I believe it was “Stone Cold” Jane Austen who famously said “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of a professional wrestling championship, must be in want of a woman to challenge her for said title. And that’s the bottom line because Jane Austen said so.” Then she flipped off Walter Scott and gave him a stunner.
I’d be willing to bet that what draws most fans to wrestling is that we want to be told a story. That’s what pulls us in, that’s why we keep watching. We want to see someone succeed, and we want to see exactly how it happens. We want to know how the villain is going to get one up on the hero and we want to see the hero rise above it. It’s all about storytelling.
SummerSlam has Sasha Banks win the title from Alexa Bliss. This is a move I’m okay with, since the original plan was to have Alexa face Bayley and with Bayley out injured you have her on screen best friend step into the picture. The next night on Raw, Alexa demands her rematch and mocks Sasha over how every time Sasha has won the title before, she’s lost it in her very first title defense. She continues to do so over and over again until their match happens and…Sasha loses again. This is setting up a pattern that’s going to end up being pretty obnoxious for the next month: setting someone up to triumph and Prove the Heel Wrong, only for the message to end up being Actually Good Guys Don’t Get To Win and the Heel is Right About How You’re All Losers, Never Try, Kids.
Immediately after Bliss won the title back, Nia Jax turned on her and declared she was going to make her own opportunities. So, Nia is granted a shot at the Raw Women’s Title, but Sasha Banks is added because she deserves a rematch, but also Emma was added to the match because of her demand that WWE #GiveEmmaAChance. The deck is stacked against Bliss.
Emma’s whole deal has been muddled to say the least, and in most cases has felt more like someone backstage is mocking her than actually building her character. Emma’s claims have been that she started the Women’s Revolution, which fans can’t totally disagree with. It was Emma’s feud with Paige in NXT that upped the game for WWE women’s wrestling and broke the ground for what came next both in NXT and, much later, on the main roster. But WWE’s stance was “nobody can claim to have started the Women’s Revolution.” Which is kind of hilarious when the implication on the main roster has always been that Stephanie McMahon actually started it, all by herself, isn’t it cool how she supported other women the whole time?
Also, Emma was completely missing from the go-home show for No Mercy. Because I guess the writers forgot she was actually in the match or something, which would be par for the course.
The story between Alexa and Nia was good, if a bit confusing because it seemed like WWE wouldn’t quite lean in to making Nia Jax a face. They skimmed the edge of it, but even after her turn on Alexa she’s continued to essentially act like a heel outside of slamming her former “friend” around. But Alexa first trying to straight up fight Nia, leading to one of the most incredible in-ring reactions from Bliss, then trying to cozy up and apologize the following week felt appropriate. Alexa saw Nia coming for her title and knew she probably wasn’t walking away with it, especially when she also had to worry about two other women at the time.
THEN in a stunning surprise, Bayley returns early from injury at the No Mercy go-home show and is added to the match because, remember, she was originally supposed to face Alexa one-on-one at SummerSlam. So we have a Fatal Five-Way match and the repeated line is, as usual, the odds Alexa walks out champion are not great.
So here we are, with actual compelling reasons for any of Alexa’s opponents to win the match.
Nia Jax finally steps up and makes the most of her opportunity, establishes herself as the most dominant woman on Raw by beating four other women, is finally fully sold as the powerhouse they want us to believe she is. That dominance is later tested by a debuting Asuka. A longer title reign would have made this feel much more compelling, but if you give Nia at least a month of defending the title week to week and decimating everyone in her path, you’ve got a great build.
Emma gets to finally prove she’s as good as she says she is, helps to substantiate her claims that she’s the most important woman on Raw. She gets to rub it in the faces of management and fans a like that they overlooked her for so long and here she is, their new women’s champion, beating four other women to get there. Emma is essentially a transitional champion, but she and Asuka give us a killer match at TLC. And then when Paige makes her long awaited return, she can put Emma in her place over this whole “I started the revolution” thing.
Sasha Banks gets her win back and another chance to prove she can hold onto her title, this time beating Alexa in her title defense, possibly by utterly destroying her and teasing a heel turn. Sasha is the only challenger in this match who never faced Asuka in NXT, so we get a fresh match between two incredible women and it probably burns the building down at TLC.
Bayley comes back from her injury with a fresh purpose and beats Alexa, the woman who took her title in the first place and put her through hell before and afterwards. Bayley finally gets her underdog comeback moment that we’ve been looking for, wins back the WWE crowds, then at TLC has to defend her Raw Women’s Title against the woman who beat her for the NXT Women’s Title, Asuka.
About the only thing that feels wrong is Alexa holding onto the title. You build up the fact that she’s statistically going to lose it, and the “managing to beat the odds” thing generally only works successfully with a plucky face or a cheating heel. So there are only two ways an Alexa retention works: she pulls something rotten to win and she’s destroyed in 30 seconds by Asuka at TLC, finally getting her comeuppance.
The No Mercy match itself was essentially a showcase for Nia Jax. It’s very hard to argue that it was really anyone else’s match. Nia spent most of the time just destroying the other four women. It was incredible to see the transformation she’s undergone in the past 12 months since her call-up to the main roster, the confidence she’s obtained and the embracing of her beautiful monster characterization. But probably her biggest moment was when she had both Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks on her shoulders for the Samoan Drop and paused before hitting it to do a full squat with both opponents on her back. The crowd reaction to the spot was huge and should be one of the two most talked about moments in the match, the other being all four other women having to work together to powerbomb Jax to the outside of the ring.
And then Emma. Emma got offense in the match. She hit at least two beautiful butterfly suplexes and we got to see the Emma Sandwich. My biggest disappointment was she didn’t get to use the Emma Lock on anyone, but that’s largely because I absolutely love the Emma Lock.
Bayley stood her own, with her shoulder all taped up as an indication she wasn’t quite at 100%. There was even a call back to her NXT Women’s Title match against Nia Jax at Takeover: London when she locked in a sleeper hold. Nia, however, with more experience under her belt, managed to shake Bayley off faster this time, while Corey Graves on commentary mentioned how Bayley and Nia had fought before. This is largely notable because of how often the main roster attempts to act like people who have beaten Nia in NXT have absolutely no chance to beat her now, as if there isn’t precedent set.
The match was good. The match was competitive and sold us on Nia deserving the opportunity she’d finally decided to take and step out of Alexa Bliss’s relatively tiny shadow.
So of course it ended with Alexa pinning Bayley clean after a single DDT in an anticlimactic finish.
I genuinely have to wonder if whoever made that decision had paid attention to a single thing that had happened since SummerSlam.
I can shake off the Alexa win, which I have thoughts about, but with the “there’s no way she can retain” at least I can see how it makes sense. I don’t think it works, but it makes sense.
Alexa winning after a single DDT in a smashmouth match is something I can’t buy at all. These are women who have been slammed around by Nia Jax for the entire match. There was no sign that Bayley had her shoulder re-injured, it wasn’t a move that focused on her shoulder, it wasn’t Bliss taking advantage of Bayley having just been stunned or staggered by anyone else. It was a DDT and then done. It was a Super Cena ending which I honestly thought we had all agreed was not a good thing.
But the most unforgivable thing was Bayley being the one to take the pin.
I am mentally putting together this column as a match is ongoing and solidifying my thoughts immediately after. The first thing that I realized last night, and I shared on Twitter, was “I am so g*dd*mn sick and tired of having to devote so much of WMFR to talking about Bayley getting f*cked over.”
I have to imagine my readers are getting sick of it too, by which I mean both my talking about it and the way WWE books and writes Bayley on TV. You’ve seen all of my complaints and if you haven’t, go back and read any column about any show she’s appeared on. It is boring and tiring for me to have to keep saying it over and over again and knowing I am shouting into a void because the people who need to hear it, the WWE writing and booking staff, don’t know or care about my opinions.
The best part of this is that reportedly Vince McMahon himself was upset at Bayley getting booed when she announced her injury before SummerSlam. So of course, the best way to change that is to have her lose her very first match back from injury. Not lose as in “someone else got pinned so she didn’t win the title.” Lose as in “she got beaten easily by Alexa, again.”
I hate to say this. I hate to say this because I think she’s a fantastic performer who has had an enjoyable title run, because none of it is her fault and because I know criticizing her booking will inevitably lead to people saying I hate her for whatever reason, but here it goes: I am so very sick and tired of The Unbeatable Alexa Bliss.
There are two satisfying ways to tackle a long heel title run: they get their comeuppance or they see the error of their ways and turn face. That does not mean these are the only two ways to handle it, obviously, but these are generally the only ways to make a story feel worth it. If the bad guys always win, why do you expect us to keep watching? Eventually we’ll realize that being good doesn’t get you anywhere in the world, and frankly, we’re getting that message enough from real life. What we want and need from our escapism is at least a glimmer here and there of the hope that doing what is right and being a good person pays off. When you are a company making a profit off of towels that say “Rise Above Hate,” eventually you have to show us why we should bother when the people who give in to hate tend to be the ones we see succeed in the long run.
It wouldn’t even be so bad if Bliss were portrayed as a tweener, but she’s very clearly a heel. A lovable heel, but still a nasty, egotistical, often cowardly heel. She is the sort of heel you love, but you want to see her get beaten. Corey Graves said at No Mercy “sometimes the Wicked Witch wins,” but the thing is it’s feeling like the Wicked Witch always wins. And as the WWE starts embracing the younger female audience, complete with Mattel dolls, do you really want them getting the message “if you want to succeed in life, you’d better be a bully?”
Well, maybe you do want that message sent. As I said earlier, the company likes to pretend the whole Women’s Revolution happened at the hands of Stephanie McMahon. And while I applaud Steph’s efforts to put women at the front of the WWE and to embrace the fact that women’s wrestling has an audience and we will give you money to see it, the fact is she’s Stephanie McMahon, and reportedly very much her father’s daughter.
And if you think Vince McMahon is anything but a bully, I have a bridge to sell you.
It is to the point that I am afraid Asuka will lose her main roster debut to the cause of forwarding Bliss, as the latest attempt to build a “classic Diva” character. You know, the one that failed with Eva Marie, Emmalina and Lana, but you’re going to keep forcing on us because if you’re gonna be forced into feminism, you’re gonna go kicking and screaming.
Of course, hopefully I’m wrong. I’m a pessimist after all. Hopefully we do see Asuka squash Alexa Bliss in her debut and see the streak extended at most to next Wrestlemania, where we see Bayley finally end it and get the triumphant moment you’ve been building to since NXT.
At least, that’s how I’d write it.
Shout out to the Snoop Dogg rap in the new WWE 2K18 trailer which specifically mentions “No Divas, no mudfights, no thanks” and name checks numerous WWE Women. And of course, a special mention for his cousin Sasha Banks, which I can’t hate because, after all, Bosses Make Bank.
No shout out to whoever booked Lawler for Raw Talk.
Two big middle fingers to Enzo Amore’s comments about defending the Cruiserweight Title every night against “any woman who’ll get in bed” with him. Though I do enjoy the idea that Nikki Cross would take that seriously, suplex him through the headboard, and take his title.
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