Wednesday, October 2, 2019, marks the first time in 6764 days professional wrestling has aired on the TNT network; it’s also been that long since the Monday Night Wars officially ended even though the meaningful battles ceased well before. Over eighteen and a half years have passed since the name on the contract read McMahon, and WCW was no more. How did the Wrestling Wars start, end, and (possibly) begin again?
WWF Monday Night Raw premiered on January 11, 1993. It was the first live weekly wrestling show with true national television reach. Shortly after its debut, costs prohibited going live so multiple weeks of Raw were taped at the Manhattan Center in New York City and subsequently shown in the 8pm Eastern slot on the USA network.
In 1995, the recently promoted Executive Producer of WCW, Eric Bischoff, found himself in a meeting with Ted Turner. Turner asked him how WCW could become competitive with WWF; Bischoff responded that they needed prime time. His off-the-cuff proposal was granted with a Monday night slot on TNT, thus kicking off the Monday night war.
The first WCW Nitro emanated from the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 4th, 1995. The first shot fired was the appearance of Lex Luger, who had wrestled for WWF the night before. Luger’s contract had lapsed and he signed with WCW the day of the Nitro premiere on TNT.
Many memorable moments occurred during the Monday Night Wars and both companies pushed to newer heights in ratings and revenue. WCW actually defeated WWF in the ratings for 83 consecutive weeks. The shows gradually increased in length from one hour, to two hours, to three, in Nitro’s case. (The WWF would change its name to WWE after a trademark lawsuit from the World Wildlife Federation, and would later increase to three hours each Monday after the wars had ended).
There were too many memorable moments to detail here as the companies battled for supremacy. However, it was a golden age for wrestling fans as both companies pushed the envelope to outdo one another. Which brings us to present times.
The current era of wrestling started fairly innocuously. Renowned wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer was asked on Twitter about the drawing power of independent wrestlers, people who weren’t signed to a major company. A follower asked if any independent company could draw 10,000 fans. Meltzer replied, “Not any time soon.” Cody Rhodes, a second-generation star who had recently departed from WWE responded emphatically to Meltzer: “I’ll take that bet Dave.”
At that time, Cody was wrestling in the Ring of Honor (ROH) promotion. It wasn’t an independent, per se, as it was (and is) owned by the Sinclair broadcast group. They had national syndication but at the time didn’t have a national weekly television slot.
Cody huddled with his new friends the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, and they hatched a plan to do a one-off independent show to try to prove Meltzer wrong. This was the birth of All-In, a supershow in the Chicago, Illinois area intended to sell 10,000 seats. Later, pay-per-view (PPV) distribution was added as the show sold out in under 30 minutes. It was obvious from the response that a hunger existed in the wrestling audience for an alternative to WWE.
Also involved in All-In was Tony Khan, the sports analytics guru and wrestling superfan, and son of the incredibly successful businessman Shahid Khan. In fact, Tony Khan financed the private jet that allowed Chris Jericho to make an appearance at All-In and still honor his concert obligations with his band Fozzy in Merriam, Kansas that night.
Since All-In, it has become obvious that a hunger exists for a different type of pro wrestling than what WWE offers. AEW launched in May with the Double or Nothing pay-per-view from Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena. More events followed with Fyter Fest, a co-promotion with the CEO Gaming convention, and Fight For the Fallen, a fundraiser to combat gun violence in Jacksonville, Florida. The culminating event prior to AEW’s television debut was a PPV from the same arena as All-In. The show, entitled All Out, set the stage for the debut of the TNT weekly program Dynamite from 8-10pm Eastern beginning October 2nd, 2019.
I had originally intended to end here. However, WWE has taken steps to add their developmental territory, NXT, to directly oppose AEW by being televised on the USA network on Wednesday nights also from 8-10pm Eastern. Both promotions cater to the same fans who want more serious pro wrestling. Though the principal players deny it, we have a new wrestling war on our hands.
Calls for MPCA/ACA 2019: Wrestling Studies Division.
Deadline: May 15, 2019
With so much to talk about in professional wrestling right now, we’re looking forward to papers that cover a range of topics: from women’s wrestling in WWE to All Elite Wrestling to Southern style wrasslin’, we welcome any submission on any topic.
In particular, we are looking for submissions that tackle the intersections between politics and professional wrestling. A number of scholars are addressing this topic in an upcoming anthology and panel at ICA, so we’d like to look at it more from a popular culture perspective as well.
If interested in participating this year at the conference in Cincinnati, submit your abstract via this link.
This review of NXT from 2018 comes from more of a fangirl perspective than an academic one, and it is meant to reflect only my own preferences for the best part of the WWE Universe. I would love to hear any other NXT fan’s reactions to this past year, and for a second opinion, and a focus just on NXT matches, see https://uproxx.com/prowrestling/wwe-nxt-matches-of-the-year-2018.
Now, I am not going to talk about specific matches here. I don’t remember specific matches well enough to comment on them. What I am doing instead is reflecting on my favorite parts of NXT from this past year. Those parts may be story lines, characters, or moments, but they are all the parts that I think demonstrate why NXT outshines either Raw or SmackDown and why I always hope/dread that my precious NXT babies will be called up to the main roster.
Each entry on this list made me squee in some way this year, starting with the first one, which is basically just one long, sustained SQUEE at the moment (like, seriously, alternating between squeeing and crying).
The Ciampa/Gargano Story, with special guest star Aleister Black
After his heel turn at NXT TakeOver: Chicago in 2017, Tommaso Ciampa went out with a knee injury and left Johnny Gargano to rise as the main babyface of NXT. On Twitter, Ciampa changed his handle from Project Ciampa to Blackheart and began foreshadowing his return with a tweet on Dec 31, 2017. In it he retweeted Gargano’s tweet expressing hope for 2018 by just saying “Happy New Year, man.” He had been playing the Twitter game a little in the second half of 2017 but turned it up in the beginning of 2018 when he was prepping to return.
Meanwhile, Gargano secured his first NXT title championship opportunity against Andrade Cien Almas at NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia but failed to capitalize on it. Instead of interfering in the match, Ciampa showed up after a disappointed Gargano left the ring with the help of Candice LeRae — and attacked Gargano with his crutch.
Thus began a year-long story arc that is still going! And technically was the latest chapter in their entire NXT storyline.
Ciampa and Gargano went back and forth at each other, both directly and indirectly. Ciampa caused Gargano to be released from NXT on Feb 21, but Gargano was allowed back in after he beat Ciampa bloody at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. From there, Gargano quickly challenged Black for the championship in an attempt to get back on track, while Ciampa continued to cement his status as uber-heel; for a time, he even entered to the crowd booing instead of any entrance music. Their “anniversary” Chicago street fight match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II this year was brutal, both physically and emotionally.
When they brought Aleister Black into the storyline, things really took a dark turn. Gargano started to feel that he could not defeat Ciampa without becoming a heel himself. He tried to cost Ciampa the championship title during a match against Black, only to end up giving the title to Ciampa during a regular NXT show that aired on July 25, shocking and surprising everyone — including Black.
Bringing Black in was a masterstroke — but more so for how they responded to a legit injury Black sustained at a house show that prevented him from fully participating in the story. The idea had been to stage a triple threat match between Black, Ciampa, and Gargano at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV for the championship, but Black’s injury derailed that storyline. Instead, NXT went full steam ahead with Gargano’s turn to the dark side by setting up a mystery that started Aug 8 with Black being attacked outside the Full Sail arena.
General Manager William Regal focused on investigating the attack after NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV until just before NXT TakeOver: WarGames II. During this investigation, Nikki Cross claimed to know who attacked Black and told Regal (more on that below). Yet we the fans never knew the identity of the perpetrator until just before WarGames, when Gargano revealed he attacked Black, setting up a brutal match at WarGames between Black and Gargano and leaving Ciampa to continue to successfully defend his championship.
After absolving Gargano of his sins at WarGames, Black returned looking for a rematch with Ciampa, only for Gargano to demand a rematch with Black. On the Dec 5 show, Ciampa deftly manipulated both Black and Gargano into wanting a steel cage match to end things between them.
That match happened on Dec 19 — ending with a possible DIY reunion.
Throughout 2018, Ciampa demonstrated an amazing ability to play the heel in matches, in promos, and on Twitter. He seems so natural in his Psycho Killer persona and adeptly fitted it into the requirements of NXT/WWE storytelling. Meanwhile, Gargano demonstrated a natural ability to emote and connect with fans, whether as a face or a tweener. His slide to the dark side has been both logical and delicious, allowing him to flesh out his performance skills and show the world why he is Johnny Freakin’ Wrestling.
It is simply stunning that Ciampa and Gargano have built this story line on the basis of their amazing chemistry since their emergence as a put-together tag team for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic back in 2015. It has been over three years now, and their arc is the best storyline in professional wrestling right now. If they can keep it up, it may become the best storyline ever in professional wrestling. There are simply too many moments to recount in this post, and I am already fangirling too much in this entry.
Just do yourself a favor: go back to their beginning and follow their story. The journey is well worth it, and I wait with high anticipation for where the story goes in 2019. I know I am not the only one hoping for a complete DIY heel team, especially if TM61 is kaput, and I would love to see a point where DIY holds the tag team title, Ciampa has the main title, Gargano gets the North American title (even Ciampa wants that!), and LeRae gets the women’s title. Please, WWE, just let this amazing trio hold all the belts before you call them up after this year’s WrestleMania or SummerSlam and ruin them — please!?!
Shayna Baszler Can Legit Kill You (Or Me, At Least)
The Jan 10th episode started 2018’s run of new episodes, and Sahyna Baszler was there to usher in the new era of NXT. This opening match positioned her to dominate the women’s division throughout the year by showing both backstage and in-ring prowess on being able to legit kill people.
After debuting in the inaugural Mae Young Classic, Baszler made her NXT in-ring debut on this episode against Dakota Kai, who would become one of her long-running opponents after receiving a (kayfabe) broken arm after a stomp from Baszler that led to the match being called due to injury.
Not content to let the match end there, Baszler locked Kai in a coquina clutch that brought out champion Ember Moon. Baszler was thus established as the biggest heel in NXT women’s — and perhaps all of NXT — and she has played the role to a T. Every time she smiles, I worry that someone is going to die.
Throughout 2018, Baszler caused bodily harm throughout the women’s division with various opponents like Ember Moon, Nikki Cross, and Kairi Sane, who she battled with for the Women’s Championship title, leading Baszler to end the year as a two-time women’s champion. With her fellow MMA call-ups, the trio is being polished to eventually join Ronda Rousey on the main roster and complete the new Four Horsewomen stable (although Bayley, Sasha, Becky and Charlotte will always hold that title in my heart).
If Shayna goes up this year, I fear for the women of Raw and SmackDown. Heck, I would fear for the men, too, if WWE would get off their duff and let real intergender wrestling happen. She legit scares me, even though in shoot interviews she seems like a nice person I could hang with (thanks to Up Up Down Down).
The Est Becomes Established
Bianca Belair was a minor player in 2017, and even appeared in the inaugural Mae Young Classic to be defeated by the eventual winner Kairi Sane. But she really began to shine in 2018, appearing in the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania 34, and then experiencing a winning streak that saw her tear through the women’s roster at NXT. She won the NXT Universe over with her athleticism, charisma, and hair whip.
Bianca’s year ended with a win in a fatal four-way, giving her a shot at the Women’s Championship against Shayna Baszler. The whip versus the clutch. Should be quite the stiff title match.
What I like about Belair is how natural she seems at this pro wrestling thing. She has amazing power and skill, as her backstory promos have told us about her history of sports competition. But if she couldn’t actually, you know, dead lift other women and toss them aside without a thought, no amount of backstory would matter. The fact that she can do that — as well as all the other moves seen in the video above — effortlessly, and give us a great gimmick with that bullwhip of a braid means she is destined for great things in WWE. I cannot wait to see her and Naomi have a day-glo dance-off, and a triple threat of her, Becky and Charlotte would be amazing.
Just let her run with the title awhile in NXT, because she deserves to shine the bright-EST.
Nikki Cross’ Secret
As mentioned, Nikki Cross played an integral role in the Aleister Black injury angle. She knew who did it (or, per Nikki’s accent, who DEDDIT), and for weeks she stalked the ring and backstage area of NXT’s Full Sail letting everyone know she had a secret, without revealing what she knew. Not even William Regal, P.I., could get the truth out of her. This agent of chaos apparently just wanted to see what would happen when Black got back.
Cross has been a fan favorite since her arrival as part of Sanity, but when they got called up, she got left behind, allowing her to further develop her character and really shine away from their shadow. Now that she is main roster bound, hopefully they don’t dull the crazy from her character, as this wild child is a truly unique example of what women can do in professional wrestling — and by that I mean she shows women can do anything, just like men.
Anything You Can Do, the Dream Can Do Better
At the end of 2017, Velveteen Dream won the NXT Year-End Award for Rivalry of the Year with Aleister Black. This was the “Say My Name” storyline that culminated at NXT TakeOver: WarGames, when Black finally said his name.
His first appearance on May 24, 2017 confused some people (myself included — was he riffing on Prince, who wasn’t that long dead?), but he very quickly became a fan favorite after entering the feud with Black that fall. Their rivalry set the foundation for Velveteen’s elevation to superstardom in 2018 when he feuded with different people and even had a title shot against Ciampa at NXT TakeOver: WarGames II.
However, perhaps his most impressive match was against Richochet at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II. From coming out in his Hulk Hogan meets Prince Puma gear to his attempts to keep pace with and one-up Ricochet, Dream demonstrated that he can have a dream match with anyone.
Two reasons why Velveteen had a breakout year. One, he knows how to perform inside the ring. This match demonstrated that, as he went toe-to-toe with one of the best acrobatic-style wrestlers in the world. In this match it was his undoing, but his power and athleticism will serve him well throughout his career.
Two, as seen from the video, his character work is also amazing, and it shows through his mannerisms and his ring gear. The man went from being a weak contender in Tough Enough to coming up with a gender-defying gimmick that he got over thanks to his performance and costuming. The man borrows from different wrestlers, from Hogan to Rick Rude, but is wholly unique in what he creates from the pastiche.
Side note: I could seriously see him becoming the new Wesley Snipes if he wanted a job in Hollywood.
The Impossible Ricochet
I was sad to see Ricochet leave Prince Puma and Lucha Underground behind, but I am so happy to have him in the WWE Universe, as I hope it helps him earn the oodles of money he deserves.
Ricochet’s in-ring debut for NXT occurred during the ladder match to determine first ever North American Champion at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans. While he failed to come away with the gold — because of course Adam Cole would — he still demonstrated that everything everyone loved about him from the indies would translate to the big show — or at least the NXT version of the big show.
Throughout 2018 Ricochet would have some seriously great matches in which he did some very superhuman things. Yet it was his feud with Velveteen Dream that really cemented who he was in NXT by creating several spectacular moments and an amazing match at NXT TakeOver: Chicago II.
And this is just a sampling of it all:
I first saw that as a GIF on Twitter. My jaw dropped open upon seeing it. It still drops open with every repeat viewing. Because, seriously…how can anyone be that good!?!
Ricochet then defeated Adam Cole for North American Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV and participated in NXT TakeOver: WarGames II with the NXT Avengers of War Machine and Pete Dunne. His high flying moves have quickly made him an NXT favorite.
Hopefully he is not shoehorned with a stupid gimmick on the main roster like Adrian Neville was, taking away that man’s brilliance. Ricochet is another of those men who gravity forgot, and I would hate for him to be as forgotten by WWE creative as they did Neville.
Kyle O’Reilly’s Expressions
I am not an Undisputed Era fangirl, although I do prefer Roderick Strong as a heel than as a babyface (oh man, was he vanilla!). But I do love Kyle O’Reilly’s facial expressions.
O’Reilly is my favorite part of UE. I am always looking at him whenever another of the faction (usually Adam Cole) is speaking. When O’Reilly is in the ring, I worry for the other wrestlers, as his attacks to people’s hamstrings and knees makes my own legs buckle.
I am glad that Bobby Fish has returned so that ReDRagon can continue to have amazing tag matches in NXT. If they are called up, I hope The Revival can be revived and set up against them. Those two teams would be able to redefine WWE tag team wrestling if creative gave them half a chance.
Matt Riddle’s Flip Flops
The King of Bros made his NXT in-ring debut on Oct 31 against Luke Menzies. I like Matt Riddle, but I am never really excited by him. I’ve seen him live and up-close at AAW, and his matches are stiff and fun, but as a character the “bro” persona leaves me cold.
But I love his entrance into the ring where he flips off his flip-flops. That little touch could make him a big WWE star because it both encapsulates everything he is as a professional wrestler — both in terms of his move set and character — while also just being so damn cool I could see fans being willing to pay just to see it.
Plus, how can WWE not capitalize on it by selling Bro Flip-Flops in 2019?
Come Back Any Time, Prince Pretty
On Dec 12, Richochet held an open call to defend his North American Championship. In the weeks leading up to the match, people wondered which new NXT recruit it could be.
Then Prince Pretty’s entrance music started and Tyler Breeze returned to Full Sail to meet Ricochet in the ring.
Everyone in attendance was so happy to see their favorite wrestler/supermodel return — including me. Breeze and Tye Dillinger are those two NXT favorites who just haven’t gotten enough attention on the main roster. At least Breeze was able to make magic with Fandango by creating the Fashion Police, and his regular appearances on Up Up Down Down further cement him as a cult favorite.
But damn was it nice to see him wrestle again. This match with Ricochet helped remind everyone that there was a time when we loved to watch Breeze wrestle, and that Prince Pretty was not just a gimmick character but a highly skilled in-ring performer.
It also helped to highlight the fears of many NXT fan, to see a favorite return from the doldrums of WWE. I hope WWE creative was watching this match, to be reminded of what Breeze can do in-ring. This man can shine if only you let him. Until then, just let him come back to NXT every now and then to work out the ring rust. We will always be glad to see him. And have him bring along Dillinger, too.
Steaks and Weights
Two big burly men: Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight. These two guys should not be able to do the things they can do, and yet they do every time they enter the ring together as Heavy Machinery. And I love them for it. I hope they don’t go the way of all the other great NXT tag teams that I loved when they get to the main roster.
Heavy Machinery encapsulates everything that is great about NXT. Two exciting characters who seem like they are always having fun, both in the ring and in their promos, who also have great wrestling skills and matches that get the fans behind them. They are, to my understanding, what WWE has always tried to have: great sports entertainers, in every facet of the industry.
So when they get to the main roster, don’t waste them, WWE.
And That Is That
I loved NXT in 2018. But I also loved NXT in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. It always brightens my week to watch the show, and they always seem to find some way to make my heart sing. I look forward to what, and who, they bring in 2019.
For now, just let Ciampa and Gargano form heel DIY — and then call them up as a way to reset them back to faces.
How are you doing, good wrestling fans? I hope you all are staying warm and gearing up for the holidays. I have not yet begun my Christmas shopping, as I’m still in disbelief that we are already knocking on 2019’s door.
With Thanksgiving in a few days, I thought this week we could play around with the idea of thankfulness and how that is often a complicated thing for the marginalized identities of the WWE. The women of WWE do have much to be thankful for this year, but in my opinion, just as many things to rage about. Let’s talk about what they’ve been doing since Evolution, although it hasn’t been much.
Not much of it, folks. I am flabbergasted, albeit not surprised, that WWE has managed to muck up the women’s division immediately following Evolution. I will relent only about an inch for the fact that Survivor Series was so soon after Evolution, so there was not that much time to build feuds for the traditional Survivor Series elimination and title matches. I digress — we’ll get into the bad bits in the next section.
But I have to, as I have for the last several posts, rave about Becky Lynch. The woman is an absolute badass, an amazing heel, and yes, reminiscent of Stone Cold Steve Austin. She just gets it, both in the ring and in promos, and she makes her new attitude effortlessly believable. Not only that, she’s mastered an art of the 2018 era of WWE — social media storytelling. “The Man,” as she has christened herself after Evolution, has been absolutely roasting the likes of Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey on Twitter.
Her added sass and downright smack talk on Twitter only adds to the intensity that she brings to her rivalries. After her bloodied and almost triumphant beatdown of Ronda and the RAW women’s locker room, I crossed the threshold of becoming a full-blown Becky Lynch mark.
Continuing with things Becky does well, I’d like to discuss the subversiveness of Becky calling herself “The Man.” Yes, this is obviously a tongue-in-cheek reference to her beating a Flair. But, I read it a bit differently.
In Ronda’s promo on RAW last week (and boy howdy, we’ll get to that), she lamented Becky’s new nickname for herself and how it was disrespectful to the women’s evolution. Ronda, having made mildly transphobic comments in the past, perhaps understandably finds it hard to reconcile how a cisgender woman can call herself anything other than. [EDITOR’S NOTE: here is another article that supports this author’s view on the Lynch-Rousey feud.] Yet, many of the traits heel Becky embodies — her relentlessness, her driven attitude, her righteousness — are those commonly associated with men. But for those who think like Ronda, such a nickname isn’t possible. Gender is a construct. It bears no actual meaning outside of the attributes we attach to it. If by definition to many, being a man means xyz, and Becky embodies those things, then she’s a man. It’s just words. You can be whatever you want to be, really.
Although I am sad that we could not see the culmination of her feud with Ronda at Survivor Series, I am very hopeful that she will meet Ronda in the future, perhaps even at WrestleMania as the rumor has it.
This year, I am thankful for Becky Lynch. This will certainly go down as her year.
Image credit: WWE’s YouTube
As I began to detail above, I’m very disappointed in how transparently WWE discarded the women’s division after they had finished making money off of their pay-per-view. The Smackdown women’s Survivor Series team was announced in a 10-minute segment in the aftermath of Evolution, with no build or pomp and circumstance. In the same episode they announced the women’s team, they spent the rest of the episode building and hyping who would be on the men’s Survivor Series team. I could not believe the sexism was that blatant.
On the RAW side, the women’s team was announced the mere week before Survivor Series. Many people have forgotten this detail because the hullabaloo about the RAW team was overshadowed by Becky Lynch’s brilliant work after it. And yes, while all of the women were the main event of the show, in my eyes, it does not make up for the obvious lack of effort put into building to the traditional Survivor Series bouts, even within the teams themselves. Everything outside of the title picture for the women’s division continues to be thrown together without long-term booking in mind, and it is frustrating to no end.
As a woman watching the product week on week, I sometimes find myself in a tough spot. I’m thankful for how far the women’s division has come. But when does thankfulness become complacency? When does counting your blessings become patronizing? The progression of a few does not translate to the liberation of the many. We’ll talk about this more in the last section.
Although this doesn’t necessarily fit with the above, I have to talk about Ronda’s “Millennial Man” promo here.
Outside of it sounding superficial and scripted, the content of the promo was also bad. Ronda, a person who after only four months and four matches in WWE became champion, dared to call Becky an entitled Millennial (the irony being that Ronda herself, born in 1987, is unequivocally a Millennial). It was clear that Ronda was simply a mouthpiece for the bitter, older, conservative white men in power behind the scenes, dropping lines about being “offended” and it not correlating to being right.
With Ronda’s position of privilege within the company and the agenda-pushing men likely behind the writer’s desk, it isn’t surprising how tone-deaf Ronda sounded. And at the heart of it, I think that’s what irks me most about Ronda. It seems that although WWE tries to paint her as this badass babyface, often she just comes off as an arrogant outsider — someone that is there to represent what WWE thinks feminism is, rather than what it actually is.
Not only that, but I didn’t think it wise of WWE to play the “snowflake” Millennial card. If WWE thought they were going to get Ronda over using the tired Entitled Millennial card — when a sizable majority of their diehard fanbase are Millennials that grew up on the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras — they were sadly mistaken. We’re keeping the fandom of your product alive, Vince. Best not to bite the hand that feeds you.
Considering the idea of thankfulness as a woman can be a double-edged sword. If you don’t seem thankful enough for what you have, you’re seen as a miserable, power-hungry bitch. If you’re too thankful or passive about what you’ve been given in life, you can create unhealthy power dynamics with people, allowing them to walk all over you. For the women of WWE, I ache for them trying to walk this line in management’s eyes.
I talk a lot here about what true evolution could look like for the women. I don’t think the idea of “equality” can be met as long as all the women are is thankful.
Image credit: Forbes.com
Thankful for getting more segments on weekly TV, but ones that are shorter and still fewer than the men. Thankful for finally being able to wrestle the same amount of stipulation matches as the men. Thankful to now have their own pay-per-view.
Why can’t they ask for more? Or rather, why can’t they demand it? Do all of the new developments of the women’s division mean anything if the division is vapid? Why should the entire division be thankful for these strides toward “equality” when only a few of them will reap the benefits of those advancements?
I’m not sure why Asuka or Ember Moon or Tamina Snuka or Naomi would be excited about women being able to wrestle Last Woman Standing matches now if they know they’ll likely never be written into feuds with enough build to warrant such a stipulation. Or if they do, it will be long after the inception of such matches for the (white) women.
It is upsetting that WWE has myopic vision for female stories. Only two at a time, the rest of you can wait your turn. It is not too much to ask that WWE find headspace to care about women (most often women of color) not in contention for a women’s title. It is not being ungrateful to point out that there is still more WWE can do on a weekly basis to develop female characters.
I say it time and time again. It isn’t progress until everyone can have a seat at the table. I love the work that Becky Lynch is doing. But similar to her counterpart Ronda, she is not the whole division. Give the rest of the women something to be thankful for besides participation trophies.
I bet you’re wondering why I didn’t talk about Survivor Series in this post. Quite simply, I don’t have enough thoughts about the show to warrant a discussion of it in this post. It was there, it happened, and it’s too early to tell where things are going in its wake. (And admittedly, much of the booking on the men’s side tainted my perception of the women’s segments.)
EDITOR’S NOTE: There is a spoiler here for NXT UK and is marked as such.
This past Sunday night was WWE’s first ever all women’s pay-per-view called Evolution. While other promotions feature an all women roster (Shimmer and Shine most notably), this is the first time WWE has put all the focus on their women Superstars. The event was held in Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, NY, a venue with a lot of wrestling history. I personally saw my first wrestling show in this very arena. While there is no former WWE show to compare this too, it is interesting to note that this show was held less than a week before WWE Crown Jewel, another one of the Saudi Arabia shows that bars women from competing. I was at Evolution in person, so my review will be from an in person point-of-view.
The crowd at Evolution was a nice mix – I saw fans of all ages, genders, and races. There were women cosplaying as their favorite superstars – I noticed women as Alexa Bliss, Nikki Bella, Carmella, Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey, Asuka, and Trish Stratus. There were also tons of shirts for women superstars, some from WWE Shop, and others from back in the day or from independent sites. The merchandise tables only had merch from women superstars, in both men’s and women’s cuts. Sadly, they did not have anything from their new Curvy Collection (women’s cut shirts in plus sizes).
SPOILER: During the pre-show, the audience at home saw footage and interviews from the red carpet, along with promos for the upcoming matches. The audience at the Coliseum saw Rhea Ripley defending the NXT UK Women’s Title against Dakota Kai. While the NXT UK show has not showed Rhea winning the title, her holding the belt is known to the WWE Universe. The match itself was short, but fun. The crowd seemed fully invested in the match, and I am personally excited to see more of Rhea once her title defenses start to air on the WWE Network. My rating: B+.
The show opened up with rock legends Nita Strauss (in the ring) and Lzzy Hale (on the ramp) shredding their guitars with Lzzy also singing about Evolution. It was hard to hear from my seats in the 200 level, but the crowd popped when they realized who was performing.
The first match up was the tag team match of Trish Stratus & Lita (Team Bestie) versus Alicia Fox & Mickie James (with Alexa Bliss). Lillian Garcia, former ring announcer, was here to announce this match. Trish came out first to a huge pop from the crowd, followed by Lita who got an even louder pop. Alexa then came out to cut a brief promo making fun of Lita and Trish’s age. Alicia and Mickie came out to Mickie’s music. During the match Lita and Trish both received “you still got it” chants, and when Alicia Fox botched a save there was one of the loudest boos of the night. Lita performed a Twist of Fate on Alicia, followed by a moonsault on both Alicia and Mickie. Mickie was then on the receiving end of a Chick Kick from Trish, who then pinned Mickie for the win. For the most part the legends in the ring looked good, with the exception of a Stratusfaction that looked sloppy. Fun Fact: Trish debuted 18 years ago in Nassau Coliseum. My rating: B+.
Courtesy of WWE.
Next up was the Women’s Battle Royal. Each woman had her own entrance, which was a welcomed departure from former battle royals. Lilian Garcia came back to announce this match as well. Every woman came out by herself, with the exception of The IIconics. The IIconics cut a promo on their way to the ring, and this saw them as the first ones eliminated. The new stars circled around the legends, and then the all-out brawl happened. One thing I noticed about the audience was that there were no “Rusev Day” chants for Lana, nor did any of the other women get their significant others mentioned (something the crowd normally does). Some of the bigger pops from the match were when: Mandy Rose eliminated Sonya Deville; when Nia and Tamina gave a shout out to their cousin Roman Reigns; when Ember Moon eliminated Asuka; and when Zelena Vega appeared again towards the end to try to eliminate Nia and Ember. The crowd popped when Nia won, though I think they would have been happy with any of the three final women winning. Fun Fact: Michelle McCool became the first Diva’s champion in Nassau Coliseum. My rating: B+
Next up was the finals of the Mae Young Classic: Toni Storm versus Io Shirai. Toni was in the 2017 Mae Young Classic, coming up short in the semi-finals. This match was a chance at redemption for her. Io was looking to make a name for herself in WWE, after taking the Japanese wrestling world by storm. Before either entered the ring, there was a shot of Jessika Carr on the screens. Jessika is the first woman referee WWE has, and received a nice pop from the crowd when she was shown. Both women received healthy pops from the crowd, and I would estimate the crowd was 50/50 on who they wanted to win. These women received the first “this is awesome” chant of the night. After a lot of back and forth that made both women look strong, Toni won. Both women were very emotional after, especially when Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and NXT Trainer Sara Amato came out to give both women roses. In one of the sweetest moments of the night, Toni and Io were hugging and crying in the ring, even as Toni helped Io to her feet. You could tell there was true respect and sportsmanship from both women. My rating: A+
Courtesy of WWE.
The 3 versus 3 match was next up. Riott Squad came out first and they were all dressed as horror movie villains. Then Sasha came out, followed by Natalya then Bayley. There was a small pop when Bayley’s Buddies came up. The crowd was firmly behind Sasha, Bayley, and Natalya, though there was a small boo when Sasha’s hometown Boston was announced (unsurprising because the event was held in Yankee territory). When Natalya and Sasha Banks performed the Hart Attack there was a nice pop, and it was a great reference to Natalya’s late father. After a back and forth match, Liv Morgan of the Riott Squad got hit by a triple finisher – first a power bomb from Natalya, followed by a dive by Bayley, then a frog splash from Banks. Banks pinned Liv for the win. The match made every woman in it look strong, which is always a nice thing. My rating: A.
The NXT Women’s Title match was next. The match itself, Kairi Sane versus Shayna Baszler, is a rematch of the finals of the 2017 Mae Young Classic. Jessica Carr was back to referee the match. The crowd was roughly 70/30, for Kairi. This match took the crowd a bit to warm up to, but once they got into the match, they got loud. Shayna holding Kairi up by her arm and then dropping her to the ground got one of the bigger pops, as did Kairi doing an elbow drop to Shayna on the ground. The latter move got an “NXT” chant from the crowd. Shayna’s fellow Four Horsewomen, Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, got involved in the match, helping Shayna win and become the first 2x NXT Women’s Champion. Kairi did not tap to Shayna’s submission hold. Rather, she passed out and could not answer the ref’s call. My rating: A+.
Courtesy of WWE.
The hottest match of the night was Becky Lynch versus Charlotte Flair for the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a Last Woman Standing match. The only way to win was to incapacitate your opponent so bad they could not get up for a ten count. The crowd was firmly behind Becky, with the loudest boos of the night going to Charlotte as she entered. According to a friend who was watching at home, the Network made it seem like the crowd was booing Becky and cheering Charlotte during the pre-match package. Despite booing Charlotte when she came out, the crowd did cheer with her chops and when she cleared off an announce table. The crowd was so against Charlotte that there were times my friend and I thought the crowd would riot if Becky didn’t leave with the belt. Some chants included “boo the woo” and “you deserve it” when Becky was burying Charlotte. The match ended with Becky power bombing Charlotte through a table, incapacitating Charlotte for a 10 count. Rating: A.
After this match there was a graphic shown for WWE Crown Jewel that was booed so badly they took the graphic down after only a few seconds. This showed a lack of foresight on the production team – the crowd did not want to see a graphic for a show women cannot compete in during Evolution.
The final match was Ronda Rousey versus Nikki Bella (with Brie Bella). The crowd was firmly on Ronda’s side during the entrances, while during the match there were some “let’s go Ronda/let’s go Nikki” chants. From my seat this was the only time I heard sexist chants going on. A group of men were chanting “Cena left you” to Nikki, as well as yelling “beat her [Nikki] like Cena should have.” This was the only time I felt uncomfortable during the event. Thankfully, my friend Pat yelled at them to “shut the eff up.” The match itself was great, though I would have put it before Charlotte and Becky. Nikki looked strong, getting Ronda with the Rack Attack 2.0. Ronda ended up winning after getting Nikki in the arm bar, despite numerous interferences from Brie Bella. My rating: A-.
Overall Evolution was one of the better PPVs and cards I have seen in a while. There was a feel of an NXT event to it, with the way the ring was set up (no LED screens on the posts or ringside). The barriers were the metal ones instead of the thicker ones. I fully enjoyed myself, and hope this was not a one off event. Seeing the women leave it all in the ring was wonderful and this event celebrated women of the past, present, and future. Overall PPV rating: A-.
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.
Image credit: wwedivadeluxex.tumblr.com
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.
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.
Well, the “biggest event of the summer” has arrived, and WWE has taken over Brooklyn for the fourth consecutive year. WWE’s SummerSlam is one of the WWE’s “Big Four” (Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Survivor Series) pay-per-views, and each year it’s being hyped as bigger and bigger, which is made evident as the show gets longer and longer.
This is usually the point in the season where the WWE starts their long-term storylines for WrestleMania, and it employs the following plot devices a majority of the time:
A return of a Superstar in action we haven’t seen in a good while.
Some type of swerve, shock, etc. involving the main event or another title match.
The eventual breakout star for the next year’s WrestleMania suffers some sort of injustice.
One of the matches of the card that the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community) is waiting for with bated breath ends up being as exciting as a wet firework.
A celebrity from popular culture gets involved with the action.
I won’t analyze the preshow, because seven hours is a lot to be sitting for, but I will be covering the main card. Instead of using the five-star rating scale, I will give the matches a 1 (okay, go grab another slice of pizza), 2 (Not bad, beat expectations and was able to keep a viewer’s attention throughout the match) or a 3 (Wow, I remember why I fell in love with wrestling in the first place) count.
Rollins (nice homage to Thanos with the outfit) and Ambrose come out to a big pop. Seth has been carrying Raw since WrestleMania 34 and has elevated the Intercontinental Championship into many a main event on Raw this past year. The show kicks off with two of the best in-ring performers to get the people out of their seats. Lots of teases between Ambrose and McIntyre while the match goes back and forth in the ring. Lots of high spots here, but a nice flow to the match. Seth gets busted open, but ends up taking the title home.
Both teams come out to decent crowd reaction after the previous match pulled a lot of emotion out of the crowd. Maybe the New Day’s gimmick is getting stale and we’re waiting for the eventual discord/heel turn for the group, but the whole “we’ve done everything except beat the repackaged Wyatt family” angle doesn’t have me sitting with clasped hands watching this slow-paced match. It ends mercifully with a DQ win by the New Day after they were accosted with rubber mallets. Yes, you read that right.
After months of the cat-and-mouse game between WWE’s next big Goliath and one of the best heels on either show, this match made viewers wonder what will happen here. A squash match? Some goofy technicality that causes Strowman to lose? A returning best friend in Sami Zayn? Strowman doesn’t need the briefcase to be a credible challenger, but Owens with a briefcase offers so many possibilities. Owens took some major bumps here and, while this was a squash match, should we really be pulling for the bully? Strowman made Owens look like a jobber, and it will be interesting if Braun cashes in later on in the show.
Is this when Becky Lynch finally gets that elusive title? Or does WWE keep Charlotte Flair in the title talk for months to come? It seems like Carmella is just an afterthought here. Charlotte and Becky did most of the in-ring work here, with the “best friends put at odds” in play here. After various near fall for Lynch, Flair comes out on top, earning her spot as the top female on Smackdown once again. The crowd went wild after Becky’s heel turn, and one can hope this turns into a great program for the rest of the calendar year between these two women pioneers.
Two of the most talented workers in the company are going head to head in this mid-card match. This match is a far cry from their TNA days. Having A.J.’s family at ringside was a nice touch and brought some real emotional investment in this match that should be a solid match technically. And it was. Pulling in AJ’s family for the big mental breakdown at the end for Joe’s DQ win brought in the all-too vaunted blurred kayfabe to end it. A.J. walking off into the crowd with his family was a unique ending.
Cue up the digs on the hometown crowd from Elias. After breaking his guitar and a lively and vocal reaction from the Brooklyn faithful, he walks off in a huff. I’m not sure what this was going to accomplish other than a restroom break.
A match eight years in the making and one that features some solid microphone work leading up this between an all-time fan favorite against arguably the top heel in the company, this was a match that could offer up some juicy possibilities. A seemingly split crowd was into this match from the outset. After a war of attrition, some old-fashioned “foreign object in the heel’s hand from his accomplice” sealed the deal for the Miz. It was very nice of Daniel Bryan to put the Miz over. Let’s hope this storyline gets a conclusive ending.
The classic “David vs. Goliath” storyline, this match was just thrown in as a filler for the card. It’s a shame, because after reinventions for both characters, each one seems to be an afterthought in WWE’s title plans. It’s been a long time since Finn was the first Universal Champion and his talents have been on the shelf, either through booking or injury, since then. The “Demon King” entrance was a nice touch, and while it’s great to see Finn take the role of champion for the LGBTQ community, the red and black face paint give him a different dimension and depth to his character. A quick squash by Balor ended this and one can hope we see the red and black facepaint in the title picture.
Two fan favorites here that are not the best on the microphone, but are pure magic in the ring, with Randy Orton slithering (pun intended) in the background, you just knew that this match wouldn’t have a decisive finish. A quick pace to this match and lots of aerial action defined this match, but its placement on the card didn’t help a tired crowd that sat through three hours of Summer Slam already. After previously failing as a main eventer, Nakamura gutted out the win despite Hardy’s best efforts. Orton made his appearance at the end, making sure this dance will go one a little longer.
This was inevitably going to be Rousey’s, arguably the greatest female combat sports athlete ever, and destined to take away the title from the best current female heel.
This was a quick display and booked as a squash. It’s going to be a while before someone takes the belt off of her, as it should be. She’s a believable dominant force and with Brock Lesnar leaving the company, her credibility will be key for the Women’s Division going forward.
Smarks’ heads must have exploded when this match was finalized. On one hand, you’ve got Roman Reigns, the next chosen face of the company who is divisive among the WWE Universe. Many folks didn’t want Reigns to win, but if he did get his preordained coronation as the Universal Championship, it means the main title being featured weekly once again.
On the other hand, Brock Lesnar, the champion that makes as many appearances as Sasquatch, may have the credibility as the champion, but has fallen out of favor with the fans due to his perceived lack of care for weekly competition. Not competing every week makes the championship belt on the company’s flagship show seems like a novelty. Every champion before him, if they were able to, competed every week on televised and non-televised events. Lesnar has made it very clear that he only works when the money is there. He is also leaving to go back to UFC to challenge Daniel Cormier for its top belt, so in keeping with time-honored traditions of dropping the belt before leaving the company. He surely couldn’t win, could he?
Enter Braun Strowman and his Money in the Bank briefcase, averting a booking travesty and sitting at ringside awaiting the winner. It was unique way to get fans into the match instead of subjecting them to Lesnar-Reigns IV. Thanks to some shrewd booking, Reigns got his win thanks to Lesnar being preoccupied with Strowman. The win let all three men involved look strong, and hopefully we will get a championship match from week to week from now on.
Overall, this was a pay-per-view that tried to keep adjusting the pace, but is not one that I would recommend to anyone on a Trans-Atlantic flight with five hours to kill. Now with Lesnar and his contract gone, hopefully WWE creative makes the Universal title the featured attraction on Raw again. The company is moving forward with Reigns and Rousey as its faces on Raw, and Styles and Flair on Smackdown, for better or worse. TWO COUNT OVERALL
Hello good wrestling fans. I come to you with devastating news this week. After attempting to watch Extreme Rules yesterday — as I am wont to do using my brother-in-law’s account — I was given an error message upon trying to stream the pay-per-view, telling me that I needed a subscription to continue.
The heartbreak was real, friends, for me and my wallet. WWE figured out the madness behind people sharing streaming accounts. I was forced to subscribe to the network using my own email and payment information. I am recovering, but my innocence has truly been lost. Thanks, WWE. I hope you’re proud of what you’ve done.
In all seriousness, while it is annoying I now have to pay for a subscription, I can’t deny that it will pay for itself in time, or that I won’t use it. Plus, I have a feeling that sometime in the future, WWE will move away from PPV altogether, and the future will lie with the network and streaming.
Anyways, let’s crack on with the nylons and the midriffs. As usual, I’ll divide things between TV programs and the pay-per-view.
Photo cred: WWE.com
RAW and SD Live: Sadly I don’t have much for this section this week, but I will take time to comment on the matches between Ember Moon and Liv Morgan. Despite the fact that this pairing was likely thrown together willy nilly, the two put on solid matches on two separate RAW shows. I like that these two were given exposure on pretty dense shows, and both women looked good. Even if Liv lost both matches, to me, she looked strong in defeat, and Ember got to keep her momentum still being fresh to the main roster. For Liv in particular, it was good that she was given the spotlight to show off her wrestling skills, as backup members of any faction can easily be forgotten as legitimate threats between the ropes as well as outside of them. Nicely done.
Extreme Rules: None. Absolutely none.
The Bad RAW and SD Live: Here’s the thing: the weeks leading up to Extreme Rules were just plain bad for the women’s division. The buildup to both women’s title matches sucked, and other women’s segments were either pointless or nonexistent. And so much of what we did see was confusing with a lot of plot holes.
On the RAW side, we have the ongoing saga of Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax, with Natalya and Ronda Rousey as odd third and fourth wheels. I have so many questions:
As mentioned in previous posts, why is Nia a face now when she was acting very heelish only a month or so ago? Is it because they’re both on Total Divas?
Why are Nia and Natalya friends? Is it just because RAW is short stacked for face women to put in tag matches?
Why is Nia being positioned simply as a placeholder for Ronda?
The mystery of Ronda is intriguing, but it becomes apparent every week in her absence that WWE just cannot write logical women’s segments or storylines. And that’s sad because 95% of their women’s roster is, you know, not Ronda Rousey.
And don’t even get me started on the Smackdown women’s division. James Ellsworth and Carmella are almost unwatchable to me at this point with how badly they are written and how sloppily both performers execute the material they are given. And poor Asuka…
Extreme Rules: …who deserves so much more than what she gets week in and week out. She continually is made to look like an imbecile by people who are cartoonish heels at this point. That match with Carmella was awful and you will not convince me otherwise. The booking, the pace, the execution, all of it. It’s matches like that that caused fans three years ago to cry out #GiveDivasAChance. How soon WWE forgets.
Image credit: 411mania.com
I don’t really have anything to say about the RAW women’s title match. I was indifferent to it, but I will say that it was predictable as all get out, especially since we’ve seen the face/heel dynamic between Alexa and Nia so much already at this point. The Ronda interference was fun, but I think it was poorly placed. She should have come out after Alexa’s win to assert herself as her new challenger. Interfering during the match itself felt trigger happy. It would have been more satisfactory if Alexa ate the punishment at the end rather than Mickie in the middle of the match.
The Thorny RAW and SD Live: And we’re back to the Tale of the Never-Ending Feud between Sasha Banks and Bayley. I can’t believe I, along with other fansm really thought WWE had gotten it together a few weeks ago with that Bayley “heel turn.” There’s first the issue that Bayley was told by General Manager Kurt Angle that she needed to go to counseling to keep her job, on the very same RAW that Braun Strowman turned over Kevin Owens’ car and laughed about it. Not only was this the wrong move to make storyline-wise — because segments like these typically only work if they are comedy acts — but it also was very gendered.
Image credit: WWE’s YouTube
We do not threaten men’s jobs because they can’t get along with their cohorts. The fact that these women are being asked to essentially perform emotional labor to resolve their issues screams sexism. Men aren’t put in these kinds of segments, and if they are (a la, Team Hell No), we are supposed to laugh at it. And to top it all off, nothing even came of it!
This feud exposes a glaring problem in WWE’s women’s division. It once again proves that WWE is incapable of creating worthwhile storylines between women that don’t involve the title. Here we have two insanely talented Superstars that, lest we not forget, had Match of the Year in NXT and Pro Wrestling Illustrated in 2015 because of their NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn title match, the first time for either that a women’s match had achieved that feat. If any two women could carry a feud without a title, it would be these two.
GIF credit: diva-dirt.com
But WWE is wasting them, because to focus on more than two feuds at one time in the women’s division is too difficult. We are able to create slow-burning non-title feuds with the men. Four matches at Extreme Rules were men’s non-title matches. Why, why can’t we do this for the women?
Extreme Rules: I don’t have anything yet, but only time will tell if the results will have long-standing implications.
That’s it, folks. Now we build to SummerSlam, and I’m hoping some marquee matches start to show themselves soon, because the division sorely needs it.
I’m back with another entry into the Nylons and Midriffs series. Not exactly the same time as I promised in my last post, but ’tis life sometimes. Due to circumstances out of my control, this post is one week later than I hoped it would be. Therefore, this week I’ll discuss the events of the previous two weeks of RAW and Smackdown Live, not including the go-home shows to Money in the Bank. I’ll discuss those in my next post, to talk about everything MITB-related.
With that, let’s jump right in.
Image credit: WWE.com
I liked that in the weeks leading up to the go-home for MITB, the women were given more time than usual in segments and matches. We saw women receive attention that are typically disposable when it comes to airtime, like Lana, Naomi, and Mickie James. The primary exposure for them were matches rather than segments, and ones that were given at least a commercial break in the middle of them. This is great! I just want to see women wrestle!
And the wrestling was sound. While the pacing and sequence choreography could use some work, the female Superstars have the moves to carry matches. Fans also have new rivalries to daydream about — can you imagine Sonya versus Naomi, Sasha versus Ember, Charlotte versus Becky (again)?
And as one small aside in this section, Becky Lynch picked up a victory over Charlotte! While I have a lot of feelings about the pedestal that Charlotte has been put on during her time on the main roster, it is undeniable that at this point, having her put you over means something. I hope it signals a push for Becky in the future, because that woman is criminally underutilized for her wrestling ability.
The most bothersome thread throughout the last couple of weeks has been that WWE is confused on how to make women clear-cut heels and faces. Let’s look at two examples.
The first: Nia Jax. She only just finished a triumphant, anti-bullying feud with Alexa Bliss to win the title, but now she’s in the murky area of tweener against Ronda Rousey. She used a jobber to show off her power to Ronda while cutting a very heelish promo.
Image credit: DigitalSpy.com
Then, the next week, she quasi-injured Natalya, and acts overly concerned for her to seemingly irk Ronda, who we are supposed to believe is Natalya’s actual friend. What? Is Nia the heel or the face? Being less half-assed about Nia’s characterization would really help the fans invest in this feud, because we have schemas for face v. face, heel v. face, etc. Even if it’s silly to turn Nia heel so soon after her feud with Alexa, it would be a lot better than what we’ve been given thus far.
Second: Lana. She is a part of Rusev Day, who WWE are for some reason trying to push as heels. She teased breaking Rusev and Aiden English up when she returned to TV, only to have Aiden give her an endearing song for fans to sing during her matches. When she qualified for MITB, she celebrated with Aiden like a face. But during her dance-off with Naomi, she attacked Naomi after teasing a truce with her. How does this benefit Lana?
Last: Sasha Banks and the Tale of the Never-Ending Feud. One week on RAW, we had Ember Moon, a face, tag with Sasha Banks, a…tweener(?), and Alexa Bliss, a bonafide heel. Why??? I understand that sometimes heels and faces tag together to build tension in an ongoing feud, but a) none of these women are feuding, and b) it only works if the characters are distinct and use that to play off one another. Sasha being lost somewhere between heel and face made this trio very odd.
And then, when Bayley came out to “save” the match after Alexa left to gain victory for the face team, Sasha took the win like a face. But afterwards, when Kurt Angle told the team that they lost by DQ, Sasha instantly hated Bayley again, like a heel. Who is this feud for?! Who is the face? Who is the heel? WWE is wasting some of its best and most unique talents by damning them to purgatory. No one likes you when you’re in purgatory.
I would be remiss in my ranting if I didn’t mention my rage at the Gauntlet Match on RAW a few weeks ago. The announcers spent the whole night touting the match, spewing “historic” and other hyperboles into our ears. And it was all well and good, until we entered the third hour and there was still no match. We got to half an hour before the end of the show, still no match. We got a damned comedy segment about barbecue before we got that Gauntlet Match.
WWE insulted our intelligence by assuming we’d forgotten that the men’s gauntlet match from several weeks before lasted nearly two-thirds of the show. The women’s Gauntlet started at 9:43pm, Central Daylight Time. Twenty minutes. Less than twenty minutes. A match with seven participants, one of which who was in her hometown. This is disgraceful and unacceptable.
Photo cred: CagesideSeats.com
I am glad that we have reached the point of doing. Yes, we now allow women into previously uncharted territory. Now we need to work on the execution, and I don’t mean on the part of the wrestlers. On the part of Creative, producers, and decision-makers in WWE. They need to advocate for women to get the exposure they deserve.
We cannot tout women’s liberation if we are going to only allow women to shine as long as the men shine brighter. That is “women’s empowerment” that fits politely within the patriarchy. If WWE really wants its women to transcend the shortcomings of the past, the company needs to execute the booking of their women’s division in a more audacious way. They deserve to take up space.
Through and through, I’m still amped for MITB. My thoughts on the go-home shows are mostly positive in terms of the female Superstars, so hopefully the pay-per-view itself delivers some satisfying results.
Welcome to Nylons and Midriffs, PWSA’s new bi-weekly column on women’s wrestling in WWE. In this column, we’re going to magnify women’s wrestling on WWE’s two main brand shows, RAW and Smackdown Live. We’ll hammer out the ways the division develops in this so-called “Women’s Evolution.”
When it comes to wrestling critique, male critics, bloggers, and YouTubers often analyze women’s matches and storylines through a masculine lens, or relative to what the men are doing. And because they are the dominant voices in wrestling fandom, their opinions become the accepted critical lexicon.
But, what if we took away that veneer — the idea that women only exist because the men do? What if we only paid attention to the women’s segments, and judged the quality of the product on how they were doing?
Visibility is not merely enough to proclaim that women are equal, and yet equality is not necessarily what we should be striving for. The women’s division can become a unique entity for the company if women are allowed to be three-dimensional.
To contextualize my voice in wrestling discourse, I will always be cognizant of social implications and representation in these posts. I am coming to this column with a strong sense of civic duty to point out racist, misogynist, and homophobic undertones in this product that I love so much. In the same way that WWE has to complicate the stories they tell and the women they push in the women’s division, the online wrestling world needs to hear from fans and scholars other than straight, white men. It is my hope that, as a black woman, I can create a space for more diverse fans to speak out and feel comfortable in the fandom. Perhaps then, will we see the people and stories we crave on television every week.
In this first post, I’ll talk more generally about the state of the women’s division as a foundation; but as the series goes on, I’ll get more specific to matches and segments as necessary.
If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’re in for some soft rants, respectful critiques, and come-to-Jesus realness about the women of the WWE. This column will be split into three sections for your consideration: The Good, The Bad, and The Thorny.
I like that the heel women are given segments and promo time to build heat with the audience. Specifically, I’m referring to the work of Alexa Bliss, Carmella, and the IIconics.
Image credit: WWE’s YouTube
Alexa, previously with her “Moment of Bliss” each week and heelish ring work, is likely the top heel woman on the roster because she fully understands her character. Carmella and the IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) hone the art of being insufferably annoying every week to the chagrin of the live crowds (and the audience’s ears).
Image credit: insidepulse.com
Even if it isn’t the ideal heel characterization they could have been given (note that there are no comparable male equivalents to them), you can’t deny, it is working. Their heat is real.
A general critique that will probably recur in this column, it seems that WWE’s writers only know how to write heel characters for the women. Pretty much all of the faces in the women’s division are vapid, and appear as faces seemingly for no other reason than they are anti-heel. They aren’t characterized as good guys. WWE simply puts them on TV every week and assumes that fans will cheer for them because they venture to thwart their heel opponents.
Women that at one time had very distinct face personas, like Becky Lynch, Bayley, and even Ember Moon, now sort of just exist as wrestlers to put opposite of more vindictive women in six-person tag matches.
Image credit: wrestlingnewssource.com
Indeed, if you pay close enough attention, some weeks the only thing that separates the heel and face women on TV is that the face women smile more and talk less. And the most over heel women are simply the ones that speak with the loudest shrill on the microphone.
What does it say that the only women that the writers seem to be able to write somewhat well are the ones we’re supposed to hate? Why can’t they create likable women, or unlikable women that offer more as characters than just being obnoxious? Sounds like something men who don’t understand women would do.
We are now setting up for Money in the Bank. The two title matches that have been announced — Nia Jax vs Ronda Rousey and Carmella vs. Asuka — have zero build. WWE is getting into the habit of throwing their women in matches, for the title or otherwise, at random with little foresight. This does nothing to help fans invest in the women or their matches.
Image credit: prowrestlingsheet.com
The point of pay-per-views (at least until this point) has been to give the fans a payoff for a build that has been developed over time on TV. If the women’s matches don’t have any build, then fans don’t have an emotional entry point into the action of the match. It also doesn’t help the wrestlers, because interacting with one another on live TV and/or having matches every week leading up to the pay-per-view gives them time to create chemistry as they continue their feud. This results in matches being lackluster and performers that are only going through the motions, hitting their spots and then leaving.
Most importantly, when WWE does this, it makes apparent to the fans that they are not invested in the so-called feuds they are writing. And if we can see that, why would we invest ourselves? You can’t build worthwhile feuds that advance a performer’s career with chance interactions backstage (Sasha/Bayley), awkward in-ring encounters (Asuka/Carmella), and painfully staged conversations at PR summits (Nia/Ronda). The women crawl through their feuds and character progression, while the men stride.
Perhaps WWE is planning to build backwards with their women’s title matches at Money in the Bank, and we will see the rivalries unfold steadily leading up to it. Regardless, I perpetually wish that women’s feuds weren’t so convoluted compared to how simple their characters are.
I’ll be back in two weeks, same time same place, to see how these feuds shake out.