I want to hug Natalya and tell her how great she really is.
That was the thing that really sunk in for me after the overbooked mess that was the Clash of Champions Women’s Title Lumberjack match. That doesn’t feel so shocking, though, because Natalya’s heartbreaking promo after failing to regain the SmackDown Women’s Title was both some of her best work and the only moment that really felt focused.
I usually praise SmackDown for its ability to have multi-woman matches that still manage to highlight each individual character. So initially I wasn’t worried about the Lumberjack match stipulation. But only minutes into the match it became clear that what I had hoped would work, namely mixing all of the combustible elements we’ve seen over the past month and seeing what happens, became utterly disastrous for everyone involved.
I love the Riott Squad. That isn’t surprising, considering who the leader and namesake of the group is. Ruby Riott, formerly Heidi Lovelace, is one of the most talented WWE signings ever and I am beyond excited to see what she’s able to do against the likes of Charlotte, Naomi, Becky Lynch, Natalya, etc. I’m a little sad to see her call-up happen right now, because I genuinely wanted more of her and Nikki Cross in NXT as “we’re not partners, but we sometimes tag together. It’s complicated.” But given that NXT didn’t seem to have plans for her creatively, the move to SmackDown makes sense.
Same with Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan, actually. Liv has been in NXT for years and Sarah hasn’t been much of an NXT TV presence outside of her participation in the Mae Young Classic. So if the idea is to buff up the women’s divisions on the weekly TV shows, it’s better to use the ones just waiting in the wings rather than the ones currently in the middle of stories.
I say this because one of the biggest critiques I saw of the Riott Squad call-ups, as well as Raw‘s Absolution group, is that Peyton Royce and Billie Kay weren’t called up instead. I have a number of issues with that logic, and let’s start with the big one: people laud NXT as the best brand WWE currently has, but at the same time get angry that their favorite NXT stars aren’t being called up to the main roster. Other than purely financial reasons, why would you want a talent you love who is being used incredibly well in NXT to be moved to WWE TV and have a high risk of being misused? We mourn the way WWE has misused the likes of Bo Dallas and Neville and Tye Dillinger and Emma…but then seem to cheer for our favorites to be called up and get the same treatment. Let’s face it, while Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn have fared relatively well on Raw and SmackDown, Finn Bálor has had off and on bookin,g and they seem to be terrified of actually letting Shinsuke Nakamura wrestle. Are they worried he’d do to someone else what he did to Austin Aries? Because I would pay extra to see him do that to Randy “possibly a white supremacist” Orton.
The other argument I have against a Royce/Kay call-up right now is that they are a major part of NXT’s women’s stories right now. I believe one or both is being groomed for an NXT Women’s Championship run. They are some of the most effective heels in WWE at large right now, and excellent foils to Ember Moon, Kairi Sane and Nikki Cross. They’re an excellent duo in the tradition of the BFF’s, Lay-Cool and TNA’s Beautiful People stable. So let them keep being power players and queen heels in NXT, their time to make the main roster more Iconic will come soon enough.
But if we don’t get Iconic t-shirts pretty soon, I’m going to write an angry e-mail to someone. I might even send it!
Anyway, back on track: The Riott Squad’s biggest obstacle is being on the Tuesday night show. I say that because I think the trio would have gotten a warmer reception if we hadn’t seen Absolution debut one night earlier on Raw. It also didn’t help that Absolution is being led by Paige, an established name who’s return has been much-anticipated, and that the members of Absolution have a perfect explanation for why they are a stable: Paige recruited two of the women she had judged on Tough Enough to essentially do her bidding. As much as I personally question the Mandy Rose call-up (I think she’s still way too green) it makes perfect sense. All of these factors lead to Riott Squad being treated as a “knock off” of Absolution. As much as this is the fault of the writers and bookers, ultimately the talent ends up taking the blame from marks and smarks alike.
I’m afraid this sounds like I’m knocking Riott Squad, so let me reiterate: I like them. I honestly like them more than I like Absolution mostly because Riott Squad includes the former Heidi Lovelace and “Crazy” Mary Dobson. I’m just upset at how their introduction has happened and how it contributed to the mess at Clash of Champions.
The blame can also be placed on the idea that a Charlotte versus Natalya match should have the Lumberjack stipulation. Charlotte and Nattie have always worked well together and if it had just been the two of them in the match it wouldn’t have been a problem. Put together they usually work very old-school feeling slow-burn matches, which seems fitting given the story has always been they are the heirs to two of the greatest families in wrestling history. The thing is, those stories don’t lend themselves well to a Lumberjack match that tends to ask for quick action from start to finish: you want the people at ringside as involved as possible. So what would have been a strong regular match for the pair ended up feeling boring because you’re watching seven other people at ringside doing absolutely nothing.
Then there was the mess of the teased Carmella cash-in, the first time I will say they should have pulled the trigger. It would have made the whole thing seem worth it, there was so much going on that Carmella, constantly the criminal mastermind, would figure out how to use it all to her advantage. Instead Miss Money in the Bank was interrupted, again, and I’m really getting tired of the teases every damn month.
There were great single moments, though. Naomi’s surprise leap to the outside looked incredible, as all her aerial work does. Charlotte got to hit her moonsault to the outside of the ring, a spot that has become one of her signatures and, while I’ve seen complains about her landings, I personally don’t care since I’m so distracted by how much height she gets and how flawless her form is mid-air. Also unintentionally fun was Lana trying to land hits on Sarah Logan’s back and Logan basically ignoring it, seeming at most mildly annoyed.
This is totally unrelated, but you know that bodysuit with “RAVISHING” written across it that Lana was seen wearing on the go-home show? Never have her wear it again, it looks terrible. It’s such an upsetting mix of unflattering, badly designed and just utterly ridiculous.
You know what they could have done to fix pretty much all of these issues with the Clash of Champions match? Have two matches. There could have been a Charlotte versus Natalya match and, instead of the pointless Bludgeon Brothers squashing the Fashion Police match, a six-way tag with the Riott Squad versus a reluctant team of Tamina, Carmella and Naomi.
But no matter what, the spotlight felt squarely on Natalya and her words after the match. I’m not going to get worked into assuming it was a shoot, but you could tell every word came from somewhere real, that it had just enough of the truth in it. Nattie had tears in her eyes during the speech and afterwards as she headed up the ramp. She looked so hurt, like she had just unleashed years of frustration she’d been holding in behind her character. It was the same kind of moment that The Miz had on the January 3 episode of Talking Smack: the infamous promo that showed him exploding on Daniel Bryan and finally showing us exactly what he was capable of. You couldn’t sleep on Miz after that moment and I’m hoping this leads to the same for Natalya.
Because so much of what she said was true. Natalya gets a lot of flack, so it’s hard to remember how good she actually is. Natalya graduated from the Hart Dungeon. I wonder if it’s a generational thing and a lot of newer fans don’t realize exactly what that means, and WWE hasn’t quite figured out how to express to them that the Hart Dungeon was regarded as one of the hardest, roughest training experiences in professional wrestling. Buddy Rogers, one of the Fabulous Freebirds, once described it as “like a torture chamber.” Not only is Nattie graduating from the Dungeon a big deal, it is important to note she is the only woman who ever trained there, let alone graduated.
Natalya didn’t just survive the Hart Dungeon, she survived the Diva years. She debuted in 2008, and for most of her WWE career she’s been in a situation where management wouldn’t let her work to her potential. She put up with years of three-minute matches, being one of the workers relied on to make the greener workers look good and creative having no idea what to do with her. Even when she was paired with Beth Phoenix in the Divas of Doom, the best writers could come up with for her was…wait for it…she farted a lot.
And she went with it, and she worked through it for the few weeks that it lasted. She put up with that, and was willing to make it work if she had to. She has taken every opportunity put in front of her to build herself, to promote herself and to succeed. And she absolutely does not get the credit she deserves for any of it, in kayfabe or in real life.
After the promo, Nattie had to clarify on social media that it was not her announcing her retirement. And it’s a good thing, too, because she’s slated to be one of the major players in the upcoming WWE Mixed Match Challenge, a weekly show featuring teams of one man and one woman superstar. Of course, we have to assume it’ll happen under “Mixed Tag” rules, men only fight men and women only fight women, as opposed to “Intergender” rules which state Candice Le Rae can destroy you as she pleases.
I’m looking forward to the Mixed Match Challenge, personally. I think the team ups will be fun to watch, and it looks like two of my fantasy booking teams are going to happen: Nia Jax and Braun Strowman are likely to be a team and there has been a lot of hinting at Bayley and Bálor teaming up. It will also be another venue for women superstars to perform and build storylines, the importance of which cannot be understated. However, they get one romantic plot at a time. One. More than that, and we’re going to have a problem.
What I’m not looking forward to is the “fan interaction” aspect which WWE is introducing with a lot of fanfare. They’re talking about how fans will be able to see their reactions and comments shown live during the Facebook broadcasts.
Know what I don’t need to see? Fan reactions and comments shown live during the Facebook broadcasts.
I don’t mind interacting with most people on Twitter because I’ve carved out a little niche of fans who have the same concerns and who at worst I can agree to disagree with (see: the people who somehow put up with my opinions on Nikki Bella). But I stay there for the most part because there’s a large part of the wrestling community outside of that filled with people who I don’t want to interact with and in fact would rather pretend don’t actually exist. My initial reaction to WWE’s bragging about fan interaction was “Great, I get to watch wrestling while seeing people’s detailed fantasies about Alexa Bliss.”
Because a lot of dudes seem to think people want to hear that. Look, I have my thoughts on what I’d do to certain men in WWE given half a chance, but there is a time and a place. I don’t go to shows and scream at Finn Bálor to meet me in my hotel room, the way I’ve heard men do to Alexa Bliss. I keep my fantasies exactly where they belong: in fanfiction or as anonymous posts to thirst blogs.
The other thing I don’t need to see/hear is male fans announcing which women they wouldn’t have sex with. Oh, you’re not attracted to Nia Jax? I’m sure she’s crying all the way to the bank to cash her checks from her wrestling career that she moved into after working successfully for years as a model. Honestly, if women fans talked about guys in wrestling the way a sad majority of dudes talk about women in wrestling, that sad majority of dudes would freak the hell out. They’d be a total mess.
Only that’d be a mess I’d enjoy watching.
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