Crackpots and These Women

On Friday, New Zealand-based wrestler Evie posted this story from local publication Newshub, written by Verity Johnson, on female wrestler Tabitha Avery. The article spends entirely too much time focusing on Avery’s physical appearance, how much wrestlers get paid, and whether or not wrestling is, in fact, “real”. In Evie’s subsequent tweets, along with follow-up messages from fellow kiwi wrestler Dahlia Black, the ladies bemoaned Avery’s attitude on what makes a good wrestler and where one’s focus ought to be as the art form (and women’s role in it) progress.

As a woman who writes about wrestling, allow me to provide an additional perspective (though an equally disgusted one, to be fair). The problem with this article does not entirely lie with the interviewee, as a great deal of fault belongs to the author and the publication itself. We are in a time of great change for women in the wrestling industry, and every time something like this happens, it’s hard not to feel as though we take two steps back for every one forward.

When publications wish to offer content on any subject to their audience, they should (at least) have the decency to find a writer who is somewhat knowledgeable about the topic. Wrestling is more popular today than it has been in a long time, and I find it hard to believe it would be too difficult to find someone with even the most basic knowledge to write about it. If a publication is looking for diversity in their staff, or if they’re looking to provide an outsider’s perspective on the art form, they can at least hire someone who will do their share of research first so as not to misrepresent an entire community, which is precisely what Johnson does in her article.

While a video does accompany the article and includes parts of Johnson’s interview with Avery, it is clearly edited and does not provide the full text of their conversation. Therefore, we have no way of knowing whether or not Tabitha Avery is being accurately represented (albeit, the content they do provide from her interview is fairly damning). What we do know is what Johnson thinks of wrestlers, and female wrestlers in particular. She offers no examples of the financial or physical struggles of training or the strain on personal relationships as one travels all over to work (as Avery does mention the New Zealand scene is not as big as the wrestling scene in other countries). She paints no picture of women with varying body types pushing back against a society that is still trying to romanticize one specific female figure and disregard the multitude of others. Johnson does not contextualize the importance of the young women today who are pushing back on decades of stereotypes of female athletes, and wrestlers in particular. Instead, she feeds into those misconceptions of overly-sexualized valets and under-trained models providing the audience a place on the card to take a bathroom break.

A revolution in women’s wrestling starts in the ring. It starts with treating the female wrestlers the same way we treat the men in terms of booking, pay, and marketing. It means diversifying the individuals in roles behind the scenes as well, like promoters, lighting designers, camera operators, road agents, trainers, etc. Beyond the actual promotions and events, we need more women writers, vloggers, and podcasters covering women’s wrestling. We need women who grew up with a very different idea of what our role was in wrestling to give context to the story of women wrestlers now. We need people asking hard questions, questions that get people talking – not just in articles or videos, but in locker rooms and on message boards. We need journalists who want to help bridge the gap between fans and performers, who want to connect promoters who put on all-female shows with a diverse audience who need to feel welcomed at wrestling shows to feel safe.

There are a lot of women out there like Evie and Dahlia who are working hard to change the entire idea of women’s wrestling. How are we helping them achieve this seemingly-insurmountable task? Are we watching their matches, buying their merch, and sharing their work with our friends? Are we covering them regularly and passionately on message boards and fan sites? Are we interviewing them directly on podcasts and vlogs? Are those of us who have access to publications pitching their stories to our editors? If these women have the strength to stand up and passionately represent themselves and their art, we have a responsibility to them to portray them as accurately as possible in the press.

There is a reason we call this the “Internet Wrestling Community”. It’s time we started acting like one.

– The Lady J Says

Imposter Syndrome

A few days ago, my roommate (who works for NASA) was discussing a concept known as Imposter Syndrome as it relates to the science world.

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In this case, she was discussing how women feel, even with post-doctorate degrees and fully-funded research projects, that they will eventually be discovered to be imposters in the science community. It’s something many of the women she works with are constantly struggling to overcome.

As I was listening to her speak, I realized that I struggle with my own Imposter Syndrome in the pro-wrestling world as a writer. I’m sure there are plenty of writers (particularly non-male-identifying) who suffer the same thoughts: that what we do is somehow less than, or that suddenly the community will wake up and realize our opinions are invalid.

I always try to qualify my writing with my own experiences or with my “place” in the wrestling community. How many of my posts have included the phrase “Now, I’m not a wrestler/promoter/referee/etc”? Plenty, though I’ve never counted. I make an attempt when creating these pieces to be forthcoming about how much information or experience I possess, and whether or not my opinion can truly be subjective.

Recently, Tommy End made some waves on Twitter with the following statement:

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I’m going to step right over the use of the phrase “valid opinion” in order to make a slightly different point here about objectivity. I believe Tommy’s argument here was actually about the fact that people who comment on wrestling can only give an outsider’s opinion, which lacks a certain insight having never wrestled a match/booked a show before. That is fair, as you are looking in from the outside instead of the other way around. But what I see as a fan and a writer is that Tommy is also forgetting that as a someone who is a wrestler, often times his own opinion (and not his specifically, but anyone inside the business) can be equally as subjective because their own preferences/experiences color their opinions, just as a fan’s does. The only difference is that his opinion is colored by his physical experience instead of his voyeur-based preference.

As a fan and writer, this argument is not entirely unlike the one I run into often regarding my role as a “feminist writer” with an “agenda” (oooh, scary!) I’ve been told many, many times that I am attempting to view wrestling through a lens that it was never intended for. Naturally my counter to that is that none of human history was ever intended to be viewed through the lens of strong female empowerment, so get over it. But the implication there is that the male perspective on wrestling is more valid than the female because they are the “target audience”. And how often has we, as readers of articles and consumers of content, found that men are more likely to rush into half-baked articles, unafraid of their lack of research or proper sources before hitting “publish”? That’s not to say there aren’t women who are also guilty of it, but in an environment where the validity of a woman’s opinion is already in question, many of us feel a need to double down on the “science” side of our work, the quotes, the research, etc., before allowing the general public in.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not advocating for anyone who is so inclined to suddenly stop checking themselves. I AM however advocating for everyone else to stop wrecking themselves by giving in to a furious desire to be “first”. (This was recently discussed on the Talking Sheet Podcast rather eloquently by hosts Les Moore, Hugh Little, and Sealia Bloom.) But I am also advocating for women, for anyone who is not a cis-gendered white dude, to find their validity. Take a deep breath and silence that voice inside you that says someone is going to “find you out”. You are a wrestling fan, and a talented content-creator. You’re not an imposter; you’re the real deal.

The Lady J Says

Under My Auspices

Listen, WWE. I’m sticking with what I said yesterday – that it’s still you and not me, but now I have a really good example of why.

I watched Monday Night RAW last night. I know I said I wouldn’t, but then my phone blew up with people screaming about the return of Shane McMahon so I had to find out what in the holy hell was going on. I ended up watching almost the entire episode (I will admit to missing whatever happened with Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch because a friend needed a ride, though.) But three segments on this show that I did get to watch gave me some big things to consider in regards to what I was arguing in yesterday’s post.

After taking some time to digest it, the feud between Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose is absolutely perfect. In fact, I’m shocked that WWE has managed to give us something this good, considering how badly they’re struggling with just about everything else on the program. When you stop to consider all of the components of this particular storyline, it’s hard not to be enthralled by the potential. The story they created leading to the triple threat match at Fastlane was never REALLY about Dean and Roman’s relationship. It was about the Lunatic Fringe getting into the head of The Beast – a job Ambrose has pulled off magnificently. Brock Lesnar is not a person who is frightened of anything – he has no reason to be, he’s the baddest dude in any room he enters (including an arena full of a 100k screaming fans) so there was no chance Ambrose was going to intimidate him. The only thing the unpredictable ex-Shield member could bring to the table was the element of surprise. Imagine what was going through Lesnar’s head when Ambrose kept asking for more. He climbed into the ring and got in Lesnar’s face before Fastlane, he took F5’s just to find out what they felt like. He caught a serious beat-down before RAW, and then came back to challenge Lesnar to a match that (while Dean’s choice) doesn’t favor the former Intercontinental and US champion one bit. He’s going to be beat to a (hopefully bloody) pulp and continue to get up. I have absolutely no idea how Lesnar’s going to beat him, and that makes me ecstatic, not just as an Ambrose fan, but as a fan of good wrestling psychology and storytelling. Oh, and if that didn’t sell you, we’re going to get five weeks of Ambrose/Heyman promos. I may not even survive until Wrestlemania 32 – my heart my explode from joy before then.

ON THE OTHER HAND

Shane McMahon is back on RAW after six years away. I could not believe my eyes when I turned on my TV – Shane O Mac, in the ring with his father (who is apparently shrinking, I don’t remember him being shorter than Shane) and his sister. Not something I would have predicted, to be honest, and being surprised (as my friend Nat says) is better than the show being predictable. The boss’s son cut a killer promo on his sister, and then demanded control of RAW from The Chairman, after Stephanie left the ring. Of course this was an opportunity to make a deal, so Vince told Shane he could have RAW if he participated in a match where Vince chose the venue, the day, and the opponent, which Shane agreed to. That’s when it was announced that Shane would face The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania 32.

Wait. What?

This match – this program – is in forty days. There is plenty of time to lay out a solid story and get everything we need to become hooked as an audience. But that’s not what WWE did, so now we’re left speculating. Why on Earth would Undertaker take this match? Because Vince said so? Nothing we know about The Undertaker in recent years leads us to believe that he is beholden to Vince in any way – he has chosen his own opponents as far as kayfabe is concerned. He picked Brock Lesnar. He agreed to take on the challenge put forth by Bray Wyatt. Why would he fight Vince’s battle for him? Surely this will be explained, but it shouldn’t HAVE to be explained – it should be clear from the beginning. Part of what makes the Lesnar/Ambrose feud so brilliant is that the feud is a natural product of who the characters are. Lesnar is a beast who likes to cause pain, and Ambrose is a masochistic freak who is always looking for a fight. Really, they were MEANT for one another. Now, it’s fair to argue that a portion of the WWE Universe probably has no idea who Shane McMahon is, aside from what his promo told us, and doesn’t understand the history (google him, people) but there are certain details that those of us who are long-time fans know. And we all know who and what the Undertaker is. There are plenty of ways this whole thing could have made more sense. The first one that comes to mind is having Vince tell Shane he gets RAW if he wrestles in one match on one night, but doesn’t tell him when or against who. You could end the episode with Vince frantically trying to think of who to use, going back to his office where we see that he is in obsession of The Urn, the one guaranteed way to control Undertaker. Maybe the following week we get a backstory that Undertaker traded The Urn to Vince in order to get Lesnar as an opponent at SummerSlam in 2015. But WWE hates backstory – or through lines, for that matter. So instead they force themselves into a situation of setting matches/feuds up and then having to explain to us why they make sense. Have you ever heard of anything more backwards? But it’s not even the worst thing they’re mucking up. The number 1 ongoing feud in WWE is:

WWE vs. THE AUDIENCE

If I was the kind of person who understood how to make memes, I would take a picture of Rachel McAdams in Mean Girls and write the phrase “Stop trying to make Roman Reigns happen. IT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.” I’m not sure why they refuse to give in to the audience, but creative is locked in one hell of a stalemate against the WWE Universe. In the past, some of the greatest character developments in the history of the company have come from creative turning the character (or allowing the character to turn naturally) in accordance with the response from the crowd. But they are either going to get Reigns over as a face or absolutely kill his career in the process. They have glimpses of success (the RAW after TLC comes to mind) but they are so inconsistent in booking him that they can never sustain his success. In an attempt to repeat what they had back in December, Reigns is embroiled in a feud for the WWE World Heavyweight championship against Triple H (who has thankfully shed his Brooks Brothers look to return to The Game persona we all know and love.) Trips has been a heel for a long time as part of The Authority, so it seemed a clear win to put him squarely in Reigns’ path and allow us to cheer him. Except that the loudest people in the audience aren’t kids who want to see Reigns overcome, it’s the adult fans who are nostalgic for the cocky badass version of The Game that we’re clearly getting now. He’s our hero, not the guy who can never be successful for more than five minute increments. Who wants a champion like that? Who wants to watch Roman Reigns overcome THE AUDIENCE? Not those of us sitting in it, believe that.

One thing that’s clearly an issue with the opening and closing segments that isn’t an issue with the Lesnar/Ambrose feud is that the characters themselves are not clearly defined. Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How are they going to get it? Shane McMahon has almost all of these questions answered, but it’s not clear what he was willing to do to get it back BEFORE his father set up the match at Mania. The Undertaker really only has the “who” part answered. Reigns has always been vague for me on his “who”, but we know that he wants the title in order to provide for his family (I think.) His “how” keeps changing in terms of what he’s willing to do to get what he wants. Triple H has a huge problem in his “who” because sometimes he’s Corporate Trips and sometimes he’s The Game and sometimes he’s NXT Dad and that’s a problem. Because all three of those characters have different answers to the “what/why/how” questions.

As Shane O Mac put it last night, we can’t know what we don’t know. But know this: if WWE could clearly lay out for us the characterization of these four men, the feuds would tighten up as a natural result. It happened so easily with Lesnar and Ambrose; just let the plan fall into place.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

Vienna

I had a very interesting experience yesterday. I was getting ready to go and meet a friend, and I was listening to a playlist of Billy Joel songs. I’m a Long Island girl by birth so I have heard his entire discography over and over again. And yet, here I was, a New Yorker in her Virginia bedroom, listening to “Vienna” and actually hearing it for the first time ever.

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If someone had asked me to quote lyrics from that song, the first ones that would pop into my head (and, surely, many people’s heads) are “Vienna waits for you.” But, out of the context of the rest of the song, that sounds like Joel is telling us that the whole world is available to us, just waiting to be experienced. Get out there and grab it, kid! But that’s not the purpose of the song at all. “Slow down, you crazy child,” he sings. “You’re so ambitious for a juvenile. But then, if you’re so smart, tell me why are you still so afraid?” This is not a song about running out and experiencing all of life as fast as possible. It’s a song about remembering the slow burn – to savor things, to give them (and yourself) room to breathe. It’s a song about learning how to live with yourself, and how to love yourself in those quiet moments. Everything else can – and will – wait for you, not the other way around.

It’s about patience.

Patience takes hard work to cultivate, and even more hard work to properly exercise. In professional wrestling, we seem to have completely demolished the idea of patience altogether. We don’t want to wait for anything. I suppose this is not unique to pro wrestling as an industry – we exist in an instant society, and we want everything right now. As the days and weeks stretch into months and years, it becomes more and more clear that WWE in particular cannot teach itself patience.

The slow burn of Daniel Bryan going from angry “short” guy to WWE World Heavyweight Champion was the last time in WWE that I can pinpoint as having a successful and satisfying long-term storyline. Granted, the past three months have been injury-plagued for WWE, but their inability to plan or plot anything out in advance makes it impossible for fans to become invested deeply in the stories being told.

Kate, of the Raw Breakdown Project, and I were talking about the Diva’s division on Twitter tonight. She was commenting on the fact that we got roughly four minutes of this division during RAW this evening. I thought this was because there ended up being no match, but thought the four minutes we DID get definitely progressed the Diva’s championship story involving champion Charlotte and Becky Lynch. When Kate suggested we could have benefitted from a match earlier in the night, I mentioned the Sasha Banks/Becky Lynch match from a few weeks back, which wasn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination but was booed by the Brooklyn crowd. WWE fans don’t want to watch matches just for the sake of seeing wrestling. If you want to watch solid matches with less storylines, you should absolutely support your local indie promotion. If you are watching for the big, intricate storylines, you come to WWE. But they’re currently refusing to deliver even on that. There is no reason why there can’t be two concurrent, though unrelated, women’s feuds happening in WWE. Except to say that doing so would require thoughtful planning, which WWE seems to be allergic to.

As a fan, it becomes hard to get invested in anything, as all storylines are subject to change for no apparent reason. And the other side is that, should fans start to show interest in something, it is likely to be done over and over again with very little change, in an effort to “keep fans happy.” That becomes stale and the fanbase will likely tune out from storylines and matches that grow old. What would make us the most happy are evolving storylines that move and generate slowly over time so that we can naturally deepen our investment in them. Great turning points – things like Seth Rollins’ heel turn on The Shield or Roman Reigns hitting everyone with a chair at the end of TLC last month – are important, and WWE does them well. But a turning point is worthless without a story that eloquently builds to it.

I don’t know if WWE has a real slow-burn story in them right now. I think they’re gun shy of planning ahead with all of the random injuries plaguing them. I think it’s always hard to see past Wrestlemania. But I also think even such a big event can benefit from some long-term storytelling. A pay-off at Wrestlemania, like Daniel Bryan’s, is epic and will never be forgotten. But a pay-off at Summer Slam can be equally as satisfying if we have been denied a moment of glory for long enough, while still telling compelling stories along the way. If WWE can take a step back from what it thinks is best, look at all of the moving pieces they have at their disposal, something glorious might just present itself. It will, however, take patience. And never forgetting what Billy Joel said:

“Vienna waits for you.”

-The Lady J Says

 

 

 

Dolph Ziggler

So today I started working on my first gimmick profile. This one was a request in the comments, and it seemed too perfect to pass up: Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler is a great character to start working on because there’s a ton of his work out there to explore and because he’s had a run as both a heel and a face in WWE. Starting out with such a solid gimmick, however, has also helped to reveal the issues with my project. So I’m still adjusting.

What I learned from watching a lot (A. LOT.) of matches and promo videos today is that a list is basically useless for this project. This isn’t about facts or details within the company. It’s not really about championships or feuds. All of those things have been put upon a person by WWE. What we’re really talking about is the intersection between the abilities of the performer and the versatility of the character.

I really am glad I started with Dolph Ziggler. I got to watch a lot of great matches (eventually stopped at this year’s Payback match against Sheamus. Too much blood makes me pass out!) and was even reminded that he is not a bad promo. He is definitely entertaining.

The Show-Off character is perfect as a heel. He thinks he’s the best and basically behaves like a cocky prick. He is someone who takes advantage of people, of his relationships, to get what he wants. This opportunistic tendency has actually bled into the babyface version of Dolph Ziggler. You can see it in his matches – he still lies in wait and will sneak a move on an opponent, though he’s not actually breaking any rules at the time. As a babyface, that characteristic plays out more as foresight than conniving. Dolph Ziggler is a fun character to watch, whether he wins or loses. He appears natural in a leader role and can rally troops. He also is interesting to have on a team that he’s not leading, as he’s basically destined to break out as a star in the match.

As a performer, Nick Nemeth is very talented. He really understands timing and how to read a crowd. When you watch him interact with a live audience, you can tell there is a give and take. However, when Nemeth gives backstage interviews they can end up as runaway trains because he has no one’s reaction to read. Nemeth requires some kind of response to gauge where to take his unscripted dialogue next. His in-ring work is compelling to watch and usually paced well. He appears to be in control, even when he does not have the upper hand or is going over in a match. His ability to read and respond to audiences is apparent in his matches, just as it is in his promos. He’s also willing to do fun things to make people laugh, whether it is intentionally as a babyface or “unintentionally” as a heel.

Nemeth’s ability to portray a heel or babyface within the same character makes him extremely valuable. The Ziggler character becomes malleable in terms of the company’s greater storytelling needs. From the perspective of the Ziggler character, it is best to move him fluidly from heel to face and back again. This shouldn’t be done constantly, but as the company’s need for more heels or more faces ebbs and flows, Ziggler’s storyline should reflect that need.

As an individual who has such an easy and believable connection with the audience, why not use Ziggler as a stand-in for WWE itself? When the WWE audience is giving the company what it needs to propel its storylines forward, Ziggler is a babyface. When the audience is at odds with the storyline, Ziggler turns heel. Through very tight writing, these adjustments can be made subtly, especially with the fluidity of the character. When the audience is ready to have someone to cheer, Ziggler can be there for them to cheer on. And when the audience wants to boo, a solid and vicious turn could provide them with an outlet.

At the end of my analysis, I’m going to give ratings. These are based on the following criteria: character versatility, performer talent, how often the character should be involved in major storylines, and whether or not the character could bring something to a title.

Ziggler is an obvious A. The character is versatile, the performer is talented, the character could be used in major stories and, (depending on the depth of the storytelling) could certainly bring something to any of the current title pictures.

What the Ziggler character really shows us is the need for WWE to create one cohesive story image for the company. For example, a complaint (or sometimes just a note) I hear often – and have even made myself – is that The Authority seems to be entirely focused on the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. They occasionally become involved in the Diva’s division, but rarely in title pictures like the United States championship or the Tag Team championships. This creates not only the sense that these things are not important, it also creates the impression that these things don’t exist in the same universe. That’s a problem, a very big and totally fixable problem.

I’m not suggesting that The Authority become further involved in the storylines we see on TV. I’ll talk more about my feelings on The Authority when I do analysis for Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. What I am suggesting is that if there is a larger plan at work that keeps all of the titles seemingly connected and in the same universe, WWE should be able to smoothly move gimmicks from feud to feud, or in and out of storylines as necessary. A character like Dolph Ziggler is the queen in the chess game of WWE storylines, with more possible moves than anyone else as he navigates in and out of other people’s plots.

Knowing there is already such a useful character and performer in the ranks, maybe we should move on to some more stagnant characters, who provide a solid framework within which characters like Ziggler can stir up some excitement. Don’t forget to leave your suggestions for gimmicks to chart in the comments!

The Lady J Says

 

*Maniacal Laughter*

If you came to The Lady J Says blog looking to find out who was victorious at last night’s Survivor Series, you have come to the right place. Because the victor was me.

Was Survivor Series the knock-down drag out PPV of our dreams? No. In fact, going into the show, I wasn’t that excited. I wanted to know who ended up with the WWE World Heavyweight championship, sure, but that was about it. So how did a sullen emo kid like me end up so joyous?

I originally missed the pre-show as it was airing. But to tune is just as Survivor Series was starting and hear that Goldust is back to face his brother, that was a treat in itself! I have always loved Goldust. He is a true character – one who lends himself to variety and the unexpected. That is a great character for WWE to have in their arsenal. I am very much looking forward to a real brother vs brother feud between Goldust and Stardust. If they are given the opportunity to tell a really emotional story, I can’t imagine Dusty’s boys will leave a dry eye in the house. And, in light of recent distasteful storytelling, I hope WWE doesn’t shy away from using the real life aspects of these brothers’ relationship to make it powerful.

Lets move on to the first two matches of the main card. Both semi-final matches were back to back right at the beginning, I imagine to give the winners enough time to regroup before having their final match for the title. Strictly in terms of actual matches, I think I liked these two better than any of the other matches we saw last night. The finishes didn’t seem quite so rushed the way they did in some of the other matches, and there was still a sense of excitement because the title picture was still unfolding before us. Well done to all four men involved (particularly Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens for saving Roman Reigns from his own backstage promo.)

The traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series match ended up being The Usos, The Lucha Dragons, and Ryback vs. The New Day, King Barrett, and Sheamus. This match was fun, of course, with New Day being out there to inject a little hellish humor into the PPV. I have to admit, once New Day carried Big E off, I was no longer interested in the match. It never eve occurred to me that Sheamus might pull out a win (spoiler alert: he didn’t) so I ended up distracting myself with other things until I heard the bell ring. It was still definitely a fun match to watch, and it was light and funny before getting back into more serious stuff with the Diva’s championship match. You know, everything that happened in the ring last night served a purpose, even if it was to break up the more serious storylines with a few light moments. And I’m not worried about what happens to anyone in this match moving forward – except maybe Barrett, who I am always worried about. I really enjoy his heel characters and want to see him in the ring more, not less.

The Diva’s Championship match is really hard for me to comment on. If you were to take away all of the context of this match, it was actually very good – something people definitely would have been into seeing on NXT. But, this is not NXT. And the context that surrounds this match ended up choking it. I still stand by my predictions for this match and would have preferred it be a squash match to go with the type of story they were trying to tell. But now I don’t know what you do with either of these women and to be honest, I don’t care. WWE’s need to blur the lines between reality and fiction basically killed this whole story and not even a solid in-ring performance could save it. Can we please have someone else in a women’s match for TLC so I don’t have to think about this whole thing ever again? Oh, and someone tell Charlotte that when she puts the figure four leg lock on someone to let THEM do the screaming.

Tyler Breeze vs Dolph Ziggler was fine. I still don’t understand why I am supposed to care about this feud, but the match itself was fun and over pretty quickly – maybe too quickly for them to really tell a story. I’m not really sure where either of these characters are supposed to go from here. I would have imagined putting Breeze with one of his old NXT opponents first would have been better and then building to what seems like a clearly brilliant pairing between him and Ziggler. But instead they blew the whole thing off in Breeze’s first PPV match and now what? I hope WWE doesn’t do to Prince Pretty what they did with some of the other NXT call-ups and figure out where this supermodel’s place is on the roster before the audience forgets why they liked him so much in the first place.

As for the Brothers of Destruction vs. The Wyatts match – I did not go into this match invested in it whatsoever. WWE could not seem to figure out how to tell this story, with week after week of contradictions and massive plot holes, which really pissed me off. If there is ONE PERSON on the roster who deserves to have solid stories, it’s the Undertaker. If that mad is given respect from literally every person on the roster, why can’t the people running creative offer him the same respect and give the man a story worth watching? That being said – I really liked his entrance. I really liked how the match was built so that everyone got something in. Bray sending Rowan in before the bell gets rid of him, Bray and Harper work a really fun program with Undertaker and Kane which could basically be called a Greatest Hits match of all the stuff you could ever want to see these two dudes pull off, and they even manage to choke slam Braun Strowman through the Spanish announce table for good measure. Was it the best match of the night? No. Was it the best story ever told? No. But it was fun and it was everything anyone could want from Undertaker at this point in his career. He’s doing a farewell tour and maybe the fans and creative should get together and make a deal: elevate creative’s level of storytelling to something that doesn’t look like the lunatics are running the asylum, and we promise to applaud and thank Taker like we’re supposed to. Okay? Deal?

Speaking of lunatics – let me just drag this soapbox over here for these last two matches, hang on a second. Okay. To everyone out there complaining about the last two matches – please pay attention. I am speaking to you.

Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight title was set up properly. In my opinion, the match wasn’t long enough and the finish seemed a little wonky, but the basic storytelling was all there. Please go back and re-watch this match if you need to. (I’ll wait. Are you done yet?) I really like that there was no question about getting into this match, they just went for it. This is what we in the literary world call being in canon – canon being the literary version of kayfabe. It sticks with the story. These two guys, these best friends, made it clear they love each other, but they’re not going to hold back when it comes to the title. We see this play out when the bell rings because there was no lock up, they just come in swinging. Now, do I wish the match had been longer? Sure. As someone who doesn’t know nearly as much about the physical side of wrestling as I like to think I do about the story side, it looked like these two were having fun, and I believe I would have enjoyed a longer match.

Now here is the thing. When Reigns pins Ambrose and is given the belt, what happens next is the greatest thing to happen to us, the audience, in a very, very long time. After months and months of us booing Roman Reigns and hating on him up one side of the internet and down the other, we all were proven right: WWE doesn’t care what the fans want, they’re doing to do whatever WWE wants. And they put the title on Reigns. No, they don’t just give him the title, they basically mock all of us by giving him this ridiculous showing with confetti and pyro and it looks like a ticker-tape parade after the Super Bowl. It’s just silly, it looks so mocking, like Vince just stuck up both of his middle fingers at us.

It goes on forever, too. Which, if anyone remembers the finish to Summer Slam, you know sometimes WWE ends things early and just lets you sit in your misery and wallow. And just when we all start to wonder if this is really how the night ends, Triple H comes out to congratulate Roman the Champ, extending his hand to Reigns who ends up spearing the COO. Not cool, Reigns. You messed with the wrong guy. Don’t you remember who that is? That’s the guy that you and your brothers beat at Extreme Rules and Payback last year, before he managed to turn that weasel Seth Rollins against you. That’s Mr. Plan B. And he’s got one for you, right now.

Brogue’d.

Reigns manages to kick out on from the first Brogue Kick after Sheamus cashes in his Money in the Bank briefcase, but he can’t kick out of a second. And there it is – Sheamus is the new WWE World Heavyweight champion. The last image we get of Roman Reigns is his puffy-eyed face rolling staring up at the lights in disbelief before climbing out of the ring, thwarted again.

I. LOVE. THIS. There are no better words to describe my elation. This is brilliant storytelling, and we all fell for it. What’s really sad is that WWE has actually done this already. For everyone out there who’s been crying over WWE turning Roman Reigns into John Cena – do you not remember who was the first person to be cashed in on in history? Do you not remember that Cena got cashed in on successfully twice in six months? Reigns has had his dreams dashed thanks to that briefcase TWICE now since Wrestlemania 31. We all should have seen this coming! But instead, you all got angry. And this is where you lose me.

What are you so angry about? You didn’t want Roman to win. He lost! You’re still mad! “Well, we didn’t want Sheamus to win, either.” Wow. That sounds kind of bratty don’t you think? Sounds sort of like a little kid who doesn’t want to share his toys. “Now they’re going to try to force an underdog Reigns on us, but he’s no Daniel Bryan!” You’re right, he’s NOT Daniel Bryan. Daniel Bryan got cashed in on by Randy Orton in 2013, yes. But when his second chance, he beat not only Triple H, but Orton AND Batista and ended up holding the belt during a big party at Wrestlemania XXX – saw it on my TV and everything. Roman Reigns almost had Brock Lesnar – which is a feat in itself – and it got taken away by his ex-teammate. Now Roman Reigns didn’t just get close, he was HOLDING THE BELT IN HIS HANDS and got kicked in the face. Twice. He’s an underdog! It doesn’t matter if you don’t like him, he is, by definition, now an underdog. There are so many things WWE can do with him now because of this. (Note: I’m not ruling out that they ruin everything tonight on RAW somehow, but for the next seven hours there’s still potential.)

As for Sheamus – no, I don’t like him. But he’s not the same kind of heel as Seth Rollins. And regardless of his character or his wrestling ability, if you’re going to have babyfaces like Ambrose and Reigns in the title picture, the title has to be held by a heel! It’s as simple as that! Plus, I bet if they had left the title on Reigns, most of you would be praying for a Sheamus cash in before TLC. So in reality WWE is giving you what you want without your even knowing it. You can still boo Sheamus until you turn purple, and the guy you didn’t want to win did not win! There, art thou happy!

WWE is not a perfect landscape. There was plenty happening last night that was just bad or botched storytelling. But the title picture was not one of them. It’s Monday now, everyone’s had a chance to sleep. So let’s all have a good stretch and try to remember that the happier, or angrier we get as fans, the better the job WWE is doing.

The Lady J Says

The Writer’s Lament

So I listened to this interview that Triple H did with a Portsmouth, NH radio station that started out about a charitable organization and ended up making blood pour our of my ears.

I’m not going to BS you all. I really like Triple H. I obviously don’t know Paul Levesque the person, but I imagine the personality we see when he gives interviews, especially with an organization from his native New Hampshire and about such a great cause, falls somewhere between who he really is and his wrestling persona, but most likely closer to the real deal. (REMINDER: I hate that kayfabe isn’t a completely separate thing from real life, and if it WERE, everything I just said wouldn’t sound so strange.)

The 19 minute interview was fun to check out, and I enjoyed how comfortable he was talking with these DJs that he clearly has a rapport with. But about halfway through, he comments on all of us online fans when he says, “everybody sits on the internet and critiques it and criticizes it and armchair quarterbacks it but they don’t have 1/100th of the information that it takes to make those decisions on a daily basis.” This is where I went right over the edge.

I am certainly not going to sit here and claim that he’s wrong. He’s not. He is absolutely 100% not wrong. We, the fans, don’t have all of the information. I think his stats are hyperbolic, but sure, what the fanbase is privy to (even the people you think are insiders don’t know as much as they claim to) is a tiny fraction of what it takes to keep WWE afloat from day to day. But let’s face it, that’s because they play everything close to the chest and they always have.

“Protecting the business” is a phrase used often by industry veterans. Back when kayfabe was a legitimate concern, this meant everything. It was about honor. It was dishonorable to give anything away. The fans wanted to come to events or tune in at home and get lost in it – and back then, the boys were good at delivering that to their audience, because that’s what got them paid. Now, the fanbase takes great pride in stepping back from the product and trying to watch it through a critical eye. Part of why kayfabe has become such a problem inside the industry is because the audience has basically decimated it by trying to work inside and out of it themselves.

As a woman – as a writer – who runs a blog about pro-wrestling and WWE specifically, yes. I am part of the problem. Sometimes I do get caught up in it (I think if you read yesterday’s post you’ll see I admit to actually crying after the finish of a PPV.) But for the most part, I try to look at everything from my unique perspective – the perspective of someone who went to school for performance and creative writing. All of the training I possess is based in delivering the best possible performances and crafting the best possible stories. So yes, I become incredibly frustrated when something that I love passionately cannot rise to the standards I have spent most of my adult life studying. It’s also true that I aspire to create innovative, exciting stories for a pro-wrestling audience to get lost in. When I craft these blogs (especially posts like the one I did about fantasy-booking Becky Lynch) I try to give you all something to think about in terms of passionate and well-crafted storytelling, not just picking my favorites to go over.

But here’s where what Triple H said makes me so angry (and again, this is just me) – there’s no where to go to learn how to write for professional wrestling. If you want to be a wrestler, you go to school and train. You want to be on their writing staff, what do you do? Go to broadcasting school? Take some courses on writing for TV? Writing for pro-wrestling is not like writing for The Walking Dead or for General Hospital. Yes, it’s scripted, but there are so many other components to it. So who gets to learn how it’s done? What makes one person more worthy of being embraced by WWE? If you have talent, if you love the product, if you’re willing to learn, and you’re bringing something fresh to the table, you should be attractive to a company like WWE who has found its greatest success when it is trying to evolve. Should they be stacking creative with wrestling veterans? Maybe the creative team benefits from having people who understand the in-ring component so intimately. But at the end of the day, a television program should have writers who understand writing for the medium as well as solid basic storytelling.

When we picture the future of WWE, a future when Vince McMahon is gone and Triple H is running the business with Stephanie McMahon, what is does that landscape look like? We know who will be running the show, but a leader is only good as the people they surround themselves with. There’s a line in the TV show Sports Night where one of the characters explains what he has learned as the Managing Editor of a sports analysis program: “If you’re dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.” If WWE had a creative staff made up of trained writers, experience industry professionals, men and women of varying ages, the product would reflect that. Yes-men are worthless in an environment like that. Bring as many innovative people who are willing to think way outside the box together, let them argue and debate and start over and work harder, and I promise – they will give you some of the best programming WWE has ever created.

And as for Triple H – yeah, a lot of us internet dorks don’t have 1/100th of the information you do. But we’re working with what we’ve got until NXT opens a developmental program for writers. And when you do, let me know where I can sign up.

The Lady J Says