Nylons and Midriffs: Push or Pull (December 4, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

I believe I can speak for us all when I say that we were fed very well over the last week — both literally and figuratively (in terms of wrestling, of course). Because I am sure many of us took a little break from wrestling due to Thanksgiving, I am going to focus the WWE portions of this post on the pay-per-views that just passed: NXT Takeover: War Games and Survivor Series.

AEW, on the other hand, I will discuss as normal.

It seems at the moment that both promotions are focused on pushing certain female stars pretty hard, but holding (or pulling) back on others. It creates a strange balance for each women’s division that has lead to a power imbalance between main eventers and their potential challengers. Let’s dive right in.

The Good
AEW/NXT War Games: The women’s War Games match was stellar. Absolutely stunningly put together and performed by each woman. The match truly had everything: conniving heel action, suspense, drama, a power struggle, and a happy ending.

Obviously, the star of this match was Rhea Ripley. This match is one that I truly believe we will look back on as the moment that Rhea became a star. Her power, her agility, and her innovation throughout this match threaded everything together.

But, she wasn’t in the match with a bunch of stiffs. Bianca Belair, Candice LeRae, and Io Shirai also carried their weight. Bianca was able to match Rhea’s strength; her three powerbombs to Candice had me yelling at my TV in awe! Candice showed the heart that makes her character as lovable as Bayley’s NXT persona once was. And Io was both intelligent and high-risk with her spots — I mean, that moonsault from the top of the cage? Chef’s kiss.

Oh, and we mustn’t forget about the shenanigans between Dakota Kai and Tegan Nox. Dakota’s beatdown of her beloved friend was one of the most believeable I’ve seen in some time.

The way she continuously slammed the cage door into Tegan’s recovered leg was uncomfortable to watch, particularly because of how well Tegan sold it. You’d think Dakota was breaking her leg with the bloody murder Tegan was screaming. I am very excited to see what Dakota becomes in the months to come.

On the AEW side, I feel things are sort of at a standstill. Nothing bad is happening per se, and the wrestling is by all accounts good. Last week’s tag match featuring Emi Sakura and Bea Priestley along with Hikaru Shida and newcomer Kristen Stadtlander had a slow start, but more energetic finish.

With repeated exposure, I am beginning to understand the characters of the division. But, as we’ll get into in the next section, I’m beginning to wonder if that’s enough.

Survivor Series: The best part of Survivor Series to me was the traditional elimination match. I worried that the number of women involved in the match would hamper its quality with squash-like eliminations. But, each woman at least had a decent showing before they were eliminated. Not only this, but there were a few minutes between each elimination as well, something that previous women’s Survivor Series matches (with fewer participants mind you) did not achieve.

While I vehemently disagree with the booking of this match, I enjoyed that each woman felt important to the match in her own way.

And of course, I would be remiss to leave out Rhea Ripley from this discussion. I think it’s great that she is being put over so strongly as a future star of all three women’s divisions in WWE. It’s refreshing to see a woman put over for her in-ring talent over more superficial things, such as her appearance, her family relations, or mic skills (although Rhea’s are great!). Rhea’s rise feels more organic, like we actually want it, rather than WWE telling us to want it like they so often do.

Stars are made with weekends like the one that Rhea just had. I am clamoring for other women to have a moment similar to hers.

The Bad
AEW/NXT War Games: What I’m currently longing for with the AEW women’s division is more opportunity for the women to get themselves over. Jim Ross mentioned on commentary last week that many of the Asian women on the roster only speak English as a second language. Because of that, I think it is likely that producers are hesitant to let any of them speak on a live mic.

However, there are a decent number of women who do speak English as a first language that aren’t even afforded the opportunity to speak week in and week out. Please correct me in the comments if I am wrong, but I believe the only women we’ve heard speak on an AEW broadcast are Britt Baker and Brandi Rhodes. Although Chris Jericho cuts a promo at least once a week, Riho isn’t even on TV every edition of Dynamite.

Promos, or more plainly the act of speaking, is the wrestler’s opportunity to connect with the audience. To get over. Particularly for a division that is not depending on indie-recognition to get itself over with fans, it is all the more important to let the women get their characters across to viewers. Otherwise, to new fans like me, it just looks like people wearing costumes throwing each other around a ring. Life must be breathed into every woman, English speaking or not.

As for NXT War Games, there isn’t a bad thing to say.

Survivor Series: I loathed the booking of the traditional elimination match. Absolutely hated it. And even though I’ve since simmered down from watching the match play out live, I still maintain that the finish of this match defied logic. I’ll explain.

Firstly, there’s the fact that Io Shirai and Candice LeRae weren’t able to really compete in the match. While I will admit it made sense for those two to be the ones to miss out, because they began the War Games match the night before, it still ultimately meant that the level of wrestling in the match was instantly diminished with less NXT talent in there.

Second, there is the frustration that two of NXT’s competitors were essentially taken out of the match only to return later. Trick or not, I feel that WWE too inconsistently enforces the whole Fake Injury in the Middle of a Match thing for me to believe that both Io and Candice were allowed to simply return to the match without incident. Becky Lynch was allowed to just enter the Royal Rumble this year because of Lana’s injury, and it was debated in storyline for weeks whether or not she was an official entrant in the match. But particularly in that instance, Lana was taken out of the match because she went to the back. When things like this happen, it makes me wish WWE had a rulebook. But then I remember that WWE likely hasn’t implemented this for the very reason the angle took place at Survivor Series: so they can bend their unspoken rules when it’s convenient.

And lastly, I did not like this booking because to me, it made NXT seem like the heels of the match. This was a screwy finish that essentially made it look like NXT thought they needed to cheat to win, which is what heels do. I get that they were being led by a “Cerebral Assassin.” I still feel that this potentially made NXT look weak and conniving when they really didn’t need it, especially when they were being led by a defiant babyface like Rhea.

The only potential upside is that this finish protected the main roster most convincingly. It took NXT scheming a bit to get rid of Sasha Banks, and the main roster teams can (in kayfabe) claim that they didn’t lose fair and square.

Ultimately, if NXT is going to be involved annually with Survivor Series, they should shift War Games to another part of the year. This might have worked this year, but it can’t every year.

I know I’ve spoken at great length about the elimination match, but I did want to touch briefly on the women’s champion triple threat. The match was very underwhelming, and played out predictably.

I wanted desperately to love this match, but it just never kicked into that higher gear to make it a main event caliber match. It was sliggish at parts, and if I’m being honest, Shayna just didn’t seem to gel with Becky and Bayley in the ring.

The star of this match was Bayley, who had a great showing throughout the match. But of course, as the feud led us to believe, she was the one to take the pinfall. And after Shayna’s big win, topping off the night for NXT, Becky effectively stole the spotlight from her.

I did not like the way they booked Becky at the end of this match. It was almost as if Triple H convinced the bookers to let NXT take the night, but WWE execs at the last minute were like “Okay, but we gotta keep Becky looking strong.” She acted very cocky here, beating up Shayna and holding out her arms at her sides soaking in the cheers from the crowd. Had a heel done this, WWE would expect us to boo them. But because it was Becky, we were supposed to…..accept it? Well, I don’t. And I don’t think you should, either.

If you’re going to have Becky lose, just have her lose. Especially since Bayley wasn’t afforded the same luxury in this match.

The Thorny
I am simply unsure where things are going right now for the women in either promotion. I’m not sure if it is because it’s the end of the year, but it just seems like things are going nowhere. Matches are made and wrestled just for the sake of it, with no clear storylines or rivalries tying them together.

Rhea Ripley has been the through-line of most of the discussion here surrounding WWE, but we can use her as a general example for both promotions. What WWE is doing with Rhea right now is how you effectively build a star, a new challenger for a title. People are saying that she’s being pushed strongly, but when I was growing up, her treatment was simply the norm for pushing people in any division. Give them dominant victories. Let them cut promos. Invest in them in the most basic way.

While AEW cannot seem to let their women speak, WWE can’t seem to let more than a handful of their women win or look strong at any given time. And that is why we have no clear challengers for any women’s title across either promotion. Nearly every woman should be given the support that a Charlotte, a Rhea, a Becky, or even a Shayna has. But instead we wait, and we watch, and we hope that our lesser-pushed faves will get a shot one day.

One of the better things about the women’s wrestling of the aughts was that the majority of the women on a given roster could at least say they’d won their division’s title more than once. Now, it seems like a gift to any woman to win a championship one time, if at all. We must continue being honest with ourselves about this if it will one day change. Complacency will only become the norm if we let it.

***

Nearing the end of the year, it is time to start thinking about what we’ve all accomplished this year, and what we hope to achieve in the next. I can only hope the wrestling world is starting think critically about their 2020 vision for women’s wrestling.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

 

Nylons and Midriffs: East Coast, West Coast (November 20, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

As we round the corner toward the holidays, I find myself becoming a little burnt out from a tumultuous year for wrestling fans and journalists alike. We’re nearing Survivor Series, and it is usually after this pay-per-view that WWE starts to relent on their break-neck sprint through pay-per-views to end the year. But, with All Elite Wrestling only just coming off the heels of their first proper pay-per-view after debuting on TV, WWE may not have the option to slow down during the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

That said, I think both promotions are doing great things with their respective women’s divisions. As with anything, though, there is always room for improvement, hence why we’re here week after week! First, let me discuss with you all the beauties (pun intended) that we’ve come across in AEW and NXT in these last two weeks.

The Good
AEW/NXT: I have many scattered thoughts about the excellent wrestling and storyline development I’ve seen in both promotions since I last wrote. I want to first talk about them individually, and then together to point out a coincidental — but positive — thing that both divisions are excelling at right now.

As far as AEW, I am pleased now that we are now entering a phase of television where we can see repeat characters on screen, with new women still showing themselves bit by bit. In the tag match featuring Jamie Hayter and Emmy Sakura versus champion Riho and Shanna, I got more of an idea of each woman’s persona and the stories that they try to consistently tell in their matches. This is what I’ve been wanting from AEW for the past few posts, is for a bit more story to be told with a level of continuity. I absolutely loved the sequence between Riho and her former trainer Emmy to end the match; so smooth and amazing I was actually yelling at my TV in awe watching their grace! I am sad to say that I was unable to see their meeting at Full Gear, but if it was anything like what we saw in that match, I am positive it tore the house down.

In other areas of the division, we saw the return of Nyla Rose and Awesome Kong, the former of which I was beginning to get worried was only used as a diversity trophy of sorts for Dynamite’s big premiere. Seeing both of them return on the same episode of Dynamite made me realize that, just by their shared presence in the division, AEW’s women’s division may be more believable than WWE’s. For example, if Nyla Rose were to ever win the women’s title, she would have believable competition in her weight class to challenge her in the form of Awesome Kong.

Nylons and Midriffs: War and Peace (November 6, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: newsweek.com

It has been a bittersweet couple of weeks, friends. I feel very conflicted, seeing both the highest of highs as far as women’s wrestling, as well as lowest of lows as far as some of the problematic developments since the previous edition of Nylons.

My suitcase is full of thoughts, so let us start unpacking them together.

The Good
NXT/AEW: I am still enjoying the women’s wrestling of All Elite Wrestling, even if it is few and far between (more on that in the next section). Right now, I feel that with each new woman that shows her face on weekly TV, I’m getting a deeper sense of the holistic identity of their women’s division. Every woman seems to have their own style and in-ring presentation, that makes each woman distinct in a way that’s different than WWE. It feels almost reminiscent of WWE’s Attitude Era in that the women feel like independent and unique entities that choose to compete for a specific company, rather than a company trying to mold them into a specific shape or brand, like NXT intends to.

If you watch WWE long enough, you figure out that their ultimate goal (and some would argue, particularly with NXT) is to make each wrestler signature to their own brand and style. It’s all about getting wrestlers to assimilate to WWE’s specific presentation of “sports entertainment.” WWE acts as a parent that tells you, “You’re free to express yourself — just not like that.”

In AEW, it genuinely feels that the women are not constricted in that way. They feel fluid and rough around the edges. And that, so far, is what I really like about their women.

As far as NXT? OH BABY. For the women, NXT had a near-perfect two weeks. Let me just talk a little bit about each of the best things we saw.

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

Image credit: tntdrama.com

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.”

Image credit: pinterest.com

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…

***

Until next time!

Stay legit bossy,

AC