Amidst lots of controversy and definite attention, the women in the WWE are in a challenging position as we head towards their first ever exclusive pay-per-views event, WWE Evolution. That stands as a great representation for women’s wrestling in general.
Let me start off by saying that this piece is going to be more of a question to you all reading than an expression of any particular viewpoint of mine. I got opinions about all things pro wrestling of course but this is one of those times when it’s best for us guys to shut up and listen to the ladies who watch the show alongside us. After the promo showdown between Ronda Rousey and Nikka Bella this past Monday my Twitter feed was a very interesting place.
There was a lot of opposition to what Ronda said to Nikki, but there were also some people who found it entertaining and enjoyed seeing Nikki get dragged. I’m not a Nikki fan or hater so I had no fever to see her get taken down a peg, but I’ll admit that my initial reaction was ‘DDAAAAMMMMNNNN!’ I didn’t expect Ronda to go there, and I was impressed that she did a longer promo than I ever expected her to be able to handle. As far as whether it was too much, I’m really not the one to ask about that.
I started out as a fan when things said towards and about women on wrestling shows were far more harsh than that, so my tolerance level is a lot higher than it probably should be in 2018. I was around in 1986, when Jim Cornette went way farther than would ever be allowed on TV today.
OK, it’s storytime everyone…..
Cornette was managing the Midnight Express, who as NWA World Tag Team Champions were pretty much feuding with every face tag team on the roster in Jim Crockett’s World Championship Wrestling. That included Dusty Rhodes and Magnum T.A, who were being managed by Baby Doll. One week the four men were fighting and Cornette’s men got the advantage.
In a truly sickening image for even 12 year old me Baby Doll ran in to stand between them, the Express grabbed hold of her, and Cornette jabbed her in the stomach (fast forward to the 1:45 mark in the link) with the handle of his tennis racket. It obviously was a work but it looked real as all get out. Needless to say Cornette was getting nuclear heat, even some death threats after that.
But that didn’t stop him from doubling down. In the weeks that followed Cornette went on TV, didn’t apologize one bit, and insulted her further – calling her fat, claiming she slept with all the boys, and saying that no man worth anything would want her.
At one point to get revenge Dusty and Magnum grabbed Cornette, dragged him out of the arena, tied him to the back of a truck, and began to drive off before the Express got him free. The angle culminated in a series of mixed tag matches where Baby Doll would eventually get her hands on Cornette, pummel him good, and pin him.
Uhhh, yeah……….80s pro wrestling, everyone. Women were anything but empowered save for the rare opportunity you got a wimpy manager like Cornette against a woman like Baby Doll, who was not the damsel in distress type and could conceivably come out on top in a hypothetical confrontation.
Fast forward to 2017 and 2018 when Becky Lynch and then Asuka both did a much tamer version of this with James Ellsworth (no assault and battery against her and no horribly misogyny directed towards her in promos) Which brings us to today and a time when more women than ever are employed as wrestlers in the business and not just managers or valets. While that in itself is a big improvement we still have some ways to go as far as how they are portrayed as characters.
In Ring of Honor, the women are as bland as you could possibly get. A few of their women wrestlers cheat, and they don’t all wrestle the same style, but that’s the extent to which there’s any depth whatsoever. There’s very little expression of any personality at all.
I don’t watch Impact Wrestling so I can’t judge them, but they’ve long been ahead of the curve in American women’s wrestling and appear from the outside to be doing well with Tessa Blanchard on board as champ and Jordynn Grace coming in.
But then there’s Scarlett Bordeaux who can go in the ring but has a character that is a throwback to the Attitude Era in WWE, and it’s difficult to say whether that’s a good or bad thing but it does seem a bit out of place in 2018. I’ll let everyone judge for themselves.
Which bring us to the WWE. While they are still very much catching up to Impact’s lead, they have the advantage of being able to do things on a larger scale and with a bigger visibility than anyone else. Ring of Honor will probably never anywhere the effort into production or promotion WWE does, and Impact will never have the reach. For the majority of American wrestling fans women’s wrestling in WWE is women’s wrestling, for good and ill.
And while I think there’s way more good than ill in 2018, there’s still some work to be done. That promo showdown was a microcosm of things – good that they got a long promo segment, bad that it reverted to age old tropes about sleeping one’s way to the top. So how do fix that? Wrestling feuds are often built on insults, random slights that turn into beefs, or on one person just feeling like they can do whatever they want and attacking the other just because. This isn’t Game of Thrones and it never has been.
To embrace a full range of characters and angles is going to mean doing dopey things sometimes and not always going for the more honorable stuff like competition turned into beef. There will be feuds started over trivial stuff that can possibly lead to great matches and great memories, but we’re going to have to let the dopey origins slide. Jake the Snake Roberts started a feud with Andre the Giant because Andre was afraid of his snake Damian; that’s dumb as hell in hindsight but that gif of Andre freaking out is still pretty damn well used now so it worked.
There is a potentially very bright future ahead for women’s wrestling that these companies and us fans can get to if we play our parts. I hope they do theirs, and we do ours. Until next time….
Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021
It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…
It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.
It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!
5. Samoa Joe
A gentle reminder that Samoa Joe is one of the greatest talkers in the game pic.twitter.com/p4TZeZIAV7
— Kenny Majid – A Kenny For Your Thoughts Podcast (@akfytwrestling) April 15, 2021
I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.
Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.
In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!
4. Kris Statlander
— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) April 15, 2021
AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.
Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.
Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.
Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.
3. Tay Conti
Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.
Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.
This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.
2. Bianca Belair
We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.
You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.
Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.
Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.
1. Darby Allin
Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.
The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.
What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.
NXT Minus 6: About that Cole-O’Reilly match…
It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong?
It was the Takeover match that held the most promise. Where did it go wrong?
6. I was jacked to 11 for Adam Cole versus Kyle O’Reilly. I was ready to give it a Tokyo Dome 6 stars. MOTY before the bell rang. A masterwork of storytelling. I correctly predicted it would be an unsanctioned match. Then the action started, and it quickly became “be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”
5. After the first few acts of violence, it was apparent that the problem with the match would be the stipulation. The last NXT unsanctioned match was Johnny Gargano versus Tommaso Ciampa in 2018. That was 3 short years ago, but things move quickly in today’s world. There is very little chance an unsanctioned match can deliver the level of violence it promises as long as NXT is on the PG-13 Peacock.
4. Fans are losing their minds over all the content Peacock is leaving on the cutting floor. A lot of it was offensive and would never work today, but that’s not the point. The fact is there’s only so much violence Peacock’s parent company NBC will tolerate from wrestling. Take the chain, for example. Other than the clothesline, it was practically useless. O’Reilly tried to make it work, but it fell flat. In an unsanctioned match, 20 feet of heavy duty chain should be all you need to decimate another human being.
3. Maybe I’m a victim of my own wrestling memory. An unsanctioned match in Memphis in the 80’s would have been a bloodbath. Someone would have been hung over the top rope with the chain around his neck. Whipped across the back. Hog tied. Someone would have wrapped it around their fist for a few stiff shots to their opponent’s forehead. But that goes back to my original point. None of that would fly today even if NXT was only on the WWE network.
2. I’ll go so far as to say the only violent-promising stipulation that interests me is Falls Count Anywhere. There is zero drama in wrestlers pulling chairs from under the ring. The chance to use the naturally occurring environment as a weapon still holds a world of suspense. Someone is going through windows, walls, off the stage, over the guardrail, stuffed in a locker. Honestly, I’m tired of people getting hit in the stomach with folding chairs. Of all the ways to hit someone with a folding chair, that’s the least practical.
1. I’m sorry to say Kyle O’Reilly versus Adam Cole didn’t deliver what I expected. Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I don’t need over-the-top violence to entertain me. Maybe I don’t need wrestling to keep pushing the envelope. Five of my top 6 matches of 2021 are straight up wrestling matches. Maybe all I need is two (or three or four) strong characters and a good story. Damn, I sound old.
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