Nylons and Midriffs: Push or Pull (December 4, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

I believe I can speak for us all when I say that we were fed very well over the last week — both literally and figuratively (in terms of wrestling, of course). Because I am sure many of us took a little break from wrestling due to Thanksgiving, I am going to focus the WWE portions of this post on the pay-per-views that just passed: NXT Takeover: War Games and Survivor Series.

AEW, on the other hand, I will discuss as normal.

It seems at the moment that both promotions are focused on pushing certain female stars pretty hard, but holding (or pulling) back on others. It creates a strange balance for each women’s division that has lead to a power imbalance between main eventers and their potential challengers. Let’s dive right in.

The Good
AEW/NXT War Games: The women’s War Games match was stellar. Absolutely stunningly put together and performed by each woman. The match truly had everything: conniving heel action, suspense, drama, a power struggle, and a happy ending.

Obviously, the star of this match was Rhea Ripley. This match is one that I truly believe we will look back on as the moment that Rhea became a star. Her power, her agility, and her innovation throughout this match threaded everything together.

But, she wasn’t in the match with a bunch of stiffs. Bianca Belair, Candice LeRae, and Io Shirai also carried their weight. Bianca was able to match Rhea’s strength; her three powerbombs to Candice had me yelling at my TV in awe! Candice showed the heart that makes her character as lovable as Bayley’s NXT persona once was. And Io was both intelligent and high-risk with her spots — I mean, that moonsault from the top of the cage? Chef’s kiss.

Oh, and we mustn’t forget about the shenanigans between Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox. Dakota’s beatdown of her beloved friend was one of the most believeable I’ve seen in some time.

The way she continuously slammed the cage door into Tegan’s recovered leg was uncomfortable to watch, particularly because of how well Tegan sold it. You’d think Dakota was breaking her leg with the bloody murder Tegan was screaming. I am very excited to see what Dakota becomes in the months to come.

On the AEW side, I feel things are sort of at a standstill. Nothing bad is happening per se, and the wrestling is by all accounts good. Last week’s tag match featuring Emi Sakura and Bea Priestley along with Hikaru Shida and newcomer Kristen Stadtlander had a slow start, but more energetic finish.

With repeated exposure, I am beginning to understand the characters of the division. But, as we’ll get into in the next section, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s enough.

Survivor Series: The best part of Survivor Series to me was the traditional elimination match. I worried that the number of women involved in the match would hamper its quality with squash-like eliminations. But, each woman at least had a decent showing before they were eliminated. Not only this, but there were a few minutes between each elimination as well, something that previous women’s Survivor Series matches (with fewer participants mind you) did not achieve.

While I vehemently disagree with the booking of this match, I enjoyed that each woman felt important to the match in her own way.

And of course, I would be remiss to leave out Rhea Ripley from this discussion. I think it’s great that she is being put over so strongly as a future star of all three women’s divisions in WWE. It’s refreshing to see a woman put over for her in-ring talent over more superficial things, such as her appearance, her family relations, or mic skills (although Rhea’s are great!). Rhea’s rise feels more organic, like we actually want it, rather than WWE telling us to want it like they so often do.

Stars are made with weekends like the one that Rhea just had. I am clamoring for other women to have a moment similar to hers.

The Bad
AEW/NXT War Games: What I’m currently longing for with the AEW women’s division is more opportunity for the women to get themselves over. Jim Ross mentioned on commentary last week that many of the Asian women on the roster only speak English as a second language. Because of that, I think it is likely that producers are hesitant to let any of them speak on a live mic.

However, there are a decent number of women who do speak English as a first language that aren’t even afforded the opportunity to speak week in and week out. Please correct me in the comments if I am wrong, but I believe the only women we’ve heard speak on an AEW broadcast are Britt Baker and Brandi Rhodes. Although Chris Jericho cuts a promo at least once a week, Riho isn’t even on TV every edition of Dynamite.

Promos, or more plainly the act of speaking, is the wrestler’s opportunity to connect with the audience. To get over. Particularly for a division that is not depending on indie-recognition to get itself over with fans, it is all the more important to let the women get their characters across to viewers. Otherwise, to new fans like me, it just looks like people wearing costumes throwing each other around a ring. Life must be breathed into every woman, English speaking or not.

As for NXT War Games, there isn’t a bad thing to say.

Survivor Series: I loathed the booking of the traditional elimination match. Absolutely hated it. And even though I’ve since simmered down from watching the match play out live, I still maintain that the finish of this match defied logic. I’ll explain.

Firstly, there’s the fact that Io Shirai and Candice LeRae weren’t able to really compete in the match. While I will admit it made sense for those two to be the ones to miss out, because they began the War Games match the night before, it still ultimately meant that the level of wrestling in the match was instantly diminished with less NXT talent in there.

Second, there is the frustration that two of NXT’s competitors were essentially taken out of the match only to return later. Trick or not, I feel that WWE too inconsistently enforces the whole Fake Injury in the Middle of a Match thing for me to believe that both Io and Candice were allowed to simply return to the match without incident. Becky Lynch was allowed to just enter the Royal Rumble this year because of Lana’s injury, and it was debated in storyline for weeks whether or not she was an official entrant in the match. But particularly in that instance, Lana was taken out of the match because she went to the back. When things like this happen, it makes me wish WWE had a rulebook. But then I remember that WWE likely hasn’t implemented this for the very reason the angle took place at Survivor Series: so they can bend their unspoken rules when it’s convenient.

And lastly, I did not like this booking because to me, it made NXT seem like the heels of the match. This was a screwy finish that essentially made it look like NXT thought they needed to cheat to win, which is what heels do. I get that they were being led by a “Cerebral Assassin.” I still feel that this potentially made NXT look weak and conniving when they really didn’t need it, especially when they were being led by a defiant babyface like Rhea.

The only potential upside is that this finish protected the main roster most convincingly. It took NXT scheming a bit to get rid of Sasha Banks, and the main roster teams can (in kayfabe) claim that they didn’t lose fair and square.

Ultimately, if NXT is going to be involved annually with Survivor Series, they should shift War Games to another part of the year. This might have worked this year, but it can’t every year.

I know I’ve spoken at great length about the elimination match, but I did want to touch briefly on the women’s champion triple threat. The match was very underwhelming, and played out predictably.

I wanted desperately to love this match, but it just never kicked into that higher gear to make it a main event caliber match. It was sliggish at parts, and if I’m being honest, Shayna just didn’t seem to gel with Becky and Bayley in the ring.

The star of this match was Bayley, who had a great showing throughout the match. But of course, as the feud led us to believe, she was the one to take the pinfall. And after Shayna’s big win, topping off the night for NXT, Becky effectively stole the spotlight from her.

I did not like the way they booked Becky at the end of this match. It was almost as if Triple H convinced the bookers to let NXT take the night, but WWE execs at the last minute were like “Okay, but we gotta keep Becky looking strong.” She acted very cocky here, beating up Shayna and holding out her arms at her sides soaking in the cheers from the crowd. Had a heel done this, WWE would expect us to boo them. But because it was Becky, we were supposed to…..accept it? Well, I don’t. And I don’t think you should, either.

If you’re going to have Becky lose, just have her lose. Especially since Bayley wasn’t afforded the same luxury in this match.

The Thorny
I am simply unsure where things are going right now for the women in either promotion. I’m not sure if it is because it’s the end of the year, but it just seems like things are going nowhere. Matches are made and wrestled just for the sake of it, with no clear storylines or rivalries tying them together.

Rhea Ripley has been the through-line of most of the discussion here surrounding WWE, but we can use her as a general example for both promotions. What WWE is doing with Rhea right now is how you effectively build a star, a new challenger for a title. People are saying that she’s being pushed strongly, but when I was growing up, her treatment was simply the norm for pushing people in any division. Give them dominant victories. Let them cut promos. Invest in them in the most basic way.

While AEW cannot seem to let their women speak, WWE can’t seem to let more than a handful of their women win or look strong at any given time. And that is why we have no clear challengers for any women’s title across either promotion. Nearly every woman should be given the support that a Charlotte, a Rhea, a Becky, or even a Shayna has. But instead we wait, and we watch, and we hope that our lesser-pushed faves will get a shot one day.

One of the better things about the women’s wrestling of the aughts was that the majority of the women on a given roster could at least say they’d won their division’s title more than once. Now, it seems like a gift to any woman to win a championship one time, if at all. We must continue being honest with ourselves about this if it will one day change. Complacency will only become the norm if we let it.

***

Nearing the end of the year, it is time to start thinking about what we’ve all accomplished this year, and what we hope to achieve in the next. I can only hope the wrestling world is starting think critically about their 2020 vision for women’s wrestling.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

 

Nylons and Midriffs: East Coast, West Coast (November 20, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

As we round the corner toward the holidays, I find myself becoming a little burnt out from a tumultuous year for wrestling fans and journalists alike. We’re nearing Survivor Series, and it is usually after this pay-per-view that WWE starts to relent on their break-neck sprint through pay-per-views to end the year. But, with All Elite Wrestling only just coming off the heels of their first proper pay-per-view after debuting on TV, WWE may not have the option to slow down during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

That said, I think both promotions are doing great things with their respective women’s divisions. As with anything, though, there is always room for improvement, hence why we’re here week after week! First, let me discuss with you all the beauties (pun intended) that we’ve come across in AEW and NXT in these last two weeks.

The Good
AEW/NXT: I have many scattered thoughts about the excellent wrestling and storyline development I’ve seen in both promotions since I last wrote. I want to first talk about them individually, and then together to point out a coincidental — but positive — thing that both divisions are excelling at right now.

As far as AEW, I am pleased now that we are now entering a phase of television where we can see repeat characters on screen, with new women still showing themselves bit by bit. In the tag match featuring Jamie Hayter and Emmy Sakura versus champion Riho and Shanna, I got more of an idea of each woman’s persona and the stories that they try to consistently tell in their matches. This is what I’ve been wanting from AEW for the past few posts, is for a bit more story to be told with a level of continuity. I absolutely loved the sequence between Riho and her former trainer Emmy to end the match; so smooth and amazing I was actually yelling at my TV in awe watching their grace! I am sad to say that I was unable to see their meeting at Full Gear, but if it was anything like what we saw in that match, I am positive it tore the house down.

In other areas of the division, we saw the return of Nyla Rose and Awesome Kong, the former of which I was beginning to get worried was only used as a diversity trophy of sorts for Dynamite’s big premiere. Seeing both of them return on the same episode of Dynamite made me realize that, just by their shared presence in the division, AEW’s women’s division may be more believable than WWE’s. For example, if Nyla Rose were to ever win the women’s title, she would have believable competition in her weight class to challenge her in the form of Awesome Kong.

Nylons and Midriffs: All You Can Eat (October 9, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

A whole new woooorld….a whole new place I never knew…..

It is certainly a whole new world for you and me, and watching the two sides of the Wednesday Night War last week got me excited for this world’s potential.

Because WWE did just have a pay-per-view, though, we’re obligated to discuss what went down. Likewise, because I watched both NXT and AEW for the first time in the last couple of weeks, I have many thoughts to share about those products as well, as a new viewer.

So I think it best in this post if I run down the pros and cons of NXT versus AEW, as well as HIAC. Lastly, rather than finishing with the usual Thorny section, I wanted to end with a little hope for the future of women’s professional wrestling as we know it. We’ll call that, the Revolutionary.

Let’s crack on!

The Good
AEW: I have quite a few general thoughts about All Elite Wrestling’s first TV airing in general, but we’re here every week to talk about the women. And, the first thing I want to address has almost nothing at all to do with the wrestlers: the female referee. Although I am pretty sure one or two female referees have been introduced in WWE, I have yet to see one on their main shows, RAW and SmackDown. As this female referee was officiating on Dynamite, she was praised by the commentary team as an expert at her job. She was also involved later in a pull-apart brawl later in the episode between male wrestlers.

Image credit: Facebook.com

I couldn’t put my finger on why at the time of viewing, but the fact that she was actually acknowledged as female, and proficient in her work, felt significant. Referees often get a bad reputation as conveniently incompetent officiants to matches, ignored until their miscues need to drive storylines forward. But, in the wrestling world, they still hold a fair amount of power to call matches down the middle. And if they’re really good at doing their jobs, they can rise to the reverence that people like Earl Hebner has. An unexpected delight in the first TV match of this new promotion!

Also, I was shocked and elated to see that the match to determine the first-ever AEW women’s champion was between two women of color. Not only this, but women of two extremes size-wise — a plus-sized Native woman in Nyla Rose (more on her later), and a diminutive Japanese woman in Riho. In the American wrestling market, the sizes of these women are marginalized. But in AEW, they seemed to find a home.

NXT: I absolutely loved the women’s matches that I saw in the last two weeks. On the whole, I was struck by how prominent feminine energy was in NXT compared to the main roster (if we can still call it that). The women usually have multiple matches and/or segments in a single episode, and such a thing happens seemingly intentionally. On the main roster, it feels much more like women are the final touches to the night’s show, rather than a thoughtfully considered component.

From top to bottom, I saw everything that the men get showcased for women: matches, return packages for those who’d been injured, championship matches, quick backstage bits. Additionally, we have Beth Phoenix on commentary where, unlike Renee Young, she is actually allowed to speak without being belittled by her male cohorts. We even have a black, natural-haired ring announcer. All of these things made apparent to me that the women’s division of NXT has depth. There is a main event made up of champion Shayna Baszler and whoever she is feuding with, a mid-card of future women’s champions like Mia Yim, Io Shirai, and Bianca Belair, and even a lower mid-card of women who perhaps won’t be champions one day, but still add to the division, like Taynara.

Image credit: kimberlasskick.tumblr.com

Because I was simply exposed to more women, I am probably more excited to see the women’s division of NXT week-to-week. The standout star for me was Io Shirai. She had me hooked from her electrifying entrance, but kept me interested with her excellent heel work and in-ring prowess. I do believe NXT has stars in its ranks.

Hell in a Cell: I mean, undoubtedly the opening match between Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks for the RAW women’s championship.

Image credit: akahinews.com

This bout was beyond inventive with the spots that these two ladies pulled off. To name a few: Sasha’s various meteoras to Becky (onto a ladder, through a table), Sasha’s planting of a chair trap in the Cell early in the match to thwart Becky toward the finish, and Becky’s innovative chair-on-a kendo stick dropkick to a seated Sasha in the corner of the Cell.

This match was exciting from start to finish — well, almost to the finish (we’ll get to that). But this match stole the show and once again made a case for the women deserving a main event spot. There’s really not much else to say about this match besides this: go and watch it! Potentially one of the greatest Cell matches ever, but definitely of the modern era.

The Bad
AEW: The only negative thing I can say about AEW based off a singular episode is that there was only one women’s match to consider. Because I am starting from scratch with AEW, I am unsure of how many women they currently have signed with the company. From what I hear, their women’s division so far is obviously more sparse than WWE’s, but it has potential and diversity. I am hoping that Dynamite can showcase depth with their women’s roster, to help female fans (or fans of women’s wrestling) see themselves in the product.

This is a crucial time for AEW to appeal to the audiences they want to attract, so if they want to prioritize the female demographic of wrestling fans — ever “niche” as it may seem — they must do so early and often.

NXT: Honestly, from what I have seen, I have nothing bad to say about the product thus far! One thing I can nitpick is that it is obvious where the women of color in WWE are allowed to thrive. Clearly, a metamorphosis happens to the women’s roster from NXT to the main roster, in that the image of “woman” in WWE becomes less randomized and more blonde and white. If anything, this was the most infuriating realization I had watching NXT weekly TV for the past few weeks.

Hell in a Cell: The booking of the RAW women’s title match was wrong. There is no reason Becky needed to win on Sunday, and it should have been Sasha. Full stop.

Becky would not have been hurt by a loss. Sasha would be. Becky did not need another win to cement her status as a top woman in the women’s division. Sasha did. Sasha needed this win, to legitimize her return, her heel turn, and redeem the last several months (or really years) of careless booking. It is tiring to see Sasha perpetually used to put over other women in the division. She has faced off against each of her Four Horsewoman counterparts, and in each feud, she seceded the win to her opponent. In most of the biggest matches of her career, she has had to do the favor for someone else. (No really, think about it.)

Image credit: lordsofpain.net

And when it possibly counted the most, WWE dropped the ball again. The news has since come out that she is potentially injured, so I suppose her losing was for the best. But the decision to have her lose was likely made prior to her injury occurring, and thus a decision WWE made of sound mind and body themselves.

And to add insult to yes, injury, Bayley also lost her title on the night to Charlotte Flair. While the loss for Bayley doesn’t have the high stakes that Sasha’s does, the two are still interconnected. So, their double-loss on Sunday (and their voyeuristically filmed tears about their losses) nullifies any momentum the two of them had going, together and individually.

Put simply, I don’t know where we go from here for Boss n’ Hug. And I don’t have confidence that WWE does either.

The Revolutionary

Image credit: app.com

I wanted to take a break from my usual pessimistic self to discuss something that made me very emotional upon discovering it for myself; something that made me feel utter joy.

I was watching AEW, and as each wrestler went on, I did a quick Google search to learn a little more about who they were. I searched Nyla Rose as the women’s match went on and, after glancing at her Wikipedia page, I noticed some recent news articles about her. I saw the word “transgender,” I investigated. And suddenly I realized the weight of Nyla’s existence in AEW.

For those not aware, Nyla Rose is the first transgender wrestler to be signed by a major wrestling promotion in the U.S. Immediately, I thought back to Patricia Arquette’s recent speech on the Emmy stage, wherein she implored Hollywood to hire trans actors and end the stigma surrounding trans folks’ existence, referencing her fallen trans sibling, Alexis.

And here was AEW, in reality, Cody and Brandi Rhodes, giving a trans woman a job. Without any fuss, without parading it or shoving it down our throats. Without expecting a pat on the back. And that is significant. As any “first,” especially with a doubly marginalized identity as a First Nations, trans woman, Nyla will face hatred and bigotry.

But, there must always be a first for there to be a second. And third. And tenth. And the door was opened for Nyla and any other trans person hoping to one day wrestle in the division that so matches their identity.

Nyla in interviews has already acknowledged some of the pressure that being the first entails. She said the following in a panel interview with other AEW stars:

“I’ll be so happy when we get the point where it’s ‘Nyla did something’ and that’s the headline. That’s where we gotta get. If I could help get us there, I don’t mind driving the car for a little bit. I’m used to these long road trips.”

With Nyla driving for now, we’re certainly on our way somewhere.

***

I’m rubbing my proverbial hands together at all of the wrestling I can consume on a weekly basis. At last, I don’t have to settle for a one-course meal; I, like you reading this, can buffet to my heart’s content now.

Let’s toast to that, shall we?

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: There’s a Storm Coming (September 24, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Reflections on AAW

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Although many associate the cliched film line “there’s a storm coming” as a bad omen, in the context of the wrestling world at the moment, the storm in question could be stirring positive changes for women’s competition.

The women’s matches at Clash of Champions were for the most part good, and NXT made its debut on the USA Network with an impressive women’s bout. We are so close to All Elite Wrestling’s TNT debut, as well as Smackdown’s move to a new network (FOX) and Friday nights. To top it all off, there is a draft looming for both WWE brands that will shake things up, no pun intended.

Everything is changing, and this critic is trying her best to keep up with it all! For now, I will unpack the most recent pay-per-view and WWE shows of the last two weeks. Starting with the next edition of Nylons, I’ll begin to incorporate the NXT women’s division into the mix.

But until then, let’s talk about things the way we always have; one last time before the storm hits.

The Good
Clash of Champions: Both women’s championship matches were great in their own respective ways. Bayley vs. Charlotte did what it needed to do: establish Bayley as a sneaky heel, and allow her to keep her title as she deserves to. Charlotte didn’t need the win here, and to see her lose so abruptly was refreshing to see, as Charlotte’s matches seem to always progress at her pace.

Image credit: independent.co.uk

And of course, Becky vs. Sasha was probably the match of the night. Despite how I feel about the booking (which we’ll discuss in the next section), the match was entertaining, particularly during the crowd brawl portion of the match. It especially fit Becky’s character, as a brawler who is ready for a fight no matter where the location. Ultimately, it seemed like this match was more of a preview for what these two women can (and likely will) do to each other in Hell in a Cell.

RAW and SD Live: Continuing with Four Horsewomen excellence, the tag match between Sasha/Bayley and Becky/Charlotte was as great as expected. I’ve already sung the praises of these women last week, but I will say that I hope the matches that the four of them have together continue to be treated as special for as long as all of them are in WWE. Because they deserve it.

Also, more generally, I am always glad to be seeing more women’s segments on weekly TV — at least for RAW. But, even still, on Smackdown last week we were treated to a nice surprise in Carmella seemingly returning to in-ring action. I would be very interested to see Bayley wrestle Carmella, as it is a different pairing with styles that I think will coalesce well. Hopefully with the upcoming draft, more women begin to pop up and make their intentions known.

Lastly, while I know I said I wouldn’t discuss NXT, I did want to mention briefly how wonderful that women’s four-way was last Wednesday! So good to see women really vying for victory and performing creative sequences of moves. I find it peculiar, however, that in a match with only one white competitor, that it was she who happened to win. Disappointed, but not surprised, I suppose.

The Bad
Clash of Champions: My main issue with Clash was the booking of the RAW women’s title match. Particularly, what they did with Sasha Banks. I know Sasha has returned and proven herself to be a nasty, chair-addicted heel. But, Sasha is and always has been a cunning heel, meaning that she uses her wits to create advantages for herself in the ring. It doesn’t make sense for Sasha to sneakily use a chair in a match, only to brazenly throw one into the ring just minutes later. Why would a heel throw a chair into a match in front of a referee’s face? The scenario is a lose-lose: if Sasha uses it, she is disqualified and Becky wins/keeps her title. If Becky uses it (which she did), Sasha wins by DQ, but does not win the title.

Image credit: uproxx.com

Why would such a strategic, forward-thinking heel like Sasha endanger her chances of victory for a few moments of cathartic abuse toward Becky? Win the title first!

Not only this, but I felt that Sasha was booked pretty weak in this match. Outside of a few flurries of offense in the ring, Becky was fairly strong both in the ring and during the brawl in the crowd. Then, she beat down Sasha with the chair after the match was called off.

The two will wrestle again at Hell in a Cell, but Sasha must win this match to keep her credibility intact. That match will be the test of what, if anything, has changed with the way WWE sees The Boss.

RAW and SD Live: In the last two weeks, two things jump to mind for this section.

The first is the tired cliche of the female bully. Mandy Rose is back to her old tricks, insulting her opponents’ attractiveness based on subjective standards of beauty. She recently called Nikki Cross “ugly,” and in addition to that simply not being true, it further proves that WWE’s writers (or executives, ahem Vince) believe that calling a woman ugly is the most heinous thing you can do to ruin her self esteem. And further, that a woman’s inherent value rests on her beauty.

And while they are unfortunately correct (as women largely still feel societal pressure to be pretty), that does not make Mandy’s heel persona any more palatable. If we’re to believe that the competitors of WWE, in kayfabe, believe that they are competing in a legitimate sport, why would a woman’s attractiveness have any bearing on her self-worth? Maria Sharapova could call Serena Williams ugly until the cows come home — but that won’t stop Serena from whooping her anytime they compete against one another.

Image credit: WWE.com

I am glad that Nikki got the one-up on Mandy so hopefully this “feud” can end. In short, I just want the women to be less petty to one another. Honestly, who cares how you look when the name of the game is beating the crap out of your opponent?

The second item is the tag team match between the members of the 4HW. Now, I know what you’re thinking: That match was fine!

I know it was. It was more than fine. It was great.

Why then, was it not the main event?

This match was the only one truly hyped prior to the week’s RAW. We were convinced to tune in because of it. ESPN published a beautiful interview with all four women ahead of this marquee match at Madison Square Garden. All four women have the talent and charisma to carry a main event, as all of them at various points in their respective careers have.

Image credit: WWE.com

But their match was stuck in the middle of the show. Why? Because the men in the back decided that an MSG show needed to end with Stone Cold cracking open a few cold ones with the boys. A masculine end to a show in WWE’s “spiritual home.” I’m yawning.

As much as any child of the Attitude Era loves Stone Cold, I found myself disappointed that WWE slighted their four biggest female stars that deserved a main event for a giant men’s tag match assembled on the actual show itself. It would have been subversive to finish a show in such a historic setting to WWE’s history with women. I think it would have been symbolic to how far the company has come. But even when the stars can’t shine any brighter for the women, the men will still more often than not get the last word.

The most annoying part of all is that by pimping this tag match so far in advance of the show, and actually pulling mainstream media into the mix, WWE proved that the women often times are useful only insofar as they give the company cheap PR. They were good enough to hook viewers in, but not to reward with a main event spot.

I hope that one day the Horsewomen get the main event spot they all deserve, together.

The Thorny
What I want to talk about in this section is something I’ve been trying my best to avoid week on week, hoping maybe it would disappear if I ignored it just hard enough.

There has been an ongoing storyline between Maria Kanellis (Bennett) and her real-life husband, Mike Kanellis (his actual surname being Bennett). Over the last several months, Maria has been written to essentially degrade her husband by “emasculating” him. I put emasculate in quotes because I personally do not believe a man can be emasculated — the word implies that masculinity is taken away, presumably when someone does not allow a man to dominate in any type of relationship. A man being knocked down a few pegs metaphorically is something that many men in life should embrace more, as doing so is something that women are asked to do everyday, often multiple times, by men themselves. Women are expected to exercise daily the traits of humility and vulnerability, things that society have coded as somehow inherently feminine, and in turn emasculating if men should be forced to practice them by someone else.

As fans, we are supposed to interpret this dynamic as Mike being pathetic, weak, and emasculated. Conversely, we are supposed to read Maria as a praying mantis, a Medusa who gets off on asserting dominance over men. Sometimes, this portrayal can be interesting, as long as it doesn’t go too far.

But as Maria berates Mike in the ring, tells him he isn’t a man, and generally embarrasses him in front of thousands of people, I’ve finally decided what we are watching is not entertainment. We are watching abuse. That is what Maria is doing to Mike.

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

Maria is emotionally and verbally abusing Mike in every interaction with him. She dangles love and affection in his face only to snatch it away if he does not meet her expectations. She talks down to him for seemingly no reason. And we’re supposed to be laughing at Mike, but I have yet to see any person “get” the joke.

Especially for a man who has battled addiction with such vulnerability outside of the ring, it seems like a sick joke by WWE to subtly weaponize his real-life vulnerability against him in a storyline.

It would be one thing if WWE were critical of this in-storyline. If they used the word “abuse” and named Maria as an abuser, there would be a point to this. WWE is not doing this though, and are fairly uncritical of how Maria treats Mike as part of a larger behavioral pattern. Instead, it seems like the storyline is meant to make both husband and wife unlikable: Mike playing the role of “cuck,” and Maria playing seemingly a power-hungry feminist who we are supposed to see as masculine herself.

And ultimately, I just…feel sorry. For all involved. Both of them deserve better than what they are being given. You have to wonder the price that WWE paid to keep them, and if the Bennetts see that price paid as worth it in the end.

Abuse is abuse. Let’s not normalize or minimize it because a woman is the perpetrator.

***

The storm watch is now on! I have to re-wire my entire brain to accept four different weekly wrestling shows into my TV viewing schedule. Double the wrestling to work with, and hopefully double the rewards.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

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: (Almost) Having It All (August 26, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

With SummerSlam in the rear view, we are effectively entering the end of the year, folks. The last quarter of the year is usually when the wheels start to fall off for WWE, but with competition on the horizon in the form of All Elite Wrestling’s weekly TV beginning in October, we may see the start of something entirely new in WWE.

There are a handful of things to celebrate over the last couple of weeks as we’ll discuss, but there are still some questionable decisions being made as they relate to the women.

Let’s talk about it.

The Good
I am going to let my bias take over for a few minutes. Sasha Banks is back!!!

GIF credit: wrestlingforum.com

As a fan of The Boss I was devastated that I actually missed her return live. But, a return is a return, and boy howdy did the women’s division need it. It was clear that without Sasha there a dearth was left in the main event scene, and Becky needed a worthy challenger that could bring out the best in her character. We’ve seen that Becky is on top form when her foil is also an elite level performer, and there are few others that have established themselves like Sasha has.

We’re only two weeks into this feud and Becky has already cut one of the best promos in her career, sprinkling in dashes of the reality about Sasha’s absence in her signature, intense style.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ao-3Us6L1dw&w=560&h=315]

Sasha returning as a heel also unlocks a depth in her character that was missing in the years that she was a face: the return of her edginess should allow her to have more creative control over her persona.

I am hesitant to get my hopes up for positive outcome for The Boss, as history has shown that banking on her is a fool’s game. But, if WWE does this right, fans could finally be given a memorable reign from a Superstar that has more than paid her dues. And perhaps the woman herself will receive the payoff for believing in herself and demanding more.

In other news, Becky Lynch is engaged! The Man and her man, Seth Rollins, made it official on a rocky beach in a remote location on August 22. Unexpectedly, I was elated by this news. Obviously for Becky and Seth, who are honestly a fan’s dream power couple — but also for the implications of their engagement.

Seeing a woman as powerful and on-top-of-her-game as Becky get engaged was affirming for young, married women like me. While it certainly is not the same as being a working mom, working wives are still a marvel in their own right. In the context of WWE, it is hard for me to recall many women at the top of the division historically who were married at their peak. Feel free to let me know in the comments some examples of married women in their prime in WWE, but I feel that in the past it was more common that women either were single while at the top, or kept their relationships private.

But now, in the age of social media, it is almost more common than not to learn that a female wrestler is married to one of their peers. Women are being open about their relationships, and in turn showing women everywhere that if you are in a heterosexual relationship, you don’t have to hide behind your husband. You can strive for just as much success and shine as your husband, and in Becky’s case, do it alongside him.

Here’s hoping that WWE doesn’t use her soon-to-be-wifely status to diminish her star power.

Lastly, there is potentially exciting stuff to look forward to with NXT coming to cable TV and AEW starting up on TNT in the next several weeks. What many fans are calling the Wednesday Night Wars could spell positive things for female representation. Competition may force WWE to highlight more of their women in the main event and tag team scenes, and to make the NXT women’s championship feel equal to the men’s championship in importance.

Both companies have some of the best female talent on the planet at their fingertips — and their rivalry could force both of them to create a signature women’s style all their own.

I am excited that women’s wrestling will be accessible to more people, and that I personally will be able to diversify my palette with my cable package. A rich selection helps all of us, including pop culture writers like me!

The Bad
The bad for this week is nothing that I haven’t discussed before, so I’ll keep it short. Charlotte Flair is in the title picture…again. Sigh. I simply don’t understand how WWE executives don’t tire of having the same exact person constantly vying for the women’s title.

A small part of my brain is gleeful that we are getting the Four Horsewomen feuding in pairs on opposing brands (what a time to be alive!). But still, I am more than over Charlotte competing for gold. Please give her something else to do. Please give other women a chance to be great.

Image credit: wwe-news.com

The only saving grace of Charlotte’s feud with Bayley would be if she actually lost. It would certainly solidify Bayley as formidable, giving her credibility as a wrestler she is still in the process of gaining back. I guess the result of this feud will truly tell us how over she is with the powers-that-be.

The Thorny
And connecting to the previous point, I found myself in a bit of a conundrum this week. As I was recalling the events of the past two weeks’ RAW and Smackdown Live, I contemplated for several minutes trying to remember if anything of note even happened in the women’s division, outside of the main event feuds. I went back and reviewed results and recaps and found myself correct in my assumption that nothing really happened.

Which brings us to this question: where are the women?

Where are they!

Image credit: thefanboyseo.com

How is it possible that we are going entire hours of TV without seeing a woman? Why don’t we have the likes of the IIconics, Naomi, Ember Moon, Asuka, Kairi Sane, Carmella, and Sonya Deville wrestling on a weekly basis?

It is flabbergasting. All of the aforementioned women have so much to give to us. To quote one RuPaul, these girls have the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent to define a generation of women’s wrestling. The fact that many of them disappear for weeks-long (or even months-long) stretches for no other reason than “We don’t have anything for you” is unacceptable. If WWE can make time every week for Elias to strum a guitar, they can find time to showcase their female talent in a substantive way.

There isn’t really much more to say than that.

***

From the looks of things, the RAW and Smackdown women’s title matches at Clash of Champions should be bangers. And that’s exciting. At the same time, we can still want more.

If we’re lucky, in a month or two, “more” might just be what we get. I’m ready. Are you?

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: Cards on the Table (June 3, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs
Image credit: sportskeeda.com

It’s time to lay it out, friends. This week, we’re taking a step back for once to consider the women’s and larger wrestling scenes at large. Because it would be nearly impossible not to in my opinion, we’ll unpack the implications of AEW as a startup company — what the brand’s existence may mean for some of the women on the roster.

Full disclosure, I was not able to watch Double or Nothing. I didn’t realize the show would not be available for replay on YouTube. So, my consideration of AEW’s women’s division unfortunately won’t include wrestling. Nevertheless, there are still some general thoughts to share.

Let us waste no time!

The Good
I will start off by giving praise to the woman behind the scenes of AEW, a trailblazer in her role: Brandi Rhodes. I came across a post of hers on Instagram in the midst of DoN weekend, and it made me warm to see that she very much acknowledges the unique position she is in as Chief Branding Officer of All Elite Wrestling.

In her own words, she is one of (if not the) first of her kind: a black woman in a notable position of power behind the scenes of a wrestling promotion. Black women, first and foremost, are lucky if they are featured favorably on any wrestling show. To know that someone with a doubly marginalized identity is holding the branding of AEW in their hands is very heartening, and serves as an example of what true inclusion looks like in the rooms where major decisions happen.

In addition, we were given a glimpse of Brandi’s perspective on “colorblindness” in a clip of her husband, Co-Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes, talking to press about AEW’s plan for diversity. Catching general media attention because of a retweet by one Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cody explains in the clip that Brandi helped him to see that colorblindness in terms of race ultimately just erases the specific experiences (and thus, racism) that people of color face everyday. This acknowledgement gave me even more confidence that Brandi is genuine and seems to want inclusion for the brand that she will have a part in promoting. So hats off to you, Mrs. Rhodes!

Back on the WWE side, sadly not much to report. However, there were a few glimmers in the darkness. I want to highlight Becky Lynch, for giving the fire in every one of her matches, no matter how (in)significant it may be.

Image credit: WWE.com

Even in tag matches where she gains essentially nothing from winning, it is fascinating to watch how much she tries to put herself and everyone in the match over. Becky has a natural charisma that it appears she can’t turn off, which is obviously ideal in a champion.

I enjoyed, too, the bits that were done this past week between Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans. I have spoken previously about how similar the two are and, as commentary has as well, it looks like WWE is being more overt in having the two work together. The looks that they served together during their tea time — yikes! Such catty girls, and I feel a little ashamed in admitting that I liked it (despite my feelings about both of them). And, seeing the two turn on each other makes for a potentially interesting story, if the writers should decide to continue it. Although it is rare nowadays, it really does pay off when heels turn on other heels. In my opinion, it drives home even more the reason we’re to believe that they’re bad — because they hate everyone, not just good guys. That is what separates two dimensions from three.

The Bad

Image credit: WWE.com

Here is where the so-called “Wild Card Rule” comes into play. We’ve seen now what this looks like for all divisions, and here is the verdict: it is doing the exact opposite of what it supposedly aimed to fix, which was to make things less predictable on weekly TV.

As we’ve seen, the Wild Card Rule is just an excuse to have the same handful of Superstars appear on both brands, rather than creating any variety in who is shuffled into the mix every week. And for the women, it appears the only people we see partake in the rule are Becky and Lacey. Instead of giving new women the opportunity to fight and feud with women they haven’t before, we are getting the same four or five women in matches in different combinations. And yes, while we see women in other match-ups, they still feel very haphazard. The women vying for the main event titles take leaps of storyline development, while everyone else crawls or even stumbles on any stories they may have going.

Ugh. I hope this “rule” doesn’t last for too much longer.

The Thorny
I want to talk here about the hostile work environment that WWE has fostered, that we as fans have come to expect from the company.

As Double or Nothing aired, obviously, social media was abuzz. WWE Superstars were certainly not exempt from this. I saw a good many stars use their Twitter on the day of the event to either express their good luck wishes to those involved, or live-tweet reactions that vaguely alluded to their marking out at the event.

And maybe it was the algorithm of my Twitter feed, but I noticed that a sizable number of these subtweets came from the female Superstars of the roster. We had Sasha Banks who outright named wrestlers as they went out on the card, Peyton Royce cheering on real-life boyfriend Shawn Spears (formerly Tye Dillinger), Bayley expressing excitement at the future of wrestling, and Naomi flat-out saying that she watched the event. In a strange way, this renewed my hope that these women do, in fact, love what they do. They are simply caught in the crosshairs of a company that refuses to let them go, despite giving very few of them real, substantive pushes.

We had fans making comical remarks under each of these tweets saying that WWE would be soon to fire the Superstar in question over their support of the rival product. And isn’t that twisted?

Some have analyzed this situation at face value as a matter of professionalism. Surely someone working for Pepsi wouldn’t allude to Coke being good on a public platform, right? However, it is my opinion that never speaking positively of your competition, or even demeaning their success, is old hat.

I believe the Superstars of today, in line with their generation of Millennials, are more apt to uplift their “competition” because they recognize that doing so will still ultimately uplift the industry in question. There are exceptions to this, obviously. But, we see this happening every day. Athletes paying each other respect in other sports, influencers complimenting the work of another in a similar field, female writers and politicians and entertainers retweeting and promoting others’ work on their own platforms.

Within the practice of feminism, it is held as a belief that women should uplift other women, especially those in disadvantaged positions. The same applies here, and I think many of the aforementioned women (whether they knew it or not) were embodying this during DoN. Watching other people shine shouldn’t ruin your personal shine. In fact, it should help motivate you to shine brighter.

Why, then, is there a legitimate fear that WWE Superstars and the most vulnerable among them (that being women and people of color) could be putting their jobs in jeopardy simply for being a fan of their own sport?

The insidious thing here is that WWE is asking their talent to be complicit in squashing competition, if only by pretending it doesn’t exist. Knowing that there is another viable option outside of WWE for the women in the locker room can push them to be better versions of themselves or seek out the grass on the other side.

GIF credit: tenor.com

WWE currently is not allowing for either, which is likely creating a bubbling, resentful women’s locker room. My dream for the women of WWE is for them to be allowed to love what they do and actually do it every week, without limitations, without pretending, and without complicity in holding women in other promotions down.

We are not free until we are all free.

***

I look forward to the TV deal that AEW has established with TNT, because it means that I can see with my own eyes what this product is about. Although it is months away, that threat of competition for WWE will surely make my eye more critical week to week. Until next time.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: Checks and Championships (May 22, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Works-In-Process

Image credit: forbes.com

I’ll be honest with you all. My interest in the WWE product has dipped drastically since WrestleMania. As we all know, we were heralded into a “new era” several months ago, with promises of new matchups and roster changes sure to revitalize a bland product. We got this for a hot minute but, as expected, things went back more or less to normal. Even the NXT callups don’t feel special anymore, because the stars are simply forced to assimilate to the formula of weekly RAW and Smackdown TV.

Thus, for the women’s division, I will discuss what this return to boredom has looked like in the last couple of weeks. But, we’ll also talk about the few seeds planted that have the potential to flourish into fruitful gardens — that is, if WWE nurtures them.

Let’s take a look at both Money in the Bank, and what has been happening on the weekly shows generally.

The Good
RAW and SD Live: I see potential in some of the relationships that are forming between paired female Superstars. There’s the ongoing tension between Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose that continues to play out with little snippets of dissension, but we now have an added layer: the idea that Sonya is carrying Mandy, rather than holding her back. I am intrigued to see where this goes, especially if it leads to a push for Sonya, who is arguably the more talented of the two in the ring. In the story, we’ve seen that Sonya also puts her own aspirations aside in favor of getting Mandy ahead, like when she simply conceded a place in the MITB ladder match to Mandy. In this very small backstage segment, we are now led to believe that there is a power dynamic in place between Mandy and Sonya that logically should lead the underdog in the situation to stand down to her domineering friend.

In addition, we have the odd couple of Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss. I’m not sure what this will evolve into, but I’m into it! In their own ways, they both have an unhinged aura about them, although Alexa is more calculating in her ways. This could lead to an interesting story of manipulation on Alexa’s part, or it could evolve into a weird business relationship of sorts, where Alexa has Nikki do her bidding for her (as her in-ring status is still uncertain). Or, they could feud. We just don’t know! But curious pairings like this can definitely lead to memorable storylines.

MITB: The women’s MITB ladder match was excellent! Firstly, I loved Nikki Cross as Alexa Bliss’ replacement in the match. Partly because I will always favor new faces over old ones, but also because she added a factor of unpredictability within the dynamic of the match. There were admittedly some weird parts, like Carmella’s knee injury (it was difficult to tell if it was planned or not, given Mandy Rose’s reactions). But on the whole, I loved every woman in this match and what they added. From Naomi’s creative evasion of certain attacks because of her flexibility and athleticism (still dying over that horizontal splits spot!), to Dana Brooke’s sheer desperation to win, to Sonya Deville carrying Mandy Rose up a freaking ladder — it was all chef’s kiss. Spot of the match goes to Ember Moon, for executing an Eclipse from outside the ring from a ladder to Natalya.

GIF credit: helluvaclash.tumblr.com

Every year as I watch the women’s MITB, I smile. I am filled with joy at how much better the women get at these stipulation matches with each successive year. I will not lie — the men’s matches are still generally better than many of the women’s efforts. However, that gap is closing. Quickly. I love to see it.

Image credit: forbes.com

And also, Bayley! I am SO happy for her, after such inconsistent and arguably disrespectful booking since she was called up from NXT. It seems as if now WWE is more ready to pull the trigger on building her as a top babyface for the women’s division, and fans are starting to cheer her again. We are ready for Bayley. My hope is that this time around, things are different.

The Bad
RAW and SD Live: As I mentioned earlier, WWE has returned to their standard formula of booking for the most part. This includes the women and chucking them into single segments every week, mostly on RAW. Women who have nothing to do with one another, who have no chemistry, are being put into one giant segment labeled “The Women!” because WWE doesn’t know what to do with any of them individually. This plays out week-to-week with few longterm plans. The problem with WWE for the last couple of years, but far longer for the women specifically, is each of their segments play out like those plays you did in high school. Everyone comes out and talks when it’s their turn, and hits their marks and says their signature lines, and once everyone has said their stuff, the musical number begins. Er, the match in this case. It just feels over-scripted.

Image credit: WWE.com

Everyone is just sort of there because they were told to be. Most of the women sound like they are acting as an interpretation of themselves (that coming from the writing team) rather than their actual selves as they understand their characters to be. The element of freedom is missing.

Not only this, because of all of the multi-woman matches, WWE has become so accustomed to seeing the women as a monolith that they actually struggle to send women out to compete in matches alone. Few women are afforded the luxury nowadays to simply walk out to the ring on their own, without someone in their corner or interrupting their loss or victory at the end of a match. Too many women are in pairs that are not long-term tag teams, but rather arbitrary attachments, something to “do” until writers can figure out stories for one or both of them. I miss the days when women were singular beings, able to stand alone and that be enough. I’m not sure why it isn’t anymore.

MITB: Luckily, I don’t have too much to report as “bad” from Sunday, but there are a couple of contentious points I think we should consider moving forward.

First is that while I am overjoyed for Bayley, many fans have pointed out that the briefcase win may have been better served to newer faces, such as Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, or even Dana Brooke.

Image credit: womenofwwesource.turmblr.com

Whereas Bayley likely could have recovered from a loss at MITB, many of the women in that match will not, and will slide back down the card. It appears that WWE now uses the MITB briefcase as a plot device rather than a means to put over newer talent into the main event scene, as it used to be. So in this way, Bayley’s win was bittersweet.

Second is the fact that Charlotte won…again. I obviously see why she needed to win, in order to pass the title between Becky and Bayley while keeping both of the aforementioned women over with the fans. But it’s still annoying that Charlotte is racking up title wins for essentially no other reason than to make the babyfaces that eventually beat her look more triumphant. I am of the mind that each title win should be earned within the context of a storyline, and with Charlotte it seems so often that she is the de facto champion when the writers have nowhere else to go. Could we not use another heel woman in her place some of the time? We’re now stuck with the reality that Charlotte is a 9-time champion, which is just an unfathomable amount of reigns in such a short period of time. And that’s not even counting her Divas title reign.

The Thorny

Image credit: picbear.org

And with my discussion of stuffing the women in one segment and calling it a night, I must mention one of the more insidious effects that this is having on a particular division. You may remember that the IIconics won the women’s tag team championships at WresteMania. You may struggle to remember a time where they’ve defended these titles against legitimate opponents in the nearly two months they’ve been the champions. And therein lies the problem.

People are still giving Sasha Banks (less so Bayley, as she’s now being cheered) such crap for complaining about losing the titles. Given how the belts have been treated since then, I’d like to hear the perspectives of those that still justify hating on Sasha for taking a stand. The IIconics were simply not ready to be champions. Not because they are not talented. Not because they don’t have potential. But because WWE is not ready to put forth the effort to make their title reign work.

They are taking pins left and right to women that aren’t even in tag teams. They are fed to women’s championship contenders. And for what? What is the reason? Why did we give them the titles? My hypothesis is this: WWE knew they had their hands full with Sasha and Bayley as champs. They knew that those women had plans for those titles, ideas, passion, and clout. They wanted to make those titles feel important, to the women’s division and WWE as a whole. WWE, put simply, didn’t have time for that. They put the belts on the IIconics because it was a sign marked “Exit” for them. It was an excuse for them to not try as hard, since the IIconics are not as established as performers in the political sense but also in the ring. If they were booked the way that they are now, WWE knew they wouldn’t put up a fuss.

Which brings us back to why this whole situation is still bogus: women, especially women of color, are penalized for demanding more. For reaching for more. Because WWE is lazy, and the women are expendable. And as long as that is their ideology, the division will never prosper the way the men’s does. And it is unfortunate to think that they might actually prefer it that way.

***

Now that the women’s championships are spread evenly across both brands, we should see some new feuds. Should. But we shall see.

Until next time.

Stay legit bossy,

AC