Where did we leave off with SmackDown Live? Oh, right. The Ellsworth Incident.
SmackDown has done an admirable job trying to recover from last month’s Money in the Bank fiasco, and in Carmella’s case actually turn the massive misstep into a positive as she established herself as possibly the strongest promo in the SDL Women’s Division. The promo she cut at the opening of the SDL immediately following Money in the Bank on June 20th successfully redirected the heat from James Ellsworth onto herself, even addressing the arguments of how her win hurt the Women’s Division as a whole with the fire line “I’m not here for Girl Power, that’s for damn sure!” And when, a week later, WWE doubled down and had her win the briefcase again after two chair shots to Becky Lynch’s back, it managed to lend her strong credibility. Yeah, James Ellsworth had her win, but she never needed him to do that. It was one of those Right Calls we don’t always get to see.
Speaking of which…oh, Lana.
I think it is good that by the time WWE granted Lana her third Women’s Title match against Naomi, even they were treating it as “Seriously, again?” and have made it clear that none of the other women have time for Lana (except Tamina, who I think we can agree is probably using her somehow). The July 18th backstage segment in which Shane McMahon had to forcibly say “Nobody is fight Lana!” amused me in a “Nobody likes Millhouse!” way.
I have to admit, I almost feel bad being brutally honest about Lana because she has been working to perform in the ring. She did a number of NXT house shows against the likes of Sarah Logan/Mary Dobson, she’s been training for an in-ring debut as far back as the terrible angle with her, Ziggler, Rusev, and Summer Rae. (You know, the one with the terrible domestic abuse themes to it, the only bright side being the brief appearance of Dog Ziggler? Yeah, that one.)
The problem is that with all that work and training, Lana just still isn’t very good at wrestling. She’s still very green, which isn’t the worst thing to be, but it’s definitely not ideal for someone WWE clearly wanted to push very quickly. And while in cases like Alexa Bliss you can overlook the greenness because of a strong character, Lana’s character has actually seemed to decay since her debut as Rusev’s manager in early 2014. Originally portrayed as the icy Russian who commanded her Bulgarian Brute with the simple words “Rusev. Crush.” Lana has since been worn away at, going from the controller to the victim of an abusive relationship at Rusev’s hands, then to his possession.
As just a quick aside: I would like wrestling promotions as a whole to stop using domestic abuse in storylines. It should be on that list of “Just don’t ever do this again,” alongside “castration” and “simulated necrophilia.” It’s never handled well and it actually sends a really awful message when you eventually want to turn the abuser face. It’s not deep, it’s not shocking, and statistically it is all too common. There’s too many other genuinely entertaining things you could be doing with wrestling, you don’t need to drag partner abuse into it.
Because that is part of what killed Lana’s character, and in an attempt to revamp her she was brought back as…honestly, I don’t get what she’s supposed to be other than “ravishing.” Which she always was. Her promo videos showed her chair dancing, but seeming like she was dancing to different music than they dubbed over the promos (which is entirely possible). Stella from SBNation actually did an incredible write-up on these promos and the issues with how Lana was presented in them, but ending on a hopeful note for the future.
Essentially, WWE has been trying to do this “throwback” character since the Emmalina fiasco. It didn’t work then, supposedly because Emma couldn’t “give them what they wanted.” Well, obviously, you can’t just paste a character on someone and expect it to click. Sometimes it will, but more often than not it is doomed to failure. And when that character is essentially “hot tease,” you’re not giving them much to work with. Eva Marie may have been better with the role (she was honestly in her element before her suspension last August), but unfortunately we’ll never know since it’s clear she’s not coming back. So Lana is the third choice for this character, a strange one as WWE isn’t currently using Summer Rae, who would have fit the character perfectly and has stronger proven in-ring skills. So far, the only thing with Lana that seems reminiscent of Sable is that she’s being pushed too fast without the necessary training to pull off a singles match. It’s not fair to her, just like it was never fair to any of the previous women who were in the same situation. I would have welcomed Lana having an NXT TV run before the main roster push, but hey, who am I, someone who watches WWE and gives them money? What do I know?
I do know that SmackDown Live loves their multi-women matches. That seems to be their way of getting all of their women on screen without having to schedule them in two segments. On one hand I can understand this, SmackDown has one hour less than Raw and is genuinely trying to use all the women, and this equation seems to be the best way. And they have managed to build seven distinct women with multiple potential feuds on the show, as well as friendships and alliances. On the other hand, constant six-person tag matches make it hard for any one individual to really shine. However, during the go-home show for Battleground, we were treated to an incredible match between Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch who held nothing back…and in the end shook hands and remained friends. That final fact is something I will take as a major victory in a company that has in the past mostly portrayed women as messy backstabbers and female friendships as women pretending not to hate each other, even having an announcer who would constantly tell the audience “all women secretly hate each other.”
So, let’s just put this out there: there can be no Women’s Revolution in the WWE so long as Jerry Lawler is a presence.
I’m not saying fire Jerry Lawler. I will not overlook the important part he played in the Memphis territories, in the cultural landmark of his feud with Andy Kaufman or that he’s essentially a wrestling senior statesman. But let’s also face it, Jerry Lawler has a long and storied history of being sexist, ranging from mildly offensive to outright disgusting.
When it was announced Jerry Lawler would be the co-host of the neutered Talking Smack after Battleground (the show has been cut from weekly to monthly), I honestly believed I was going to have to rage in this column about him. It isn’t a farfetched idea that Lawler would end up saying something enraging—in his appearance on Raw Talk after Fastlane he managed to do this twice while discussing the women. Once when dropping his tired “women secretly hate each other” logic, and quickly being shot down by co-host Renee Young as well as Sasha Banks and Bayley. And another time when he mocked Nia Jax’s size saying “She got hit by a car once and it took three surgeons to remove it. She’s big, she’s big.” Lawler defended the joke with such gems as “you need to get over it” and “I never once said the word ‘fat.'” No, Jerry, but with your historical treatment of women on WWE television were we really supposed to believe anything else? Your mockery of Molly Holly’s weight genuinely hurt her feelings, your comments on Vicky Guerrero were almost always aimed at her weight. So we were supposed to believe all of a sudden you’re not going to make fat jokes about a female heel with a very different body type?
There’s the problem, right there. Jerry Lawler has such a history of this sort of talk and sexism that just mentioning his name in conjunction with women’s wrestling is enough to make many fans shudder. Even last night when The King was relatively well behaved you could feel the tension anytime the women’s division was brought up in conversation, waiting for rudeness or crudeness of any kind, and not the sort of thing that needed reading into. Let’s face it, Jerry Lawler isn’t subtle. During the Battleground kickoff show he essentially said that Mike and Maria Kanellis, the pair who’s entire gimmick is based on loving each other and having mutual respect for one another as husband and wife, were doomed to divorce because it seems like she is “in charge” of the relationship. Sexist, yes, but sexist in line with how WWE at large is treating the Kenellises…Kanelli? Mike and Maria.
No matter what, so long as people are genuinely afraid of what a long time member of your announce teams will say on air about women, you don’t have a successful revolution. Maybe Jerry has truly turned over a new leaf, maybe you’ve managed to scare him or educate him into watching his mouth. Maybe you gave Renee Young a taser she is free to use on him, I don’t know, but your audience will never fully trust him to behave, and a portion of your audience will cheer him on to return to form. It isn’t worth it.
After Battleground, though, I am extremely intrigued by the state of the Women’s Division (far more than the world title picture, actually). Natalya being number one contender is a great surprise and I am truly excited to see what she and Naomi are capable of doing together.
Oh, and, can we have a second to applaud Naomi’s glow belt?! It is the first time a custom Women’s Title belt has been designed and it fits so perfectly with her entrance. And Naomi has kept aiming for a very specific look to the belt, going from running leds to a fully lit backplate that she showed off at Battleground. While I am excited to see her against Natalya and would like to see Nattie hold a Women’s Belt before her eventual retirement, I am not looking forward to that glowing belt going away.
I am looking forward to Mattel’s WWE Women’s doll line which debuted at San Diego Comic Con. While there is a lot I could say about fashion dolls in general and Barbie in particular, I am too busy being excited over being able to get dolls of THE 4 HORSEWOMEN.
Will the SmackDown Women’s Title change hands at SummerSlam? Not sure, but we do know that we’re guaranteed at least two women’s matches at next month’s show, meaning one giant Where’s My Freaking Revolution column about both. And maybe a bonus column about NXT’s women in light of TakeOver: Brooklyn happening the night before.
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