I was doubtful during some of the build to TLC. Honestly, I’m doubtful heading into just about anything with WWE these days because they’ve proven that even with a solid match-up they can completely ruin the execution, especially where the women are involved.
So when the build-up to the Raw Women’s Title match was all about Alexa Bliss mocking Mickie James over her age, I was hesitant. I get the point, Alexa was being a bratty heel because Alexa plays a bratty heel. And Mickie’s initial response to her was great, though I know many people who took some issue with her “training bra” jab at Alexa. But as the weeks went on, I honestly got a bit uncomfortable with the jokes about Mickie’s age, and I know other people who were very vocal about disliking it.
For me the issue was very specific to the butt of the jokes being Mickie James. In 2009, during her initial run with WWE, Mickie was told that her body wasn’t up to WWE’s standards and that she was looking “fat.” This led to a disgusting angle where bad girls Lay-Cool called her “Piggy James,” mocking her 135lb frame week after week. In later shoot interviews, Mickie and Michelle McCool both made it clear that WWE had come up with the angle and that neither Michelle nor Layla El were comfortable with the things they were asked to say. The feud ended with Lay-Cool victorious and Mickie released from WWE because they were “headed in a different direction” with their women. But there was always discussion that the release may have also been due to Mickie not losing more weight even after she was publicly humiliated, because WWE held their women to a higher standard. Or something.
The point is, it wasn’t a huge stretch to suspect the on-screen mocking of Mickie over her age was meant in the same spirit as calling her fat eight years ago. Especially ridiculous is that most of the men headlining in the WWE are her age or possibly a year younger, and in many cases older. James is 38. Dolph Ziggler, The Miz and Randy Orton are all 37. Sheamus is 39. AJ Styles, Brock Lesnar and John Cena are all 40. The question floated out there was if anyone would have considered putting Cena in a title feud where his opponent sent him a walker and a package of Depends. Nobody has told Randy Orton they won’t fight him because they’re afraid he’ll break his hip. The only male stars I can think of who have been featured in an old-school film role like the one made up for James are the Vaudevillains, and that was the whole point of their gimmick.
During the TLC pre-show, in the “social media lounge,” Mickie was even asked a question from Twitter about her age. Her response? Was to point out she’s not even the oldest active woman wrestling in the WWE, and more importantly, that “half the male roster” is older than she is. It was great to see her give that kind of answer in this situation, compared to the tearful victim she was asked to play during the Piggy James mess.
At the same time? The outcome of the match made all of this fall flat. Because, once again, Alexa Bliss won clean and seemed to be proven 100% correct about everything nasty she said about her opponent.
I’m so very, very tired of making the same points about Alexa Bliss every month. It is boring for me. I have to imagine it’s exasperating for readers. I will try to keep it short by saying, once again, that if your bullying character is repeatedly shown to be right and victorious, it really doesn’t shed her being a bully in a bad light. At this point, why wouldn’t you want to be just like Alexa Bliss? She’s mean and nasty, but also cute and successful. And a point I really noticed last night: when there were dueling Mickie and Alexa chants from the audience, the chants for Alexa were very clearly mostly male voices, while the Mickie chants sounded more mixed or leaning towards female fans. I’m just wondering if the heel heat WWE thinks they’re getting for Alexa is the sort of heel heat they think they’re getting for her. In other words: do people boo her because she’s genuinely a talented heel or are the people booing her because they are sick and tired of seeing the bully fail to get her comeuppance?
Right now, I see only one way to make all of this pay off successfully: Asuka faces Alexa for the title and destroys her in under 18 seconds. And I mean DESTROYS her. In any other case I would be against such a short Women’s Title match and against that kind of a squash, but the only way we see Alexa finally pay for the way she’s acted is for “the goddess” to be less than even a bump in the road for The Empress of Tomorrow.
Speaking of Asuka? It’s still true, nobody is ready for Asuka. But I don’t think anyone was ready for Asuka and Emma to have the kind of match they put on at TLC.
It wasn’t a shock to anyone who had seen the two of them at NXT Takeover: London in 2015. But for those who hadn’t and were only familiar with Emma’s main roster incarnations, it was as much a showcase for her as it was a huge debut for Asuka. I did see a lot of takes one way or the other: Asuka got too much offense and minimized Emma, Emma got too much offense and Asuka should have beaten her easily. But if you rewatch the London match, it was actually very similar: it was very back and forth and Emma ended up still looking incredible in defeat. The thing that’s always worked about Asuka being undefeated is that she’s never been untouchable. Even her squash matches allowed her opponent to show some offensive moves. And I was impressed to see a competitive back and forth match along the lines of what Asuka had with the likes of Bayley, Ember Moon and Nikki Cross in NXT. And I really hope they continue Emma’s push because I have missed her Muta lock so much.
Along those lines, it’s been excellent to see Alicia Fox featured in recent weeks. She’s been horribly underutilized for years, even when she was given time or a feud it was seemingly yanked from her very quickly. While there are honest critiques of the decision to portray her as “crazy Alicia Fox,” she commits to the part and does some of the best physical acting in the business. Her match with Sasha Banks during the pre-show was one of those “pre-show matches that’s better than stuff on the main card.” Seriously, the two of them put on a better showing than Jason Jordan and Elias, and a more memorable one than Kalisto and Enzo (though to be fair, that’s hardly Kalisto’s fault). And while it wasn’t the most polished match, that’s true of a lot of Sasha’s matches—her style is very rough and high risk. The point is, with very little story or build to go on, the two had a match that woke the crowd up and set a hell of a bar for the rest of the show.
By the way, all of these matches were at least ten minutes long.
The numbers from the Raw Breakdown Project (run by Kate Foray, please consider supporting her work via Patreon) have the women on the main show getting a little over 32 minutes combined for their matches. That was 17% of the show, and neither of those numbers factors in Sasha and Alicia’s match which ran a little under 13 minutes. Even without the numbers for the pre-show, that roughly doubles the amount of time the women have gotten in the previous two single-brand Pay-Per-View events.
And the world didn’t end. The company didn’t shut down. In fact, TLC was one of the best shows this past year. While you can put a bunch of that on AJ Styles versus Finn Balor and Kurt Angle’s in-ring return, fans know that even two great matches can’t save an entire event. The rest of the show has to perform. So we have to come to the conclusion that people like women’s wrestling and will watch women’s wrestling.
You know, those facts that have helped make NXT such a success? The things the Mae Young Classic should have proven to you? The things fans have been loudly, clearly and repeatedly telling you via social media since February of 2015? Maybe it’s time to let all of that sink in.
I don’t have a lot of hope that it will. Maybe I’m wrong. I constantly hope I’m wrong with these kinds of predictions. I challenge WWE to prove me wrong here. But like every other time, I am just sure that we’ll just see things return to form: wait, Brock Lesnar’s back, sorry ladies, we need to give him 15 solid minutes on-air to not wrestle. Gotta earn that paycheck that’s exponentially higher than most of yours!
So while I’m celebrating as I write this column, there’s a very good chance that by the time it’s published Raw will have undone any good we’ve seen. It’ll be another “hey, we GAVE our women a chance, what more do you want from us? You expect us to keep doing this?”
Yeah. We do.
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