An Artist Debuts

This past weekend was an absolute whirlwind of wrestling for me. It was my first time making the trip to see two separate promotions in two separate cities on back to back days. If you’re interested in checking out NOVA Pro’s NOVA Project 2 pre-show, that’s up here on the Facelock Feministas YouTube channel. If you caught Chikara’s The Black Goodbye either live or on Facebook, just know I’m going to do a blog post about that later on in the week.

My friend Kate (who most of you know as MakeItLoud on Twitter, and from her fabulous RAW Breakdown Project) and I have had plenty of time lately with all of the long car rides we’ve been taking to discuss wrestling at great lengths. We’ve talked about bookings, about promotions, about storytelling, about women as wrestlers, creatives, and fans. But the topic we seem to keep returning to is the unique relationship between the performers themselves and the fanbase. In wrestling, the way we as fans interact with promotions and wrestlers is unlike the way the fans of just about anything else interact with the things they are a fan of. Not only are these individuals and companies available to us through social media and video productions that are widely accessible, but also through live and in-person performances and interactions. Many fans feel a connection with specific promotions or performers, and while most often that manifests itself in terms of admiration, some cool fan art, and really wild cheers at live shows, it can also contort into a sense of entitlement and ownership.

Spoiler alert: I don’t know any wrestlers personally. You could argue my most direct connection to any wrestler is through attendance at the NOVA Pro shows and through doing the podcast. I don’t know anything about these people’s personal lives and we don’t socialize outside of that environment. I am just a fan. But I feel a deep sense of pride in them when they achieve something within this industry – even without titles or tournaments. When they have a particularly stupendous match and you can see it on their face afterwards how proud they are, it’s infectious.

I’m a lady with a blog and a podcast. I like to discuss the performance aspect of wrestling (see also: my Facelock Feministas review of the Weapons of Mass Destruction match on Lucha Underground.) I like to discuss the gender biases within the industry and within the fanbase (see also: the #PWGrrrlGang.) I also like to have fun, which is why – if you are a wrestler – there is a chance you’ve heard me talking about your butt on Twitter. Sorry. (#NotSorry) I am deeply appreciative of the fact that the first (and hopefully only) person who has called me out on this in person is Cedric Alexander.

I’ve seen Cedric Alexander perform live in three different promotions now: I saw him at AAW in Chicago back in June, I saw him wrestle at Chikara’s King of Trios earlier this month, and for the better part of this summer, Cedric was appearing at the monthly NOVA pro shows, wrestling our own fan favorites as well as outside talent, like Shane Strickland. Cedric never once had a bad match with anyone. Cedric’s style, his presence both in the ring and outside of it, and his willingness to interact with fans whether they are lining up for an autograph and photo or yelling Kota Ibushi’s name at him while he’s wrestling, paint a picture of someone who is truly dedicated to his art form. That’s the best way I can describe Cedric: he’s an artist.

When he was announced as being a part of the Cruiserweight Classic, it was natural for me to cheer for him. Before a single episode had aired, none of us were 100% sure what the outcome would be – not only who would win, but what the prize would be. I had hope that Cedric would do well, whatever the bigger picture might have in store for all of the participants. So to then discover that while he did not win the tournament outright, that he WOULD be debuting today, September 19th, on Monday Night RAW as part of the new Cruiserweight division made me incredibly proud. Not all wrestlers have the same goals or aspirations, but we as their fans and supporters hope that they make their craft sustainable; we want them to be able to do nothing but wrestle and feed their families through their art. We know that for many of them, working with WWE is not only a childhood dream, but the place where money and wrestling come together to create that sustainability.

From my tiny place within this giant industry, all I can hope is that hardworking individuals who genuinely love their fans and want to create a body of beautiful work with a variety of opponents are the people who reap the rewards. The current list of cruiserweights making up this new division is quite diverse – the styles and background of each competitor speak for themselves – but I feel strongly that Cedric will rise as a leader among them. I look forward to what their division will bring as a whole to RAW, and who they may inspire to pursue a career in wrestling. They have also left a sizable hole in the independent scene, and I eagerly anticipate who will fill the space they’ve left behind. (I’ll also be keeping an eye out for the new best booty of the indies, of course. Don’t think I’ve totally turned into a mush.)

It is hard to be a wrestling fan a lot of the time. It’s an expensive fandom to exist in where your heart will be broken, bad decisions will be made, other fans will make you crazy, and people you care deeply for will get injured. You can often feel like a tiny, unheard voice shouting amidst a sea of other opinionated characters, with just as much passion or fervor as the next person, but no one to listen. Sometimes the nonsense that goes on will make you want to walk away from the whole thing. Kate & I have joked we should make a shirt that says “Your fave is problematic and your fave is pro wrestling.”

I’m so very proud to say my favorite isn’t problematic.

Mine is Cedric Alexander.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

 

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The Tale of Two Districts

The school district on Long Island that I attended from first grade through senior year of high school was huge. It’s one of New York State’s largest, not only in number of enrolled students, which currently exceeds 15,000, but it’s also sprawling in terms of square miles. When I was still very young, the district set about redrawing the borders of the areas that fed into our twelve elementary schools to accommodate what was considered an influx of school children in our area. To prevent one school, for example, from ending up with class sizes close to forty while another had classes with only 15 students, they shuffled everyone around. This meant that when I was 9, I lost half of my classmates to other schools, and started fourth grade with a classroom full of unfamiliar faces.

Then in sixth grade, the district voted to make even larger changes: they were going to build a second high school and a fourth middle school. This meant we ended up with double of everything: sports teams, music groups, extra curricular clubs, etc. Everyone in the district predicted we’d eventually fully split in half (as it is, half of the students never meet the other half.) At some point it would become clear that the newer houses with the wealthier families were feeding into one high school and wouldn’t want to pay taxes to the other school where the lower income families lived.

I couldn’t help but see the similarity of my old public school district with what is currently happening in WWE. It seemed entirely sensible that as the roster grew, not just the main roster but the NXT roster as well, it was necessary to accommodate that by creating more unique screen time opportunities to the performers. What better way to do that than to separate the two programs of Monday Night RAW and SmackDown Live into independent programs with entirely separate rosters. Now there were more chances for each wrestler to  actually perform for the WWE Universe, both live and at home.

What this split, at first, was lacking in was the ultimate goal any wrestling promotion needs to move the action along: something worth fighting for. Storylines regularly can create motivation for wrestlers, but in the end it is the promise of being a champion that drives everyone. Immediately after the draft occurred we were presented with the following issues: the tag teams and female wrestlers on the SmackDown Live roster did not have a title to compete for, and the men on Monday Night RAW did not have a major title to set their sights on.

The day after Battleground, Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon announced Monday Night RAW would have it’s own major title, the Universal Championship, which was crowned at SummerSlam in August. This past Sunday at BackLash, the first SmackDown Live exclusive pay-per-view post-brand split, a new Women’s Champion and Tag Team Champions for the Tuesday night program were crowned. With the coming of the Cruiserweight Division to RAW in the next few weeks (and what is a new division without its own title?) it is likely that WWE will have two major brands, with a combined roster of 86 performers and nine titles. NINE TITLES.

A lot of arguments were made before the WWE draft happened about the benefits of dividing the roster up in a myriad of ways, not the least of which was having certain divisions, like the women or the tag teams, being exclusive to one program. It was clear, though, when the rules of the draft were released that the rosters would essentially be mirror images of one another. For the first few weeks this felt fine, but now that there are an equal number of titles on each program, it feels like an exact replica of my school district.

The rosters, at this moment, really are still carbon copies of one another: two serious, strong willed women divisions with ex-NXT stars as champs; two tag team divisions based in being the comedy act of the roster with violent heels challenging for the titles; mid-card men’s singles titles held by individuals with pretty blonde wives who’ve held other titles and are not in their first reign, turning previously silly storylines into vicious battles; and two ex-Shield babyface/tweeners who have been cheated out of their main titles by indie sweethearts and are now looking for redemption or revenge.

Of course, the stories aren’t EXACTLY the same, and there is something or someone worth watching on both programs. However, two problems immediately jump out. First of all, the limited rosters per division mean the potential for recycled storylines or never-ending feuds between performers. Second, what is the value of one championship when another just like it exists somewhere else? What do I mean by this? Well, let’s look at the tag divisions.

Currently, the RAW tag champions are The New Day, and the longest reigning tag champions for that particular belt (previously the WWE World Tag Team Championship which was, ironically, developed for the SmackDown roster in 2002.) Alongside Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods are only 4 other tag teams: Enzo Amore and Big Cass, Epico and Primo of the Shining Stars, Goldust and R-Truth of the Golden Truth, and Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Meanwhile, on SmackDown, the newly-crowned champions of Heath Slater and Rhyno have 6 potential opponents to face: Aiden English and Simon Gotch of the Vaudevillains, Chad Gable and Jason Jordan of American Alpha, Fandango and Tyler Breeze of Breezango, Jimmy and Jey Uso, Konnor and Viktor of the Ascension, and Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley of the Hype Bros. Keeping this in mind, why wouldn’t it be in, say, The Hype Bros best interest to ask to be released from SmackDown in order to hedge their bets at RAW? Or if Anderson and Gallows find that being outnumbered by the New Day to be unfavorable, why not just roll into SmackDown and take the tag titles from Slater and Rhyno?

Also of note: the way the talent was distributed between the two promotions. Arguably all of the tag teams on the SmackDown roster have elevated their division and have found success in getting over with the crowd, with perhaps the Ascension being the only exception. On RAW, New Day, Anderson and Gallows, and Enzo and Cass leave Golden Truth and the Shining Stars in the dust in terms of being over. With such a small division, you’d expect them all to be over, or at least at the same level, instead of there being such inequality with the crowd. Considering all of this, it’s easy to see the brand new SmackDown titles as the more important ones, even though RAW‘s titles have more history, because there’s more talent, more general popularity, and more potential for diversity in booking.

Now, if WWE had decided to keep their WWE World Heavyweight championship on RAW, maybe alongside the tag titles and the incoming Cruiserweight division, while elevating the IC title on SmackDown with the US title and the entire women’s division, there would still be something for every viewer on both programs, but no need to create new titles (except, as previously stated, one for the cruiserweight.) Then, between 86 individuals there would only be 6 titles – a far better ratio, in my opinion. Also, having one title per division means there is a best – there is one goal. All of the women fight for one title. All of the tag teams fight for one title.

There’s some things I didn’t mention in my comparison between WWE and my school district. First of all, both high schools compete as if they are in their own district. Any time there is cause for competition – whether it be in sports, test scores, music competitions – the schools are going head-to-head. But to the outside world, they are still one district, and as such a win for one is a win for the whole district. The difference here is that WWE isn’t in competition with other companies, not really anyway. While many other wrestling promotions have found successes for themselves and wrestling as an industry becomes popular again with mass markets, no one is functioning at WWE’s level. That could be a good reason to pit two version of the main roster against one another, but not if they rarely face off, and have enough titles on each program to basically be self-sufficient.

I also didn’t mention that in the time leading up to my generation’s influx of children in that area, the district was working on paring down their expenses, because there was less of a need. Not too long ago, WWE was spending a lot of time unifying titles and cleaning up the remnants of a time when there were two rosters, or competing companies with rival titles. Also, some [redacted] years since my graduation, the tide has turned again. The district has closed down two elementary schools and that middle school they built during my time there. As much as WWE’s roster split is fitting for the massive roster they are currently sporting, it is only a matter of time before that changes, too. It will likely be years before we see the WWE roster shrink enough to warrant a move away from two unique programs, but that possibility still exists in the future, at some unpredictable time. Then what?

There’s one major issue with the two rosters that can’t be drawn in parallel to anything else, though, and that is the sheer volume of wrestling content that exists in the world right now. Most large promotions have some sort of online or DVD components now so you can check out what they’re doing, regardless of where in the world you are. Live in Texas but want to check out Chikara? No worries. Live in the UK but want to see BOLA? Not a problem. When we step back and look at how the industry is absolutely flooded with content, it becomes hard to motivate yourself to check out a second night of WWE doing the same basic thing. If the rosters had unique divisions, that would be a good incentive to tune in on Tuesday – to see the Women, or the Tag Teams, or the Cruiserweights. But to see a carbon copy of the way WWE books shows, just with different wrestlers…that’s not motivation to do anything except be anywhere but my couch on Tuesday nights.

I think it’s human nature to try to solve the problems that exist before us without worrying too much about what is coming down the pike or how our problem fits into a greater, global community. If we do, it’s easy to become totally overwhelmed by the prospect of every possible outcome. However, a lack of foresight cannot be considered a virtue when the realities of single-mindedness are standing right in front of you  – back to back on Mondays and Tuesdays.

– The Lady J Says

 

 

The Middle

Some stories start in the middle.

The middle of this story finds me sitting home on a Friday night trying to keep pasta away from the dog while listening to a wrestling podcast. On a stupid hot night toward the end of July, I’m taking a break from a fairly monotonous freelancing project to engage in my favorite thing: listening to fun, funny, passionate people talk about pro wrestling, and in particular, Lucha Underground.

It’s during this podcast I hear some of the individuals (who all appear to identify as male, as they all refer to one another as “he”) talking about the mentorship of some of the individuals behind LU, and how they encouraged the various podcast personalities to follow along the path they’ve walked. This is wonderfully reassuring, as I have had many positive interactions via social media with some of the writing staff, and like to think they have also been encouraging as I work toward…

As I work toward…

What am I working toward?

I have changed trajectories so many times in my not-quite-thirty years in this Earth. I wanted to work in politics, in playwriting, in publishing, in wrestling. I took care of my Mom; I left my boring day job with the government. But what am I doing right now? I am watching every match Roman Reigns has wrestled on the main roster of WWE. I am trying to figure out what to do with a Lucha Underground podcast now that the second season of the show is over. I am horribly neglecting this blog. I am attempting to do some freelance writing and editing. But to what end? What good am I doing; what impact am I making?

I realize I am jealous of these men on the podcast, because they seem to have opportunity, trajectory, and intiative. They have someone in their corner with the LU staff being so supportive. And I realize I am jealous because they are men.

The staff at Lucha Underground, in particular Chris DeJoseph has been very supportive of the #PWGrrrlGang movement. As we have expanded its meaning, many other smaller promotions like AAW in Chicago, Smash in Canada, and NOVAPro right here in Virginia, have been welcoming of a movement to support women in all aspects of professional wrestling. But what they can’t offer is first-hand experience. They don’t know what it’s like to be a female writer or booker or commentator. They don’t know what it’s like to be the first woman to _____. They provide women with amazing opportunities, ones that have been seized and capitalized on, but they cannot show the path to walk to success.

I wish I had a mentor. I have someone from college, a wonderful theater professor who has been encouraging of my varied (& sometimes doomed) choices. He is like my cheering section, but will be the first to admit he has no experience with professional wrestling. I am walking into uncharted territory, where he wishes me great success but can offer no real guidance.

I wish there was a woman who could say she’s been there and done that. I wish there was a woman who had to fight her way into the boy’s club, who eventually found a group – a place to belong – made up of people who were like-minded in their ambitions but still challenged her. I wish she could help me choose where to focus my attentions, the podcast, the articles, the blog – or just to give up altogether because I don’t have the mettle. I wish there was a woman to mentor me, but there isn’t. At least, there isn’t one that I have found.

This story is still in the middle. Maybe it’s at a crossroads, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely in the middle. If it ever moves out of the middle, I hope I remember to look back and offer a hand to someone behind me.

The Lady J Says

A Woman of Honor

When I started doing the Facelock Feministas podcast with my friend Sarah, we were so infatuated with the Lucha Underground product for a myriad of reasons. A major one was how they treated the women who worked for them. They were involved in well-developed storylines and intergender wrestling matches were utilized to demonstrate that their women were on par with their men, not secondary to them. The past few weeks worth of podcasts has highlighted how that seems to have shifted. We have not had a woman in a match in two weeks on Lucha Underground, and we’re now seeing female characters in more stereotypical roles than before. And frankly, I’m disappointed.

This seems to be par for the course in pro-wrestling, though. Just when we think we’ve made strides for women as wrestlers and as fans, we take two steps back. WWE changes the Diva’s Championship to the Women’s Championship in a theatrical presentation in front of record crowds at Wrestlemania 32 and then gives us months of pitifully short segments and matches for women on RAW, not to mention their inability to create more than one storyline involving female wrestlers simultaneously.

Another example is Ring of Honor, a promotion that has Women of Honor on a weekly YouTube segment, but does not have women’s wrestling during their televised broadcasts. Today it was recommended to me that I check out an interview Joe Koff, the COO of ROH, did with Jim Ross in which Koff says “I doubt if our roster will ever be a third [female…] We’re not that deep and […] I’m not even sure that the fans have necessarily the appetite to sit through two or three women’s matches which you would have to have to have that kind of people, to use them, and to let them make a living.” What? You don’t think the audience has an “appetite” to sit through two or three women’s matches? Where does this data come from?! Also, your fan base will rise to whatever you set before them provided the wrestling is of a certain quality. And Koff has something to say on that, too:

“But I think, at the end of the day, the women are not quite at the level, even though they’re getting there. Their matches are very fast and they’re very exciting, and I think some of the Japanese women that I’ve seen that have come over through New Japan are unbelievable. I think people like to talk about women’s wrestling because we’re a society where men like to look and let’s face it a lot of men are pigs when it comes to stuff like that. […] But at the end of the day, they want to see good action. So as the women’s quality gets better, I think we’ll see more women’s wrestling.”

What I’m taking from this quote is mostly that Mr. Koff doesn’t think women wrestlers are as good as men, but ROH puts them on TV in the capacity that they do in order for male to ogle them. Congratulations, Ring of Honor, you just made the top of my shit list. (Never thought someone would oust Striker, but here we are.)

What seems to really be at the heart of the problem is the absolute refusal of the people in positions of power (almost all men) in pro-wrestling to invest both time and money in women as human beings. There is a mass cyclical oppression happening in this industry (and film, music, art, sports, politics, science, ad nauseam) in which the lack of women in the ring discourages both a larger female fan base and potential future female wrestlers to invest in the product. In the same way (though admittedly on a smaller scale) that people of color are grossly underrepresented in film and television roles, the representation of women in pro-wrestling wildly skews the impression on the viewer that women can’t or shouldn’t wrestle, and that the product is not “for them”. To encourage the hiring of female wrestlers, to encourage the hiring of female writers and technicians and designers, is to encourage the diversification of professional wrestling both in product and in audience.

While watching Lucha Underground over the past 19 weeks, I have appreciated that the women were treated as equals to the men and given the same opportunities: the chance to be silly, to be violent, to be cheered, to be booed, and to be rewarded. The recent removal of the Catrina character from TV (though this is canon and will likely make sense in the future) married with the current status of Kobra Moon as a weird stalker girl and Taya as simply Johnny Mundo’s tagalong is a reversal of that. Lucha Underground was doing things with their female talent that no other promotion, save for all-female ones, were accomplishing in terms of equality. I have seen arguments that their women’s roster is much smaller than their male roster, and therefore it’s harder to get them screen time without overworking the female talent they do have. I don’t refute that, and agree that I would prefer not to see the talented women of LU out on injury due to working too many matches in a day of tapings. My response is far simpler: hire more women.

When I’m told the lack of imagination in storylines for female performers is based in the lack of women on staff, my response is the same: hire more. Do all women have the same experiences in life? No. I’m not suggesting that female writers should be creating content exclusively for female wrestlers. Having a diverse writing staff (and I mean to include gender along with diversity of race, religion, age, sexual orientation, etc.) creates an environment that will naturally breed a wider variety in plots. If everyone on the creative team at WWE was different from one another in all of the aforementioned categories, imagine the refreshing, boundary-pushing content they could be presenting to their audiences, even within the constraints of the TV-PG rating. It could potentially rival the Attitude Era in the way it would revolutionize the company and perhaps the entire industry.

I am regularly met with resistance when I discuss the issue of women in and out of the squared circle. I’m told the industry will never change, that some things are what they are. I’m asked time and time again, why do I bother? Why am I a part of an all-female wrestling podcast, why do I blog and write articles for other sites about representation and booking? These questions always seem silly to me, as they have a very simple answer. It’s because I LOVE wrestling. I love it. It has been there for me when I really needed it. And now I want it to be better. I want to give back to it, not just with my money or my time but with my voice. I want to encourage it to evolve and to change with the times and grow.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with me outside of the pro-wrestling world, I went to college to become a playwright. I wanted badly to be a female Aaron Sorkin (who many of you probably know from TV shows, but who got his start writing A Few Good Men as a stage play before it became a tremendously successful film). In my favorite television show The West Wing, which Sorkin was the showrunner for during the first four seasons, one of the main characters is deciding whether or not he should run for congress as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Republican district – a district that hadn’t elected a Democrat in a dog’s age. In arguing for his running, the character tells the following story:

“I worked in a State Assembly race in Manhattan in a district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans 16 to 1. But everywhere we went, there’d be one lone poster of a right-wing nutbar who wanted to eliminate the income tax. And he was holding up signs and canvassing everywhere and bugging the local reports until we had to comment on it. So I introduced myself to his campaign manager, and I said ‘what are you doing? Your candidate doesn’t have a chance and neither do your issues.’ He said ‘this is what I believe. And no candidate gets to run in my district without speaking to my issues.’ I came this close to voting for him.”

I am a pro-wrestling fan. So are all of the members of the #PWGrrrlGang, and thousands more men and women like us. We believe women should be hired more, booked better, and should be more well-represented in this industry. We believe female fans deserve a fun, inclusive, and safe environment in which to be spectators. If you produce pro-wrestling events, you will address our issues. I intend to make sure of it.

-The Lady J Says

Mania Weekend: What to Look For

My boy Fred made a suggestion last night that I do a Wrestlemania preview post after I went on a long tirade about why I am a bigger Lucha Underground fan than a WWE fan. He asked me to rank the matches in order of my excitement level, but I’m not event excited about more than half of the card. Instead, I’ve decided to list the top 10 things to look forward to about Wrestlemania weekend. Ready? Here we go.

Number 10: The WWE Hall of Fame Inductions of Sting, Jacqueline, and The Fabulous Freebirds
Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled for all of the individuals getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, but these are the three speeches I am most looking forward to. The Fabulous Freebirds are a group we have all been waiting a long time to see inducted (much like Owen Hart or DPP *still waiting*) and I imagine Michael P.S. Hayes will have some very interesting things to say. But mostly I am looking forward to the speeches of Sting and Jacqueline, both of whom are admirable members of the pro-wrestling community. I think it’s a very interesting choice to have the Dudley Boys inducting Jacqueline, though not unfounded. I could skip Ric Flair crying over Sting, though, and just get straight to The Icon.

Number 9: The Interncontinental Championship Ladder Match at Wrestlemania 32 (Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. The Miz vs. Sin Cara vs. Stardust vs. Zack Ryder)
Let’s not kid ourselves – this match is going to be a lot of fun. Ladder matches are hard to book, and a seven-man match is complicated enough already. But I have the utmost faith in (most) of these guys that they will rise to the occasion of making the IC title match one to remember – and one hard to follow. Plus, hello, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens will be appearing in their first Wrestlemania event! Congrats to them both!

Number 8: Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay at Evolve 59
If you aren’t spending every free moment you have watching videos of 22-year-old Chaos-member Will Ospreay, you’re doing something wrong with your life. Also, if you’re not spending every OTHER free moment of your life watching matches featuring Lucha Underground’s own Prince Puma, Ricochet, you’re definitely doing something very wrong. These two high-flyers were always destined to collide, but when they run into one another in Dallas, you can bet it’ll be a barn-burner. Sounds like a good enough reason to get in on that iPPV action if you ask me.

Number 7: Austin Aries vs. Baron Corbin at NXT Takeover: Dallas
There is a ton of hype around this match and I would just like to thank all of you for finally coming to the Baron Corbin table where you belong. I have always been a huge fan of Corbin, regardless of what type of character he’s portraying. But as a heel, he is magnificent and as his confidence has improved so have his matches. He has truly become a leader in NXT, and I hope they keep him there for a long time. Though he may feel he is destined for greener pastures (and I’m sure he is) he is a true asset to the NXT product, and the perfect first feud opponent for long-time vet Austin Aries. I have no doubt this match will be a sight to see.

Number 6: Bobby Fish vs. Roderick Strong, 2 out of 3 Falls at Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor X Day 2
I can’t imagine I would need to explain to anyone who knows the names Bobby Fish or Roderick Strong why this match is destined to be beautiful and messy simultaneously. Bobby Fish never lets me down, even as my attention has traveled away from reDRagon and back again. Roderick Strong has been involved in some of my most favorite ROH matches of the last few years, so it’s hard to imagine this match, clearly meant to go on for a solid length, will leave me in pieces.

Number 5: Matt Sydal vs. Kyle O’Reilly at ROH’s Supercard of Honor X Day 1; Adam Cole vs. Kyle O’Reilly, No Holds Barred at ROH’s Supercard of Honor X Day 2
Reason 1 to watch these matches: KYLE FUCKING O’REILLY. I adore this dude, please don’t make me explain why, just go google him or something. Reason Number 2: I adore Matt Sydal. If you didn’t watch him and Ricochet become IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, make sure you google that, too. (I’m going to give you a list – are you writing these down? If you just try them, I guarantee they will make you happy. Or at least ONE of them will, for cryin’ out loud.) Reason 3: Kyle O’Reilly vs. Adam Cole in a “let’s let Future Shock just fucking kill one another” match of J’s ultimate fantasy. *drools*

Number 4: Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar, No Holds Barred Street Fight at Wrestlemania 32
WOAH, HANG ON. THIS ISN’T NUMBER ONE?! No. You know why? Because as much as I love Dean Ambrose (and that is a lot. More than any other wrestler on this list actually) I know this match is likely not to give me what I want. It isn’t going to be a violent, bloody, or ridiculous as I want because of the regulations WWE has in place. Sure, it will likely be more vicious than anything else on the card, but it’s not going to be 2002 Lesnar vs. Mox in a Death Match which is the only way it could top this list. Sorry to disappoint.

Number 3: NXT Women’s Championship Match, Bayley vs. Asuka at NXT Takeover: Dallas
This is going to be a clinic. What we’ve all been waiting for is an opponent who can take Bayley to her limit and Asuka is that opponent. If Bayley makes it out of this match with her title, it’ll be amazing. If she makes it out of the match conscious, I’ll be shocked. But either way, Bayley is either going to prove herself to be the true queen, or she’s going to fall to the biggest monster WWE has seen since Brock Lesnar himself – and my money, Bayley, is on Asuka killing you.

Number 2: Sami Zayn vs. the debuting Shinsuke Nakamura at NXT Takeover: Dallas
Shinsuke Nakamura is facing the biggest male babyface NXT has ever had in his WWE-ring debut and we are all crying already. Good luck to Sami Zayn making it to Mania on Sunday. YeaOH!

Number 1: WWE Diva’s Championship Triple Threat, Charlotte vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks at Wrestlemania 32
Let’s remember for a second that last year all we had on the card was a tag match between Paige and AJ vs The Bella Twins. Let’s remember that the year before AJ defended her Diva’s title in a ridiculous Vicki Guerrero-instituted battle royal in the WORST spot on the card, moments after the Undertaker’s streak was broken. Let’s remember that three years ago THERE WAS NO DIVA’S MATCH ON THE CARD AT ALL. And now, we have finally reached a new pinnacle of the Diva’s Evolution (as I like to call it, as it’s a more reasonable word choice:) three of the four horsewomen are going to face off in what will likely be the best match, wrestling-wise on the card. And regardless of who wins, they will make an entire generation of women proud to be fans. This match will be the new litmus test.
To the little girl who sat next to me at the WWE Live event last weekend: these are your heros, these are the women paving the way. You cheer them, darling. They’ll make you proud!

– The Lady J Says

Anatomy of a Pop Pt. 1: The Best in the World

Okay first things first (insert Nicki Minaj rap here) I crowd-source these blog posts. If you follow me on Twitter, there’s a 75% chance you’ll end up in here, so make sure you follow me to get in on whatever ridiculous conversation I dream up on a Wednesday morning.

This morning’s open Twitter discussion was about surprises – big, shocking, can’t-believe-it moments of recent memory. Not just in WWE, either, I’m talking about moments when the live crowd and those of us watching at home have gone bonkers: the illusive, true pop. I asked everyone to tell me about those moments that blew them away, and then took a step back to look at the whole picture.

 

My girl Willow kicked us off with a really great moment: after Owens showed up on Monday Night RAW with the NXT Championship looking for a PPV match against the US Champion, we all thought we were in for another LOLCENAWINS moment – boy, were we wrong! The pop from all of us when the ref hit three was unreal. We were finally getting what we wanted!

This is likely to go down in history as one of the greatest heel turns of all time. Part of it was EXCELLENT story-telling by WWE by telegraphing that Dean Ambrose was the most unstable (and therefore unpredictable) member of The Shield, so when it turned out that Seth Rollins was the one to destroy the beloved stable, we couldn’t believe our eyes. I wasn’t watching this one live (what a night to pick to go to the movies, huh?) but watching the clip back, the crowd response was unbelievable. For a split second, there is silence. Then they tear the place down.

NXT: REvolution had one hell of a finish. After Sami Zayn defeated Neville for the NXT Championship, his best friend from the indies, Kevin Owens shows up to congratulate him – and powerbomb him to death. The way he knocks the air out of the crowd as well as the new champ hurts to watch, and then is met with a hailstorm of boos. Kevin Owens made an  indelible impact on NXT – and WWE – forever that night.

I wasn’t even watching Monday Night RAW on February 22nd when Shane McMahon made his return to WWE. I was cooking dinner when suddenly my phone blew up with people messaging me to get in front of my TV, ASAP. And when I did, I just began to laugh until tears were streaming down my face. What a joyous feeling to listen to Shane cut the promo the entire IWC has been cutting on Vince for months on live TV.  Re-watching his entrance doesn’t take away anything from the moment – the entire WWE Universe has been waiting for a savior like Shane O’Mac and gave him a hero’s welcome.

Not all pops necessarily involve live crowds. This in particular was nuts on a whole different level. While Chikara doesn’t necessarily have as massive of a following as WWE does, it and Kimber Lee certainly made a tremendous impact on the IWC when she successfully cashed in her Golden Opportunity on Hallowicked at Top Banana back in December. I watched the news roll in on Twitter, slowly at first, before my entire feed was aflame with talk of how she had just changed the game for women in pro-wrestling.

This is superbly “on brand” for The Lady J. The story of Pentagon Jr. sacrificing arms to his master, only to have his master revealed to be current Lucha Underground commentator Vampiro blew my mind. It’s so easy to get completely engrossed in the LU story arcs, and therefore all the more easy to be worked. The Believers inside the Temple were with me, too, as all eyes grew wide at the sight before them.

This was back around the time WWE was giving us a mad rash of PPV matches that had no opponents or surprise entrants right up until the weekend or day-of.  When John Cena’s open challenge was answered by the returning Alberto Del Rio, I couldn’t believe my eyes. When he managed to take Cena out with seemingly no trouble at all, we were all floored.

This was probably the best pop of all. When a music we’d never heard before hit, and Roman Reigns (along with everyone in the Amway Center) looked up at the number 3 entrant to the Royal Rumble match, there was the Phenomenal One – AJ Styles. We all knew it was coming – it had been discussed for weeks prior. But now here he was, and the crowd response (as well as those of us screaming in our living rooms) was earth-shaking.

These beautiful moments inside wrestling are the perfect marriage of a few things. First of all, you need great performers at the top of their game who understanding timing and working the crowd. Second, you need an invested audience – the greater the hive mind the better, too. If you can get an entire room full of people looking in one direction, they won’t believe what hits them from behind. Third, you need the element of surprise, whether it be an unexpected appearance or a shocking shift in the story, you have to really bring things out of left field to drive the masses wild. Finally, the biggest pops come from a catharsis or release – the end of something, the culmination of something, good or bad – to allow the audience a chance to catch their breath, before you begin building to the next great pop.

Sounds easy when you break it down, no? But it’s not that simple. Maybe next time we break down a solid pop and see what makes it combustible.

One final word: I would like to take a moment and point out something that maybe some of you haven’t considered, as it’s just occurred to me. When I was living with my parents and taking care of my Mom, there was a dark cloud living in my brain that I couldn’t shake, and I used pro-wrestling as an escape from the emotional trauma of living with my Mom’s dementia disease. But that doesn’t mean that wrestling is always going to be able to fix me. In fact, over the past couple of months (perhaps due to the lack of sunlight associated with the winter in North America) I have been feeling pretty down, and found myself getting easily pissed off at WWE in particular. But my mood has changed dramatically this month, and I’m not enjoying not just WWE more, but wrestling (and the associated community) in general. Sometimes things are booked badly, sometimes they are written badly, sometimes people are shitty – but sometimes what’s going on with you is sucking all of the color out of the things you usually enjoy. So here’s a reminder: take care of yourself. Let the good stuff come back, because it will. You’re what’s making everything technicolor. I promise.

– The Lady J Says

 

Manic Monday (Night Raw)

A host of things have been whirling around, creating something like a tornado of both pleasant and not in my personal life. I got to spend the weekend finding places for all of the random items strewn around my room, and in the process helped to find homes for all the random thoughts floating around inside my head. One of those thoughts was about this blog, and about wrestling in general. I was thinking about how much I look forward to Lucha Wednesdays (as I’ve taken to calling them) and not just because I get to spend my evening hanging out with the hilarious and lovely Sarah Slam. I actually enjoy the Lucha Underground product. For one hour every week, I’m just a fan, getting sucked into an entertaining program. How Sarah and I discuss the show afterwards on our podcast, The Facelock Feministas, is more analytical, but we work within the limitations of our knowledge. We speak as wrestling fans, not as bookers, and we also speak as women. Our opinions are colored by the experiences we have had in life.

This week, I tried (once again) to go into watching of Monday Night RAW with a new attitude. If you follow me on Twitter (which you should, as I am wont to do silly things like recording videos of myself lip-syncing to oldies music) you know that when I get excited about something, I cannot be stopped. I am likely to tweet curse words (sorry children, please unfollow Auntie J) and things in all-caps. But in those moments, you can be certain I am a happy wrestling fan. Whether or I am angry or thrilled, anything that instills that kind of extreme emotion in me as a fan is good.

The emotion I experienced most watching the opening segment between Shane McMahon and his father was nostalgia. I remember watching the younger McMahon when I was in middle school – doing crazy stunts and fighting with his dear old dad. I am not opposed to the story line currently running between them because I like Shane. I like his promos and he works well with Vince. I don’t imagine his match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 32 will be bad. Whatever the prodigal son and The Deadman cook up will be exciting to watch. As I’ve mentioned before, the real issue for me with this feud is the use of ‘Taker as The Chairman’s minion, fighting someone else’s fight. It makes no sense and has yet to be satisfactorily explained. Also, it has been years since we’ve seen Mr. McMahon and The Phenom interact, making it impossible to infer motives based on characterization. While this is a glaring issue (one that is epidemic throughout the WWE as a whole) it is not enough of a deterrent to keep me from smiling when Shane-O-Mac’s music hits, or when his promo is interrupted by the ominous sound of a gong.

Another thing that broke out a tremendous grin on my face was a ring occupied by former NXT champions Neville, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn. There is no combination of participants in this trio that creates a bad match – ever. Owens and The Man Gravity Forgot put on a clinic last night (complete with a phoenix splash off the second rope executed with ease and a moonsault off the top rope that stopped my heart) and after the Intercontinental Champion picked up the win in typical heel fashion, the UK high-flyer was saved from a nasty beating by none other than Shinsuke Nakamura’s NXT Dallas opponent, Sami Zayn. Seeing the potential of these three being on the main roster could make any dedicated fan proud. We have been waiting for a long time to see the next generation of top-tier talent, and this is it. Three different styles, all of them at the top of their game. My hope is that, as a unit, they can get themselves over in a big way, and then move on to elevating some other NXT talent, or people further down the card on the main roster. A feud between Neville and fellow-high flyer/current US Champion Kalisto could be a stunning program, though potentially dangerous. What I did take away from this match (and the aftermath) was that the “newer” guys are choosing to push the envelope by expanding their move set, and working in different styles. While I had been feeling lately that the WWE was shorter on high-flyers than they had been in the past, I forget that big guys like Kevin Owens, Luke Harper, and Ryback have been experimenting lately with more aerial moves. Assuming they are being trained safely and only attempting moves they have become comfortable with, it will certainly make for an exciting future!

I want to make sure I talk a bit about the women’s matches we seem to be setting up for ‘Mania. We already know for sure that Diva’s Champion Charlotte will be defending her title in a triple threat match again Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks. As a whole, this has been set up well. WWE successfully “broke up” the friendship of Charlotte and Becky (not without its misogynist shortcomings, of course AND I AM LOOKING AT YOU RIC FLAIR) over the past few months, and when Becky lost her title match against Charlotte at Royal Rumble back in January, Sasha injected herself into their story in a natural way. The Boss had her sights set on the title, and knew how to get an opportunity at it. When The Boss and The Irish Lasskicker ended their number one contender’s match last Monday with a double count-out, we all knew they were setting us up for a triple threat that would likely bring Dallas to its knees. Regardless of the outcome, these three women are going to set the bar for Wrestlemania 32. I can’t imagine them being out-done by anything else currently on the card in terms of sheer ability. They are elevating not only the level of match everyone should be having in WWE, they are also raising the profile of women’s wrestling for the masses. I am very proud of them.

On the other hand, there appears to be another women’s feud heading into the Showcase of the Immortals – something is brewing between Brie Bella and Lana. Last night, Lana made her way down to the ring after Brie lost to Summer Rae and hit the Total Divas star with one of her own finishers, a sitout face-buster. But why? Even the commentary team seems mystified, continually reminding the audience we have been given no reason for this feud whatsoever. There is no motivation, and (to my knowledge) Brie and Lana have never crossed paths in character before. Typically, I would take a moment to lament that WWE seems capable of only creating ONE fully-developed story for women, but they don’t seem to actually fully-develop ANY of their stories anymore, so maybe the fact that we got one whole women’s feud is a Mania Miracle.

In terms of wrestling that really had me enthralled, I would have to say I found myself mostly glued to the fight for the Tag Team Championship – that is, right up until the end. I thought the match itself was exciting and fun, and made me cheer Chris Jericho for once (amazing, really.) But it also seemed natural that The New Day, who have been a tag team for well over a year, would triumph over Y2AJ who have only been together for a half of a second. I am not such a fan of Jericho’s turn on AJ Styles after they lost the match, though. I’m tired of Y2J – I have been for a while. And to think that The Phenomenal One seems trapped in some sort of never-ending program with him is infuriating. Unlike Shane McMahon, Jericho does not bring me warm, fuzzy waves of nostalgia. He has shown up too often on WWE programming to ever really make me miss him. On his regular stops back in WWE from playing rockstar with his band, Fozzy, Jericho inevitably overstays his welcome. I cannot wait for him to leave us again, and for Styles to move on to what is my dream feud for him: Styles/Owens.

Someone on Twitter asked me my thoughts on the fact that WWE seems to be keeping Roman Reigns off of TV lately. The truth is, I didn’t notice. Two weeks in a row, the guy who Triple H is wrestling in the Mania main event – the last guy to hold the title – wasn’t on TV. And I forgot. I forgot I was supposed to care, or be worried, or tweet about it. Instead, I was focused on the beautiful promo work happening between Trips and my boy Dean Ambrose. Granted, I feel sure The Lunatic Fringe (who lost at Fastlane) is doomed to lose both this Saturday on the WWE Network’s program Fastlane against The Game for the title and in his No Holds Barred Street Fight against Brock Lesnar in Dallas. But watching him kill himself trying to so much damn fun. Before he gets his ass beat, he is surely going to be a massive thorn in the side of both Triple H and The Beast, and we are sure to see him verbally spar against Paul Heyman (which, lets face it, is a dream The Lady J has had before.) Is Ambrose’s feud with these men doing anything for his Shield brother? No. Is it possible that keeping Reigns off TV and giving the audience a chance to fall in love with Ambrose going to keep them from booing Reigns when he returns? Absolutely not. If anything, the fire against him will be hotter. If WWE has any sense they’ll either turn him heel, or at the very list, let Shane bury him when the brand (hopefully) splits. Roman Reigns is pretty, and arguably better in the ring than my Explicitly Violent favorite, but he’s no John Cena. He’s not even polarizing the way Cena is – the vast majority of the people showing up for RAW hate him. Vince can push back against the WWE Universe all he wants, we’re just too loud.

All told, I enjoyed my three hours of RAW last night. Would I rather it be shorter? Yes. Would I rather never have to look at Chris Jericho (or listen to a promo from Ryback) ever again? Yes. Was it fun? Absolutely.

Is it Lucha Underground level awesome?

Hell no.

– 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

 

 

Mad As Hell

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” – Howard Beale, Network

I was already wound up about WWE’s Fastlane Pay-Per-View hours before the show actually got started. As a dedicated Dean Ambrose fan, I felt sick at the thought that WWE had worked hard to create doubt – they took Ambrose’s Intercontinental Title on Monday, thus making us believe he had a real chance to win last night’s Number 1 Contender-ship match – but knew they had no intention of actually paying that doubt off. But the show as a whole was largely unappetizing to me, and I ended the night angrier than I have been with the promotion in months.

The last time I was this aggravated, it involved all of the same characters that are giving me a headache now: Ambrose, Roman Reigns, The Wyatt Family, Charlotte. Back then my argument was basically the same – WWE has absolutely no idea how to build an organic story and pay it off. They have no idea how to develop strong characters. They have no idea how to write compelling dialogue, or create parameters where their performers can improve exciting promos. It occurred to me after Fastlane was over and I was snuggled warmly in bed that I only tuned in to see how bad they could screw the whole thing up. The answer was “spectacularly”.

Don’t get me wrong – there were other problems with last night’s show. There were several messy in-ring errors that were terrifying to watch, particularly with all of the recent discussions surrounding concussions and other injuries. It is not just WWE’s responsibility, but the responsibility of the wrestlers to protect not just themselves, but their co-workers as well. If we’re going to openly discuss these things, then you need to be prepared for your audience being sensitive to certain types of moves. Besides that, there is also an atmosphere to PPVs that was seriously lacking last night. Was watching Roman Reigns get booed out of the building in Philadelphia at the 2015 Royal Rumble ideal? No. But it was an incredible sight to behold – and any reaction is better than no reaction, and no reaction is what we got out of Cleveland for most of the night.

Professional wrestling is a unique thing to be a fan of. It’s like sports, but it’s not sports. It’s like scripted weekly television programming, but it’s not. It’s like a lot of things, but the only thing it is, truly, is itself. There are a lot of ways to produce a pro-wrestling show, and no one way is right or wrong. But, like with any good art form, self-awareness is key. What makes Lucha Underground so popular, for example, is that it has hard and fast rules about where the parameters of the world it occupies are. The world of LU includes magic and mysticism, but does not include current events or even an expansive connection to its location (they never, for example, shout out the local sports team.) There are no titan-trons in the same space as the ring, so no one in the Temple should/could be privy to the backstage segments that the television audience gets to see. There is a certain amount of continuity that fans can rely on.

None of this exists in WWE. The issue that I am always going to have with WWE is that I am a writer, a storyteller by nature, and WWE does everything in its power to flagrantly disregard the rules that have been drilled into me. These are rules I’ve learned not just from years of schooling, but from experiencing the work of great authors (playwrights, screen writers, etc.) who created compelling and all-encompassing worlds for us to explore. There are a lot of arguments I’m hearing about letting yourself get worked, or giving in to the story line in front of you and not to think you’re smarter than the people who run the company. That’s a fair argument – one I’ve actually made myself. I know I’ve referenced before that I always think of my late grandparents – my grandmother telling my grandfather, who was voicing his displeasure and confusion at her preferred daytime soap opera program, that he didn’t “know how to watch this.” That could be a valid argument for someone who doesn’t like LU, because it has magic in it. But it’s not a valid argument for WWE because they don’t know how to tell a story at all anymore.

The “tweener” nature of just about every character on the roster, and the loss of faces and heels is a problem. Tweeners are useful, but not if you have a whole roster of them, because you’re not telegraphing to the audience who you want them to cheer for. (Not that you can guarantee who the audience will cheer for, but it’s hard to turn someone in order to fit the crowd reaction when they have no true affiliation to begin with.) The imaginary world in which what goes on backstage on Monday Night Raw is not projected for the entire arena to hear is a problem, particularly when this is a rule that is regularly broken. How often do we see backstage segments in which people make reference to things announced in the ring that they were not present for? If you can hear in-ring announcements backstage, isn’t it fair to say the wrestlers in the ring can see what happens backstage and is projected onto the titan-tron? Running a website in which you regularly run kayfabe and non-kayfabe stories side-by-side is a problem. The “fake” world of your wrestling program is not something that should be placed over reality, like a painted transparency. I have never once been confused by Ricochet tweeting about something that Prince Puma did on Lucha Underground. And why is that? Because it’s clear he is a performer portraying a character. Insisting that performers where there in-ring personas all of the time creates more problems than it solves in this day and age. The fact that WWE runs programming on the network where kayfabe and reality crash into each other, shows like Breaking Ground that are half shoot and half work, is a testament to their dedication to their 21st century version of kayfabe. What could be sillier than taking something that doesn’t work and doubling down on your efforts?

Of course last night’s main event was just the latest in a long line of scenarios that highlight WWE’s inability to conceptualize the trainwreck they’ve created by continuing the involve the actual owners of the company in the main event (or really any) storyline. The Big Bad Businessmen are always going to be heel characters, whether it’s Triple H or Vince McMahon at the heart of it. Therefore, anyone they’re up against are babyfaces. But if we as fans know how hard those same people are working to create storylines (including involving themselves, like we saw with Vince back in December/January) we have to assume the people they are trying to get over are associate with the higher ups, and thus heels.

“Easy, J. Just separate the Paul Levesque the businessman from Triple H of the Authority.”

I could. But you know what? THAT’S NOT MY JOB. It’s theirs. It is the job of the company to clearly define the characters, to give me a story I can follow. No, all of the stories they are telling don’t have to be geared to me as a fan. But they should be something I can understand. If I wrote a story, a novel, where my characters had (what basically equates to) multiple personalities, the book would be panned for being an analytical mess, impossible to untangle. And that’s what WWE is – a gigantic maze of overlapping stories inside and outside of the product that create more confusion and frustration than excitement. To be considered a successful wrestling promotion, I expect you to be selling seats, yes. But I also expect your product to be interesting and something I (or anyone) can become invested in. There is no reason for a new fan to become invested in the WWE main roster product. Yes, there are great matches, but if you’re just looking for good matches there are plenty of other places you can go. A company that makes as much money as WWE does should be able to pull off something more balanced: high production quality, clear storytelling, interesting characters, AND good matches. And if you think that’s me asking for too much, then you have given up on WWE being a quality product and have settled for the sub-par trash they’ve been spoon-feeding us for years. And that’s not my problem.

For those of you who made it all the way down this far, thank you for reading! I am going to take another break from things like Monday Night RAW and SmackDown (sorry, Mauro. I love you!) and focus my attention on NXT (which I recently haven’t had the time to keep up with) and Lucha Underground. For those of you who follow me on Twitter or read this blog on Thursdays, you’ll know that my girl Sarah and I have been live-tweeting LU on Wednesday nights. We’ve been having such a good time with it, we decided to start podcasting about it. So “Facelock Feministas” is going to debut as a podcast, right here on The Lady J Says blog this Wednesday night/Thursday morning. Hopefully y’all will enjoy it (and so will we) and it can become a regular thing. Keep your eyes peeled for that, while I put my Explicit Ambrose hoodie in a drawer for safe keeping.

Listen, WWE. It’s not me – it’s you.

– The Lady J Says