It’s been awhile since we took a good look at the SmackDown Live Women’s Division. So let’s check in on them, shall we?
The very clear MVP of the SmackDown Live Women’s Division since SummerSlam has been Carmella, which is funny because she’s only had two televised singles matches and neither could be considered a classic. I am so very happy that her work since becoming Ms. Money in the Bank has completely overshadowed the complaints over how the MITB match(es) were handled. If nothing else, Carmella has proven that she is the sort of performer who can take utter trash and turn it into gold, a talent shared with the likes of The New Day and Cody Rhodes during his time as Stardust.
I’ll admit I was holding my breath when Ellsworth flubbed a cash-in and Carmella responded by grabbing him and kissing him backstage. There were so many terrible places to take it. And when the next week revealed Carmella leading Ellsworth to the ring with a leash secured to his leopard print collar, I wasn’t assuaged. All I could recall was WWE’s previous attempt at a dominatrix character. In case you don’t remember, it was when they had Tough Enough winner Linda Miles appear as “Shaniqua,” the manager for the Basham Brothers tag team. Calling it a disaster feels too kind, this was a situation where they explained Linda’s new breast implants by saying she had “permanent swelling” in her chest. It actually killed the professional wrestling career of an incredibly athletic and charismatic young woman. It didn’t exactly do any favors for the Basham’s, promising OVW singles wrestlers who were brought up to SmackDown to wrestle in gimp masks.
You see why I was worried.
Instead, we’ve had Carmella treat Ellsworth like a dog. An actual dog. In a WWE.com exclusive, she made him sit, speak and play dead, explaining to Dasha Fuentes that the whole point was to show everyone in the WWE Universe exactly who was in charge in the relationship. This has included Carmella chaining Ellsworth to the turnbuckle during her matches so he can’t interfere. It’s not even played as outright sexual, Ellsworth never seems turned on so much as resigned to his fate, collared and wearing a shirt reading “Anything for Carmella” (not yet available on the WWE Shop website, for some unknown reason).
Carmella has been the single constant in the SDL women’s title picture. When Naomi got her rematch against Nattie at “Sin City SmackDown,” their second incredible match was interrupted by Carmella teasing Natalya with her briefcase. That in turn was interrupted by Naomi hitting a huge flying crossbody on both Carmella and Ellsworth, but the distraction was enough for Natalya to take control and defeat Naomi.
And then…well. Here we go.
Naomi wasn’t given another rematch, despite Carmella’s involvement. Which actually wasn’t a bad thing, all-too-often we see WWE just keep giving rematches that don’t make sense. With SDL calling itself the “land of opportunity,” it instead featured a Fatal 4 Way for a title shot at Hell in a Cell. The match saw a returning Charlotte Flair beat out Naomi, Becky Lynch and Tamina Snuka for a shot at Natalya’s championship.
Normally I’m a big fan of switching up title pictures this way. Too often championship feuds end up in holding patterns and unable to move on from one challenger to another. But in this particular case, after Naomi lost the Fatal 4 Way, she basically disappeared. She hasn’t been part of a televised match since. This is entirely due to the lack of a women’s midcard in WWE and especially on SDL, but it’s still upsetting, especially when you consider that you removed a high profile black woman from the title picture and replaced her with another blonde-haired white woman. I don’t have complaints about Charlotte being the new #1 contender, she’s Charlotte F-ing Flair after all, but with Naomi not even being part of televised tag matches it’s felt just a bit awkward and becomes even worse when you look at it side-by-side with WWE allowing and excusing That Jinder Mahal Promo. You know the one.
Having Charlotte as the new challenger did make a lot of sense. She and Natalya have a history with each other and tend to have excellent matches. Charlotte was returning from weeks off TV during her father Ric’s recent health scare, and return pops tend to be huge. Also, Charlotte’s book Second Nature was just released, so she really was the most obvious choice. But despite all of this, the feud felt like it was nothing new. It was another rehash of “we’re both from famous wrestling families, so obviously we hate each other.”
But see, there was a chance to make this match stand out. After all, the show was Hell in a Cell. You had Carmella as an outside factor that could sway the outcome either way: Nattie didn’t want her cashing in and Charlotte didn’t want her interfering. So it would seem the whole thing was building up to putting the Women’s Title Match inside Hell in a Cell. After all, last year featured Charlotte in the first ever Women’s Hell in a Cell match, which WWE.com even called back to before the show.
Look. As a general rule, I believe a show like Hell in a Cell should feature most, if not all, of their matches under the stipulation that names the show. This isn’t just about the women’s match, I fully believe Jinder Mahal and Shinsuke Nakamura should have been inside the cell, too. But I specifically mention the women because of all the hype last year over the first women’s Hell in a Cell match. Not following it up this year just felt weird and kind of a let down. Plus, I was kind of into seeing what those two specific women could do in a cell match.
But of course, that would have meant the match couldn’t end in a DQ the way it did.
I’m maybe alone in this, but: I’m actually happy with the way the match ended.
It finally sold us on “Natalya will do anything to keep her title.” And rather than showing her running away and getting counted out, she instead went after Charlotte’s “injured” knee with a steel chair. Getting counted out makes someone look cowardly, blatantly using a weapon makes them look ruthless.
Shout out to Charlotte, by the way, for selling the crap out of that knee the entire match and afterwards.
But here’s the actual problem with the way things went at Hell in a Cell: Carmella has been the factor driving the story at SDL for the past month. And she was nowhere to be found. If the Charlotte and Nattie story had felt stronger, this wouldn’t be an issue. But instead what should have been an important title match just felt like a footnote. SDL has put themselves in a situation where the title itself is less important than the briefcase, and that’s a problem. Also, let’s face it: we know Carmella isn’t going to cash in on a heel champion. So a lot of the tension disappears so long as Nattie is holding the title.
A big plus is that SDL seems to have completely abandoned the pretense of having Lana compete in the ring. We can’t be sure if this is a permanent thing or if the goal is just to give her more time to train, but no matter what it’s the right move. Lana is at her best as a manager, I’ve said this before. And having her paired with Tamina Snuka is a genuinely strong move for both women. Lana is back to being a cutthroat businesswoman, rebranding Tamina as the posterchild for the “Ravishing Revolution.” In a backstage interview, Lana announced that the whole idea is women “building each other up.” Of course, as much as she is working to market Tamina, she is also changing Tamina’s image…to be a carbon copy of her own. While we haven’t seen anything beyond Tamina in Lana-like make-up, there was a declaration from Lana that Tamina needs “blonde hair.” Tamina did not look pleased by this suggestion.
Speaking of “empowerment,” it’s October, meaning WWE is full-throttle into Komen for the Cure.
Okay, look. I’m not going to go into the stuff with Komen, because there’s plenty of information out there to discredit them. At the same time, there are breast cancer survivors who support Komen, I know at least one personally. I’m not going to tell those women that they’re wrong because they’re the ones who survived breast cancer.
There’s also the issue of using The Ultimate Warrior as the symbol of this year’s campaign. In real life, Jim Hellwig had a lot of personal beliefs that were not very…accepting. And because of this I’ve seen a lot of people complain about tying him to WWE’s initiative. I understand those arguments, but at the same time I will offer one of my own.
This isn’t about Jim Hellwig. It’s about The Ultimate Warrior.
Yes, technically they were one and the same and often Hellwig didn’t seem to be able to separate them. But it is a case where Ultimate Warrior has become so much bigger than the man who portrayed him. Warrior has ascended and become a symbol. I mentioned elsewhere that it’s a Jebediah Springfield situation:
“Because the myth of Jebediah has value too. It’s brought out the best in everyone in this town. Regardless of who said it, a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”
– Lisa the Iconoclast
The thing is? I believe even Hellwig knew the Ultimate Warrior was bigger than he was. Even in his final speech to a WWE audience (which I continue to believe he knew would be the final time he would do so) made this point.
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe a final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others, and makes them bleed deeper, and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized. By the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory of those who honor him and make the running the man did live forever.
You, you, you, you, you, you are the legend-makers of Ultimate Warrior. In the back, I see many potential legends, some of them with warrior spirits. And you will do the same for them. You will decide if they lived with the passion and intensity. So much so that you will tell your stories and you will make them legends, as well. I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans. And the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever!“
And if the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior helps someone living with breast cancer, then again, I’m not going to tell them differently.
Because when you’re going through Hell, you use whatever you’ve got to keep going.
Next time: Tables, Ladders & Chairs
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