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

Nylons and Midriffs

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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: Between a Chamber and a Hard Place (February 18, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: thesouthafrican.com

The first stop on the Road to WrestleMania is behind us, and as expected, we’re left with more questions than answers leading up to the show of shows.

In this post, I will revisit how the women’s division has developed thus far this year, as well as run down the hills and valleys of last night’s pay-per-view, Elimination Chamber. But before I do, I did want to flesh out the main event segment of last week’s RAW. You know the one…

Mr. McMahon suspends Becky Lynch, inserts Charlotte Flair into the RAW women’s title match at WrestleMania

Image credit: sobrosnetwork.com

This segment incited a strong response from fans, as I’m sure WWE intended. I had three main thoughts about the angle.

First, I do not like the involvement of authority figures in this storyline. I am a fan that prefers authority figures that take a hands-off approach to their weekly television shows; I find it overbearing when they become integral storytelling devices in feuds consistently. The McMahons, unfortunately, tend to become this whenever they are a part of a feud, often times inserting themselves as characters into the story. So, especially in a feud so organically hot as this one between Ronda and Becky (and now Charlotte), I felt that the McMahons having a hand in the direction of the feud onscreen was unnecessary. These women are more than talented enough to carry the story; there’s no need for hand-holding.

However, I do understand that they have time to fill between now and WrestleMania, and using the McMahons to drag the story out a bit may just be filler in the grand scheme of things. Therefore, despite my preference to keep authoritative interference to a minimum, I see why it needed to be done.

Second, while inserting Charlotte into the mix in this way was more than ham-fisted, she is going to give the match what it desperately needed: a definitive heel. WWE was never going to turn Ronda heel, even if she would have been the de facto heel against Becky in a singles match. Instead, WWE needed an obvious, detestable bad girl that fans would gladly boo more than Ronda, and that woman is Charlotte Flair. It is commonly agreed across all storytelling mediums that the truest heroes are created in contrast to compelling, dastardly villains. Charlotte can be the villainous foil to both Ronda and Becky seamlessly. Particularly by introducing her into the match as the boss’ “chosen one” — which is how many fans see her anyway, myself included to an extent — fans will be eager to see her defeated at WrestleMania. And perhaps above all else, Charlotte is simply a fantastic heel, in my opinion one of the best in the company. I am glad that WWE remembered this in the buildup to Mania, rather than trying to turn Charlotte into a sympathetic babyface as they did for much of last year.

Lastly, as much as I grimace to say it, Charlotte deserves this spot. She truly is one of the greatest performers the company has ever seen, gender be damned. When you’re thinking of having women main event your biggest show for the first time, you call in the big guns, and that is Charlotte. She is reliable and can deliver the work rate required to make the match a classic. Plus, there is the added bonus that she has worked with both Ronda and Becky previously. She is the common denominator for both women, and therefore can reliably make both of them look like stars. All in all, adding Charlotte to the mix guarantees, at least on paper, that this main event will be a solid one.

Now that I’ve exhausted that segment, let’s take a look at how the rest of the women are getting on.

The Good
RAW and Smackdown Live: The best thing happening on weekly TV for the women is that they feel important. Slowly, they are being included in more segments, and those segments feel less like throwaway bits of filler. With the addition of the women’s tag titles, I am seeing the division come to life before my very eyes. I am elated that finally the women who have been stuck in the mid-card have something to fight for. While some tag teams we’ve seen were thrown together, I think the possibilities for female partnerships will outshine this rocky start to the tag division. Let’s not forget that every member of The New Day were at one time singles wrestlers who had no direction. The women will be just fine.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Specifically with Becky Lynch, it is more apparent than ever that she is seen as a top star in the company. She has started and ended both RAW and Smackdown to a chorus of cheers every time. While 2018 was The Man’s christening, 2019 is the year that WWE has started to live up the moniker. She’s given the Seth Rollins treatment, the Daniel Bryan treatment, the AJ Styles treatment. She’s carving her own space into today’s Mount Rushmore of wrestling, and it is so wickedly awesome to witness.

Elimination Chamber: As far as the women are concerned, this Chamber will be remembered for its titular women’s match to crown the inaugural women’s tag team champions. I really liked this match! I was nervous to see how a tag match (ironically with no tagging) would work inside of a Chamber, but was pleasantly surprised to see how these women orchestrated the match.

The sequence toward the middle of the match where each woman successively hit a power move on the next standing woman was incredible and clever. The IIconics were surprising stars of this match, scoring a quick pinfall on Naomi and brutalizing the likes of Sasha Banks and Bayley within the confines. Many fans’ pick to win, I truly hope the IIconics win the tag belts one day, as they are probably the truest partnership in the entire women’s division, and they are steadily improving in the ring.

Image credit: twm.news

The Riott Squad as well deserve a shout, for those stellar crossbodies from the top of a pod and Liv Morgan’s big bump before her team’s elimination. I think their team name finally clicked for me in this match, in that these women are high-risk and chaotic in the ring, rarely showing fear in the face of stacked odds.

The right team won, with great storytelling to boot. Sasha and Bayley showed compassion for one another that is required for a believable tag team duo. I loved the parallelism of this year and last year’s Chamber, the latter of which saw Sasha infamously kick Bayley down when she was trying to meet Sasha at the top of a pod. Sasha, in the same position, helped her partner up the pod this year, showing some character growth for The Boss.

There is more that I could say, but I thought this match was booked well and made this new division look strong heading into WrestleMania.

The Bad

Image credit: diva-dirt.com

RAW and Smackdown Live: I can’t recall too many bad things happening for women on weekly TV, but I suppose two booking decisions have irked me over the last several weeks. Head and shoulders above everything is what has been going on between Mandy Rose and Naomi. Where did this feud come from? It appeared on Smackdown one week out of thin air, and since then it’s just been a persistent part of each woman’s every move on TV. The most frustrating thing about it is that for the majority of the feud, Mandy has been coming out on top, even when it doesn’t make sense. With the exception of last night at Elimination Chamber, Mandy always gets the better of Naomi. And even when Naomi does one-up Mandy, such as at the Royal Rumble, Mandy almost immediately squashes Naomi’s momentum. I understand wanting to push someone, but there must be balance, so that we don’t effectively bury someone who is a former women’s champion in the process.

Another bothersome booking decision is how WWE decided to determine the teams in the tag title Chmaber match. While the women on RAW had to qualify, the Smackdown women were simply announced as entrants. This shows such sloppiness and exposes just how unbalanced each roster’s divisions are. They likely did this out of necessity, since there are far fewer women on Smackdown. But, I firmly believe that there should be some consistency and equity between the brands for logic’s sake. But, because everything worked out with the Chamber match, I am willing to forgive this.

Elimination Chamber: I’ll address my more serious concerns stemming from Elimination Chamber below, but the bad from last night was simply the booking for the RAW women’s title match. Poor Ruby Riott! Getting almost no offense in, Ruby Riott lost to Ronda Rousey in a squash lasting only a couple of minutes. I hate when WWE does this, making it apparent that certain wrestlers will only serve as non-playable characters within a main character’s story arc. It’s sad, and there’s just no other way to put it. Ruby Riott deserves some respect on her name. Perhaps she’ll get it when Ronda is out of the picture.

The Thorny
As I alluded to above, the segment that took place after Ruby’s squash to Ronda is what I’d like to discuss in this section. I won’t describe what happened here, because there isn’t much to detail, but if you have not seen it, I recommend watching that first before reading this. In short, I don’t think this angle did Becky any favors after last week’s RAW, and I’ll explain why.

Image credit: wrestlinginc.com

To start off, there is the technicality of Becky’s presence at the pay-per-view in the first place. How and why did Becky make it to the arena?! I discussed above that I did not have issues with Becky’s suspension by Mr. McMahon. Along with everything else, I felt this would be a great way to get fans to sympathize with Becky and most importantly, keep her off TV for a while. Doing this would have either tricked fans into believing that Becky was truly out of the main event, or make fans crave Becky’s presence the longer she was away. In both situations, fans would remain hot on Becky and she would keep her momentum.

However, why suspend Becky at all if she can just show up at TV tapings, live events, and pay-per-views with no problem? This combined with Mr. McMahon taking her out of the main event has me questioning the legitimacy of WWE’s kayfabe rules. What is the point of WWE canon if at any time authority figures and wrestlers alike can simply disregard it?

Why is there a Royal Rumble match if Mr. McMahon can simply show up one week and decide he doesn’t like the wrestler who earned their title opportunity, and take it away from them?

Why are wrestlers suspended if they clearly can violate their suspensions with impunity?

I have a problem with WWE bending their own rules to fit a storyline. It makes the product feel inauthentic. And I know that as wrestling fans we are regularly expected to suspend our disbelief to enjoy it. But how much disbelief can we suspend in order to find plausibility in a suspended Becky hobbling into a venue, through a crowd, and into a WWE ring without encountering any barriers to entry? It’s ridiculous!

Related to this logical fallacy is how the segment was addressed by WWE personnel, namely the announcers and security. On the one hand, you had Michael Cole and Corey Graves selling what Becky did as barbaric and even arrest-worthy, despite many male wrestlers (and even Charlotte!) doing far worse without such comments. Hell, we’ve had Brock Lesnar intentionally bust open Randy Orton without commentary scolding him the same way they did Becky.

But, at the same time, security somehow incompetently allowed Becky to make it into the ring to assault Charlotte and Ronda for minutes without interception. And then, once they arrived to intervene, they simply escorted Becky to the back.

To me, it seemed that in a weird way Becky’s gender limited the way this segment could be executed and sold. You had commentary berating Becky for her behavior like a rebellious schoolgirl, but you also had men being hesitant with handling or stopping Becky, almost as if they didn’t take her as a serious threat to people’s safety. In this way, there was unconscious bias at play, and it made the segment come off as forced in my opinion.

I believe that having Becky on TV throughout her suspension is the wrong choice, as it runs the risk of burning the fans out on her. But, if they are going to do it, WWE must be careful not to take shortcuts within their own canon to get from Point A to Point B. Becky is not too big to fall, and in WWE’s venture to make her the next Stone Cold, I hope they do not snuff out the magic that Rebecca Quin has created with her character.

***

I’ll be back again after Fastlane, hopefully with some new feuds to get excited about!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (May 25, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

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Welcome to Nylons and Midriffs, PWSA’s new bi-weekly column on women’s wrestling in WWE. In this column, we’re going to magnify women’s wrestling on WWE’s two main brand shows, RAW and Smackdown Live. We’ll hammer out the ways the division develops in this so-called “Women’s Evolution.”

When it comes to wrestling critique, male critics, bloggers, and YouTubers often analyze women’s matches and storylines through a masculine lens, or relative to what the men are doing. And because they are the dominant voices in wrestling fandom, their opinions become the accepted critical lexicon.

But, what if we took away that veneer — the idea that women only exist because the men do? What if we only paid attention to the women’s segments, and judged the quality of the product on how they were doing?

Visibility is not merely enough to proclaim that women are equal, and yet equality is not necessarily what we should be striving for. The women’s division can become a unique entity for the company if women are allowed to be three-dimensional.

To contextualize my voice in wrestling discourse, I will always be cognizant of social implications and representation in these posts. I am coming to this column with a strong sense of civic duty to point out racist, misogynist, and homophobic undertones in this product that I love so much. In the same way that WWE has to complicate the stories they tell and the women they push in the women’s division, the online wrestling world needs to hear from fans and scholars other than straight, white men. It is my hope that, as a black woman, I can create a space for more diverse fans to speak out and feel comfortable in the fandom. Perhaps then, will we see the people and stories we crave on television every week.

In this first post, I’ll talk more generally about the state of the women’s division as a foundation; but as the series goes on, I’ll get more specific to matches and segments as necessary.

If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re in for some soft rants, respectful critiques, and come-to-Jesus realness about the women of the WWE. This column will be split into three sections for your consideration: The Good, The Bad, and The Thorny.

The Good
I like that the heel women are given segments and promo time to build heat with the audience. Specifically, I’m referring to the work of Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and the IIconics.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube

Alexa, previously with her “Moment of Bliss” each week and heelish ring work, is likely the top heel woman on the roster because she fully understands her character. Carmella and the IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) hone the art of being insufferably annoying every week to the chagrin of the live crowds (and the audience’s ears).

Image credit: insidepulse.com

Even if it isn’t the ideal heel characterization they could have been given (note that there are no comparable male equivalents to them), you can’t deny, it is working. Their heat is real.

The Bad
A general critique that will probably recur in this column, it seems that WWE’s writers only know how to write heel characters for the women. Pretty much all of the faces in the women’s division are vapid, and appear as faces seemingly for no other reason than they are anti-heel. They aren’t characterized as good guys. WWE simply puts them on TV every week and assumes that fans will cheer for them because they venture to thwart their heel opponents.

Women that at one time had very distinct face personas, like Becky Lynch, Bayley, and even Ember Moon, now sort of just exist as wrestlers to put opposite of more vindictive women in six-person tag matches.

Image credit: wrestlingnewssource.com

Indeed, if you pay close enough attention, some weeks the only thing that separates the heel and face women on TV is that the face women smile more and talk less. And the most over heel women are simply the ones that speak with the loudest shrill on the microphone.

What does it say that the only women that the writers seem to be able to write somewhat well are the ones we’re supposed to hate? Why can’t they create likable women, or unlikable women that offer more as characters than just being obnoxious? Sounds like something men who don’t understand women would do.

The Thorny
We are now setting up for Money in the Bank. The two title matches that have been announced — Nia Jax vs Ronda Rousey and Carmella vs. Asuka — have zero build. WWE is getting into the habit of throwing their women in matches, for the title or otherwise, at random with little foresight. This does nothing to help fans invest in the women or their matches.

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

The point of pay-per-views (at least until this point) has been to give the fans a payoff for a build that has been developed over time on TV. If the women’s matches don’t have any build, then fans don’t have an emotional entry point into the action of the match. It also doesn’t help the wrestlers, because interacting with one another on live TV and/or having matches every week leading up to the pay-per-view gives them time to create chemistry as they continue their feud. This results in matches being lackluster and performers that are only going through the motions, hitting their spots and then leaving.

Most importantly, when WWE does this, it makes apparent to the fans that they are not invested in the so-called feuds they are writing. And if we can see that, why would we invest ourselves? You can’t build worthwhile feuds that advance a performer’s career with chance interactions backstage (Sasha/Bayley), awkward in-ring encounters (Asuka/Carmella), and painfully staged conversations at PR summits (Nia/Ronda). The women crawl through their feuds and character progression, while the men stride.

***

Perhaps WWE is planning to build backwards with their women’s title matches at Money in the Bank, and we will see the rivalries unfold steadily leading up to it. Regardless, I perpetually wish that women’s feuds weren’t so convoluted compared to how simple their characters are.

I’ll be back in two weeks, same time same place, to see how these feuds shake out.

Stay legit bossy,
AC