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: 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: Brand New? (June 17, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: WWE.com

I think all WWE fans can agree that the product is stale and stagnant as far as storytelling currently. With exception of the bright humor of the 24/7 title shenanigans, I can find little, if any, positive things happening on RAW and Smackdown at the moment. On paper, the main event and mid-card titles for both men and women are on arguably the most favorable people they could be on, with the likes of Rollins, Kingston, Lynch, Bayley, Balor, Joe, and the IIconics representing their respective divisions.

And yet.

Half of these people don’t feel important to their brands at all, and the other half are often eclipsed by multi-man tag matches or non-title feuds (ahem, Shane McMahon).

For the women, outside of Bayley and Becky being champs, there is nothing good, new, or interesting happening. It is the same recipe, just different day of the week it’s being prepared. In a first for Nylons, I am actually going to skip the Good section here.

Times are bleak, friends.

The Bad
I’ll talk about a singular segment that, in my opinion, highlights the core problem with the way WWE writes its female characters. On the past week’s Smackdown, a backstage segment with Ember Moon, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose seemed to set up a feud amongst the trio. In the clip below, Ember essentially loses it because Sonya knocked her handheld gaming console (Nintendo Switch?) out of her hands. There were nods to Ember’s real-life nerdy inclinations, with mentions of heroes and villains.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAMUfOVUozc&w=560&h=315]

It seems as if this storyline may be going the bullying route, and if that is the case, it would be a disappointing turn for Ember. Remembering the bullying storyline between Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss, the bullied character doesn’t exactly benefit from the feud. And given Mandy’s track record, with disrupting the life and marriage of another black woman (Naomi), I don’t exactly have faith that WWE would put over a younger, more subversive black female talent like Ember in the end.

With this probable mishandling of Ember and her gimmick, WWE once again fails one of its performers by misunderstanding gimmicks that bite the mold they are used to. They have the bitchy, condescending white woman down to a near-perfect science. Anything that falls outside of that, especially for women of color, the writers simply don’t know what to do with. And I reiterate, this is why it is important to have diversity in writers’ rooms and higher leadership on any media project.

Image credit: TVinsider.com

As a black woman, I know nerdy black girls like Ember Moon. Heck, to a certain extent, I am one of them! But, for so long, we’ve been fed a certain image of black women, Latinx women, Asian women. That isn’t an accident; it is the working of white supremacy. Many people can only digest women of color if they are a highly specific flavor. People got Ember in NXT because she was allowed the space to explain to us her character, and then back it all up in the ring. Here, on the main roster, she is lost and forced into a very two-dimensional box. Instead of allowing Ember to show her charisma and uniqueness in the ring, we have to see her be picked on as evidence that she is different. It is simply another way to Other her, even if she does come out on top.

In addition, I detest how the trope of the deranged woman applies to any woman who has a slightly out-there gimmick. It works on Nikki Cross — it is even somewhat acceptable with Alicia Fox. But to see it happening, again, with another black woman, is so irksome. “Crazy” is not a stand-in for “eccentric,” and it is possible that women can be aggressive and quirky without being portrayed as unhinged. A man wouldn’t be written to simply scream into the void if someone knocked some of their things down. He would most likely beat the other person’s ass on the spot. Therefore, I want my women written the same way. Human beings, not caricatures.

Also, can we find no better way to set up women’s storylines than to involve catty disagreements? Alexa Bliss’ qualms with Bayley supposedly began because Bayley was mean to her on social media once. Is this a joke? I sound like a broken record, but we would never make this the center of a men’s feud. It is so childish, and I wish with all of my being that people could see women as whole, complicated beings who can handle conflict in sensible ways. It isn’t just inaccurate — it’s insulting to any woman watching to see mean girl antics be the centerpieces of our stories.

The Thorny

Image credit: thechairshot.com

A couple of weeks ago, there was a #1 contender’s match for the Smackdown Women’s championship. Exciting, yes. In a landscape of Kairi Sanes and Ember Moons and Asukas, exciting new matchups were surely right around the corner.

Only in this match, the competitors were Carmella, Charlotte Flair, and Alexa Bliss. And my thought was immediately…of course.

Carmella, to be fair, has had a precarious position in the main event scene since she was called up from NXT. But, because of that, she felt like a decent shot to include in that match. With Charlotte and Alexa, however, there are no excuses. These two have consistently been at the top of the women’s division for the last three years. They’ve never fallen to the back of the line, and if they did, it was because they physically could not wrestle (in Alexa’s case).

We have a field of some of the most talented women on the planet, and WWE thinks, “Yes, let’s continue to push the blonde white women.” Not only that, but the two women with the most championship reigns of all of the women by a long shot. The only woman that comes close in quantity of reigns is Sasha Banks, and look where she is right now. Charlote and Alexa have the most reigns, and some of the longest reigns at the top. I just do not understand why leadership in WWE don’t tire of seeing the same types of women at the top. Well, I do know why, and it’s because of money…and racism. A false sense that women like Alexa and Charlotte are more marketable, and in turn lucrative, and the determination to keep a racial hierarchy in place.

Image credit: wwe.cityblog.ng

Suffice to say, I would be surprised if Bayley came out on top at Stomping Grounds. Perhaps the result of that match will be the launching pad for the next post’s discussion.

***

To you, the reader, I’d love to hear your thoughts on where the product is right now with the women. Or even better, where we can throw our support in the wrestling world to amplify promotions that are getting women right. I’ll be imagining that world for WWE, 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

The Best of NXT in 2018

Fan Reviews

This review of NXT from 2018 comes from more of a fangirl perspective than an academic one, and it is meant to reflect only my own preferences for the best part of the WWE Universe. I would love to hear any other NXT fan’s reactions to this past year, and for a second opinion, and a focus just on NXT matches, see https://uproxx.com/prowrestling/wwe-nxt-matches-of-the-year-2018.

Now, I am not going to talk about specific matches here. I don’t remember specific matches well enough to comment on them. What I am doing instead is reflecting on my favorite parts of NXT from this past year. Those parts may be story lines, characters, or moments, but they are all the parts that I think demonstrate why NXT outshines either Raw or SmackDown and why I always hope/dread that my precious NXT babies will be called up to the main roster.

Each entry on this list made me squee in some way this year, starting with the first one, which is basically just one long, sustained SQUEE at the moment (like, seriously, alternating between squeeing and crying).

The Ciampa/Gargano Story, with special guest star Aleister Black

I legit love these men.

After his heel turn at NXT TakeOver: Chicago in 2017, Tommaso Ciampa went out with a knee injury and left Johnny Gargano to rise as the main babyface of NXT. On Twitter, Ciampa changed his handle from Project Ciampa to Blackheart and began foreshadowing his return with a tweet on Dec 31, 2017. In it he retweeted Gargano’s tweet expressing hope for 2018 by just saying “Happy New Year, man.” He had been playing the Twitter game a little in the second half of 2017 but turned it up in the beginning of 2018 when he was prepping to return.

 

Meanwhile, Gargano secured his first NXT title championship opportunity against Andrade Cien Almas at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia but failed to capitalize on it. Instead of interfering in the match, Ciampa showed up after a disappointed Gargano left the ring with the help of Candice LeRae — and attacked Gargano with his crutch.

Thus began a year-long story arc that is still going! And technically was the latest chapter in their entire NXT storyline.

Ciampa and Gargano went back and forth at each other, both directly and indirectly. Ciampa caused Gargano to be released from NXT on Feb 21, but Gargano was allowed back in after he beat Ciampa bloody at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. From there, Gargano quickly challenged Black for the championship in an attempt to get back on track, while Ciampa continued to cement his status as uber-heel; for a time, he even entered to the crowd booing instead of any entrance music. Their “anniversary” Chicago street fight match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II this year was brutal, both physically and emotionally.

When they brought Aleister Black into the storyline, things really took a dark turn. Gargano started to feel that he could not defeat Ciampa without becoming a heel himself. He tried to cost Ciampa the championship title during a match against Black, only to end up giving the title to Ciampa during a regular NXT show that aired on July 25, shocking and surprising everyone — including Black.

Bringing Black in was a masterstroke — but more so for how they responded to a legit injury Black sustained at a house show that prevented him from fully participating in the story.  The idea had been to stage a triple threat match between Black, Ciampa, and Gargano at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV for the championship, but Black’s injury derailed that storyline. Instead, NXT went full steam ahead with Gargano’s turn to the dark side by setting up a mystery that started Aug 8 with Black being attacked outside the Full Sail arena.

General Manager William Regal focused on investigating the attack after NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV until just before NXT TakeOver: WarGames II. During this investigation, Nikki Cross claimed to know who attacked Black and told Regal (more on that below). Yet we the fans never knew the identity of the perpetrator until just before WarGames, when Gargano revealed he attacked Black, setting up a brutal match at WarGames between Black and Gargano and leaving Ciampa to continue to successfully defend his championship.

After absolving Gargano of his sins at WarGames, Black returned looking for a rematch with Ciampa, only for Gargano to demand a rematch with Black. On the Dec 5 show, Ciampa deftly manipulated both Black and Gargano into wanting a steel cage match to end things between them.

That match happened on Dec 19 — ending with a possible DIY reunion.

Throughout 2018, Ciampa demonstrated an amazing ability to play the heel in matches, in promos, and on Twitter. He seems so natural in his Psycho Killer persona and adeptly fitted it into the requirements of NXT/WWE storytelling. Meanwhile, Gargano demonstrated a natural ability to emote and connect with fans, whether as a face or a tweener. His slide to the dark side has been both logical and delicious, allowing him to flesh out his performance skills and show the world why he is Johnny Freakin’ Wrestling.

It is simply stunning that Ciampa and Gargano have built this story line on the basis of their amazing chemistry since their emergence as a put-together tag team for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic back in 2015. It has been over three years now, and their arc is the best storyline in professional wrestling right now. If they can keep it up, it may become the best storyline ever in professional wrestling. There are simply too many moments to recount in this post, and I am already fangirling too much in this entry.

Just do yourself a favor: go back to their beginning and follow their story. The journey is well worth it, and I wait with high anticipation for where the story goes in 2019. I know I am not the only one hoping for a complete DIY heel team, especially if TM61 is kaput, and I would love to see a point where DIY holds the tag team title, Ciampa has the main title, Gargano gets the North American title (even Ciampa wants that!), and LeRae gets the women’s title. Please, WWE, just let this amazing trio hold all the belts before you call them up after this year’s WrestleMania or SummerSlam and ruin them — please!?!

Shayna Baszler Can Legit Kill You (Or Me, At Least)

The Jan 10th episode started 2018’s run of new episodes, and Sahyna Baszler was there to usher in the new era of NXT. This opening match positioned her to dominate the women’s division throughout the year by showing both backstage and in-ring prowess on being able to legit kill people.

After debuting in the inaugural Mae Young Classic, Baszler made her NXT in-ring debut on this episode against Dakota Kai, who would become one of her long-running opponents after receiving a (kayfabe) broken arm after a stomp from Baszler that led to the match being called due to injury.

Not content to let the match end there, Baszler locked Kai in a coquina clutch that brought out champion Ember Moon. Baszler was thus established as the biggest heel in NXT women’s — and perhaps all of NXT — and she has played the role to a T. Every time she smiles, I worry that someone is going to die.

Throughout 2018, Baszler caused bodily harm throughout the women’s division with various opponents like Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, and Kairi Sane, who she battled with for the Women’s Championship title, leading Baszler to end the year as a two-time women’s champion. With her fellow MMA call-ups, the trio is being polished to eventually join Ronda Rousey on the main roster and complete the new Four Horsewomen stable (although Bayley, Sasha, Becky and Charlotte will always hold that title in my heart).

If Shayna goes up this year, I fear for the women of Raw and SmackDown. Heck, I would fear for the men, too, if WWE would get off their duff and let real intergender wrestling happen. She legit scares me, even though in shoot interviews she seems like a nice person I could hang with (thanks to Up Up Down Down).

The Est Becomes Established

Bianca Belair was a minor player in 2017, and even appeared in the inaugural Mae Young Classic to be defeated by the eventual winner Kairi Sane. But she really began to shine in 2018, appearing in the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania 34, and then experiencing a winning streak that saw her tear through the women’s roster at NXT. She won the NXT Universe over with her athleticism, charisma, and hair whip.

Bianca’s year ended with a win in a fatal four-way, giving her a shot at the Women’s Championship against Shayna Baszler. The whip versus the clutch. Should be quite the stiff title match.

What I like about Belair is how natural she seems at this pro wrestling thing. She has amazing power and skill, as her backstory promos have told us about her history of sports competition. But if she couldn’t actually, you know, dead lift other women and toss them aside without a thought, no amount of backstory would matter. The fact that she can do that — as well as all the other moves seen in the video above — effortlessly, and give us a great gimmick with that bullwhip of a braid means she is destined for great things in WWE. I cannot wait to see her and Naomi have a day-glo dance-off, and a triple threat of her, Becky and Charlotte would be amazing.

Just let her run with the title awhile in NXT, because she deserves to shine the bright-EST.

Nikki Cross’ Secret

As mentioned, Nikki Cross played an integral role in the Aleister Black injury angle. She knew who did it (or, per Nikki’s accent, who DEDDIT), and for weeks she stalked the ring and backstage area of NXT’s Full Sail letting everyone know she had a secret, without revealing what she knew. Not even William Regal, P.I., could get the truth out of her. This agent of chaos apparently just wanted to see what would happen when Black got back.

Cross has been a fan favorite since her arrival as part of Sanity, but when they got called up, she got left behind, allowing her to further develop her character and really shine away from their shadow. Now that she is main roster bound, hopefully they don’t dull the crazy from her character, as this wild child is a truly unique example of what women can do in professional wrestling — and by that I mean she shows women can do anything, just like men.

Anything You Can Do, the Dream Can Do Better

At the end of 2017, Velveteen Dream won the NXT Year-End Award for Rivalry of the Year with Aleister Black. This was the “Say My Name” storyline that culminated at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, when Black finally said his name.

His first appearance on May 24, 2017 confused some people (myself included — was he riffing on Prince, who wasn’t that long dead?), but he very quickly became a fan favorite after entering the feud with Black that fall. Their rivalry set the foundation for Velveteen’s elevation to superstardom in 2018 when he feuded with different people and even had a title shot against Ciampa at NXT TakeOver: WarGames II.

However, perhaps his most impressive match was against Richochet at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II. From coming out in his Hulk Hogan meets Prince Puma gear to his attempts to keep pace with and one-up Ricochet, Dream demonstrated that he can have a dream match with anyone.

Two reasons why Velveteen had a breakout year. One, he knows how to perform inside the ring. This match demonstrated that, as he went toe-to-toe with one of the best acrobatic-style wrestlers in the world. In this match it was his undoing, but his power and athleticism will serve him well throughout his career.

Two, as seen from the video, his character work is also amazing, and it shows through his mannerisms and his ring gear. The man went from being a weak contender in Tough Enough to coming up with a gender-defying gimmick that he got over thanks to his performance and costuming. The man borrows from different wrestlers, from Hogan to Rick Rude, but is wholly unique in what he creates from the pastiche.

Side note: I could seriously see him becoming the new Wesley Snipes if he wanted a job in Hollywood.

The Impossible Ricochet

I was sad to see Ricochet leave Prince Puma and Lucha Underground behind, but I am so happy to have him in the WWE Universe, as I hope it helps him earn the oodles of money he deserves.

Ricochet’s in-ring debut for NXT occurred during the ladder match to determine first ever North American Champion at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. While he failed to come away with the gold — because of course Adam Cole would — he still demonstrated that everything everyone loved about him from the indies would translate to the big show — or at least the NXT version of the big show.

Throughout 2018 Ricochet would have some seriously great matches in which he did some very superhuman things. Yet it was his feud with Velveteen Dream that really cemented who he was in NXT by creating several spectacular moments and an amazing match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II.

And this is just a sampling of it all:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-F0TPRLEMi8

I first saw that as a GIF on Twitter. My jaw dropped open upon seeing it. It still drops open with every repeat viewing. Because, seriously…how can anyone be that good!?!

Ricochet then defeated Adam Cole for North American Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV and participated in NXT TakeOver: WarGames II with the NXT Avengers of War Machine and Pete Dunne. His high flying moves have quickly made him an NXT favorite.

Hopefully he is not shoehorned with a stupid gimmick on the main roster like Adrian Neville was, taking away that man’s brilliance. Ricochet is another of those men who gravity forgot, and I would hate for him to be as forgotten by WWE creative as they did Neville.

Kyle O’Reilly’s Expressions

I am not an Undisputed Era fangirl, although I do prefer Roderick Strong as a heel than as a babyface (oh man, was he vanilla!). But I do love Kyle O’Reilly’s facial expressions.

O’Reilly is my favorite part of UE. I am always looking at him whenever another of the faction (usually Adam Cole) is speaking. When O’Reilly is in the ring, I worry for the other wrestlers, as his attacks to people’s hamstrings and knees makes my own legs buckle.

I am glad that Bobby Fish has returned so that ReDRagon can continue to have amazing tag matches in NXT. If they are called up, I hope The Revival can be revived and set up against them. Those two teams would be able to redefine WWE tag team wrestling if creative gave them half a chance.

Matt Riddle’s Flip Flops

The King of Bros made his NXT in-ring debut on Oct 31 against Luke Menzies. I like Matt Riddle,  but I am never really excited by him. I’ve seen him live and up-close at AAW, and his matches are stiff and fun, but as a character the “bro” persona leaves me cold.

But I love his entrance into the ring where he flips off his flip-flops. That little touch could make him a big WWE star because it both encapsulates everything he is as a professional wrestler — both in terms of his move set and character — while also just being so damn cool I could see fans being willing to pay just to see it.

Plus, how can WWE not capitalize on it by selling Bro Flip-Flops in 2019?

Come Back Any Time, Prince Pretty

On Dec 12, Richochet held an open call to defend his North American Championship. In the weeks leading up to the match, people wondered which new NXT recruit it could be.

Then Prince Pretty’s entrance music started and Tyler Breeze returned to Full Sail to meet Ricochet in the ring.

Everyone in attendance was so happy to see their favorite wrestler/supermodel return — including me. Breeze and Tye Dillinger are those two NXT favorites who just haven’t gotten enough attention on the main roster. At least Breeze was able to make magic with Fandango by creating the Fashion Police, and his regular appearances on Up Up Down Down further cement him as a cult favorite.

But damn was it nice to see him wrestle again. This match with Ricochet helped remind everyone that there was a time when we loved to watch Breeze wrestle, and that Prince Pretty was not just a gimmick character but a highly skilled in-ring performer.

It also helped to highlight the fears of many NXT fan, to see a favorite return from the doldrums of WWE. I hope WWE creative was watching this match, to be reminded of what Breeze can do in-ring. This man can shine if only you let him. Until then, just let him come back to NXT every now and then to work out the ring rust. We will always be glad to see him. And have him bring along Dillinger, too.

Steaks and Weights

Two big burly men: Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight. These two guys should not be able to do the things they can do, and yet they do every time they enter the ring together as Heavy Machinery. And I love them for it. I hope they don’t go the way of all the other great NXT tag teams that I loved when they get to the main roster.

Heavy Machinery encapsulates everything that is great about NXT. Two exciting characters who seem like they are always having fun, both in the ring and in their promos, who also have great wrestling skills and matches that get the fans behind them. They are, to my understanding, what WWE has always tried to have: great sports entertainers, in every facet of the industry.

So when they get to the main roster, don’t waste them, WWE.

And That Is That

I loved NXT in 2018. But I also loved NXT in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. It always brightens my week to watch the show, and they always seem to find some way to make my heart sing. I look forward to what, and who, they bring in 2019.

For now, just let Ciampa and Gargano form heel DIY — and then call them up as a way to reset them back to faces.

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (July 30, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: auburnpub.com

Wow wow wow good wrestling fans. Have we got a lot to talk about this week! Unlike previous installments, my thoughts for each category this week are more general. I am currently in the midst of a move out of the city (Chicago) to Evanston, so admittedly I didn’t have the sharpest eye to wrestling these last couple of weeks. But nonetheless, let’s get into it.

The Good
All. Women’s. Pay-per-view!

Did y’all hear me?

I popped so hard when Stephanie McMahon made that magical announcement. There is so much good that can come of this event. As per the announcement, all women’s titles will be defended that night, and we will also see the finals of the Mae Young Classic. In addition, female Superstars of the past will join in for the fun as well. The latter is especially exciting, because we could see nostalgia rivalries revived (Trish vs. Mickie anyone?) as well as dream match-ups between past and present performers — can you imagine Lita vs. Nikki Cross?!

Image credit: fanbuzz.com

Outside of all of the dream matches we can imagine in the next two months, the other major good in this is that it will (hopefully) mean that all of WWE’s women will get some screen time, and in turn, a payday. This could be WrestleMania to the women’s division every year, if WWE plays their cards right. Having several hours to work with will allow the women to actually take their time to work through matches, which is a luxury they usually aren’t afforded on pay-per-views with men. Let’s just hope they don’t try to do too much, or else fans will leave Evolution feeling just as cheated as they do any other pay-per-view in relation to the women.

With each milestone the women reach in WWE, I wonder when fans will pull back the curtain and demand that women receive the same pay as men, since they essentially perform at the same level as them now. But that’s a post for another day.

Aside from the historic news, one more good thing I noted these past few weeks was Sasha Banks’ performance in that now infamous backstage promo with Bayley. We’ll get into the promo and the fallout in the next section, but I don’t want people to sleep on Sasha’s performance in that isolated segment.

GIF credit: estboss4life.tumblr.com

People have often criticized the women, and often Sasha herself, for lack of promo skills, but in this segment Sasha showed that she took extra credit courses in Dusty Rhodes’ “promo class” in NXT. The sheer conviction in her voice, the shaky, near-tears intonation of her words — you really felt that she believed the words she was saying, and that’s rare on WWE TV, no matter the gender of the speaker. We need more segments like this for the women, and my hope is that we see them continue, especially in the buildup to Evolution.

The Bad
You know, I almost wish I could have written this post before RAW last week, when I and the rest of the fandom still had a bit of innocence about the Sasha/Bayley segment.

I liveblog RAW and Smackdown Live every week on Tumblr, and let me tell you, the fandom was a mess after Sasha uttered that first “I love you.” In the aftermath of the promo, I was swept into a whirlwind of theories as to where the feud was going. Was this going to be a gay romance storyline? Is this bait for one of them to turn heel? Was this done to spike ratings or re-ignite intrigue in this agonizingly long feud? Sometimes, WWE successfully throws fans for a loop, and regardless of our opinions of what exactly the loop in question is, that’s worthy of some praise.

However, and this is a big however, if the next week on RAW we just have the two squash two other local jobbers and have the announcers heavily friendzone the two in their commentary (using words like “sisters” and “friends”), why are we supposed to care about what happened the last week? We are being told that the two are only “friends,” and yet their body language last week spoke more than platonic.

My question is this: for as long as fans have invested in this feud, if this isn’t leading to a match, why should we care?

We as wrestling fans know that this sport is centered on matches. And anything that doesn’t lead to a match between the rivaling parties is almost always filler. A waste of our time. SummerSlam is truly the last hope for this feud, if you could even call it that anymore. I’m hoping that one of them turns heel and challenges the other at SummerSlam. The sell would be that it is the final match in their saga, in the same city where they tore the house down three years earlier in NXT. It couldn’t be a more poetic end to the feud, and then WWE can finally free each woman to go her own way. But is poetry too much to expect from Creative with this feud? Probably.

The Thorny
For the Thorny section, we venture over to Smackdown Live. I don’t have a fair amount to say about the action itself that took place on either week, but I now have some concrete evidence for the argument I made in this section in my last post.

Image credit: popculture.com

Becky is the new number one contender for the Smackdown Live women’s title. That’s great for her. It certainly has been a long time coming, as I’ve alluded to in previous posts.

But here’s the thing. She’s getting a title shot, and if WWE was smart, they would let Becky take the title off Carmella. They may not do it at SummerSlam, but with Becky’s momentum, it is inevitable in many fans’ eyes. The problem lies in that Becky is getting this shot after Asuka. Becky, who arguably went on a losing streak on the main roster simultaneously with Asuka’s winning streak in NXT, is getting a title shot after Asuka failed for some reason to capture the title. I would have been fine with Becky getting her push if Asuka was the champion, because that would have meant that WWE would have given Asuka the respect she deserved from all of her hard work in NXT. But not only has Asuka lost both title matches she was a contender for, she lost by foolish means both times.

This is what I mean when I say that certain women are not given the same chances in WWE. Between Asuka, Becky, and Carmella, Asuka is probably the superior. This could be argued from a fan standpoint, but in-storyline, it’s a fact. There is no viable, logical reason for Asuka to lose to someone like Carmella, even with interference. Asuka has been buried on the main roster, like so many other women of color when they were becoming just a little too popular.

And before you try to argue me by saying, “Well, white women can be buried too!” — I’d like to point out that while some white women may not be given as much screen time as others, if you look closely, rarely are they ever “buried.” They simply rotate in and out of the spotlight. Becky was in the background for a while, but she’s returning to the light. For women of color, it’s different.

Burying a woman of color is not putting her on TV if you have no plans for her (e.g. Alicia Fox) or her novelty wears off (e.g. Naomi and, inevitably, Ember Moon). Burying a woman of color means making her title reigns short and forgettable (e.g. Nia Jax and Sasha Banks). Burying a woman of color is making her lose crucial matches that would elevate her above her white counterparts if she gained victory (e.g. Asuka). When women of color are buried in WWE, it means setting them up to fail, or reach only modest success at best.

Image credit: gunshyghosts.tumblr.com

As much as I want to be happy for Becky getting a title shot, I have to stop myself. Because I cannot separate her rise coming at the expense of a woman of color being held back. And you shouldn’t either. We can’t say “Oh, I don’t mind that Carmella is champion, but WWE is treating Asuka unfairly,” because those two things are directly related.

If women of color are going to truly be given equal chances, we have to start correlating the success of our white faves with the suppression of our black and brown ladies.

***

SummerSlam is right around the corner, folks! And as certain as it is, I will be back here in two weeks to unpack the lead-up for you all.

Wish me luck on my move!

Stay legit bossy,
AC