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: 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