish or forced. They intervened in each other’s storylines when it made sense, but otherwise their careers remained for the most part separate from one another after Team Xtreme was no more. (Although you could argue things got dicey with the whole Matt-Lita-Kane storyline…I digress.)

It is entirely possible for a woman to have both a successful singles career and casual acknowledgment that her partner exists. But, of course, WWE is skipping the nuance and going for the heavy-handed “Look! It’s Seth! Becky’s boyfriend!”

Image credit: uproxx.com

For Becky’s gimmick, “The Man,” it feels awkward and uncharacteristic of her to give an “aw shucks” grin when Seth compliments her onscreen. She’s a leather-wearing badass who tries whenever possible to be tough and leave her “weak” emotions at the door. It undermines her gimmick to have her swoon over Seth in any degree, even if that may be Rebecca Quin’s genuine reaction to his presence. WWE is expecting Becky to play both herself and her character, but trying to do this only ruins the mystique that she’s taken so long to perfect. And that’s very unfortunate, especially when you consider tweets like the below:

Image credit: unprettypeony.tumblr.com

A worrisome comment, this casts doubt on how much say Becky has in the portrayal of herself and her relationship in storyline. In a perfect world, a woman would be able to have both her man and her success. It seems, though, that at their first opportunity, WWE chose to reduce their top female star to somebody’s boyfriend in a cheap ploy for ratings. While, yes, women in the past have had the best of both worlds, arguably none have reached the heights that Becky Lynch has. And WWE doesn’t know how to give Becky both worlds in a sensible, non-suffocating way.

Not to mention, why put Seth and Becky’s relationship under such strain! What if they break up? If things continue this way, I would not be surprised if they did.

Queer baiting. On last week’s SmackDown, after Sonya Deville disposed of Ember Moon in embarrassingly quick fashion, she shared a longing stare with her companion Mandy Rose. Sonya caressed some strands of Mandy’s hair while Mandy looked lovingly at her friend. The camera oddly lingered on this wordless exchange between the two, and I, as well as many others, picked up on it.

Fans and wrestling media alike began to speculate if this was a hint toward a potential romance storyline between Mandy and Sonya. I have little faith in WWE to carry a storyline to logical completion, but this is a frightful direction if they choose to go for it.

Sonya Deville is WWE’s first openly gay female wrestler, That’s amazing, and no one can take that away from her. However, with WWE’s track record of homophobic characterizations and storylines dripping with straight panic, this can only end badly. From Billy and Chuck, to Goldust, to Mickie and Trish, to even Sasha and Bayley, WWE doesn’t know what to do with gayness.

But the fact that this segment took place on the last SmackDown of Pride month does not feel coincidental at all. In fact, it felt opportunistic, and a little like queer baiting. Queer baiting is the act of suggesting two characters of the same gender may have romantic feelings for one another to hook queer viewers in, only to never have the two characters actually become a queer pairing. It is essentially a giant tease, a deception to keep gay folks tuning in if only for the mere possibility that something may happen between those characters. This is done, of course, to make money.

More often than not, the queer baiting tactic becomes apparent when, despite queer characterization, writers will put one or both characters in a heterosexual pairing. Sometimes, it will end with one character’s death. But the writers could also simply drop the characterizations altogether and pretend they never happened.

Given the most recent example of Sasha and Bayley, I feel that WWE may go the route of the third option. But in any case — they are absolutely wrong for making a last-minute attempt at banking in on Pride month. I hope this little glance between Mandy and Sonya becomes a figment of my imagination in a couple of weeks. We should accept nothing less than real and explicit gay representation. Anything short of that is a flop.

***

Now that both RAW and SmackDown are under new management, perhaps the women’s storylines will be refreshed. But, to me, it just looks like WWE has simply different straight white men power.

Different flavors of the same product. I crave a new recipe.

Stay legit bossy,

AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Brand New? (June 17, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: WWE.com

I think all WWE fans can agree that the product is stale and stagnant as far as storytelling currently. With exception of the bright humor of the 24/7 title shenanigans, I can find little, if any, positive things happening on RAW and Smackdown at the moment. On paper, the main event and mid-card titles for both men and women are on arguably the most favorable people they could be on, with the likes of Rollins, Kingston, Lynch, Bayley, Balor, Joe, and the IIconics representing their respective divisions.

And yet.

Half of these people don’t feel important to their brands at all, and the other half are often eclipsed by multi-man tag matches or non-title feuds (ahem, Shane McMahon).

For the women, outside of Bayley and Becky being champs, there is nothing good, new, or interesting happening. It is the same recipe, just different day of the week it’s being prepared. In a first for Nylons, I am actually going to skip the Good section here.

Times are bleak, friends.

The Bad
I’ll talk about a singular segment that, in my opinion, highlights the core problem with the way WWE writes its female characters. On the past week’s Smackdown, a backstage segment with Ember Moon, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose seemed to set up a feud amongst the trio. In the clip below, Ember essentially loses it because Sonya knocked her handheld gaming console (Nintendo Switch?) out of her hands. There were nods to Ember’s real-life nerdy inclinations, with mentions of heroes and villains.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAMUfOVUozc&w=560&h=315]

It seems as if this storyline may be going the bullying route, and if that is the case, it would be a disappointing turn for Ember. Remembering the bullying storyline between Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss, the bullied character doesn’t exactly benefit from the feud. And given Mandy’s track record, with disrupting the life and marriage of another black woman (Naomi), I don’t exactly have faith that WWE would put over a younger, more subversive black female talent like Ember in the end.

With this probable mishandling of Ember and her gimmick, WWE once again fails one of its performers by misunderstanding gimmicks that bite the mold they are used to. They have the bitchy, condescending white woman down to a near-perfect science. Anything that falls outside of that, especially for women of color, the writers simply don’t know what to do with. And I reiterate, this is why it is important to have diversity in writers’ rooms and higher leadership on any media project.

Image credit: TVinsider.com

As a black woman, I know nerdy black girls like Ember Moon. Heck, to a certain extent, I am one of them! But, for so long, we’ve been fed a certain image of black women, Latinx women, Asian women. That isn’t an accident; it is the working of white supremacy. Many people can only digest women of color if they are a highly specific flavor. People got Ember in NXT because she was allowed the space to explain to us her character, and then back it all up in the ring. Here, on the main roster, she is lost and forced into a very two-dimensional box. Instead of allowing Ember to show her charisma and uniqueness in the ring, we have to see her be picked on as evidence that she is different. It is simply another way to Other her, even if she does come out on top.

In addition, I detest how the trope of the deranged woman applies to any woman who has a slightly out-there gimmick. It works on Nikki Cross — it is even somewhat acceptable with Alicia Fox. But to see it happening, again, with another black woman, is so irksome. “Crazy” is not a stand-in for “eccentric,” and it is possible that women can be aggressive and quirky without being portrayed as unhinged. A man wouldn’t be written to simply scream into the void if someone knocked some of their things down. He would most likely beat the other person’s ass on the spot. Therefore, I want my women written the same way. Human beings, not caricatures.

Also, can we find no better way to set up women’s storylines than to involve catty disagreements? Alexa Bliss’ qualms with Bayley supposedly began because Bayley was mean to her on social media once. Is this a joke? I sound like a broken record, but we would never make this the center of a men’s feud. It is so childish, and I wish with all of my being that people could see women as whole, complicated beings who can handle conflict in sensible ways. It isn’t just inaccurate — it’s insulting to any woman watching to see mean girl antics be the centerpieces of our stories.

The Thorny

Image credit: thechairshot.com

A couple of weeks ago, there was a #1 contender’s match for the Smackdown Women’s championship. Exciting, yes. In a landscape of Kairi Sanes and Ember Moons and Asukas, exciting new matchups were surely right around the corner.

Only in this match, the competitors were Carmella, Charlotte Flair, and Alexa Bliss. And my thought was immediately…of course.

Carmella, to be fair, has had a precarious position in the main event scene since she was called up from NXT. But, because of that, she felt like a decent shot to include in that match. With Charlotte and Alexa, however, there are no excuses. These two have consistently been at the top of the women’s division for the last three years. They’ve never fallen to the back of the line, and if they did, it was because they physically could not wrestle (in Alexa’s case).

We have a field of some of the most talented women on the planet, and WWE thinks, “Yes, let’s continue to push the blonde white women.” Not only that, but the two women with the most championship reigns of all of the women by a long shot. The only woman that comes close in quantity of reigns is Sasha Banks, and look where she is right now. Charlote and Alexa have the most reigns, and some of the longest reigns at the top. I just do not understand why leadership in WWE don’t tire of seeing the same types of women at the top. Well, I do know why, and it’s because of money…and racism. A false sense that women like Alexa and Charlotte are more marketable, and in turn lucrative, and the determination to keep a racial hierarchy in place.

Image credit: wwe.cityblog.ng

Suffice to say, I would be surprised if Bayley came out on top at Stomping Grounds. Perhaps the result of that match will be the launching pad for the next post’s discussion.

***

To you, the reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts on where the product is right now with the women. Or even better, where we can throw our support in the wrestling world to amplify promotions that are getting women right. I’ll be imagining that world for WWE, until next time.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Boss of Who? (April 22, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: stillrealtous.com

It has been an interesting two weeks since WrestleMania for the women’s division. I know the drama surrounding a certain female wrestler has filled the dirt sheets for the better part of that time (and don’t worry, we’ll get to that), but in the midst of that controversy, there was also a Superstar Shakeup.

Title unification for both women’s titles is ostensibly out of the question for now, so how did things shake out for the ladies? Let us consider together.

The Good

Image credit: newsweek.com

The only real good I saw in the past weeks’ RAW and SmackDown Live episodes was that SmackDown’s division is shaping up nicely. Formerly the smaller division of the two brands, SmackDown finally got some big names to freshen up the matches and rivalries. They got work-rate girls like Bayley, Ember Moon, and Kairi Sane, but also some padding for the middle of the division like Liv Morgan. The roster now feels like it has layers, something it was missing before WrestleMania.

Unfortunately, that is where I will have to end this section. Because while it is good that SmackDown’s division is now stacked, that leads me to…

The Bad
…the RAW women’s division. The worst thing about the Shakeup for the women was that it left the brands severely unbalanced. The biggest name RAW got was Naomi, which is a start but it isn’t great. Sitting to ponder, I am actually struggling to think of significant names that are still on RAW besides Alexa Bliss and sort of Becky Lynch. I just feel that it is odd to add the majority of your big names to the show that has less time to work with.

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

I also noticed that The Riott Squad was split up during this draft, which is a shame. The faction of Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan, and Liv Morgan were never given the opportunity to shine atop the division. They were used as enhancement talent in the most literal sense of the term, only used when WWE needed to portray the dominance of the main event players. But as a unit, they worked flawlessly together, and they had excellent tag team offense. I guess we should have taken it as a sign when they were taken out of the women’s tag team title picture immediately after Elimination Chamber. Despite being underutilized, I do think the Riott Squad deserve a load of credit for making the best of the cards they were dealt from the beginning of their main roster careers in WWE.

Switching gears, an additional negative apart from the results of the Shakeup is the push for Lacey Evans. Yawn. I’m so tired!! Lacey is the same as every other white, blonde, heel woman on the roster, only the twist this time is that she’s Southern. But if you were to compare the heel gimmicks of Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose, Charlotte Flair, etc. — at the core of their characters, could you truly find that many differences? They are all arrogant, they all think they are “chosen” in some way, they all think they’re the hottest things since Playboy, and they all believe they are above the rest of the women because of either their sass or their class. But each of them have merely found a different trait to fixate on and exaggerate, and/or found a different aesthetic to present their gimmicks. But at the end of the day, they are all nearly the same person. And as I’ve said, it is tiresome to see them constantly in the main event.

In addition, WWE choosing to push Lacey Evans further exposes what I have noticed is another pattern with blonde white women: WWE Creative, and in turn fans, are more willing to be patient with them.

Image credit: sportskeeda.com

WWE is more willing to give white women the ball and let them run with it until they improve in the ring, rather than give the ball to a more ring-savvy woman of color. Many popular wrestling critics online (namely white and male ones) will make excuses for these women when they are gifted their places at the top. When the pushes for these women begin, they will say that they have killer mic skills, or that they ooze charisma, or that they have potential to develop in the ring — even if they are green in the ring at that time. WWE Creative in turn allows these women to skate by on mediocrity, giving them time and space at the top of the card to develop their in-ring skills. They’ve used this strategy with Alexa, with Carmella, with Mandy Rose (until plans changed), and even with the legendary Trish Stratus. Now, they are doing it with Lacey.

Obviously all of these women rose to the occasion after several months of high-profile matches. But I wonder how much more fleshed out the division would look and feel if we afforded women of color that same opportunity to grow at the top as many of the aforementioned women are.

The Thorny
As the wrestling world is well-aware by now, rumors have been swirling since WrestleMania about Sasha Banks’ dissatisfaction with WWE. I’ve followed this story so closely that I am unsure what is even truth or innuendo anymore, yet my opinion has remained the same. I am firmly on Sasha’s side.

As many of you might have deduced by my salutation at the end of every Nylons, I am a Sasha Banks fan. However, regardless of my feelings about Sasha as WWE Superstar or human being, I still believe that to be critical of Sasha in this circumstance is not only malicious, but hypocritical.

Some people have said that Sasha (and Bayley, by association) was acting childishly for her protest against dropping the tag titles, after seemingly being promised a lengthy title run. Some fans have accused Sasha of being entitled by taking a vacation after WrestleMania to consider her future in WWE. But were these not the same fans that dragged WWE through the mud before WrestleMania after one John Oliver segment? Did all of Oliver’s statements somehow become not true between then and now? Because if WWE still treats their performers like employees, even though they contractually are not considered to be, if they still do not provide health insurance — why should Sasha have to smile and be thankful for the mere opportunity to wrestle for WWE exclusively, especially if they aren’t even using her to her full potential? Why should she put up with all of the other crappy technicalities of being signed by WWE if they mostly just keep her around so she doesn’t go anywhere else?

I want to take a moment to step in Sasha’s shoes here. Let’s try to empathize with her.

Imagine you have worked to become a wrestler since you were a teenager. You overcame poverty and living in hotel rooms with your single mother and autistic sibling to make it to WWE. Then, you have an amazing run in NXT where you were at the tippity-top of the division. Once you are called up to the main roster, fans are ecstatic, and they chant “We want Sasha” when they are bored with the women they see in the ring, whoever they may be.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

You win your first main roster title after one year on the main roster, and then you lose it one month later. Okay, can’t win them all. Then you win the title back. Awesome! You’re a two-time champ now. But then you lose it again a month later, again at a pay-per-view. This happens for a third time. The fourth time you win the title, you lose it after just 8 days. After this, you sort of just exist in the women’s division. Fans start to cool off on you.

Then it looks like you might have a feud with your NXT rival. There’s no way WWE could mess this up, right? Only they do. They start the feud then stop it again. They send you to “counseling.” Then they put the two of you in a tag team, and while it isn’t ideal, you make the best of it and actually begin to see a long-term plan: to start a women’s tag division. After months of badgering higher-ups, your dream comes to fruition, and the titles become a reality. You win the titles and promise to defend them everywhere. It looks like WWE is finally going to give you a long title reign.

But then, at the last moment before the biggest show of the year, you find out that not only will you lose the titles, but that the team that you worked so hard to build is being broken up. And the titles are being put on two less experienced in-ring workers. Another short title reign. Another opportunity to shine ripped away before you could even get started.

Given all that you — Sasha — have been through, do you believe you would be anything less than pissed off?

For all of the protest that Sasha and Bayley displayed in the wake of their loss, everything that they feared would happen is coming true.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

The IIconics have the titles, but outside of the first match they worked after Mania (a comedy squash match at that), every match they have competed in thus far on TV they have lost. The belts are merely props for them. We could have had so much more with Sasha and Bayley.

And to those that say they are acting entitled, I say, so what if they are? Why can’t women be entitled to more?

Men in the wrestling industry have been infamously entitled. There are stories of male wrestlers who just flat out refused to lay down for certain people (like Hulk Hogan). There are wrestlers that we praise today that were notoriously awful to work with backstage at certain points in their careers (like Shawn Michaels). There are men that made it a point to stay perched at the top for several years at a time (like Triple H). And there are men today that have openly alluded to their discontent with their booking, such as The Revival and the recently departed Luke Harper, that are applauded for taking a stand. CM Punk is still an urban legend in WWE lore.

So why is it suddenly problematic when a woman does the same? When men stand up against personal injustices, they are martyrs. When women stand up against personal injustices, they are entitled.

And look, as more has come out about this story, I have reformulated my thoughts on it. I do think that Bayley and Sasha, after all that they’ve been through together, might fare better on their own. Their partnership really became codependent, and having to work their gimmicks around each other truly held both of them back. Their characters are simply oil and water, and I think in the long term re-building their gimmicks separately will help to establish them as the strong singles competitors they were always meant to be. And with Ronda Rousey out of the picture for the foreseeable future, for Sasha, this could be her chance to have the substantial women’s title run she’s been vying for.

But, that idea holds true if and only if WWE puts in the work to rehabilitate her character, and put her in a main event feud with a significant title reign. Can we trust them to do that? Maybe we should ask Asuka…

Well. Looks like we’re right back at square one.

***

Now that the Shakeup is over, we can begin the next chapter in all of these women’s stories. Time will tell if for most of them it is a chance to write their stories anew. Or if for others, if they must close the book altogether.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Fastlane, or Roadblock? (March 11, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

Life comes at you fast, wrestling fans, hence why we are less than one month away from the show of shows, WrestleMania. As Fastlane was last night, and it’s been a few weeks since we’ve discussed what’s been going on with the women, I think we should just dive right in. Lord knows we have a Marie Kondo-sized mess to sort through. Let’s see what sparked joy in the last three weeks, and what we’re hoping to leave in the discard pile.

The Good(?)
RAW and SD Live: Up until about two hours before writing this, I had decided that I would add the main event feud of Becky Lynch/Ronda Rousey/Charlotte Flair into this section. But, upon thinking about all the developments of the past seven days more critically, I began to question that assessment. On the whole, I do believe that the feud is still good, but boy howdy did we take the most convoluted path to get where we are now.

In the last three weeks alone, we had Becky getting suspended, then violating that suspension twice, the second instance landing herself in “jail.” Meanwhile we had Ronda relinquishing the women’s title, only to be given it back (by a suspiciously willing Stephanie McMahon) before turning heel…maybe?

Image credit: indianexpress.com

And then in the midst of all that, there was Charlotte, arrogantly watching over it all, picking her spots to speak and pounce on her prey. I held out hope in my previous post that the storyline wasn’t going to become over-complicated, but I was unfortunately wrong.

Nevertheless, I think the feud is still on its way to the main event of WrestleMania. What I like about it is that for better or worse, I can’t predict where the story is going. That is rare nowadays in WWE, where we can often see a feud made up of nothing more than back-and-forth matches with 50/50 booking.

I find myself wanting to watch or at the very least keep up with the developments of this particular story, especially as it pertains to real-life events. For example, in the Twitter-beef Heard ‘Round the World, Becky and Ronda went toe-to-toe, blurring the lines of kayfabe and reality. Ronda rubbed much of the WWE Universe the wrong way by calling out things like “scripts” and Becky’s real name. In addition, she called Becky’s finisher, the very finisher she sold months prior, a “fake” move. Whether she was intending to or not, she effectively turned herself heel on social media, forcing WWE to incorporate that attitude into the storyline.

All in all, the feud demands attention, which is the smell of a good WrestleMania feud. It is exciting all the more to see women demand that attention, in and out of kayfabe.

Fastlane: Similarly to my thoughts on RAW and Smackdown Live, I have mixed emotions about the events of last night’s pay-per-view. Nothing really stuck out as amazing to me on the show, as the outcomes for the women’s bouts were largely predictable. The build and execution of Fastlane truly felt more like filler to get to WrestleMania, which is ironically the opposite of what WWE likely intended.

However, I can take two positives out of the show. The first is that all of the right women won their matches and will now advance to WrestleMania. Now that I think about it though, all of them were faces, which usually means that not all of them will win at WrestleMania. But, that’s only sad if you’re fans of all of those women like I am.

Second is that I really like the use of Beth Phoenix as a guest commentator for the big women’s matches on pay-per-views. It adds a tenderness to the matches emotionally for fans of Beth in her prime, but also a female in-ring perspective that women’s matches usually lack. Plus, it’s awesome to hear an equal ratio of female to male voices calling the action, something unthinkable during the era of wrestling I grew up in. Women’s voices didn’t have authority back then. Little by little, they are gaining it now.

Not only that, but it was intriguing to see Beth play a role in the story after the match. I popped internally when she threw that punch to Tamina! Natalya coming to her rescue got me thinking about the possibility of Beth coming out of retirement to team with her BFF at WRestleMania for the titles. While this could have been a one-off for Beth, it would certainly be a ticket-seller to have her on the marquee of a monumental match at Mania.

The Bad

Image credit: sportskeeda.com

RAW and SD Live: On the flipside, a frustrating side effect of the RAW women’s title feud is that it is sucking the life out of the division on both brands. That story is thriving in color, while the rest of the division is muted in black and white. It goes back to one of the most consistent critiques I’ve had about WWE and its treatment of female performers, which is that they have tunnel vision. More than one feud can’t matter at a time, and the success of those “chosen” women at a given moment is almost always at the detriment of all others.

Sasha Banks and Bayley are the new women’s tag champs, but they were simply thrown into a feud with two of the blandest performers on the roster for Fastlane, Nia Jax and Tamina. Alexa Bliss, despite my many qualms about her past successes, is being wasted in talk show segments each week. She’s still thirsting after the likes of EC3 and Finn Balor after being cleared to wrestle. Carmella has been jiving next to R-Truth since the Mixed Match Challenge, even before all of the Corey Graves drama came out.

And then, there’s Asuka. Poor, forgotten, Asuka.

The Smackdown women’s champion was absent from WWE TV for nearly a month after the Royal Rumble. I’d hoped that this was done temporarily for WWE to create a WrestleMania storyline for her, or to buy some time to build up a worthy next opponent for the champion. But alas, neither of those things were happening. She returned to wrestle in a match against Mandy Rose, where she foolishly lost, and then out of thin air was placed into a match with Mandy at Fastlane.

Besides the fact that Mandy’s gimmick and current push are highly problematic (we’ll get to that in the next section), she also has not been given the opportunity to prove her in-ring prowess at the same level that someone like Asuka has. And when you’re feuding with Asuka, you need a strong track record to back up your talk. I hope that Mandy versus Asuka isn’t the WrestleMania feud for the Smackdown women’s title, but I have a sinking feeling that it might just be.

I can only feel bad for the women not named Becky or Ronda or Charlotte at the moment, because they aren’t being valued at their full potential. WWE is wasting the majority of the women on their roster in the build to what will admittedly be a tear-jerking moment at Mania. I suppose it is our job as fans (and mine as a writer) to account for the whole of the story, not just the flashy headlines. We must read between the lines and see through the bullshit. Who fades to the background when stars are born?

Fastlane: The wrestling last night was unimpressive. The Smackdown women’s title match was obviously the most competitive, and Asuka had a good showing. But the tag title match was a little frenzied, certainly sloppy at points. I can applaud Sasha Banks and Bayley trying hard to sell their tag team dynamic. We got to see them expand on their tag team moveset in their match; it will be exciting to see how they continue to develop their arsenal.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

The match between Charlotte and Becky, though….has me scratching my head. I didn’t really understand the point of it. I understand from a storyline perspective why it needed to happen, but going back to what I touched on above, it was making a simple story more complicated than it needed to be.

I don’t like the injury angle for Becky. It doesn’t fit her character, and there should be more effective ways for the writers to gamer sympathy for Becky other than making her an underdog. The classic underdog in WWE is someone who we should feel sorry for because they have a distinct, physical disadvantage compared to their opponents. Or, they have a losing streak behind them, finding it difficult to land victories when needed. Neither of those things fits Becky’s character. Other wrestlers have had kayfabe injuries that they worked through to overcome odds, but it seems unique to this story that it has played so heavily into the proceedings. I almost feel as if Becky’s knee is the fourth person in the feud!

Image credit: WWE.com

Becky is more of a cunning, badass heel. It would make more sense for her to be feigning this injury to get in the heads of her opponents. Or to acknowledge it but not favor it so heavily. But instead, the knee has perhaps unintentionally made Becky look weak. And I don’t think that should be the angle for her going into Mania.

Furthermore, I hate how Ronda continually factors into such important match decisions. There was her debut at the Royal Rumble 2018 (albeit a post-match appearance, it still overshadowed Asuka’s victory), her run-in at TLC in December, and now the match between Becky and Charlotte last night. She single-handedly got Becky into the RAW women’s title match with her interference, which again made Becky look weak, like she couldn’t fight her own battles. We can expect Ronda to get involved nearly anytime something big is going down in the ring concerning her adversaries, and it’s getting a bit annoying and predictable. Sometimes, WWE, less is more.

The Thorny
A huge thorn in my side since before the Royal Rumble has been Mandy Rose (no pun intended). I absolutely hate the way that she has been pushed in the last two or so months. She was randomly put in a feud with Naomi, who is a former women’s champion and WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal winner. The pairing of them on paper is fine, inoffensive. But, the way the story developed between the two was heavily biased toward Mandy, who, remember, was supposed to be the heel. She tried at various points to put a wedge in Naomi’s real-life marriage to Jimmy Uso, doing so by playing into jezebel stereotypes common in the era of yore.

Yet, in nearly every segment with Naomi, Mandy came out on top. In key moments of the “feud,” — the hotel room brawl, the Royal Rumble, even the match last week on Smackdown — moments where the babyface usually gains their momentum back, Naomi was the one left reeling.

The reasoning that Mandy gave for hating on Naomi was that “she’ll never look like me.” My ears immediately perked up at this because of how jarring a reason it seemed when I heard it. I considered that perhaps the line just fit with her Playboy modelesque gimmick.

Image credit: wrestling-edge.com

But, when facing off with Asuka, Mandy repeated the same line again. To another woman of color. That she would again promptly defeat in a throwaway match. Seeing this play out with Asuka as it had with Naomi before made it clear to me and many fans of color that this is dog-whistle racism at its finest.

In Vince McMahon’s world, the pretty, sexed up, blonde white woman will obviously defeat the Japanese woman speaking in broken English and the dark-skinned black woman. It is moments like these where I wonder who is present in the writer’s room where these decisions are being made. Who is present in the Room Where It Happens that writers scripted that line for Mandy, pitched her saying it to only women of color, and thought that it wouldn’t sound offensive in any way?

This is why it is important to have representation not just in front of the camera, but behind it as well. Women of color have been mocked, discriminated against, and made into minstrel in both the past and present based on the very notion that they would “never look like” the standard of beauty in America, the blonde white woman. It is a disrespectful reminder to Asuka, Naomi, and women of color watching that we are not the standard. There’s a reason that this gimmick can only work for someone who looks like Mandy, rather than someone that looks like Naomi. You will never hear Corey Graves fawn over Asuka the way that he does Mandy. And while Mandy did lose to Asuka in the end, her characterization was gross and unnecessary in the lead-up to the match. In 2019, cheap and lazy writing like this should no longer be acceptable. Do better.

***

Seeing the promo during Fastlane that WrestleMania is only 28 (now 27) days away made me laugh out loud because of how absurd that is. The first quarter of any year is truly a blur that doesn’t feel real.

I guess for me, the year really begins in April, and I am only a little ashamed to admit that this is partly due to it being the essential end and new beginning of the wrestling year. We’re almost there, friends!

Stay legit bossy,

AC

Nylons and Midriffs: The Year of the Woman (Year In Review, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

While it’s a bit corny to say, there really isn’t a better time to be a fan of women’s wrestling in WWE. Through the ups and the downs, this year was truly unforgettable for the division and fans who have been clamoring for women’s progressivism since the Attitude Era.

Sure, there are some kinks to work out here and there, as is to be expected when exploring uncharted historical territory. But, the year was a start. It is only the beginning. I truly see it as a new foundation for what is yet to come. With the announcement that there will be women’s tag team championships unveiled next year and speculation that we may see women main event WrestleMania for the first time, 2019 will likely be a sophomore year of sorts — a punctuation mark on the statement that women’s wrestling is here to stay.

Let’s look back n the year that got us to this point. As this is more of a celebratory post from my perspective, let’s do things in reverse this time. We can revisit cynicism next year.

The Thorny

Image credit: EWrestling.com

Catty Characterizations. An underlying issue in the women’s division has always been the way WWE’s female characters are written. This year was no different, as we had many of the most memorable feuds of the year carried by bratty, mean girl antics from heels and faces alike. An example that leaps to mind is the feud between Nikki Bella and Ronda Rousey before Evolution.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tuv7-uVgdJ0&w=560&h=315]

Ronda cut a searing promo wherein she mocked the Bellas for using their men to get ahead, and specifically Nikki for sleeping with John Cena. In addition to that dose of slut-shaming, we had Alexa Bliss bullying Nia Jax for no reason, Ruby Riott mocking Natalya’s actually-dead father, and Carmella being the ditzy, obnoxious heel of our nightmares.

Not only that, but the women were also generally depicted as volatile and shrill. I can’t even count the amount of segments we had this year of women screaming into microphones, over each other backstage, or in cringe-worthy counseling sessions. Again, this is how you can tell that there are few if any female writers backstage. Women were portrayed by how patriarchy caricatures them — as shrieking, hysterical creatures. I hope that WWE learns how to write women next year with realistic motivations, now that they will have to do it for more of them with a growing roster. Speaking of…

The Favorites. A general critique but particularly with the women, WWE has a tendency to rotate the same 5 or 6 women in and out of the title picture on both brands. And it is no surprise that most of these women are blonde and white. The year was dominated by Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and Becky Lynch. While other women had their “moments” this year — like Asuka winning the Rumble and Naomi winning the already-forgotten WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal — they were fleeting in comparison to the title runs and feuds that the aforementioned women had.

Image credit: slam.canoe.com

The women’s locker room is the most diverse it has ever been, and yet we continue to give the same “kind” of women the top spots. It’s infuriating to watch the most prominent wrestling critics praise people like Charlotte and Ronda when women like them are given the big matches continually to prove themselves and show off their movesets. We saw the likes of Bayley, Sasha Banks, Ember Moon, and Asuka sink to the bottom of the card simply because they didn’t fit the mold.

It’s great that the women will finally be given another set of titles to strive for. This may address this issue head-on. Yet, it won’t fix much if the tag titles are only used to pacify the women who can’t seem to break into the “main event” scene.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Short-Term Booking. We saw so much short-term booking this year. Segments that served little purpose other than to get another women’s segment on RAW or SmackDown Live. As I alluded to in the previous section, the rest of the women’s locker room in the undercard had to make do with the segments or actions written for them. And many of them were…bad. Just bad. And also random.

Image credit: theringreport.com

Asuka and Naomi teamed up for a few weeks and then suddenly stopped. Dana Brooke turned face and then heel again two days later with no explanation. Asuka lost not one but two title matches to Carmella because of nonsensical distractions by James Ellsworth. Sasha and Bayley betrayed one another multiple times this year to simply pretend none of their bickering ever happened after a counseling session. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville fell victim to similar booking.

And in all of these examples, there was absolutely no long-term explanation for the events. No reasons given for the temporary alliances and breakups. It was all pure laziness on the part of WWE Creative. And I know it isn’t the worst thing going on, but it’s still irksome. I want to care! Make me care!

The Good

GIF credit: slyasrai.tumblr.com

Every Single First. I hope wrestling historians took note of just how many firsts there were this year. All of the historic firsts could be written about at length, but I’m condensing them in this point because in total there were just too many.

In case you need a recap, we had the first ever women’s:

  • Royal Rumble
  • Elimination Chamber match
  • announcers: full-time for Renee Young and a guest spot for Beth Phoenix
  • pay-per-view, Evolution
  • Last Woman Standing Match (on the main roster)
  • TLC match

…all within a 12-month period!! That’s insane!

We also had the third women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, which was the best of them so far. Every single one of these matches delivered. Not a single one was bad. We saw what happens when you give women the ball. They don’t just run with it, they shoot and score. And, arguably, they made the men step their game up to deliver high match quality. I know that every subsequent stipulation match listed above won’t be as amazing as the first. But, the women have their foot in the door now, and I have high hopes that they will find ways to be inventive and heighten the intensity of each as the years go on.

The Royal Rumble and Evolution. Yes, I am singling out these two events — because they were that damn good. I still remember vividly watching in utter excitement and pride as Jojo announced the start of the women’s Rumble. I will never forget how hyped I was standing in front of my TV, singing every woman’s entrance theme I knew as they walked the ramp for the Evolution battle royal. I actually got chills just thinking back to those nights. I was never, ever prouder to be a fan of wrestling — a fan of women’s wrestling — than on those nights, watching those pay-per-views.

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And it wasn’t just because they were firsts. That will obviously play into the fondness that fans hold for those events when we remember back to this era. But these events will also stand out because they lived up to their hype. The women wrestled and entertained as if everything was on the line. In many ways, it was. They had everything to prove, just because they’re women; ’tis the sexism that they face just for existing in wrestling to begin with.

You can read my extended thoughts on both shows in my previous blog posts, but I would also recommend seeking out each of them to watch, because they are absolutely worth your time.

Stone Cold Becky Lynch. Yeah, I went there. There wasn’t a wrestler in WWE this year that could hold a candle to Becky Lynch. Not Seth Rollins or Drew McIntyre. Not AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan. Not even Ronda Rousey. It was all Becky. Period.

Becky proved herself to be a bonafide star this year. She balanced actual in-ring talent with stellar mic skills, and crafted a heel character that was just too cool to boo. She was so over that she had fans jeering the likes of Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey, the two golden girls of the division. WWE tried their hardest to make Becky a detestable heel, but Becky’s Stone Cold-esque rebel spirit forced them to portray her as more of an anti-hero by the end of the year, actually acknowledging that fans love her.

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Even though I have complicated feelings about the idea of “grabbing the brass ring” as Vince McMahon puts it (as it typically connotes bootstrap ideology), there are few other expressions that describe how Becky used the spotlight given to her this year. True to her character on camera and social media alike, she definitely proved herself as championship caliber.

My hope for Becky next year is that she finishes her red-hot feud with Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, ideally in the main event. The match is almost guaranteed to happen — but the mechanics of how it happens I look forward to watching. I also hope that we see Becky’s versatility after WrestleMania, giving her new opponents to feud with.

Regardless of the future, 2018 will be remembered as The Man’s year. How ironic, during a year that will likely go down in history as the Year of the Woman.

***

And that’s all folks! It’s been a delight to write about women’s wrestling this year. I began it with the Royal Rumble, innocently believing that the women wouldn’t be given anything else for the remainder of the year. I have never been so happy to be wrong.

See you on the Road to WrestleMania!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (October 15, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: Forbes.com

Greetings and salutations good wrestling fans. I can’t believe this will be the last post before Evolution. It is mind-boggling how fast this year is going, and how quickly this “monumental” pay-per-view is approaching. I’m not sure WWE knows this either…hm. Let’s talk a bit about that, shall we?

The Good
Before I become too critical about the lackluster build to Evolution, I would like to take time in this section to discuss one positive: the sheer number of women’s segments on Raw and Smackdown Live over the last several weeks. I’m talking upwards of two to three segments some weeks.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube channel

Nia and Ember wrestling, the Riott Squad continuing to be prominent figures week on week, Bayley and Alicia Fox getting visibility — I’ve found myself actually raising an eyebrow to this increase in segments for the women as I watch every week. Outside of that being pathetic, as this should be the norm, it did give me hope. It does show that WWE can give their female roster attention when they try. Which makes it more obvious that when they don’t, it is a conscious decision.

The Bad
However, now that we are getting to see more female faces on our screens every week, we now get to see WWE’s weaknesses when it comes to female storytelling. Or, more specifically, their inability to focus energy toward multiple storylines at one time.

A well-documented gripe in Nylons, it never ceases to amaze me how the writing teams at WWE can so consistently drop the ball with developing female characters. While I am very happy to see more women onscreen on weekly TV, I scratch my head at the material they are given to work with. Or, the randomness of the matchups they are thrown into.

For example, why are Bayley and Alicia Fox in some sort of feud now? Do they have history? Why don’t they like each other? Were they just arbitrarily made to wrestle each other multiple times on TV because the Mixed Match Challenge needs promoting?

Another example: Asuka and Naomi versus the IIconics. Is there a pinpoint-able reason that the IIconics chose Asuka and Naomi to feud with?

And overarching all of these “rivalries” is the question: why do these women keep facing the same people week after week with no tangible payoff or storyline progression? Matches have to mean something. If people just wrestled every week and then went home, WWE wouldn’t be where it is today, and we certainly would not love it as much as we do. It seems that many of the women on the roster are just wrestling in circles, not getting anywhere.

Also, I’ve had little chance to talk about this in other posts, but it bears mentioning. WWE’s ineptitude with women’s storytelling is also evident with the sudden heel or face turns of certain women in the undercard. Two women that come to mind are Nia Jax and Carmella. Nia was a face in her feud with Alexa Bliss up until WrestleMania, then some sort of tweener in her feud with Ronda Rousey, then she lost the title and was MIA for a bit, and now she’s back on Raw as a…face? Is there a reason why she can’t definitively be one or the other? Carmella is an even stranger case. She was one of the most effective heels on the roster as Snackdown Women’s Champion, but then lost the title, dyed her hair auburn, and is now face in a partnership with R-Truth. (Again, an MMC pairing being brought to weekly TV.)

Image credit: SEScoops.com

When wrestlers are flip flopped between good or bad with no explanation, it robs fans the opportunity to sympathize with their characters. We are not allowed time to understand their motivations, or what drives their characters to good or bad. This is Character Building 101, and it helps audiences care. I desperately want to care about so many of the women in WWE, but to do that I have to be given something to sink my teeth into. I can’t be left salivating without a plate.

The Thorny
We are now only two weeks away from Evolution. We currently have three matches that have been announced (excluding the matches for the NXT women’s title and Mae Young Classic final). This is, to my knowledge, going to be a full-length pay-per-view. The matches that have been announced so far encompass all of the rumored matches and competitors set to headline the pay-per-view in marquee matches: Nikki Bella vs. Ronda Rousey, Trish Stratus and Lita versus Alexa Bliss and Mickie James, and Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte in a Last Woman Standing Match. I’m excited for two of the three of those matches, but more nervous for what the rest of the card will look like. We are down to the wire, folks. If people are going to invest money into buying this pay-per-view, they need to know what their money is buying.

Image credit: skysports.com

What I am getting at here is the idea that certain women are allowed to take up space before others. Some women are allowed to simply take up more space than others.

A good example to illustrate this is the Charlotte/Becky feud. I love the way this feud is unfolding, the work that both women are doing, and how important the women’s title feels on Smackdown Live. Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how vapid the rest of the division feels in comparison. It seems that Creative is pouring all of its ideas into this single feud.

This phenomenon is reminiscent of the Charlotte/Sasha Banks feud that dominated 2016. That feud will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in history, but it also seemed to suck the life out of the division. I cannot recall a single other women’s feud that was happening in the midst of Charlotte and Sasha swapping the gold. I don’t find it coincidental that the common denominator in both feuds is a certain blonde Nature Girl.

It is unfortunate that we’re seeing who WWE will leave behind in the process of putting over the most marketable women. With just 13 days to build the majority of the show, where do the Nias, Embers, and Asukas stand? I want to feel anticipation for this pay-per-view, but despite what WWE tries to convince us, a show is not made by mainstream stars and nostalgia acts. We want wrestling. As a fan, I beg that WWE gives us that.

***

WWE has a knack for surprising us with memorable moments when we least expect them. I am hoping that the secrecy about the rest of the card means that they have something special in store for Evolution. My next post will give you all the blow by blow on the show. Until then!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (September 17, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Greetings wrestling fans, and welcome to the post-Hell in a Cell edition of Nylons and Midriffs. The last few weeks have been interesting to say the least, in both exciting and mildly worrisome ways. As per usual, I will divide the discussion between the two weekly WWE shows and the most recent pay-per-view.

The Good
RAW and SD Live: Renee Young! As many of us know by now, Renee Young recently became the first woman to claim a permanent seat at the announcer’s desk in WWE. I won’t stick my grubby, cynical fingers into this one; it is simply marvelous news! Renee has more than earned her place among the greatest on-air personalities past and present. I am happy that her consistency and likability has translated into an opportunity that will open doors for women announcers in the future. In addition, I liked how WWE announced this historic event, welcomed Renee to her seat at the table, and kept the show moving. There was no back-patting or repeated mentions of “women’s evolution.” WWE gave Renee an opportunity to shine, and then allowed her work to speak for itself. I wish WWE would do this more with “historic” women’s announcements.

Hell in a Cell: And your NEW Smackdown Women’s Champion…Becky Lynch! This is fantastic!

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Becky had an amazing bout with Charlotte Flair at the pay-per-view. Their chemistry is electric and they play off one another’s movesets so well. And what’s more, I felt different watching this Charlotte match. For the first time in a long time, my gut told me that Charlotte might not win. The action was unpredictable and compelling, and in my opinion, the best woman won. That finish came out of nowhere! Let us hope that this title win only adds to Becky’s heel development.

The Bad
RAW and SD Live: Oh, the Bellas…

Image credit: supernickiminaj.tumblr.com

WWE is at it again with their revisionist history of events with the retelling of how the Bellas were an integral part of the Women’s Evolution. Outside of the exclusion of AJ Lee from any conversation regarding the origins of this supposed movement, WWE also wants us to forget that the Bellas were portrayed as active antagonizers to the women’s movement when it began in 2015. Many fans recall that it was against the Bellas that Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha Banks debuted.

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What’s more, it is painfully transparent that the timing of the Bellas’ return coincides not just with the dawn of the Evolution pay-per-view, but also the premiere of a WWE-adjacent reality show they star in. The revolutionizing of the Bellas in WWE is a ploy to fit into their capitalist ventures which, as I’ve discussed many times, is antithetical to feminism. The Bellas represent the “Diva” of yesteryear, and while they can both hold their own in the ring decently enough (Nikki perhaps better than Brie), I think it is disingenuous of WWE to suggest that they measure up to the in-ring capabilities of their peers based off of association alone.

HIAC: In a rare sort of critique, I am going to complain about WWE giving exposure to women when it isn’t actually necessary. Case in point is the insertion of Brie Bella and Maryse into the Miz and Daniel Bryan feud. While even I find it awesome to see couples (and new moms!!!) square up in the ring, the whole angle flopped at HIAC. I understand Maryse being a cowardly heel, but she ran away from Brie at the expense of both women participating in the match in a meaningful way. The men carried about 90% of the action. This might have been for the best in the end, given Brie’s unimpressive performances in her comeback matches before this one. But still, if they weren’t going to be booked to wrestle one-on-one, then why go through the trouble of including them at all? As props to their husbands?

The Thorny
I don’t feel a need to split this section in two, as I have a general critique. In this section, I look at problematic patterns of women’s representation in WWE and discuss how they may hurt fan perception of the product down the line. That idea is what brings me to something I’ve noticed the past several weeks, months even. WWE has arbitrarily putting women in pairs or groups with other women, and they suddenly become factions. You have Sasha and Bayley of course, then Alexa Bliss with her lackeys Mickie James and Alicia Fox. They’ve paired Ronda Rousey with Natalya, and now Asuka with Naomi.

Image credit: foxsports.ph

As fans, we have to see through what WWE is doing. I’m seeing more women on TV in recent weeks, but it still somehow does not leave me feeling more satisfied with female representation. And I’ve figured out that the faction-forming happening within the women’s division is just another lazy way of putting women on our screens without having to write storylines for them or put them in matches. The association game WWE is playing with the women is seriously holding some of them back, and preventing them from shining individually. I understand that not every woman is going to be able to shine at one time. But, it would feel a little better if the writers could at least pretend to recognize the individuality of each woman’s ambitions. I’d hardly like to think that Mickie James’ aspirations upon returning to WWE included being a backup dancer to a bleach blonde rookie.

***

Although this post may mot reflect it, I do believe WWE is heading generally in a good direction with the women’s division. Yet, I suppose as a fan you wonder how slowly the ship can move and still call itself progressing forward. Until next time.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Summer Slam 2018: Coronations and Contracts

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

Well, the “biggest event of the summer” has arrived, and WWE has taken over Brooklyn for the fourth consecutive year. WWE’s SummerSlam is one of the WWE’s “Big Four” (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Survivor Series) pay-per-views, and each year it’s being hyped as bigger and bigger, which is made evident as the show gets longer and longer.

This is usually the point in the season where the WWE starts their long-term storylines for WrestleMania, and it employs the following plot devices a majority of the time:

  • A return of a Superstar in action we haven’t seen in a good while.
  • Some type of swerve, shock, etc. involving the main event or another title match.
  • The eventual breakout star for the next year’s WrestleMania suffers some sort of injustice.
  • One of the matches of the card that the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community) is waiting for with bated breath ends up being as exciting as a wet firework.
  • A celebrity from popular culture gets involved with the action.

I won’t analyze the preshow, because seven hours is a lot to be sitting for, but I will be covering the main card. Instead of using the five-star rating scale, I will give the matches a 1 (okay, go grab another slice of pizza), 2 (Not bad, beat expectations and was able to keep a viewer’s attention throughout the match) or a 3 (Wow, I remember why I fell in love with wrestling in the first place) count.

Seth Rollins (with Dean Ambrose) vs. Dolph Ziggler (with Drew McIntyre) for the Intercontinental Championship

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Image Courtesy of WWE.com.

3 COUNT
Rollins (nice homage to Thanos with the outfit) and Ambrose come out to a big pop. Seth has been carrying Raw since WrestleMania 34 and has elevated the Intercontinental Championship into many a main event on Raw this past year. The show kicks off with two of the best in-ring performers to get the people out of their seats. Lots of teases between Ambrose and McIntyre while the match goes back and forth in the ring. Lots of high spots here, but a nice flow to the match. Seth gets busted open, but ends up taking the title home.

The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship

ONE COUNT
Both teams come out to decent crowd reaction after the previous match pulled a lot of emotion out of the crowd. Maybe the New Day’s gimmick is getting stale and we’re waiting for the eventual discord/heel turn for the group, but the whole “we’ve done everything except beat the repackaged Wyatt family” angle doesn’t have me sitting with clasped hands watching this slow-paced match. It ends mercifully with a DQ win by the New Day after they were accosted with rubber mallets. Yes, you read that right.

Kevin Owens vs. Braun Strowman for the Money in the Bank Contract

ONE COUNT
After months of the cat-and-mouse game between WWE’s next big Goliath and one of the best heels on either show, this match made viewers wonder what will happen here. A squash match? Some goofy technicality that causes Strowman to lose? A returning best friend in Sami Zayn? Strowman doesn’t need the briefcase to be a credible challenger, but Owens with a briefcase offers so many possibilities. Owens took some major bumps here and, while this was a squash match, should we really be pulling for the bully? Strowman made Owens look like a jobber, and it will be interesting if Braun cashes in later on in the show.

Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Becky Lynch for the Smackdown Women’s Title 

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Image Courtesy of WWE.

TWO COUNT
Is this when Becky Lynch finally gets that elusive title? Or does WWE keep Charlotte Flair in the title talk for months to come? It seems like Carmella is just an afterthought here. Charlotte and Becky did most of the in-ring work here, with the “best friends put at odds” in play here. After various near fall for Lynch, Flair comes out on top, earning her spot as the top female on Smackdown once again. The crowd went wild after Becky’s heel turn, and one can hope this turns into a great program for the rest of the calendar year between these two women pioneers.

A.J. Styles vs. Samoa Joe for the WWE Championship

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Image Courtesy of WWE.

THREE COUNT
Two of the most talented workers in the company are going head to head in this mid-card match. This match is a far cry from their TNA days. Having A.J.’s family at ringside was a nice touch and brought some real emotional investment in this match that should be a solid match technically. And it was. Pulling in AJ’s family for the big mental breakdown at the end for Joe’s DQ win brought in the all-too vaunted blurred kayfabe to end it. A.J. walking off into the crowd with his family was a unique ending.

Elias Performs

ONE COUNT
Cue up the digs on the hometown crowd from Elias. After breaking his guitar and a lively and vocal reaction from the Brooklyn faithful, he walks off in a huff. I’m not sure what this was going to accomplish other than a restroom break.

The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan

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Image Courtesy of WWE.

TWO COUNT
A match eight years in the making and one that features some solid microphone work leading up this between an all-time fan favorite against arguably the top heel in the company, this was a match that could offer up some juicy possibilities. A seemingly split crowd was into this match from the outset. After a war of attrition, some old-fashioned “foreign object in the heel’s hand from his accomplice” sealed the deal for the Miz. It was very nice of Daniel Bryan to put the Miz over. Let’s hope this storyline gets a conclusive ending.

Finn Balor vs. Baron Corbin

ONE COUNT
The classic “David vs. Goliath” storyline, this match was just thrown in as a filler for the card. It’s a shame, because after reinventions for both characters, each one seems to be an afterthought in WWE’s title plans. It’s been a long time since Finn was the first Universal Champion and his talents have been on the shelf, either through booking or injury, since then. The “Demon King” entrance was a nice touch, and while it’s great to see Finn take the role of champion for the LGBTQ community, the red and black face paint give him a different dimension and depth to his character. A quick squash by Balor ended this and one can hope we see the red and black facepaint in the title picture.

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Image Courtesy of WWE.

Jeff Hardy for Shinsuke Nakamura for the United States Championship

TWO COUNT
Two fan favorites here that are not the best on the microphone, but are pure magic in the ring, with Randy Orton slithering (pun intended) in the background, you just knew that this match wouldn’t have a decisive finish. A quick pace to this match and lots of aerial action defined this match, but its placement on the card didn’t help a tired crowd that sat through three hours of Summer Slam already. After previously failing as a main eventer, Nakamura gutted out the win despite Hardy’s best efforts. Orton made his appearance at the end, making sure this dance will go one a little longer.

Ronda Rousey vs. Alexa Bliss for the Women’s Raw Championship

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Image Courtesy of WWE.

TWO COUNT
This was inevitably going to be Rousey’s, arguably the greatest female combat sports athlete ever, and destined to take away the title from the best current female heel.
This was a quick display and booked as a squash. It’s going to be a while before someone takes the belt off of her, as it should be. She’s a believable dominant force and with Brock Lesnar leaving the company, her credibility will be key for the Women’s Division going forward.

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns for Universal Title

TWO COUNT
Smarks’ heads must have exploded when this match was finalized. On one hand, you’ve got Roman Reigns, the next chosen face of the company who is divisive among the WWE Universe. Many folks didn’t want Reigns to win, but if he did get his preordained coronation as the Universal Championship, it means the main title being featured weekly once again.

On the other hand, Brock Lesnar, the champion that makes as many appearances as Sasquatch, may have the credibility as the champion, but has fallen out of favor with the fans due to his perceived lack of care for weekly competition. Not competing every week makes the championship belt on the company’s flagship show seems like a novelty. Every champion before him, if they were able to, competed every week on televised and non-televised events. Lesnar has made it very clear that he only works when the money is there. He is also leaving to go back to UFC to challenge Daniel Cormier for its top belt, so in keeping with time-honored traditions of dropping the belt before leaving the company. He surely couldn’t win, could he?

Enter Braun Strowman and his Money in the Bank briefcase, averting a booking travesty and sitting at ringside awaiting the winner. It was unique way to get fans into the match instead of subjecting them to Lesnar-Reigns IV. Thanks to some shrewd booking, Reigns got his win thanks to Lesnar being preoccupied with Strowman. The win let all three men involved look strong, and hopefully we will get a championship match from week to week from now on.

Overall, this was a pay-per-view that tried to keep adjusting the pace, but is not one that I would recommend to anyone on a Trans-Atlantic flight with five hours to kill. Now with Lesnar and his contract gone, hopefully WWE creative makes the Universal title the featured attraction on Raw again. The company is moving forward with Reigns and Rousey as its faces on Raw, and Styles and Flair on Smackdown, for better or worse.
TWO COUNT OVERALL