(Okay, before we get into the article, I used that title just so I could point out how hilarious it was that “Cool for the Summer” was the theme for the Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar match in 2015, considering the song is about bisexual experimentation.)
There’s so much good I can say about SummerSlam, honestly. The women’s matches were two of the strongest matches of the night. Even better, they both featured very different performers and told very different stories. They had plenty of time to tell them, too. According to Kate of the Raw Breakdown Project, both women’s segments ran over 15 minutes each, including entrances. Sasha and Alexa went to a full 18 minutes, which just a few years ago was unthinkable. We also saw both titles change hands in clean endings, which I genuinely did not expect.
That said, getting there from both sides was worlds apart. To their credit, Raw had to change their title match when Bayley was injured during a match with Nia Jax. They scrambled and replaced her with Sasha Banks just a week before the event, which gave them no real time to build a rivalry outside of what was already established. The bigger story, both before and during the event, was Bayley supporting Sasha, wishing her luck, because if it couldn’t be her at least it could be her best friend.
Which got her booed.
Do we have a moment to talk about this? It’s my column so I have decided we do. There were signs of the crowd turning on Bayley before her injury, but then it was after her injury, when she’s had to be pulled from a big match, that people begin outright booing her. And I sit here and I wonder, genuinely, how anyone can boo Bayley? I can understand not getting her appeal. I know people who genuinely dislike her, but to boo her loudly after an injury? I cannot understand it.
Yes, Bayley’s booking has been terrible, but that seemed to be something they were finally ready to turn around. She scored a victory over Nia Jax to become number one contender, and whether she walked out the champion or not there was word she was headed into a feud with Sasha Banks with Sasha finally turning heel. Bayley and Sasha tear the house down any time they face each other, I don’t think it’s a stretch to call their match at the first NXT Brooklyn show “legendary.”
But in general it would take a lot of work to overcome one of the biggest issues Raw has run into: the fact that their way of pushing Alexa Bliss has hurt every other woman in the division.
Let me be clear: I am not saying the problem is that they pushed Alexa Bliss. Alexa Bliss has deserved her spotlight and has earned her place in WWE. I’m an Alexa fan and have been for a long time. She is a brilliant performer. In no way do I place any of the blame on Alexa herself, and I’m trying to make that beyond clear.
The problem is complicated. Some of it is tied up in Raw‘s M.O. in getting anyone over, men and women, is not to elevate them and the division as a whole, but to sink their opponents. Some of it is Alexa’s character being so clearly inspired by DC Comics Harley Quinn. A lot of it seems due to WWE’s previous policy that women weren’t supposed to be faces or heels.
For years, the only thing you needed to know about WWE’s women was “they’re hot.” You cheered for them because they were hot. Their entire storyline was “one is hot, the other is hot, they don’t like each other, we don’t care why.” And while obviously enough of the crowd sounded off demanding better, there’s a lot of people who haven’t caught up. There are people who cheer for Alexa simply because they are more attracted to Alexa, because for a long time that’s just what you did.
At an NXT live show I attended in January of 2016, I saw Alexa face Bayley. During that match, I heard fans from behind me yelling utterly disgusting things at Alexa and talking about how attractive she was, while also disparaging Bayley saying “she needs a boob job.” I have talked to enough other people to know that this is not an isolated occurrence, it is not just a trio of slack-jawed idiots in Pittsburgh. There are still plenty of fans who go to shows and do this. There are fans who go to indie shows and take stealth photos of attractive women, posting about “look at the hot ass on the chick at this show.” This isn’t appropriate at a wrestling show or anywhere. And it is hard enough to call out these guys at indie shows, so when they are part of a giant crowd at a WWE PPV? Good luck.
Part of the women’s revolution in wrestling has to be making wrestling more accessible to women. (The PW Grrrl Gang is a great start if you’re interested in being part of the solution.) But in general we need louder and further condemnation of gross misogyny in wrestling crowds. It shouldn’t be “that’s just what it is” or “you know how wrestling crowds are.” You know what? They don’t have to be. They’ve gotten away with it because they’ve been allowed to. But women wrestling fans have always been around, we put just as much time and money into being fans, in a lot of cases maybe MORE.
But anyway. SmackDown.
Sometimes, WWE will act out online arguments in the ring. In this case, Natalya, representing the old guard of wrestling, earned the right to face Naomi, the woman bringing us into the future with her glow. In the build to the match, Natalya accused Naomi of “disrespecting” the women’s title by having it customized to glow with her LEDs. This was legitimately something people were complaining about online, that Naomi had “turned the title into a toy.” Of course, the counter arguments to this are:
- It is an honor that for the first time a championship belt has been customized for a woman.
- It preserves the base of the title, but adds in Naomi’s signature style, melding old and new.
- If it were actually available as a toy I’d totally buy one.
- Shut up, it looks awesome.
One of the best parts is that the entrance gear both Nattie and Naomi wore reflected their positions. Natalya sported a jacket with fringed epaulets, very obviously an homage to the one worn by her uncle Bret Hart. Naomi, however, wore what appeared to be a knee length fiber-optic fur vest, looking like something out of a futuristic dance club.
I was definitely thrown by Nattie’s win in the moment, but after the match the two women put on, I welcome a rematch and ongoing feud. So long as the glowing title comes back and there’s still hope of a toy version, because how is that not already a thing?
All of that to get here: SummerSlam was a step in the right direction. But for every step forward…well, you know how this goes. WWE.com did a series of bikini photoshoots with some of their women. No complaint there. But when your social media team is sending out Tweets about “What could be better than seeing Emma in a bikini?” There’s still a problem.
What could be better? You actually paying attention to the demands that you #GiveEmmaAChance. Better is seeing Emma in the ring, in an actual match, being given the credit she deserves for the amount of talent she has. Because this is part of what I was talking about earlier: WWE still seems to default to “you should care about these women because they’re hot.” That doesn’t cut it.
In an interview with The Sporting News, Becky Lynch had some important insight, showing you even the locker room gets the issues with the Women’s Revolution.
“To be perfectly honest, right now it’s in a bit of a bit of a static period, which is perfectly fine,” Lynch said. “We’ve come off stuff like two women’s ladder matches, and Hell In A Cells, and we just need the storylines to constantly evolve. And of course me saying that might just be because I’m not really involved in one, but as great as all these matches are with the gimmicks and the tables and the cages and the ladders, they’re all wonderful, but what we really need is a reason people are emotionally invested.”
So, maybe try that, WWE. You know, giving people a reason to care. Seems to be working for NXT.
I’ll be back for No Mercy, even if that commercial with the army of masked Alexa Bliss clones is like something out of my worst nightmares. But before then, join me next week for a very special Where’s My Freaking Revolution NXT Edition to discuss the future of Asuka and how great it is that Nikki Cross is an NXT Tag Team Champion.