I’m not sure if you know this, folks, but Survivor Series is the one time a year when Raw and SmackDown are in direct competition with each other.
In competition for what we will probably never know, since there are no actual stakes involved. Maybe if the winning show got to claim the main event for WrestleMania or got extra slots in the Royal Rumble or the losers had to take full custody of Enzo Amore the whole thing would feel significant. Instead, Survivor Series tends to feel like the one time a year when suddenly all logic goes out the window and people who hate each other are suddenly on the same team in the name of Brand Loyalty.
This year, though, it did mean both show’s women got significant time in the spotlight.
Let’s start with Raw and one of the best decisions they have made in a long time: Team Captain Alicia Fox. I’ve said before that Fox is one of the most underrated women in WWE and I am so incredibly happy she has been able to shine on her own. When she’s saddled with being “the crazy girlfriend” the role feels flat, stereotypical, and outright offensive, even as Alicia does her best to make it memorable, i.e. when she was sent flowers on 205 Live and she responded by casually eating them at ringside. But on her own in the past month she has owned the screen anytime she was on it. She’s gotten to show off her genuine in-ring skill and while she’s not the most polished performer on Raw she’s much better than she usually gets credit for. And once again, I’ll sing the praises of her Northern Lights suplex.
But it’s the weirdest little things that make Foxxy enjoyable. In this case, it was her taking the role of “Captain” literally, adding a captain’s hat to her regular wardrobe. Then each week adding more to the hat, slowly building it to a glorious monstrosity of flowers and feathers the night of the actual event.
That said: I wish the plot of her selecting her team had felt more coherent and significant. I do understand that there were likely last minute changes, specifically that Bayley was meant to be left off the team in favor of the rumored return of Paige. The payoff of Bayley qualifying as the final member of the team didn’t end up feeling as significant as it should have, but at the same time it squashed what seemed like fuel for a Bayley heel turn, so I won’t complain too much.
Because as you well know I do not want the Bayley heel turn, and I have finally come to the conclusion that guys who want the Dark Bayley Heel Turn are the wrestling equivalent of Bronies. You want to take this thing aimed at young girls and make it about what you want, and damn any of the fans it was initially intended for. You’re Bronies. Let that sink in.
On the SmackDown Live side of things, it was good to see Becky Lynch get a big win to become Team Captain, but as her team was pre-chosen for her there was no real point to her position. Which is part of why James Ellsworth insisting Carmella should have been the Team Captain was fitting: he was arguing over something that had no point or bearing on anything. But after all, ANYTHING FOR CARMELLA.
This, of course, led to WWE’s first true intergender match in forever, and the first time a woman has competed against a man since Kharma entered the Royal Rumble in 2012. And while the match itself was fine and led to a viable Lynch victory, I really wish the circumstances had been better.
The problem was the whole conceit around the match: that it was okay for Ellsworth to fight a woman because he’s not really a man. It wasn’t about making it clear the WWE women can compete on the same level as their men, it was about further emasculating Ellsworth. The fact that Ellsworth was released days after the match says a lot as well: that a man losing to a woman means he can never be taken seriously again, so if Ellsworth was going out anyway you might as well let Becky tap him out.
I really find it boggling that we are still having arguments about intergender wrestling. I had honestly thought this was over when Chyna was competing against men, when Jacqueline held the Light-Heavyweight Title, when Madusa won the Cruiserweight Title, you get the idea, right? And intergender matches are so common in the indies that a significant number of the women in this year’s Mae Young Classic had participated in them, and many of them still do. NXT standout Ruby Riot was the first woman ever to hold the Young Lion’s Cup under the name Heidi Lovelace, and Abbey Laith is the former Princess Kimber Lee, the first woman to reign as Chikara Grand Champion.
We see women fighting men in other fiction all the time. Movies, TV shows, comics, all of these mediums have shown this, yet we never see them referred to as “intergender fights.” And the male characters are never so “ruined” that they can’t be taken seriously again. So what is the difference in wrestling and specifically in WWE?
The worst argument I’ve seen is that intergender matches encourage domestic abuse. First of all: wrestling is fictional and predetermined. They aren’t actually fighting. There likely isn’t even animosity between the two competitors. Second, even if you argue that wrestling still pretends to be real (which it really doesn’t), then you’re still ignoring a key difference: consent. A woman in an intergender match has made the choice to compete against men, she is aware of what she is doing and the control is in her hands.
Abuse is always non-consensual. That’s like the core concept of abuse.
Losing Ellsworth is sort of bittersweet: he really had run his course as a character, but I’m loathe to say goodbye to Carmella’s domme character. Maybe when Cass has healed back up she can lead him to the ring on a leash?
I was a little confused as they built towards the actual Survivor Series show and the women’s singles match was still set as Alexa Bliss versus Natalya, so when they announced Nattie would defend against Charlotte during the go-home show, I had a feeling I knew what was going to happen. Setting up heel vs. heel matches, even when it’s an opposing shows situation, is really difficult most of the time. So with Alexa Bliss holding onto her title, you needed a face to go up against her. Also, when Charlotte was fighting in her home town for the one women’s title she hadn’t held right after her book came out as a best seller? It was a pretty safe bet they were going to put the title on her.
That said: Charlotte’s reaction to Ric Flair showing up to congratulate her brought a tear to my eye. It turned out after the fact that she knew it was going to happen, but I honestly believed she’d been surprised based on her facial expression and nearly tackling her father with a hug. I usually don’t love the constant attempts to get Charlotte over via her connection to her father, but she and Natalya had already made a mark with a great match, so Ric showing up to congratulate his daughter, especially after his recent health scare, was forgivable.
I enjoyed the women’s five-on-five match, even though the general observation was that it felt sloppy. Outside of the major mistake regarding Alicia Fox’s elimination I didn’t think it was as bad as people observed. I did dislike Becky getting eliminated so early on, but that’s partially because Becky can’t seem to catch a break. And Bayley being taken out first for Raw obviously didn’t thrill me. But the choice to have Nia Jax counted out rather than pinned or submitted worked, it was a smart move to protect her dominance for once. The ending was predictable, there was no way they’d talk about Asuka’s streak and then have her take a pin at Survivor Series, so odds were her team was winning. Asuka as sole survivor didn’t shock, either, her taking out the last bits of the SmackDown Team further sold the idea that nobody is ready for Asuka.
I was far more nervous about the champion versus champion singles match. If you’ve followed Where’s My Freaking Revolution you know my issues with Alexa Bliss’s booking since her move to Raw. I’m just going to quote from my TLC write up here to summarize: “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.”
As I always say: this is no way a commentary on Alexa or her ability. I always end up saying I’m a fan, but I’ll be honest, I am liking her less and less as each month goes by and it’s not Alexa’s fault, it’s a mixture of WWE’s approach to her and the very worst of her fans. But yet again I will add the disclaimer of I don’t dislike Alexa, I think she’s very talented, works incredibly hard and deserves success. At the same time I do genuinely wonder if Alexa is being pushed because of those legitimate reasons or if it is because she fits a “type” that is very much in line with the old Divas branding.
I don’t want to go all out and say Charlotte is in turn symbolic of the Women’s Revolution type. After all, she’s still the statuesque blonde who is referred to as “genetically superior,” a phrase that was mildly uncomfortable before, but in the current social and political climate it sounds too much like an endorsement from The Daily Stormer. But Charlotte would have been a hard sell during the Divas era. Before her call-up from NXT there was word officials were worried she was “too masculine” for the main roster. In other words, there were concerns about using one of the best wrestlers to come out of the NXT system because she might not be “hot enough” for male fans.
So in some ways the match between Alexa and Charlotte could be viewed as a fight for the very soul of WWE’s women’s division. What was really important, style or substance, male gaze or fighting like a girl?
Of course, that view is also heavily melodramatic. After all, Charlotte winning didn’t change anything, really, and odds are it won’t have any lasting repercussions. And now both women return to the respective shows and their respective booking and nothing more is said of it.
At least, not until next year’s Survivor Series, which is the only time during the year when Raw and SmackDown compete head to head.(c)
As a final note: I was sad to see both Summer Rae and Emma released from their WWE contracts. But at the same time, neither of them was being used to their potential on the main roster, so here is hoping that they can find a place that will value them for their talents.
And it turns out we really couldn’t handle Emma’s bubbles.
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