Nylons and Midriffs: Women of the Hour (October 23, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs, Works-In-Process

Image credit: si.com

My oh my, friends. In a matter of two weeks, the landscape of the wrestling world (or rather, WWE & AEW) is rapidly changing before our very eyes. We just witnessed a draft on RAW and Smackdown, and new challengers for the NXT women’s championship have announced themselves. Also, we’ve seen a couple of new faces in the women’s division on AEW, adding a few more pieces to the mysterious puzzle for this new fan.

Moving forward, I’ll be breaking up Nylons into two sections: NXT and AEW side-to-side, and WWE’s flagship shows as one. While I certainly respect and appreciate the differences between AEW and NXT, it only makes sense to consider them simultaneously, as they are primetime rivals and seek to offer wrestling fans very similar flavors. At the same time, RAW and Smackdown have always seemed to exist in the same universe, although I’m not sure if that will change with the draft and “rivaling” networks brought into the fold.

Let’s begin with the delicious morsels that the Wednesday night shows have given us the last two weeks.

The Good

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AEW/NXT: I feel that the last weeks were neither truly good or bad for either show, but pinpointing one positive across both is that it seems like storyline progression is happening. For AEW, we see a friendly rivalry between champion Riho and Britt Baker forming, with a title match last week that in my opinion proved Riho to be a crafty and adaptive defender in the ring. The week before last, we also had secondary characters emerge in the form of Bea Priestley and Emmy Sakura, the former of which looking to be a future opponent for Britt Baker. The next few weeks will clue us in to whether or not AEW can be trusted to develop women’s storylines outside of the main title picture, a skill that WWE in this era has fallen short with. But, for the time being, things are looking promising for the upstart promotion.

As for NXT, I have to say that I am impressed with the depth of the women’s division displayed over the course of the last two weeks. I can count on more than one hand the amount of women active on NXT TV on at least a biweekly basis, as it should be. I was awestruck this week when I saw Rhea Ripley for the first time. Her size in comparison to her peers demanded my attention, and her squash match with Aliyah (ending with that insane figure-four-pumphandle slam thingy) was exciting to see. Monsters are so rare in the women’s division, and Rhea seems to be the kind that can both believably dominate, but also be defeated by gutsier opponents.

Image credit: reddit.com

I continue to be impressed with the diversity of the women’s division of NXT; no one woman seems to be a carbon copy of another. So far, if we’re grading on visibility alone, I would have to give the edge to NXT. Now, work on getting the main shows up to speed, WWE!

RAW and Smackdown: Bayley! She was the knight in shining armor for me in the wake of the draft. Doing a complete 180 from Hell in a Cell to the first edition of Friday Night Smackdown, Bayley has completed her heel turn with the destruction of her beloved Bayley Buddies. The promo that she cut on last week’s Smackdown was first class, and there was a kernel of truth in the majority of her assertions.

Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com

What resonated the most was her saying that she was tired of letting her cookie-cutter gimmick define her, hinting at the stagnation she likely felt with her babyface character. The videos of young fans sobbing as they watched their hero abandon her happy-go-lucky personality really made apparent the impact of Bayley’s turn, and the pure shock that fans can feel when our sense of familiarity with certain characters is ripped away.

Not only this, but possibly the coolest thing about Bayley’s turn is that she seems now to be more authentically herself. Pamela Martinez, the person, has a punk, skater girl style, and listens to alternative rock like that of her new entrance theme. I got the sense that she now feels a little more at home being able to break free creatively, but also be a little more of herself. I look forward to seeing what Bayley and her bob hairstyle will do next!

The Bad
AEW/NXT: After three weeks of AEW on TNT, I am still disappointed to see only one women’s segment per show. I’m confused as to why we aren’t having as many showcase-type matches for the women as we seem to have for the male stars every week. I am unsure at this point if this is because of a small number of women currently signed with the company, or if they are simply prioritizing the men right now. But, I do know that it needs to be addressed before habits form in formatting the shows every week. Allocating space for the women early on in the company’s history will prevent the inequalities in the women’s division that we so often see in established promotions.

Having good wrestling with a few women can only take the division so far. If the stars align correctly, I do believe AEW’S women’s division could be more interesting than NXT’s. But, people want options for our favorites. Give them to us.

In NXT land, a critique that has emerged for me is this: why is Shayna Baszler still champion? In watching the product for about a month now, I can’t find anything discernibly different about her in comparison to her peers. WWE seems to have a hard-on for “combat” level athletes who have histories in MMA. Even still, they only favor some of them.

For the women, it seems that they push the more masculine-leaning of these MMA-types. To me, I think there’s a logic (and potential crossover appeal to male audiences) behind pushing Ronda Rousey over Sonya Deville, or Shayna Baszler over Taynara. It seems they want to push the women who look more intimidating in real life, walking down the street, who scowl a little more convincingly, over women who are in other contexts coded as more “cute.”

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In any case, it seems that the reason Shayna has held the belt for so long has less to do with her look and accolades in MMA, and more to do with the fact that they have not built other women to her level (sort of like how Ronda was on the main roster, with the exception of Becky).

And even this fact is surprising, because it seems like there is plenty of talent on the NXT women’s roster. All they need to do is pick a woman and run with her. And do that with the next one, and the next. And suddenly you have a roster of stars, rather than a sky with only a few twinkles.

RAW and SD: I’m not even sure where to begin with this storyline, but whatever is going on with Lana, Bobby Lashley, and Rusev is….weird. And bad. It is out of left field, and I can’t pinpoint the malice that potentially lies behind this storyline.

Image credit: news-of-the-day.com

There were rumors in the past about how Vince McMahon didn’t like Rusev because he could not fathom how someone as “unattractive” as Rusev could snag someone as beautiful as Lana. So maybe this storyline is his attempt at taking a jab at Rusev, his way of writing his own fan fiction of who Lana should have ended up with. Maybe this is his way of turning Rusev into the “cuck” he thinks he deserves to be. (Please see this video to learn about the racist and sexist roots of the word “cuckold.”)

Or maybe it’s an excuse to sexualize Lana. Take your pick, but honestly none of these reasons are good. Lana and Rusev on screen have unmatched chemistry because they are real-life partners, and to do this just seems like drama for the sake of drama.

I hope we find better things to do with the both of them soon. But particularly for Lana, who is not that great in the ring; it would be a shame to jeopardize her popularity with fans because someone in the back wanted to prove a point, or live out a sick fantasy in storyline. We can and should strive for more, and I hope miss CJ Perry is able to achieve that one day soon.

The Thorny
For a change of pace, I’m not going to write anything for this section, because I feel it is too soon to tell where the true insidious patterns are developing in both WWE and AEW. With AEW still in its infancy and the draft causing us to see WWE’s main brands anew, I consider the last two to three weeks to be a hard reset of sorts.

Things are slowly building, so I am going to give the benefit of the doubt and allow things to play out. For now…

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Until next time!

Stay legit bossy,

AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (August 16, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Hello good wrestling fans. I”m back after a significant move to a new city with some somewhat fresh thoughts about WWE’s women’s division. While I’m sure many of you are hoping for some predictions or speculation from me heading into SummerSlam, I have some general thoughts that have been swirling in my head since my last post that I need to put out into the universe. So, let’s talk about them, in this go-home edition of Nylons before SummerSlam.

The Good
For the first time, I actually have multiple things to say in this section!

First off is the women’s title feuds. For the first time in several months I actually care about the outcomes of both matches. The build to the RAW and Smackdown women’s title matches respectively have created a lot of intrigue, and fans are being given a sense that the victors will actually matter. On the RAW side, you have Ronda Rousey feuding with Alexa Bliss and her new sidekick Alicia Fox. I’m not the biggest Alexa fan, but her heel work with Ronda has been spot on, particularly this past week on RAW. The best heels cut promos where they “have a point,” and Alexa’s was that while Kurt Angle is busy protecting his Universal Title match by constantly intervening in Roman Reign’s affairs, he ignores his women’s champion. Given that comparison, it’s hard to argue that she’s wrong. On top of all of their segments, it feels as if the winner of this match will change the direction of the women’s division for the remainder of the year, so a match that important has to mean something good.

For Smackdown, we have the friendship of Becky Lynch and Charlotte being essentially put on the line in their triple threat with Carmella for the title. In a case where the challengers outshine the champion, this match portrays itself as something that will inevitably stir tension between the two “tea” buddies, if not break them up entirely.

Image credit: Twitter user @2ndNatureFlair

Fans are expecting one of them to win the title and, similar to the RAW match, victory for either woman will set the scene for the division in the next couple of months. Most interestingly is the question of whether Becky or Charlotte will turn heel as a result of the outcome of the match/during the match itself; regardless of which one does, it would be a welcome reset to their characters.

The goodness in all this is that both women’s titles feel important. And in this era of WWE, when wins and losses seem to matter less and less, that is something to be celebrated.

To add to the excellence in storytelling between wrestlers, there is also goodness to note of the women who hold court outside of the ring.

Women in speaking roles have been more visible in the last few weeks, most notably with Renee Young, who not only put on an impeccable performance during that Paul Heyman interview, but held her own as the first woman to sit at the announcer’s desk to call RAW. This move is far overdue in my opinion. Renee has the professionalism of a sports journalist and the eagerness of a fan. She’s serious without being stoic, smiley without being plastic. She seems like a three-dimensional person, which is difficult for on-air personalities and backstage interviewers to achieve in WWE.

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As well, managers like Lana and Zelina Vega greatly enhance the gimmicks of their male counterparts. We all remember how effective Lana was in getting Rusev over during his first hot streak a few years back, and I hope that pairing the two together again allows them to connect to the audience in an evolved way with their Rusev/Lana Day gimmicks. Zelina Vega, on the other hand, truly sells herself as an asset to Andrade “Cien” Almas. She is convincing as his “business partner” and, often without Andrade saying more than a few words, gets him over as am arrogant, holier-than-thou heel. She asserts herself as a force without taking too much of the spotlight from Andrade, which is what a great manager should do.

Image credit: YouTube user iWrestling

Though it could be argued that having women as simply managers to men is regressive, I believe that in certain cases it truly works to highlight the strength that women can bring as talkers. And I think there’s something to be said about women that are integral in getting men over, because in the real world as in wrestling, it isn’t often that women are given credit for men’s successes.

The Bad
I am actually forgoing this section, as I have more important things to discuss below. But isn’t it pretty much par for the course that WWE is either really great or really problematic, or somehow both at the same time? Seems fitting.

The Thorny
You’ve probably been wondering why I don’t talk much about Ronda Rousey in Nylons. I must admit that I am hesitant toward engaging with her due to some transphobic comments she made a few years back. But it is also because, outside of that, I have needed some time to truly formulate how I feel about her in the WWE. I think I’ve arrived at an initial conclusion.

Yes, Ronda is a star. Yes, she’s got mainstream appeal. Yes, she may even make her armbar look cool sometimes. But…here is where my compliments of her end. My issue with Ronda is the way she is booked.

You may recall in my write-up of the Royal Rumble earlier this year that I predicted that eventually WWE’s hype would get to Ronda’s head, and that she would continue to steal the spotlight away from the other women. WWE proved this to be irrevocably true with the way they promoted Ronda’s first match on RAW last week. The constant mentions of it throughout the show, the the screen graphics seemingly every other commercial break, the backstage shots of Ronda warming up with Natalya…

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This woman told us when she joined WWE that she wanted to earn her stripes, and earn the respect of both her peers and fans. In her storyline, we were told that she specifically indicated to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon that she didn’t want special treatment.

And now, only a handful of months later, she is days away from her second title match, only her fourth total match on TV in WWE, where she is likely going to be crowned as champion. She rushed to the front of the line, and we’re supposed to forget all of the promises that she made to us at the beginning?

Where WWE gets its “evolution” wrong is that you can’t say women are “equal” to men if you only treat a handful of them that way. They run picture-and-picture promos for Ronda’s title match during other matches. They flashed her merch across the screen as she entered the ring for her first match. In order for this “empowerment” schtick to work, they need to book ALL of their women this way. They need to push every woman like she’s Ronda Freakin’ Rousey. I believe every woman deserves to feel that important.

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I want intensity between Sasha Banks and Bayley that Ronda shows to Alexa. I want Ember Moon’s merch to flash across our screens when she steps up to the ring. Women don’t get anywhere in society because of a few women who have made it to the proverbial top. Women make it up to men by being uplifted by the women who have already started to climb the ladder. Ronda is ascending quickly, and we’ve seen very little evidence that she is willing to reach back down and advocate for her sisters clamoring to reach her level. She does not equal the women’s division, and we shouldn’t allow WWE to fool us into believing that just because Ronda has achieved the hype that men have always received, that the whole of the division has suddenly “made it.” Your feminism is fake if it doesn’t ride for all of the women behind you.

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I can’t wait to dive into SummerSlam results in a couple of weeks — I like having time to digest a pay-per-view before I form an opinion on it. So we’ll see where things are at after the Biggest Party of the Summer.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (June 14, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

Hello, good wrestling fans!

I’m back with another entry into the Nylons and Midriffs series. Not exactly the same time as I promised in my last post, but ’tis life sometimes. Due to circumstances out of my control, this post is one week later than I hoped it would be. Therefore, this week I’ll discuss the events of the previous two weeks of RAW and Smackdown Live, not including the go-home shows to Money in the Bank. I’ll discuss those in my next post, to talk about everything MITB-related.

With that, let’s jump right in.

The Good

Image credit: WWE.com

I liked that in the weeks leading up to the go-home for MITB, the women were given more time than usual in segments and matches. We saw women receive attention that are typically disposable when it comes to airtime, like Lana, Naomi, and Mickie James. The primary exposure for them were matches rather than segments, and ones that were given at least a commercial break in the middle of them. This is great! I just want to see women wrestle!

And the wrestling was sound. While the pacing and sequence choreography could use some work, the female Superstars have the moves to carry matches. Fans also have new rivalries to daydream about — can you imagine Sonya versus Naomi, Sasha versus Ember, Charlotte versus Becky (again)?

And as one small aside in this section, Becky Lynch picked up a victory over Charlotte! While I have a lot of feelings about the pedestal that Charlotte has been put on during her time on the main roster, it is undeniable that at this point, having her put you over means something. I hope it signals a push for Becky in the future, because that woman is criminally underutilized for her wrestling ability.

The Bad
The most bothersome thread throughout the last couple of weeks has been that WWE is confused on how to make women clear-cut heels and faces. Let’s look at two examples.

The first: Nia Jax. She only just finished a triumphant, anti-bullying feud with Alexa Bliss to win the title, but now she’s in the murky area of tweener against Ronda Rousey. She used a jobber to show off her power to Ronda while cutting a very heelish promo.

Image credit: DigitalSpy.com

Then, the next week, she quasi-injured Natalya, and acts overly concerned for her to seemingly irk Ronda, who we are supposed to believe is Natalya’s actual friend. What? Is Nia the heel or the face? Being less half-assed about Nia’s characterization would really help the fans invest in this feud, because we have schemas for face v. face, heel v. face, etc. Even if it’s silly to turn Nia heel so soon after her feud with Alexa, it would be a lot better than what we’ve been given thus far.

Second: Lana. She is a part of Rusev Day, who WWE are for some reason trying to push as heels. She teased breaking Rusev and Aiden English up when she returned to TV, only to have Aiden give her an endearing song for fans to sing during her matches. When she qualified for MITB, she celebrated with Aiden like a face. But during her dance-off with Naomi, she attacked Naomi after teasing a truce with her. How does this benefit Lana?

Last: Sasha Banks and the Tale of the Never-Ending Feud. One week on RAW, we had Ember Moon, a face, tag with Sasha Banks, a…tweener(?), and Alexa Bliss, a bonafide heel. Why??? I understand that sometimes heels and faces tag together to build tension in an ongoing feud, but a) none of these women are feuding, and b) it only works if the characters are distinct and use that to play off one another. Sasha being lost somewhere between heel and face made this trio very odd.

And then, when Bayley came out to “save” the match after Alexa left to gain victory for the face team, Sasha took the win like a face. But afterwards, when Kurt Angle told the team that they lost by DQ, Sasha instantly hated Bayley again, like a heel. Who is this feud for?! Who is the face? Who is the heel? WWE is wasting some of its best and most unique talents by damning them to purgatory. No one likes you when you’re in purgatory.

The Thorny
I would be remiss in my ranting if I didn’t mention my rage at the Gauntlet Match on RAW a few weeks ago. The announcers spent the whole night touting the match, spewing “historic” and other hyperboles into our ears. And it was all well and good, until we entered the third hour and there was still no match. We got to half an hour before the end of the show, still no match. We got a damned comedy segment about barbecue before we got that Gauntlet Match.

WWE insulted our intelligence by assuming we’d forgotten that the men’s gauntlet match from several weeks before lasted nearly two-thirds of the show. The women’s Gauntlet started at 9:43pm, Central Daylight Time. Twenty minutes. Less than twenty minutes. A match with seven participants, one of which who was in her hometown. This is disgraceful and unacceptable.

Photo cred: CagesideSeats.com

I am glad that we have reached the point of doing. Yes, we now allow women into previously uncharted territory. Now we need to work on the execution, and I don’t mean on the part of the wrestlers. On the part of Creative, producers, and decision-makers in WWE. They need to advocate for women to get the exposure they deserve.

We cannot tout women’s liberation if we are going to only allow women to shine as long as the men shine brighter. That is “women’s empowerment” that fits politely within the patriarchy. If WWE really wants its women to transcend the shortcomings of the past, the company needs to execute the booking of their women’s division in a more audacious way. They deserve to take up space.

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Through and through, I’m still amped for MITB. My thoughts on the go-home shows are mostly positive in terms of the female Superstars, so hopefully the pay-per-view itself delivers some satisfying results.

Until next time, stay legit bossy,
AC