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

Nylons and Midriffs

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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

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

Nylons and Midriffs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Stay legit bossy,
AC