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: We Witnessed An Evolution (Evolution Review: October 31, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: TheSportster.com

I’m still on a high, friends. If you are expecting this to be an overly critical, borderline cynical blog post as is the usual with Nylons, you may want to read elsewhere this week.

In this post we’re going to celebrate the triumph that was the WWE Evolution pay-per-view. Let’s get right into it because I want to gush.

First, I’ll address the elephant in the room and say that undoubtedly, this pay-per-view was thrown together at the last minute. WWE Creative procrastinated on the build for this show like a high schooler on a midterm exam that woke up the day of the test and remembered that they needed to study. The battle royal and six-woman tag match contained SO much talent that deserved more, and even a few that could have feasibly had storylines developed with what little they were doing every week — if WWE actually tried.

But alas, that did not happen, and we had the likes of Naomi, Ember Moon, Asuka, Sasha Banks, and Bayley — any combination of which could have easily tore the house down — stuck into throwaway matches. It was very disheartening to see as fans of each of these ladies.

And yet, despite the lack of build, despite people not being hyped for the show going into it, despite all of the odds stacked against these ladies — they still managed to put on one hell of a show for us. Evolution reminded me why I love women so much. Women throughout history have had to make the best of what they were given and find a way to survive and thrive. We are resourceful creatures that consistently overcome adversity with both grace and anger. And when we do, it is almost always for the betterment of society. If men had to put up with the curveballs and criticism that women do just to navigate the world today, well, frankly I don’t think many of them would be woman enough to handle it.

But I digress. On to the show!

The Good
I wanted to dedicate a small section of this to some of the small details that made the viewing experience for home audiences wonderful. First, whatever the reason may have been for the smaller stage setup and blacked-out audience, I actually dug it. It made the show feel more intimate, like I was watching a private wrestling event, as silly as that sounds. I felt closer to all of the women in the ring and focused on what they were doing, rather than the sea of faces in the arena.

The production was also excellent. One example of this that really stuck out was when Zelina Vega was in the ring celebrating her battle royal “victory,” the way the camera so closely focused on her. This made the inevitable pan over to Nia breathing over her shoulder all the more hilarious when she was finally revealed. The camera angles were on point for most of the night, following the often frantic pace of the competitors in the ring.

All in all, visually this pay-per-view stands apart from every other show, which will likely make it more memorable in the future.

The Bad
The only negative thing I have to say about Evolution itself was the perpetual mention of all of the “men who have supported” the evolution of women’s wrestling in WWE. We were cautioned to not forget about the men who “helped” get us here. And to that I say: bullshit. Excuse my swearing. But on this night, of all nights, women didn’t need to be patronized.

Yes, we know the backstage politics of it all. We know that ultimately, men (namely Triple H) had to be the ones to pull the trigger on pushing the women’s division as a whole. But, it is really disingenuous of WWE to forcefully suggest that there were men supporting this “all along.” There’s no way that could be true, because if it was, it wouldn’t have taken this long to get to this point, when there are entire wrestling promotions across the world devoted to women’s wrestling.

Even if there were men who supported pushing the division, for too long, not enough of them did. Too few men in the course of WWE history were willing to speak up or put their necks out there for the women. Not enough men cared enough to say something.

So that was a minor low in what was otherwise a brilliant night of wrestling.

And now, on to the wrestling!

Trish Stratus & Lita vs. Mickie James & Alicia Fox (with Alexa Bliss)

Image credit: hardiacarrest.tumblr.com

Hearing Lillian Garcia’s voice to open the show and then the infamous giggle of Trish’s entrance music transported me back to my childhood. This was a perfect start to the show, getting an already hot crowd ready for what was to come. Much ado has been made online about Alicia Fox replacing Alexa Bliss due to injury. And I won’t lie, they’re valid, especially given Alicia’s glaring pinfall breakup botch.

But, as many fans know and the announcers mentioned, Alicia is the longest-tenured woman on the roster, and regardless of her in-ring ability (which is still on the whole leaps and bounds better than 5 years ago), that feat in itself demands respect. She deserved a spotlight on this pay-per-view. Everything happens for a reason, and perhaps Alexa’s injury came at the right time to give Alicia her shine. And it doesn’t hurt that it also put a woman of color in a marquee match, something that the show definitely lacked.

It was wonderful to see Trish and Lita in the ring again to hit all of their signature moves. It was fabulous to see Trish and Mickie stand eye-to-eye. Although Lita was less fluid than Trish in the ring, both ladies hit their spots and provided the crowd with a nice, feel-good start to the show.

The Battle Royal
I loved that each woman was given her entrance in this match! Battle royals have truly evolved from the days of the women just strolling down the ramp to generic pop or rock music. In doing this, every woman felt special and worthy of our attention. And the pop for each woman was insane. It was shocking and heartwarming all at once and just showed that people truly love each of these women as the individuals they are. I know I was at home singing along with every theme!

Image credit: WWE.com

As I spoke in the beginning about how women have to make the best of often the worst situations, the battle royal was the biggest evidence of this resolve on the show. By now, the women have battle royals down to an exact science. Even if I wanted more for so many of them, they collectively found a way to make the match inventive and give us at least one memorable spot in each. That quadruple vertical suplex spot was incredible!

The women of the past gave way to the present Superstars and I felt that was fitting, considering the name of the pay-per-view. Ivory in particular was so fun to watch, especially during her “dance break” with Carmella.

I enjoyed that the final four women were women of color, because as I mentioned earlier, significant WOC representation was lacking on this show (consider that pretty much all the women of color on the main roster were crammed into this match or the six-woman tag). Like many fans online, I was pulling for Ember, because WWE has absolutely wasted her since calling her up from NXT. She needed this victory the most, perhaps even more than Asuka. But, in the end I am okay with the result if it means that a competitor I like more is spared from being fed to Ronda. In my opinion, I think Ember deserves a first feud better than just Ronda.

Surprisingly good match overall.

Mae Young Classic Finals: Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai
Full disclosure, I did not watch any of the MYC. But, from fanfare about these two wrestlers online, I was fully expecting a technical masterpiece. And it delivered. A lot of people were disappointed with the length of this match, but I honestly did not consider this in my critique in the match until I heard others discuss it online. To me, it isn’t so much the time you’re given as much as what you do with it. This match felt longer than 10 minutes in my mind because I was so gripped by the action.

The bumps and dives these women took deserve applause. I am amazed that they managed to fit in so much offense in 10 minutes. I have no bias toward either performer, but I do hope that Io gets the same opportunities as Toni in the future, even if she isn’t the young, smiley, blonde white woman that WWE historically gives the world to.

Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Natalya vs. The Riott Squad
While it was the match that probably hurt me the most personally as a Sasha Banks fan, this match was still better than expected. I’d really like to give a shout to the Riott Squad in this match. If you need a match to convince you that the Riott Squad is a legitimate faction that can seamlessly communicate and methodically take down opponents, watch this display. Their teamwork is hardly matched across the product, and I enjoyed watching them work their opponents in their corner.

The faces as well were sharp, selling beautifully for the heels and providing exciting comeback sequences. Sasha looked very sharp, but Bayley and Natalya weren’t far behind. Natalya’s double sharpshooter?! Only a Hart would dream up such a thing!

Despite my ultimate approval of the result, at this point I wonder how much longer the Riott Squad can lose and be taken seriously. Even I feel sorry for them at this point. Just let them win something already!

NXT Women’s Championship: Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler

Image credit: wrestlingnews.co

Yikes, guys. This match made me cringe. I’ve not seen a female heel like Shayna Baszler in a long time. A comparison that comes to mind is Jazz (“The bitch is back, and the bitch is black!”). She differs from someone like Becky Lynch in that while Becky is hotheaded and simply wants the spotlight to prove she’s the best, Shayna plays up more of a sadistic heel persona. She seems to simply enjoy punishing her opponents. No fame. No glory. Just…mean. And that is exactly what she was to Kairi in this match.

No credit should be taken from Kairi, though, as she was still brilliant and had some great spots, like that crossbody from the top turnbuckle to the outside. Even if her gimmick does not reflect it, Kairi is a serious competitor when pushed to her mental limits.

But for me, the actual star of this match was Shayna. The way she relentlessly wore down Kairi’s arm throughout the match was hard to watch at points. The image stuck in my mind is when Shayna dangled Kairi by one arm for seconds only to drop her effortlessly was just savage. I am okay with Shayna holding the NXT belt and solidifying her reign down in NXT, while I hope Kairi is called up to the main roster.

Smackdown Women’s Championship: Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair
Intense. Powerful. Spectacular. Never been done before. Just some of the words and phrases I can use to describe the excellence of this match. This is a Match of the Year candidate, without question. It had everything that makes for a classic wrestling bout: storytelling, emotion, build, climax, and an ending that made sense.

Image credit: sportskeeda.com

Outside of the minor hiccups throughout the match, such as a missed moonsault-through-a-table spot and the referee kicking Becky a chair, the magic of it was that fans truly had no idea who would win. Toward the end, I genuinely thought that they would let Charlotte walk away with this win, Flair princess as she is. But she didn’t win. She lost fair and square to Becky, because Becky outsmarted the Queen. She used Charlotte’s own desperation against her to turn a potential moonsault into a powerbomb through a table. And we all cheered Becky’s win, because finally someone was allowed to be better than Charlotte in the end. Finally, Becky was able to prove that she is that damn good.

Go and watch this match if you haven’t. I honestly believe that it will be remembered with the fondness of some WrestleMania matches from decades gone by. And certainly a landmark in the history of women’s wrestling in WWE.

RAW Women’s Championship: Ronda Rousey vs. Nikki Bella
To be honest, I don’t have a ton to say about this match. I understand the need to have the first all-women’s pay-per-view end with a face on top, but we all know what the true main event was.

My feelings about the Bellas and Ronda have been well-documented in Nylons, so I’ll spare you the dissertation and try to focus on the match. It was pretty by-the-numbers, with Ronda selling for much of the match to Nikki only to make a triumphant face comeback to win the match. I’ve seen complaints online about Ronda playing defense too much in this match, but I did not mind this. In fact, I welcomed it.

Image credit: SportzMode.com

Ronda can’t run through her opponents in squash matches forever. That will get old, and fans will turn on her at some point. She has to show vulnerability, especially to a veteran like Nikki who, like it or not, carried much of this match. I thought Nikki looked great here and was a perfect opponent for Ronda at her current skill level (I don’t think she would have looked as good if she faced someone like Asuka, for example). I think fans should be equally concerned about Ronda making more experienced performers look weak as they are about killing whatever “magic” Ronda has with her UFC background by allowing her to sell.

I will say this though: Ronda needs to continue to train. WWE is not UFC. The moves are different. The intent of every strike is different. Ronda can’t continue to snap opponents over her shoulder with such carelessness, even if it looks cool. She needs to learn more than just a few power moves from UFC if she’s going to “earn the respect” of the fans like she claimed she wanted when she originally joined WWE. And most importantly, she needs to do it so she won’t seriously injure any of her opponents in the future.

To wrap things up, I think this match was as good as it could be, given the story and competitors involved. It served it’s purpose, and now we can move on to other feuds.

***

So where do we go now? Will Evolution continue to be an annual show that grows every year? Will WWE learn from their mistakes this year and start the build for the pay-per-view earlier next year?

After the sun set on Evolution, one thing has become clear: WWE have an incredibly talented roster of women on their hands. They deserve every ounce of energy the writers can give them every week. The stakes are higher than ever now. WWE needs to prove that the women matter 365 days a year, not just on a single night when they deem them worthy. As Alundra Blayze said, “Evolution is a moving word.” So let us keep moving.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (October 15, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

Image credit: Forbes.com

Greetings and salutations good wrestling fans. I can’t believe this will be the last post before Evolution. It is mind-boggling how fast this year is going, and how quickly this “monumental” pay-per-view is approaching. I’m not sure WWE knows this either…hm. Let’s talk a bit about that, shall we?

The Good
Before I become too critical about the lackluster build to Evolution, I would like to take time in this section to discuss one positive: the sheer number of women’s segments on Raw and Smackdown Live over the last several weeks. I’m talking upwards of two to three segments some weeks.

Image credit: WWE’s YouTube channel

Nia and Ember wrestling, the Riott Squad continuing to be prominent figures week on week, Bayley and Alicia Fox getting visibility — I’ve found myself actually raising an eyebrow to this increase in segments for the women as I watch every week. Outside of that being pathetic, as this should be the norm, it did give me hope. It does show that WWE can give their female roster attention when they try. Which makes it more obvious that when they don’t, it is a conscious decision.

The Bad
However, now that we are getting to see more female faces on our screens every week, we now get to see WWE’s weaknesses when it comes to female storytelling. Or, more specifically, their inability to focus energy toward multiple storylines at one time.

A well-documented gripe in Nylons, it never ceases to amaze me how the writing teams at WWE can so consistently drop the ball with developing female characters. While I am very happy to see more women onscreen on weekly TV, I scratch my head at the material they are given to work with. Or, the randomness of the matchups they are thrown into.

For example, why are Bayley and Alicia Fox in some sort of feud now? Do they have history? Why don’t they like each other? Were they just arbitrarily made to wrestle each other multiple times on TV because the Mixed Match Challenge needs promoting?

Another example: Asuka and Naomi versus the IIconics. Is there a pinpoint-able reason that the IIconics chose Asuka and Naomi to feud with?

And overarching all of these “rivalries” is the question: why do these women keep facing the same people week after week with no tangible payoff or storyline progression? Matches have to mean something. If people just wrestled every week and then went home, WWE wouldn’t be where it is today, and we certainly would not love it as much as we do. It seems that many of the women on the roster are just wrestling in circles, not getting anywhere.

Also, I’ve had little chance to talk about this in other posts, but it bears mentioning. WWE’s ineptitude with women’s storytelling is also evident with the sudden heel or face turns of certain women in the undercard. Two women that come to mind are Nia Jax and Carmella. Nia was a face in her feud with Alexa Bliss up until WrestleMania, then some sort of tweener in her feud with Ronda Rousey, then she lost the title and was MIA for a bit, and now she’s back on Raw as a…face? Is there a reason why she can’t definitively be one or the other? Carmella is an even stranger case. She was one of the most effective heels on the roster as Snackdown Women’s Champion, but then lost the title, dyed her hair auburn, and is now face in a partnership with R-Truth. (Again, an MMC pairing being brought to weekly TV.)

Image credit: SEScoops.com

When wrestlers are flip flopped between good or bad with no explanation, it robs fans the opportunity to sympathize with their characters. We are not allowed time to understand their motivations, or what drives their characters to good or bad. This is Character Building 101, and it helps audiences care. I desperately want to care about so many of the women in WWE, but to do that I have to be given something to sink my teeth into. I can’t be left salivating without a plate.

The Thorny
We are now only two weeks away from Evolution. We currently have three matches that have been announced (excluding the matches for the NXT women’s title and Mae Young Classic final). This is, to my knowledge, going to be a full-length pay-per-view. The matches that have been announced so far encompass all of the rumored matches and competitors set to headline the pay-per-view in marquee matches: Nikki Bella vs. Ronda Rousey, Trish Stratus and Lita versus Alexa Bliss and Mickie James, and Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte in a Last Woman Standing Match. I’m excited for two of the three of those matches, but more nervous for what the rest of the card will look like. We are down to the wire, folks. If people are going to invest money into buying this pay-per-view, they need to know what their money is buying.

Image credit: skysports.com

What I am getting at here is the idea that certain women are allowed to take up space before others. Some women are allowed to simply take up more space than others.

A good example to illustrate this is the Charlotte/Becky feud. I love the way this feud is unfolding, the work that both women are doing, and how important the women’s title feels on Smackdown Live. Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how vapid the rest of the division feels in comparison. It seems that Creative is pouring all of its ideas into this single feud.

This phenomenon is reminiscent of the Charlotte/Sasha Banks feud that dominated 2016. That feud will undoubtedly go down as one of the best in history, but it also seemed to suck the life out of the division. I cannot recall a single other women’s feud that was happening in the midst of Charlotte and Sasha swapping the gold. I don’t find it coincidental that the common denominator in both feuds is a certain blonde Nature Girl.

It is unfortunate that we’re seeing who WWE will leave behind in the process of putting over the most marketable women. With just 13 days to build the majority of the show, where do the Nias, Embers, and Asukas stand? I want to feel anticipation for this pay-per-view, but despite what WWE tries to convince us, a show is not made by mainstream stars and nostalgia acts. We want wrestling. As a fan, I beg that WWE gives us that.

***

WWE has a knack for surprising us with memorable moments when we least expect them. I am hoping that the secrecy about the rest of the card means that they have something special in store for Evolution. My next post will give you all the blow by blow on the show. Until then!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: What’s Happening in Women’s Wrestling (September 4, 2018)

Fan Reviews, Nylons and Midriffs

Many greetings to you, wrestling fans near and far. I hope those of you in the U.S. had an enjoyable Labor Day weekend. As I’m sure we’re all still trying to digest all of the savory barbecue and appetizers we ate this weekend, I won’t give you too much to swallow with this post.

But boy, is there some meat and potatoes to get into over the next few weeks…

The Good
Heel Becky. Yes, they actually did it! WWE turned Becky Lynch heel, and I gotta tell you, although I had my reservations about making Becky the heel in her inevitable feud with Charlotte, I underestimated Becky’s raw acting ability. The woman is utterly believable on the mic, which is rare not only in the women’s division, but the main roster as a whole. It isn’t always easy to sell words that are not your own, but just like great actors across television, it can be done if you have the talent and commitment to the script. The Charlotte/Becky feud is straightforward and intense. Both women execute their roles convincingly, and they sell for each other physically and emotionally.

Image credit: newsweek.com

It will be interesting to see how the writers will deal with the crowd reactions to the feud. It’s obvious in the weeks since the heel turn that fans are firmly behind Becky. Will they make her an antihero? Will they make Charlotte play “dirty” like her father? I will say though — WWE must tread carefully with Charlotte. Choosing to keep her face (and giving her the title) despite fan support for Becky has her running the risk of becoming a bemoaned babyface like a certain Samoan Universal Champion we know.

Trish’s return. A small nugget of goodness, but still worthy of mentioning, is Trish Stratus appearing on the Toronto edition of Raw. It was fantastic to see her as always, but that wasn’t the good I want to talk about here. Trish came back to deliver an entertaining promo in a segment with Elias. And hearing Trish speak in her cool and confident manner showed me that we don’t really hear women speak like Trish anymore. She sounded natural and non-robotic, like she was capable of complex human emotion. And as snarky as that sounds, it truly is the opposite of what most promos by female Superstars have become.

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I listened to what Trish was saying not knowing where the dialogue between her and Elias was headed, and that unpredictability is missed from the Attitude and even Ruthless Aggression Era. Even more so than Elias, Trish felt as if she was truly reacting to what Elias was saying as opposed to just taking turns speaking on the mic. Nostalgia act or not, it was great to see that realistic promo work on my TV from a woman.

The Bad
Quickie matches. At some point during all of the hyping up and back-patting about Evolution WWE has been doing, they did something else. They regressed by giving fans very short women’s matches and thought we wouldn’t notice. Naomi, Zelina Vega, the IIconics, Sasha Banks, and Bayley have been cheated out of screen time over the last few weeks. Their matches have been two to five minutes with little to no tangible storyline development. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, wrestling is made by feuds, and feuds are nothing if they have no payoff. And they definitely can’t progress if the performers in said feuds are provided very little time to work with. Shame on WWE for trading off women’s actual weekly exposure with cheap PR for an all-women’s pay-per-view.

The Thorny

Image credit: express.co.uk

Ronda. Ronda, Ronda, Ronda.

The thorniest segment of the last two weeks was undoubtedly the Raw after SummerSlam with Ronda Rousey, Stephanie McMahon, and for some unexplained reason, the entire Raw women’s locker room. If you haven’t seen the segment before reading this, I would advise you to check it out on the Network or online somewhere. To see this segment as anything but condescending to the rest of the women on the roster is giving it too much credit. The positioning of Ronda in the ring looking down on the rest of the women. Stephanie pointing out how Ronda has stolen the spotlight from them. And then, Ronda attempting to make herself into some sort of martyr by asserting her title win somehow meant something to the “women’s evolution” as a movement.

I saw what WWE was trying to do here. The writers thought they were being clever by going meta and having Ronda (and Stephanie) address plainly what many fans saw as a problematic win. They thought they were having her save face by acknowledging that the women that came before her — many of which were standing around the ring — allowed her to get to the place she’s at now. To a smarky wrestling audience, all this does is confirm our suspicions about Ronda’s ascent.

Image credit: wwedivadeluxex.tumblr.com

And the poor women who were called out to essentially witness Ronda’s coronation as champion could barely hide their indifference, if not disdain. Many of them plastered on forced smiles, while others like Sasha Banks and Bayley had difficulty mustering more than a smirk. Their faces as Ronda called them out made me feel such sorrow for them, as they wrestle in pointless matches every week while Ronda wrestles part-time.

Can you imagine the men all standing around the ring to celebrate a title victory for Brock Lesnar, and Paul Heyman “graciously” acknowledging his client’s peers as helping him achieve his status…and Brock played the role of face in this situation? Do you know how absurd this would be if this was the other way around?

I rest my case. Write women better.

***

I can say for now that I am looking forward to Charlotte vs. Becky in a Cell at the next pay-per-view. I’m reserving judgment on most everything else.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

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

Taking Back Today: Reconciling Subversiveness with Status Quo in Women’s Royal Rumble

Fan Reviews, Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

Image credit: Vickie Benson (Guerrero) Facebook profile

It began as anyone may have expected it would, with two solid workers from WWE’s women’s division, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, getting the crowd hot for the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble. Both competitors are two of the most memorable women to ever step foot in a ring, with Banks as the biracial, purple-haired cousin of a rap star and Lynch the roughhousing siren with a thick Irish accent. This was as fitting a start as the current women’s roster deserved, especially considering the plurality of women who would follow in succession to the ring after the first bell rang.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/women-over-the-top-royal-rumble-match-photos#fid-40199616

On paper, the list of entrants reads like a checklist of diversity. There were women of color as well as women over 30, 40, and 50. There were mothers, old and new, women who are married, women that remain single. There were plus-size and fat women, visibly tattooed women, and even one gay woman. In many ways, the women’s Royal Rumble was more inclusive than the men’s roster ever has been. WWE even allowed an Asian woman — a vastly underrepresented, if not stereotyped, group — to win the Rumble. It seems the brand is becoming less and less afraid to roll with the tides of changing times.

The beauty of the women’s Rumble is one that male fans can only appreciate in the most basic sense. Because it was the first installment, it was a celebration and homage to where the women’s division has been over the last 20 years, where it is, and where it could be going. This was evidenced by the large number of nostalgia entrants, ranging from forever faves like Trish and Lita to beloved athletes like Molly Holly and Beth Phoenix.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/article/5-best-moments-2018-womens-royal-rumble-match

Thoughtful recognition of these female legends took form in the fact that more than a third of the eliminations in the match came from women not currently active on WWE’s main or NXT rosters. While usually a tactic that is bemoaned when done on the men’s side, in the women’s Rumble it worked because we can be pretty assured that none of the women who appeared from the past are slated for full-time returns anytime soon. It was all in good, lighthearted fun, and a metaphorical way to say, We see the road you paved for us; you get a piece of this pie, too. As a woman who grew up watching each of these Superstars in their own ways make the best of what they were given, the place of nostalgia in this match was more than heartwarming.

Regardless of the era that each woman represented, one of the better, lesser discussed aspects of the match was the ways in which the women let each other shine. While the match did lag in parts (with the women doing the equivalent of twiddling their thumbs trying to find opponents to pummel), these slower moments allowed almost every woman in the match to get some visibility. We were able to see most of the entrants’ finishers or face-offs with old rivals plain as day, and it felt that this was a calculated move by all of the women.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/women-over-the-top-royal-rumble-match-photos#fid-40199634

In addition, because of the magnitude of the match, it was one of the first times we were given the opportunity to see how truly unique the characters these women have crafted are from one another. From Kairi Sane to Ember Moon to Carmella to Bayley, there are few women on the roster with identical gimmicks. With increased visibility, standout personas, and a spectrum of female identities, this match was easily the most feminist WWE has ever been with its product, and it wasn’t because Stephanie McMahon was on commentary shoving “history” down our throats. When it comes down to it, feminism is more about doing than saying.

Taking this further, the women’s Royal Rumble had all of the same things that the men’s did. Storytelling, fan-service face-offs, comedy, surprise returns, suspense, and feel good moments. Yet, the women’s Rumble still had a different feel to it, instead of a copy-paste vibe that women’s segments often have. The match felt fresh, and as long as WWE is interested in telling different stories with the women, it has the potential to grow into something out of the men’s division’s shadow.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/women-over-the-top-royal-rumble-match-photos#fid-40199639

Feminism, in the nuanced sense, is about acknowledging the foremothers who have laid the groundwork for the present, and uplifting other women to create a better future for all women inclusive of race, gender identity, sexuality, and religion. This often takes the form of women trying to achieve the same social and political freedoms as men by subverting structures that have created power imbalances. This is where Ronda Rousey complicates the Rumble’s progressiveness.

With Rousey interrupting Asuka’s moment at the end of the pay-per-view, we were are snapped back to reality. WWE is a product to be sold, and the company needs to make a profit. Rousey is a gold credit card to the McMahons and Rousey knows that she is viewed as such, and therefore expects to be compensated accordingly. Just as the men have a (white) UFC fighter who occasionally wrestles to collect a giant paycheck and “legitimize” the product, so now do the women. Only in this case, the added stinger is that Rousey isn’t even a homegrown WWE talent. Is this the “equality” the women were striving for?

As one Twitter user put it, Rousey’s appearance at the end of the Rumble (arguably dulling the shine of a woman of color’s moment) in many ways felt like a white feminist statement unto itself. Even though she has signed a full-time contract and swears up and down that she’s not in it for the money, fans can assume that eventually her ego will grow with her paychecks.

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Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/ronda-rousey-crashes-royal-rumble-2018-photos#fid-40199693

Capitalism is the name of the game, and WWE’s biggest stars know this all too well. Feminism cannot thrive if money is the motivation for the people who have the most power, even if those people happen to be women, too. True solidarity comes from advocating for your sisters to get to your spot rather than ascending to comparable power as your male counterparts.

Some have made the argument that Rousey’s star power will bring greater exposure to the women’s division to casual fans, thus elevating it. There is room for that argument, and it may prove to be true. But, it still can’t be denied that if it weren’t for the women who put in the work for decades, Rousey would have never been in a position to “elevate” any division. It is even more metaphoric that only after 30 women fought in a ring for almost an hour did Rousey made her entrance. The work was already done; she was only there to steal the glory.

However, my hope for the division lies in the fact that despite all of the rumors and buzz that Rousey would be in the Rumble — she wasn’t. For once, WWE trusted the women on their roster and the legends that came before them to put on a good show with enough time to do so. The women were able to pull it off without a big mainstream athlete. They did that. If WWE doesn’t fall victim to the same fallacies of the men’s division with the women and actually allow their fantastic roster to shine, they can revolutionize not only women’s wrestling, but wrestling in general, for the better.

From far and wide
And light years away
The one force of nature they call by name
Fallen idols, scream yesterday
Cast from the shadows
Now light my way[…]
I came from tomorrow to take back today
I am the future.

 

Allyssa Capri is a Chicago-based writer and pop culture critic. You can read more of her pop culture critiques and analyses on her blog. Or, you can follow her on Twitter for cultural hot takes and random thoughts at @allyssacapri.

Featured Image Credit: http://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/article/5-best-moments-2018-womens-royal-rumble-match