Nylons and Midriffs: All the Small Things (Royal Rumble Review, January 30, 2019)

Nylons and Midriffs

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Welcome back to Nylons and Midriffs, good wrestling fans!

I hope 2019 is treating you all well so far. I am ecstatic to rehash what went down at this year’s Royal Rumble for you all, as I feel it encompasses all that is going on in the women’s division as a whole — good, bad, and possibly thorny.

This year’s Rumble offered up very memorable moments for the women, with sensible booking and captivating storytelling. But, as I’ll detail in this review, I was most taken by the attention to detail that WWE Creative and the performers themselves put into each of their matches. There will little payoffs for loyal fans of the product that showed continuity in the WWE canon.

I won’t break things down into the usual sections, and instead do a straightforward review of each match that involved women.

SmackDown Women’s Title Match: Asuka (c) vs. Becky Lynch

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A perfect match to start off the night, these two fan favorites clashed in a battle of one-upsmanship. Each woman moved at a frantic pace to try to outdo the other’s offensive tactics. There were seamless sequences of reversals and pinfall combinations, as well as hard-hitting spots throughout the match. The swinging neckbreaker that Asuka executed from the ring apron was a devastating-looking bump for both women. Becky’s Beck-sploder off the top rope was exciting to see pulled off, especially since WWE rarely allows their wrestlers, especially women, do big top rope spots like that.

Another great aspect of this match was simply seeing Asuka be presented seriously as a competitive champion. We saw intensity from her that we haven’t really seen since NXT, with her scowling at Becky in Japanese and condescendingly kicking her challenger while she was down. It was so great to see given the roller coaster of booking she’s been on since last year’s Rumble. The right woman won, too, as it is far too early to strip Asuka of her title. I also found it fitting that Asuka got Becky to submit with a bridged version of her submission finisher — in a similar way to how Charlotte made Asuka tap at WrestleMania 34 with her bridged Figure 8. While I’m sure this was only a coincidence, it was great to see her triumph in her first title defense in the same way she’d been previously (and perhaps infamously) defeated.

The only dilemma now is who among the SmackDown women will WWE build to challenge Asuka going into WrestleMania? Surely they will need the entire road to the event to do so, as there isn’t really anyone right now that feels main event-level ready to step to Asuka. The good thing is though, there’s potential!

RAW Women’s Title Match: Sasha Banks vs. Ronda Rousey (c)
I was shocked when I read that this match was nearly 4 minutes shorter than the other title match; it was that captivating to watch. I liked that this match was distinctly different than its SmackDown counterpart: while the first match was fast-paced and spot-heavy, this one was more methodical and mat-based. This was due to the stellar in-ring psychology of Sasha Banks. Sasha clearly did some homework to prepare for this match, as she was busting out submission holds not previously seen in her arsenal. Some of those holds actually look as if they would do harm to Ronda’s joints, and that’s saying something in a sports entertainment world.

Ronda as well was no stiff; while her match with Charlotte was probably better in terms of sheer intensity, this match saw her most expanded moveset yet. My distaste for her aside, it is hard to deny at this point that she can wrestle in a WWE ring. And she even won with a pinfall, I believe a first for her on pay-per view. My only gripe with her wrestling is that she has to understand the concept of a finishing move. She hit Sasha with her Piper’s Pit finisher multiple times in the match, so much so that when she did actually pin Sasha for the three with the move, it felt anticlimactic.

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But, the ending didn’t damper the rest of the match. If anything, I think this match proved that Sasha Banks is an elite wrestler and performer. Her character work is insane. From biting Ronda’s hand while holding a submission with a sly grin on her face, to undoing the arm strap of her ring gear and using it to gag Ronda in the Bank Statement, Sasha showed intelligence as a competitor both in and out of kayfabe. This match reminded us of who the hell The Boss is and can be. I hope we see Sasha climb back up the ladder of the division this year.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match
I won’t lie, this match from an in-ring standpoint was pretty hard to get through. Put simply, the women need to hit harder, move faster, fight stronger. As much as I would like to not compare it to the men’s Rumble, when you watch them both in the same show, it is obvious that the men are more consistent with their level of energy throughout the match. In the men’s Rumble, almost every 90 seconds there was either an elimination, or an interesting bit of action that occurred to make you forget about the clock running. In the women’s, it looked as if everyone was a bit confused as to what to do to fill the time in between entrants and their inevitable eliminations. Although the division has surely mastered the battle royal match format for better or worse, the Royal Rumble match still needs some perfecting, and that’s okay.

To be fair, many women in the match likely were not used to being in matches for as long as they perhaps were in the Rumble, and in turn not used to cameras being on them for that amount of time either. The first few men’s Rumbles were just as, if not more, awkward to everyone involved. I’m not too worried about this for the women though, because I know it is one of those things that can only improve with time and practice.

However, I should note that I thought the women’s Rumble had the more interesting saves for wrestlers trying to make it back to the ring from the outside. Ember Moon hung on by her toes, Kacy Cantanzaro had an unreal re-entry into the ring using every abdominal muscle she had, and Naomi leaped feet from the barricades to the ring steps. But, it was Naomi’s elimination that annoyed me, as it tied into her god-awful feud with Mandy Rose. I understand that Mandy is trying to get real heat from the crowd and their storyline will continue. However, as we’ll get into in future editions of Nylons, their feud is very unbalanced. Yes, Naomi eliminated Mandy, but that was pretty much her only victory in a string of zingers by Mandy over the weeks. And it was immediately met with yet another squash from Mandy.

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The ending of course is what we will all remember. The final three of Nia Jax, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch (replacing an injured Lana) proved to be poetic in more ways than one. We all knew it was coming down to Becky and Charlotte, which is why Charlotte yelled at Nia to “stay out of it” after Bayley’s elimination. Becky got her sweet revenge on Nia by eliminating her, but Nia, Becky’s storied tormentor, pushed her off the ring steps to injure Becky’s leg.

It was in this moment that it became apparent that WWE is actually expecting us to see Becky as a resilient babyface underdog. The rivalry that stole the show so many times in 2018 would be the tug-of-war that would finish the women’s Rumble. Out of the ashes, it was Becky that arose. And everyone popped for her.

And so her road to the main event of WrestleMania begins!

Nia Jax in the Men’s Royal Rumble

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As I am sure many of us are, I’m still trying to figure out my feelings about seeing Nia steal a spot in the men’s Rumble. I will say that the thought crossed my mind recently that perhaps Nia should wrestle with the men, since it seems much of the criticism she receives from fans is that she is an unsafe worker, not considering that she is nearly three times the size of most of her division counterparts. That absolutely affects her in-ring capabilities, as she can’t truly lean into her moves for fear of hurting her opponents with her body mass. This leads her to look sloppy and clumsy in the ring.

So when I saw her walk to that ring and stare down the likes of Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio, my knee-jerk reaction was positive. It was, on its face, cool to see that visual. I think where my feelings get complicated is the visual of three different men hitting their finishers on her. In the context of the match, I understood it. Considering that Nia catches the ire of so many (male) fans, though, I worry more insidiously that fans may get carried away with the idea of men hitting women that they don’t like. And I also have reservations with how sensitive WWE will be with intergender wrestling if we open up that can of worms.

But, I am curious to see if and how this continues with Nia. Perhaps this could be the start of a larger conversation about the role that gender plays in wrestling. I know it is fairly common on the indies for men and women to wrestle each other, but with a company as big as WWE, the implications of walking this road could be huge. The world will be watching intently, I’m sure.

***

I’ll be back in two or so weeks with the regular Nylons and Midriffs format. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the women’s division on this Road to WrestleMania.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Nylons and Midriffs: The Year of the Woman (Year In Review, 2018)

Nylons and Midriffs

While it’s a bit corny to say, there really isn’t a better time to be a fan of women’s wrestling in WWE. Through the ups and the downs, this year was truly unforgettable for the division and fans who have been clamoring for women’s progressivism since the Attitude Era.

Sure, there are some kinks to work out here and there, as is to be expected when exploring uncharted historical territory. But, the year was a start. It is only the beginning. I truly see it as a new foundation for what is yet to come. With the announcement that there will be women’s tag team championships unveiled next year and speculation that we may see women main event WrestleMania for the first time, 2019 will likely be a sophomore year of sorts — a punctuation mark on the statement that women’s wrestling is here to stay.

Let’s look back n the year that got us to this point. As this is more of a celebratory post from my perspective, let’s do things in reverse this time. We can revisit cynicism next year.

The Thorny

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Catty Characterizations. An underlying issue in the women’s division has always been the way WWE’s female characters are written. This year was no different, as we had many of the most memorable feuds of the year carried by bratty, mean girl antics from heels and faces alike. An example that leaps to mind is the feud between Nikki Bella and Ronda Rousey before Evolution.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tuv7-uVgdJ0&w=560&h=315]

Ronda cut a searing promo wherein she mocked the Bellas for using their men to get ahead, and specifically Nikki for sleeping with John Cena. In addition to that dose of slut-shaming, we had Alexa Bliss bullying Nia Jax for no reason, Ruby Riott mocking Natalya’s actually-dead father, and Carmella being the ditzy, obnoxious heel of our nightmares.

Not only that, but the women were also generally depicted as volatile and shrill. I can’t even count the amount of segments we had this year of women screaming into microphones, over each other backstage, or in cringe-worthy counseling sessions. Again, this is how you can tell that there are few if any female writers backstage. Women were portrayed by how patriarchy caricatures them — as shrieking, hysterical creatures. I hope that WWE learns how to write women next year with realistic motivations, now that they will have to do it for more of them with a growing roster. Speaking of…

The Favorites. A general critique but particularly with the women, WWE has a tendency to rotate the same 5 or 6 women in and out of the title picture on both brands. And it is no surprise that most of these women are blonde and white. The year was dominated by Ronda Rousey, Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and Becky Lynch. While other women had their “moments” this year — like Asuka winning the Rumble and Naomi winning the already-forgotten WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal — they were fleeting in comparison to the title runs and feuds that the aforementioned women had.

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The women’s locker room is the most diverse it has ever been, and yet we continue to give the same “kind” of women the top spots. It’s infuriating to watch the most prominent wrestling critics praise people like Charlotte and Ronda when women like them are given the big matches continually to prove themselves and show off their movesets. We saw the likes of Bayley, Sasha Banks, Ember Moon, and Asuka sink to the bottom of the card simply because they didn’t fit the mold.

It’s great that the women will finally be given another set of titles to strive for. This may address this issue head-on. Yet, it won’t fix much if the tag titles are only used to pacify the women who can’t seem to break into the “main event” scene.

The Bad

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Short-Term Booking. We saw so much short-term booking this year. Segments that served little purpose other than to get another women’s segment on RAW or SmackDown Live. As I alluded to in the previous section, the rest of the women’s locker room in the undercard had to make do with the segments or actions written for them. And many of them were…bad. Just bad. And also random.

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Asuka and Naomi teamed up for a few weeks and then suddenly stopped. Dana Brooke turned face and then heel again two days later with no explanation. Asuka lost not one but two title matches to Carmella because of nonsensical distractions by James Ellsworth. Sasha and Bayley betrayed one another multiple times this year to simply pretend none of their bickering ever happened after a counseling session. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville fell victim to similar booking.

And in all of these examples, there was absolutely no long-term explanation for the events. No reasons given for the temporary alliances and breakups. It was all pure laziness on the part of WWE Creative. And I know it isn’t the worst thing going on, but it’s still irksome. I want to care! Make me care!

The Good

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Every Single First. I hope wrestling historians took note of just how many firsts there were this year. All of the historic firsts could be written about at length, but I’m condensing them in this point because in total there were just too many.

In case you need a recap, we had the first ever women’s:

  • Royal Rumble
  • Elimination Chamber match
  • announcers: full-time for Renee Young and a guest spot for Beth Phoenix
  • pay-per-view, Evolution
  • Last Woman Standing Match (on the main roster)
  • TLC match

…all within a 12-month period!! That’s insane!

We also had the third women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, which was the best of them so far. Every single one of these matches delivered. Not a single one was bad. We saw what happens when you give women the ball. They don’t just run with it, they shoot and score. And, arguably, they made the men step their game up to deliver high match quality. I know that every subsequent stipulation match listed above won’t be as amazing as the first. But, the women have their foot in the door now, and I have high hopes that they will find ways to be inventive and heighten the intensity of each as the years go on.

The Royal Rumble and Evolution. Yes, I am singling out these two events — because they were that damn good. I still remember vividly watching in utter excitement and pride as Jojo announced the start of the women’s Rumble. I will never forget how hyped I was standing in front of my TV, singing every woman’s entrance theme I knew as they walked the ramp for the Evolution battle royal. I actually got chills just thinking back to those nights. I was never, ever prouder to be a fan of wrestling — a fan of women’s wrestling — than on those nights, watching those pay-per-views.

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And it wasn’t just because they were firsts. That will obviously play into the fondness that fans hold for those events when we remember back to this era. But these events will also stand out because they lived up to their hype. The women wrestled and entertained as if everything was on the line. In many ways, it was. They had everything to prove, just because they’re women; ’tis the sexism that they face just for existing in wrestling to begin with.

You can read my extended thoughts on both shows in my previous blog posts, but I would also recommend seeking out each of them to watch, because they are absolutely worth your time.

Stone Cold Becky Lynch. Yeah, I went there. There wasn’t a wrestler in WWE this year that could hold a candle to Becky Lynch. Not Seth Rollins or Drew McIntyre. Not AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan. Not even Ronda Rousey. It was all Becky. Period.

Becky proved herself to be a bonafide star this year. She balanced actual in-ring talent with stellar mic skills, and crafted a heel character that was just too cool to boo. She was so over that she had fans jeering the likes of Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey, the two golden girls of the division. WWE tried their hardest to make Becky a detestable heel, but Becky’s Stone Cold-esque rebel spirit forced them to portray her as more of an anti-hero by the end of the year, actually acknowledging that fans love her.

Image credit: SEScoops.com

Even though I have complicated feelings about the idea of “grabbing the brass ring” as Vince McMahon puts it (as it typically connotes bootstrap ideology), there are few other expressions that describe how Becky used the spotlight given to her this year. True to her character on camera and social media alike, she definitely proved herself as championship caliber.

My hope for Becky next year is that she finishes her red-hot feud with Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania, ideally in the main event. The match is almost guaranteed to happen — but the mechanics of how it happens I look forward to watching. I also hope that we see Becky’s versatility after WrestleMania, giving her new opponents to feud with.

Regardless of the future, 2018 will be remembered as The Man’s year. How ironic, during a year that will likely go down in history as the Year of the Woman.

***

And that’s all folks! It’s been a delight to write about women’s wrestling this year. I began it with the Royal Rumble, innocently believing that the women wouldn’t be given anything else for the remainder of the year. I have never been so happy to be wrong.

See you on the Road to WrestleMania!

Stay legit bossy,
AC

Rhetorical Recap: WWE’s Royal Rumble and the Statistical Significance of Spectacle

Scholarly Wrestling Reviews

In a world where statistical information dominates news, politics, sports, and economics, Vince McMahon and the WWE master the art of annual traditions and spectacular “firsts.” Whether it is tweaking the traditional formula of “surprise entrants,” statistical odds of repeat winners, or live telecast prognostications about whether early entrants can go the distance—first to enter, last to leave—the Royal Rumble demonstrates a recipe for possible excitement, although historically this lumbering mega-wrestler-free-for-all doesn’t always sparkle from start to finish.

2018’s 31st annual Royal Rumble has several advantages going for it. The most significant actually occurs outside of the men’s rumble. The WWE is (finally) betting big on the introduction of a Women’s Rumble; a long in the works product that signifies the company’s increasing investment in women’s wrestling (excuse me, sports entertainment). The Women’s Wrestling movement is less in the demographic-skewing vein of Diva filler or blatant female objectification from decades past (think Jello kiddie pools, lingerie strut-offs, poorly-rehearsed squash matches). Here is WWE’s chance to right the ship, or at least, continue a turn toward recognizing the in-ring performative value women wrestlers offer the genre.

Women’s Gender Double Bind

Two significant downsides face the women’s rumble, and their names are Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair. Bliss and Flair are two of the three most electrifying and over women’s talent currently on the roster. While Charlotte represents the “complete package” with in-ring technical skill, increasing fluidity on her mic work, and a knack for brand extension with previous appearances on ESPN as well as a national book tour with her father, Nature Boy Ric Flair, in 2017. Bliss is one of the smaller talents on the roster, but her oratory skills in front of a mic—whether pre-taped or live in front of an audience—is arguably second-to-none company-wide. Bliss’s technical skills grow smoother with each title defense, and her strengths as a cowardice heel make her an audience darling among smart mark fans. But the key strength both Bliss and Charlotte possess lies in their kayfabe charisma. Such magnetic charm is unmatched in WWE and a large reason that the first ever women’s rumble is a bit more deflated than when it was first speculated about.

And not to pile on negativity going on, but WWE has virtually ignored one of its most talented on-air personalities, actual trained journalist Renee Young. Young was the natural shoo-in to announce the Women’s Rumble, and arguably should have been elevated to a stint as co-lead commentator with the RAW or SmackDown announce team. Young is so articulate and able to toggle between thoughtful expressions and kayfabe reactions, the WWE should look back in judgment years from now and regret that they did not give her the chance sooner. And while Talking Smack and RAW Talk were steps in the right direction, there is a bit of tokenism given how quickly the WWE Network pulled the plug on such low-cost programming. To add insult to injury, the company issued an eleventh hour statement that none other than Stephanie McMahon (cue audience groan) will commentate the women’s rumble itself. Unless she’s part of a 3-person team that includes Young and former Women’s Champion Lita, the inaugural women’s rumble could have gone down as yet another opportunity lost in an otherwise “historical” event. Seeing as Ric Flair’s win at the 92’ Rumble is regarded by many as one of if not the best Rumble win, it is a shame the firtst Women’s bout could not creatively include Charlotte. But then again, that might ruin anyone else’s chances of winning.

Previewing the Men’s Rumble Stakes

Recent Rumbles’ emitted a ton of action and several memorable moments. This time around a palpable tension grows in anticipation of a winner, with recent years including strong surges from Chris Jericho, the WWE debut of AJ Styles, and the infamous tease of Daniel Bryan. And yet the 2016 Bryan tease ended with a Philly crowd nearly mobbing the Roman Reigns win. The next year, fans felt chaffed again by the “winner becomes Champion” results: part-timer (part-owner) Triple H took the win and the gold but as an elaborate setup to eventually lose to Reigns (again thrust in the spotlight). 2017’s Rumble held a lot of potential, including the final excellent match between John Cena and AJ Styles, but the Rumble (and crowd) fell absolutely flat with the win by the dozen times over former champion and previous Rumble-winner, Randy Orton. Storyline wise, the decision was so “safe booking” that it felt entirely out of place; as if Orton handed in a “Rumble Winner Golden Ticket” that was part of a restructured contract after his head-bludgeoned loss to Brock Lesnar at the previous SummerSlam main event.

Preshow Filler

Kalisto, Gran Metalik, and Lince Dorado defeat TJB, Jack Gallagher, and Drew Gulak — What can I say, I had to look up a couple of the names on the Internet to make sure I could remember these 205 Live’ers accurately (thank you, Cyberwebs). Similar to Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens during the kickoff show backstage check-ins, I was busy on my computer typing to offer full attention. There was a single excellent spot where the three trained Luchadors performed simultaneous moonsaults off the top turnbuckle onto the floor…from the same turnbuckle. It’s a shame the arena was about ten percent full and even the preshow team didn’t seem to notice a match had taken place afterward. This gets at an increasing issue with WWE mega-events like WrestleMania and SummerSlam: same-day oversaturation.

The Revival defeat Gallows and Anderson – True statement, when this match started, I thought they were replaying a clip from RAW that I’d missed, even though I watched RAW25 from start to finish (on digital delay, of course). Given that recent retrospect and hullabaloo from the Attitude Era, it is amazing WWE was able to juggle such a juggernaut roster of storylines back then, only to retreat into pusillanimous storylines despite the stable of touted Hollywood writers on staff (maybe they hire reality TV writers instead?). I recall like a faint dream a time when The Revival demanded respect through fierce strong style competition in NXT. And again their emergence within the main roster has been trivial at best. But they do pull out a win just after getting embarrassed by the Club/DX RAW25 alliance.

US Championship – Bobby Roode defeats Mojo Rawley

Did anyone think this would go any other way? …Did anyone care?

The Main Card Event:

WWE Championship Handicapped Match – Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens vs. A.J. Styles

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com

The main show opens with the entrance of Sami Zayn. The hot Philly crowd gives Zayn and Kevin Owens robust support. And what smart booking to put this title match at the beginning, feeding the crowd positive vibes could play into WWE’s hands with a historically antagonistic city. (Would Philly be kinder to Roman due to the Eagles making Superbowl LII? Um, probably not.) I’ve personally found Zayn’s snarky heel turn a breath of fresh air and a huge relief for where his character was at on the main roster. The chemistry between he and Owens is palpable as buddies or foes just like the Owens-Jericho pairing in 2016-2017.

AJ Styles gets a raucous welcome as well. The handicap bout starts with a bit of patty-cake tag-ins between Owens and Zayn. In a rare treat, the crowd gives Zayn his due respect with a toggle chant of “A-J-Styles/Za-mi-Zayn!” And unless I’ve missed it somewhere previously, AJ appears to be sporting slick new powder blue and jet black trunks with matching gloves and elbow pads (the baton de los Cena has truly passed down along the merchandizing front). As the match finally gets going, I was reminded just how versatile Owens’ move set is, which is one reason some felt disappointed in the execution of the Style-Owens U.S. Championship feud last summer.

After a series of high-contact moves from both Owens and Zayn, Styles sells winded and blown up with more heroism that Shawn Michaels ever could have. The move sets transition so fast that the commentators sound like rookie broadcasters missing plays and failing to articulate the rules of the game. Styles gives a double elbow consecutively to each man, before Owens quickly flips Styles. AJ then redresses his landing mid-air and catches Sami with a hurricanrana. AJ soon gets Owens into a ruthless calf crusher that has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. But his should be victory is the beginning of a barrage of comebacks that are habitually interrupted by villainous saves from each odd man out. All of these disruptions scream “cheat victory” setting up a co-WWE Champion run. But suddenly an awkward did they/didn’t they tag-in distracts the pair from their mission and Styles gets an exciting roll-up pin, retaining the WWE Championship legacy belt with the New Orleans-esque fleur de leaf-tinted WrestleMania insignia displaying overhead.

Backstage Stinger – After the exit music, a camera cuts immediately to Zayn-Owens screaming at SmackDown General Manager Shane McMahon. They inquire if Shane saw the ref possibly make a mistake on their tag in. His only response: “Yep.” The encounter suggests this feud remains an ongoing storyline in one form or another.

SmackDown Tag Team Championship – Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin vs. The Usos

The tag-teamer gives the crowd a bit of a transitional cool down while allowing the SmackDown announce team to warm up calling consecutive matches. The Usos, mics in hand, offer one of their smoothest heel taunts as they strut down the entrance ramp. The vocal effort actually adds interest to what might normally be a match relegated to the preshow. There is an interesting parallel occurring between Gable and former American Alpha teammate Jason Jordan. Jordan jumped to RAW for a quasi-main event storyline where he was revealed to be Kurt Angle’s long lost son. Gaining the ire of most audiences, WWE smartly allowed his crowd heat to morph into a slowly developing arrogant prince heel run. But back to the parallel—following Dean Ambrose’s unplanned long-term injury, WWE gambled by giving Ambrose’s Tag champ partner Seth Rollins a run with Jordan, just as Gable rises to the A-plot in the SmackDown tag scene.

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com,

The superkicks fly fast and furious by mid-match, and the Usos once again apply clever misdirection on their tag-ins. Eventually this momentum gets the best of Gable and the Usos take the first of the (*sigh*) “Best of 3” bout. On the ring exterior, Benjamin hoists Jimmy Uso up while Gable slams his backside (and head!) onto the ground floor mat. But just as it looks like Gable and Benjamin set up an obvious tying pinfall, Jay Uso sneaks in a fast rollup for the three count. For the second consecutive match, quick rollups deceive the audiences’ temporal conditioning.

And now a word from our spons…selves.

Transitional Docutainment – An interim ad teases the latest WWE 24 documentary series, “Wrestlemania Orlando.” The clip includes a laid-back Roman Reigns (trying to inoculate audiences into submissive mode) while another clip suggests a rare, canny, and out of character Undertaker. WWE also replays a video package that challenges the overused social theory, “numbers don’t lie.” In the performance art of sports entertainment, this package lays on thick several strategic numerical instances in Royal Rumble history (most wins, most eliminations, longest entrant, most time spent in the ring, and so on). Technically, the numbers don’t lie. These things, for all intents and purposes, have happened. But in a world of fake news, alternative facts, and confirmation bias, the WWE shows once again why other professional sports like the NFL, or say, American politics, emulate sports entertainment spectacle.

Forward-Thinking Surprise of the Night: Men’s Rumble Placement

In an astonishing booking decision, WWE announces the Men’s Rumble as the third main card contest of the evening. This is an incredible decision that truly puts WWE’s money where its mouth is by positioning the Women’s Rumble later on the card. Time will tell if Vince actually allows it to supersede part-timer golden boy Brock Lesnar on the card.

The first entrant, Rusev, is announced in operatic fashion by Aiden English, and Philly eats it up. But the moment almost vanishes as Finn Balor comes in at #2. Noticeably, Balor sports a new wardrobe (not including “The Demon” makeup) for the first time ever; a burgundy leather jacket and matching tiny trunks and knee-high boots. The more I assess the burnt red shade, another Philly-friendly performer of similarly tinted trunks comes to mind: Daniel Bryan. Rhyno comes in third to provide some “big man” filler that will keep both fan-favorites eligible for now. The crowd thanks Rhyno with an intense “E-C-W!” chant. Rhyno shows his massive body still has gas in the tank. Baron Corbin runs in as entrant #4, and I am feeling my own brotherly love with Philly fans, as they boo his (uninspiring) presence. Predictably, WWE lets Corbin immediately eliminate Rhyno but then in a bit of fan service, Balor takes out the “Lone Wolf.”
However, this starts a coy bit of WWE booking against the Philly crowd as Corbin possibly injures Balor’s shoulder (a work) and then puts his finisher on Rusev outside the ring. As #5 Heath Slater comes out, Corbin exacts a ruthless clothesline that puts him on the ground cold. All of this sets up a convenient open ring for the (brilliant!) timing of entrant #6, Elias. Guitar in hand, Elias hilariously kicks Slater on his way down and proceeds to play an anti-hometown tune until #7, Cien Almas, enters. As current NXT Champion, Cien gets a healthy pop from the audience, and he and Elias get a bit of interaction before Bray Wyatt comes down at #8. The response is lukewarm (likewise), and fortunately, no sooner than Wyatt tries to get involved, Balor returns to action. Now things start feeling like a muddled multi-man match, with Big-E adding to the pomp and circumstance at #9. He feeds Heath Slater—who’s finally made it down to the ring but still has yet to enter—the latest ludicrous New Day breakfast item, a pancake short stack.

Tye Dillinger’s music hits at #10 (“10! 10!”), but a non-entrance cuts abruptly to Zayn and Owens jumping Dillenger backstage. Sami tells Kevin, “I got this” before running to the ring. And I’ve got to be honest here, I have no problem whatsoever with this.

Reverse Expectations Bracketology

Starting the next bracket of 10 is the “birthday boy” Celtic Warrior Shamus. At #11, Shamus slings Slater into the ring, but Slater immediately whips across the ropes and clotheslines Shamus in less than :1 second “on his birthday!” (Get it?? #VinceBooking) Xavier Woods comes in at #12. The lull continues with Apollo Crews at #13 and Michael Cole even remarks, “only 4 winners have ever come from the teens.” Yeah, settle in for the mediocre portion of the Rumble. And yet Cole’s words could also be interpreted as clear misdirection. Stay tuned. Shinsuke Nakamura enters at #14, and quickly gets the chance to land big moves on nearly every heel while the crowd sings his entrance music a cappella. Cisaro enters at #15. The third member of New Day enters at #16 just before Cesaro (bless you) eliminates Crews. Jinder Mahal enters at 17 (YAY!) and, like AJ, sports some keen-looking curry-flavored trunks. Jinder is quickly becoming one of my favorites but the casual fan doesn’t seem to buy in. He gains even more of my favor by knocking out both Big E and Xavier Woods. Enter Seth Rollins at #18 much to Cisaro’s dismay.

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com, https://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/men-over-the-top-royal-rumble-match-photos#fid-40199546

After Cisaro’s exit, Jinder seemingly tosses New Day’s third member, Kofi Kingston. But in the history of the Rumble, Kingston’s noteworthy gimmick features creative escapes that grant him an extra chance. In this case, one foot lands on Xavier Woods. With New Day advocating his eligible return, Big-E places a tray of pancakes under Kofi’s foot long enough for the two outside members to springboard him back in, soaring over Jinder’s head in the process. Unfortunately, the return seals Jinder’s fate, but no quicker that Kofi gets the best of Jinder does Cien toss Kofi out the other side. Fair enough, turn about is fair play for the mid-crowd.

Woken Matt Hardy enters next at #19 to medium-level “Delete!” chants. I think it’s safe to say we’re all disappointed by how tame this variation on Hardy’s original Broken character turned out. After a team-up and then a standoff, Hardy and Wyatt eliminate one another just before John Cena enters at #20. The crows actually pops decently for Cena, but once he slides into the ring, all competitors remaining gang up and group stomp him to the laughter of the audience. In a bit of frustration (that also signals their ongoing skirmish) Cena easily hoists and hurls Elias from the match. Surprise entrant “The Hurricane” comes in at #21, but Cena has him out before #22 is even announced. Aiden English comes in at #22, but with Rusev eliminated, his odds are nonexistent.

Adam Cole (“Bay-Bay!”) arrives over from NXD to raucous adulation. He goes way over with the smarks and teases a decent future on the main roster if Creative can stop screwing up talent momentum (*cough* The Club, Nakamura, Tye Dillenger, etc.). Randy Orton (ugh) enters at #24 and eliminates Cien just in time for Titus O’Neil to come in at #25. At this point, the recap is a numbers game (WWE tried to tell us) and recapping becomes more of a statistical report than a repartee of engaging action. #26 brings the heat with the Intercontinental Champ The Miz. I’m actually excited here and immediately nervous Miz won’t get enough love. But he puts in a parody of “Yes!” kicks onto Cena and Rollins before the tide turns against this momentum.

With the countdown to #27, Rey Mysterio Jr. makes an incredible surprise return. Mysterio looks as fast as ever, and part of his surprise momentum grants him safe passage for ousting Cole to the floor. Next enters Roman at #28 and the crowd showers him in “Boos!” throughout his whole slow walk down. Reigns slaps the garbage out of a few others before setting sights on The Miz. The Miztourage attempt interference, but Roman decks them both before Rollins curb-stomps Miz in the ring. He and Roman then perform a makeshift Shield elimination of Miz but Roman then straightup tosses Rollins right out of the ring. The look on both their faces is incredulous. In an absolute waste of space and momentum, Goldust enters at #29, “tying Shawn Michaels and Kane” for second most entrances, as Cole reminds the audience. Okay.

#30 and the final entrance goes to Vegas’s fourth greatest odds-maker for winning the Rumble, Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler gets in a few early superkicks, but once Balor topples him from behind, a slow pause in action showcases an “old guard versus new guard” framework with Mysterio, Cena, and Orton catching their breath on one side, while Balor, Nakamura, and Reigns rise up on the other. At this point, if WWE booked another old vet winner I would be sick to my stomach. But the energy in the room suggests we’ll finally be back to a fresh winner. And because Reigns won three years ago in the same Philly venue, the tension is high as to whether WWE will terrify spectators once more. This leaves possible fan booking nirvana of either a Balor or Nakamura Championship matchup with (we assume) AJ Styles at WrestleMania. Oh, the humanity.

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com, https://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery

 

After a few quick moves, Orton is eliminated first, with Rey coming shortly thereafter. This creates a final four showdown with fascinating possibilities. The crowd offers a soft “Fin!” chant before shifting to a louder “Na-ka-mu-ra!” Reigns and Cena share a face-to-face in the ring but the crowd silences them with “You both suck!” complete with some double deuces in clear vision of the camera. Balor and Nakamura share quick one-on-one action, another dream match scenario. You can definitely see WWE’s confidence growing in a Finn Balor future (conservative projections put him on SmackDown most likely, a la AJ Styles). After 57:30 minutes as participant, Cena eliminates Balor and the crowd goes nuts into “BS” chants. Not cool, WWE. Not. Cool. The crowd grows more furious with a Cena and Reign double-team against Nakamura (who still hasn’t used his finisher, mind you.) And so he uses it, on Cena, dropping him from the match. Cue a terrific slow rise stare down between Shinsuke and Roman. A quality exchange ensues with each fighter quickly working through endgame maneuvers. The attending crowd is wigging out with this ultimate tease: fan-favorite Nakamura or fan-foil Roman Reigns? But fate showed favor on a cold Philly night, and “history” was made to cap off WWE’s yearlong serious swing toward a talent pool that accurately reflects international future interests. Nakamura wins and instantly reveals to a mic-ready Renee his intent to square off against A.J. Styles at WrestleMania.

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com, https://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery

Final Intermission

There is a brief interlude featuring RAW and SmackDown GM’s and, oh whatever, Stephanie, Shane, Daniel Bryan, and Kurt Angle. Bryan gloated the win while it appears Stephanie perhaps overplays a suggestion that something is up her sleeve for the Women’s Rumble (#Rhonda?) “Yep!”

Despite starting the Rumble on a timeshift in order to skip the transitional packages, it appears WWE has tweaked their streaming service operating rules to force viewers to watch repetitious interludes and truly shameless commercial plugs like the KFC-sponsored Col. Sanders Rumble sketch. If I didn’t hate KFC already, I have to wonder what casual run of-the-mill audiences think about bits like this (or KFC in general). Come to think of it, isn’t KFC a Top 2 American fast food franchise overseas? “Yep!”

RAW Tagteam Championship – Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan vs. The Bar

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com, https://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/seth-rollins-jason-jordan-sheamus-cesaro-photos#fid-40199520

I neither fully watched this match nor could I fast-forward through it (see comments above for technical difficulties). My prediction is that Shamus gets the tag title back (“on his birthday!”) while the loss fuels breakup tensions between Rollins and Jordan that takes them into a WrestleMania feud in the event that Angle has not been cleared to wrestle Jordan (the previous idea we’ve seen teased).

Oh great temporal gods of the televisual airwaves, are you kidding me? Did WWE really book both tag-team championships for the PPV and at least three post-Men’s Rumble matches? The Vegas odds of me staying awake to finish the Rumble tonight just shifted dramatically. And as predicted, a “head injury” to Jordan causes the young talent to take himself out of his own match, leaving a spent Rollins to take a pummeling from The Bar. The result: new four-time tag team champions for the smartly paired Shamus and Cesaro. “Yep!”

How long has it been since a Brock title match could honestly qualify as “filler”?

WWE Universal Championship Triple Threat Match – Brock Lesnar vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com: https://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery/brock-lesnar-kane-braun-strowman-photos#fid-40199601

Wow. WWE finally made a gender positive statement and puts the Women’s Rumble over by moving up this lesser inspired Universal title bout. Brock and Braun are fantastic foes, and I like the PPV output from both, but this bout is the least appealing Lesnar match dating all the way back to 2016. This would be Braun’s third time to share a ring with Lesnar since SummerSlam, but only one was a single’s match (that ended foolishly after a single F-5.). The commentators are overselling this bout big-time, a sign that reinforces flat booking. Three monsters are always cool, but Kane is semi-retired and the audience can’t even muster boos for him. His persona is so out of place at this point in the year. It is really confusing. Perhaps he was brought back in on short notice due to Samoa Joe’s injury. While pure speculation, Joe’s absence makes more sense than any of Kane’s presence.

Braun hits Lesnar with a hard knee, and I’m pretty sure Brock yells at him, “You broke my f’—ing nose!” So Brock nabs a chair and is slapping the crap out both of them. But Braun essentially takes it away. A slow-mode replay shows Brock punch Braun right in the side of the head, with the reverb along his forearm and bicep shake across his entire right side. (The GIF of this shot goes viral on Twitter by early Monday morning.) Very early on it becomes clear this is will be a big man spot match. German suplexes, F-5’s, chokeslams, chair shots, steel steps, it’s all here. Strowman makes an empathic monster babyface. WWE’s crowd seems to will him out of concussion protocol. There’s a point where you authentically think Strowman will finally obtain the elusive Universal title, but then the late-match booking comes into clear focus. Kane disrupts Braun’s momentum, he ends up outside the ring, and Lesnar F-5’s Kane onto a steel chair for a quick three count. Retention equals maximum global branding…for now. Who or what is next for Lesnar? Punk’s all-time title reign day count?

THE Royal Rumble Main Event

The First Ever 30-Woman Women’s Rumble Match

WWE has officially avoided mainstream backlash. In an age of bottom lines, stakeholder interests, global market competitiveness, spreadable media strategies, Internet social media and sports infotainment coverage, and political correctness, and of course, strategically placed press releases and media events in between the NFL’s championship and Super Bowl weekends, how could the company not book the Women’s Rumble last? The main event starts with entrances from co-announcer Stephanie McMahon (all complaints aside, why not?), followed by RAW and SmackDown champions Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair respectively. Adding their ringside presence is an appropriate measure for such a momentous occasion. They have earned the right to sit ringside since they are both unable to compete.

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Pict courtesy of WWE.com,

Sasha Banks does an amazing job entering first with a not-so-subtle Wonder Woman color scheme. Nice move there, with almost a Batwoman-type update from entrant #2 Becky Lynch (I’m probably over-reading that one quite a bit). Both ladies’ wardrobe upgrades are, to say the least, fierce. Sarah Logan enters at #3. One stipulation made clear in the rules is that entrants arrive every :90 seconds (as opposed to 2-minute intervals), which gives the Women’s Rumble competitive advantage in terms of pacing. Mandy Rose enters at #4, much to the delight of Corey Graves. But the real pops begin at #5 with Lita. Lita’s crowd momentum never really dies down although she herself finds little in-ring momentum. But May Young Classic winner Kairi Sane enters #6 and seriously clears the ring with finishers and high spots—a star is born. Tamina enters at #7, also sporting a unique all-white retro stonewash wardrobe. Whatever WWE gave up on in fireworks they’ve reinvested in new uniforms. Lita gets a second elimination on Tamina, but Becky gets the best of her afterward. Dana Brooke comes in at #8, and is back to more of a post-apocalyptic biker chick look that departs from her recent gig as the bookkeeper for Titus Worldwide. Brooke shockingly takes out Kairi Sane, which like Lita before her clearly disappoints the audience. #9 sees the return of Attitude Era eye candy Torrie Wilson. And if there is an issue with my wording there, go back on the WWE Network and revisit how they booked Wilson throughout the Attitude Era. Wilson does get a few good licks in (not the literal kind. #Sable) and even takes out Dana Brookes.

Sonya Deville comes in at #10 and looks far better in the ring than she has during all her RAW segments combined. Sonya turns the crowd away, though, when she swift kicks Torrie. Liv Morgan follows at #11, and I am once again confused between the Riot Squad and Absolution faction members. When each premiered simultaneously, with mirrored numbers and doppelganger personas, I always figured they were in cahoots. Molly Holly brings a veteran surprise at #12, and the crowd gives her a dose of respect. Indeed, even the typically hypermasculine Philly haters are game for this main even and willing to buy in. Lana arrives at #13 and maybe got her loudest pop ever, albeit to the tune of “Ru-Sev-Day!”

So. Many. Numbers.

At #14, Michelle McCool sprints down the ramp. Like Lana, McCool is serenaded by “Un-der-ta-ker!” She even eliminates Sonya Deville, Liv Morgan, Molly Holly, and then Lana in short order. #15 finds Ruby Riot joining the fray. Becky, Sasha, and Michelle each clothesline Ruby but she survives to the edge each time. Vicky Guerrero screeches into the match at #16. The “Excuse me!” shrills are so profane, I had to turn my TV down to cope with the cameo. With so many “open” spots unannounced, it was easy to see this one coming. Carmella follows at #17 and she sports an awesome late-80s/early-90s leotard with a color palette that reminds me of the opening credits to Saved by the Bell.

Natalia enters at #18, and I just wonder if her Total Divas persona expanded or limited her character development on the roster. Kelly Kelly is featured at #19, but her leaner framework and awkward rope cling brings back memories of stilted in-ring performances. The retro returns remind viewers why there needed to be a “Women’s Revolution.” Naomi brings respectability back in spot #20 with the roster’s original entrants still hanging on…but not for long. Ruby eliminates Becky Lynch just before #21. Jackeline returns to action. Nia Jax enters at #22 and brings back instant credibility and much-needed dominance by tossing out four players in about a minute (Jackeline, Kelly Kelly, Natalia, and Ruby Riot).

NXT Champ Ember Moon arrives in the #23 spot. She and Nia battle in a brief showcase spotlight. Naomi echoes Kofi Kingston by tightrope walking around the parameter corridor, but Nia catches her off the top rope to eliminate Naomi for good just as Beth Phoenix enters at #24. Meanwhile, Stephanie McMahon performed smoothly at an agreeable tone from the three-person announce team table. Her pitch was appropriate in not drawing attention to her liminal heel/face persona. No doubt she has performed a lion’s share behind the scenes to help accelerate the Women’s program, and sitting ringside nearby the two female champions makes for a subtle plant at show’s end.

#25 Asuka arrives to cheers from the crowd that will hopefully elevate her to eventual victory. She’s in some ways the most dynamic workers right now and with Charlotte and Alexa Bliss not participating, highly deserved of the winner slot. Mickey James skips in at #26 but makes little impact before the crowd pops at #27, Nikki Bella. By this point, Corey Graves has predicted about half a dozen people to win (largely based on beauty) just as the crowd, and Carmela, mock Nikki’s engagement to John Cena. Nikki retorts with head butt that sends Carmella out for good. Brie Bella exits retirement at #28 to the sound of “Yes!” chants from nearly everyone in the arena. The number of WWE couplings in recent years is astounding.

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

#29 brings another fan-favorite, Bayley—although the crowd goes cold perhaps due to happy-go-lucky overexposure (“brotherly love” does not warm up to hugs, apparently). The final entrant at #30 is none other than all-time Diva/WWE women’s wrestler, Trish Stratus. Like some of the previous former Divas, Trish appears slightly undersized by comparison. But this is not to suggest she’s out of ring shape. Quite the opposite. Indeed, Trish even survives the surprise elimination of Nia Jax (group effort), Natalia (via Trish), and Bayley (bless you, Sasha). This puts hopeful odds on heavy-favorite (and rightfully so) Asuka.

Sasha Banks appears to go full-heel once again after bumping into Asuka. (By Monday, WWE is already strategically placing her at odds amongst the women roster. Good timing for some series female kayfabing with WrestleMania on the horizon.) She even encourages the Bella twins to join in an Asuka three-on-one beating before they get the drop (literally) on Sasha. This leaves a two-on-one matchup featuring the Bellas versus Asuka. Seriously WWE, give the fans the respectable win we all deserve. But in a shocker reminiscent of the E! True Hollywood Story, Nikki decks Brie Bella as she dangles from the outside ropes. Vicious.

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com

And then there were two.

An Asuka-Nakamura win-win would strongly suggest a changing of the guard in the right direction. Not in a cynical way, but rather as a public recognition, an understanding of how the quality of craft and performance art of professional wrestling continues to evolve with consumer taste and interest in diversity. To the victor goes the spoils: Asuka ultimately wins (despite a terribly timed sell on the outskirt from Nikki Bella). The finish started strong (Nikki’s neck!) but ends in a quick whimper. But that’s okay, because we still get the in-ring showdown between champions. Renee Young enters again, as does Charlotte and Alexa. The stairdowns, the nonverbals, the sports entertainment psychology.

The Post-Rumble PR Stinger

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Pic courtesy of WWE.com, https://www.wwe.com/shows/royalrumble/2018/gallery

The music hits, the Asuka’s moment is interrupted, and the Rowdy Roddy, er, re-appropriated debut of MMA sensation Rowdy Ronda Rousey. Stephanie downplays knowing anything about the Rousey appearance, but she already coyly alluded to it backstage. Ronda is barely able to keep a serious face. The “moment” makes perfect booking sense, and while it might be easy for smarks to get up in arms over Asuka’s downplayed victory, such an audacious interruption sets up innumerable down-the-road feuds for Rousey. Now she just needs to prove she’s capable of exceeding the hype that started the moment she announced MMA retirement. She also ends the moment with a handshake/stare down with Stephanie. This notably either bookends their WrestleMania moment three years ago or perhaps provides the transitional bridge before a possible future encounter.

Thus the table is set. The increasing synergy of a publically traded company that just sold $100 million in shares to create the liquidity to jumpstart the (creatively flaccid and tonally bankrupt) XFL. The WWE succeeded in landing on every Monday morning sports website and talk radio show to kick off the start of Super Bowl week. They didn’t even have to pay for the Super Bowl ad rate. They did it their way, as they always do. Time to see where this goes. Whether a success or failure, it will surely be a spectacle to behold.

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