Tag Archives: Bayley

Is There a Place for Total Divas in the Women’s Wrestling Renaissance?

WrestleMania 32 marked not only the largest event in World Wrestling Entertainment history but, more importantly, a change for the better in the way women wrestlers—previously called Divas—are perceived.

Up until Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Charlotte wrestled for the newly christened—by legendary women’s wrestler Lita, no less—WWE Women’s Championship in Dallas in April, women in WWE had been officially referred to as Divas since the company trademarked the term in 2008. Previously, they had informally been called Divas amidst consternation as to who actually came up with the term: Sunny or Sable, two women of the Attitude Era who helped set the tone as to how women in wrestling would be portrayed for the better part of two decades.

Branding surrounding WWE Divas reached its pinnacle in 2013 when E! premiered an hour-long reality show entitled Total Divas, which chronicled the lives of mainstays Brie and Nikki Bella, Natalya and Eva Marie, and a rotating cast featuring Paige, Trinity, Alicia Fox, Ariane, Summer Rae, JoJo, Rosa Mendes and Mandy. The upcoming sixth season features the inclusion of Renee Young, Maryse and Lana and begs the question: with the women’s wrestling renaissance, is there a place for Total Divas?

After the presentation of the brand spankin’ new Women’s Championship that mirrors the men’s title, a stark departure from the sparkly, pink, butterfly-shaped monstrosity of the Divas era, and the accompanying press release stating that women wrestlers would now be called female Superstars, I was surprised at the announcement that a new season of Total Divas would be airing on E! later in the year.

To many people’s minds, Total Divas has been a blight on women’s wrestling in recent years, with AJ Lee cutting promos about the show in its early days, Sasha Banks dismissing it in a recent interview and, if my Twitter feed is any indication, many viewers only tuning in for a chance to see Daniel Bryan after his injuries eliminated him from WWE TV. Storylines such as Brie’s struggle to get pregnant, Nattie’s family woes and Eva’s ostracision from the rest of the group tick the requisite reality trope boxes, but Total Divas also touches on important issues couched in rote dramatics that tie themselves up nicely by episode’s end: Rosa’s navigation of pregnancy in a male-dominated industry, Nikki’s aspiration to change how women in wrestling are perceived, Eva’s ambition to become a better wrestler, and Trinity, Ariane and Eva’s reproductive health issues. I’m always one to defend the show on the grounds that seeing how women navigate a male-dominated industry is important and it is often rejected as frivolous bullshit, as so many things aimed at women often are.

However, I’m not sure there’s a place for Total Divas anymore. Firstly, and most obviously, brand recognition of name Diva is diminishing. While playing the show’s theme song to promote any women’s wrestling match, regardless of whether the competitors are part of the cast, is annoying at best and sexist and segregative at worst, WWE cannot justify it come the show’s season six premiere when there is literally nothing linking the show’s title and women wrestlers. How will new WWE viewers make the connection between the women’s wrestling match they’re watching and the cross-promotion urging them to check out the competitors on E! and vice versa? And with the negative connotations of the word diva, is the only similarity between it and female WWE performers the tantrums that they’re goaded into chucking for the cameras? The show could have longevity if its title was changed to something else but that’s risking the loss of an already dwindling audience and undoing all prior marketing.

Whereas I don’t think Total Divas can survive in this new era, it’s spinoff Total Bellas has a chance. Nikki and Brie Bella have always been the cornerstones of WWE’s attempt to market women wrestlers to a reality audience so a show dedicated to them makes sense. With both women possibly out of in-ring action for good, Total Bellas is the logical next step in their—and WWE’s—quest to position them as “the female John Cena[’s]”, who also appears in the show along with Daniel Bryan. Total Bellas could feasibly exist separately from the WWE women’s division and Total Divas.

This is not to say that Brie and Nikki are the vapid models who can’t wrestle that they are so often viewed as. Despite their connections to powerful men (not to mention their mother Cathy’s recent marriage to John Laurinaitis!), the Bellas have shown that they’re in wrestling for the long run. As mentioned above, recent Total Divas storylines have shown Nikki striving to reach the top of the industry and be taken seriously. While Brie’s trajectory on the show has been more about her personal life, during her days as an active wrestler, she was sometimes competing on Raw, SmackDown! and PPVs more than her champion sister.

This defence of the Bellas can also be extended to all of the women wrestlers employed by WWE over the past decade or two, whether or not they appeared on Total Divas, who busted their asses with the little they were given. To quote myself as only the humblest of writers do, I wrote recently for the Special Broadcasting Service that “The new generation of women wrestlers should be praised, and rightly so, but not at the expense of the women of the Divas dynasty that were granted opportunities based largely on their looks as opposed to merit or skill. Women such as Alicia Fox, Nikki Bella, Naomi, Natalya, Beth Phoenix, AJ Brooks, Michelle McCool, Mickie James, Melina and countless others did the best with the scraps they were given.”

So I give Total Divas to the end of its upcoming season. Barring a complete overhaul of the title and/or the show as a whole (could a more Breaking Ground-esque Total Divas exist on the WWE Network?), I don’t believe Total Divas is a show that can survive in a niche that relied on it being largely the only representation of women wrestlers on TV. Now that Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Natalya and others are being given time to showcase the athleticism of women wrestlers on WWE TV, Total Divas is a relic that belongs in a not too distant past that some fans would rather forget.

Becky Lynch: Charming us into Submission

Of NXT’s “Four Horsewomen” leading the charge in changing women’s wrestling in WWE, it’s Ireland’s Becky Lynch we’ve seen NXT_266_Photo_11-3362264059_0the least of. If you tally up the amount of matches each woman has had on NXT television, Lynch has a mere 18, that’s half of Charlotte’s total (36) and a smaller fraction of Bayley and Sasha Banks’ (40 and 48 respectively). And in those 18 matches, not including appearances in backstage segments or accompanying her BAE-partner Sasha, Lynch has not stayed with one fixed character or look for long. She has seen her fair share of hopping (and skipping, and jigging) around things that may or may not have worked. In spite of her character soul-searching on air, there is so much more to Lynch than meets the eye and her depth means we’re going to see even more great things from the emerald of the women’s division.

NXT commentary has reminded fans time and time again about Lynch’s 15 year-old wrestling beginnings. At 18 and 19 years old Lynch was already traveling the world, completing tours in Japan, across Europe and North America. One of the highlights of Lynch’s (then-Knox’s) early years was a 2-out-of-3 falls match in Shimmer against Daizee Haze.

The near half-hour bout was filled with submission maneuvers, mat work and counters. Those technical skills never left her even as a career-threatening injury forced Lynch to take time off wrestling and try out pastures new, none of which could ever replace wrestling.

Over Lynch’s time in NXT she’s had the opportunity to not only regain in-ring confidence and enhance her abilities on the

W0tQ7Rdmicrophone, but bring out her own personality in the face of “reel”-y questionable character traits. Even being a redheaded rocker or backstabbing Bayley to align with Sasha Banks had a vague sense of deja vu. But Lynch has an endearing personality and quite the sense of humour. Lynch is also an esteemed wordsworth, going on warpaths of puns while livetweeting WWE RAW and other events.

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But no piece on Becky Lynch could ever go without mentioning (and grovelling through words) her biggest break yet: the NXT women’s championship match against Sasha Banks at May’s NXT Takeover Special. Lynch introduced the NXT audience to her submission specialties, her holds and suplexes and her attention to detail. The psychology in the match has been applauded by many a fan, calling back to the match structures of decades gone by and ultimately supplying yet another easy addition to the Match of the Year short list.

 

It is all these things that earn Lynch outpours of appreciation from her peers around social media, including a shout-out from the late American Dream in one of his final tweets. Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.36.03 PMWe can hope that one day Lynch may have more lengthy holds and counters heavy chain wrestling bonanzas, or that she will have more time to let her naturally comical side out. But with so much to offer, you might as well sit back, grab a pint and enjoy the future for Becky Lynch.

Charlotte does it with Flair

When her entrance music hits, the sampling of Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra gives you all you need to know about her esteemed wrestling lineage. When she defeats her opponents in the ring, the same sampling sends her off. In a way it’s a sign that her familiar entrance theme is the first and last thing Charlotte wants to hear about being “Ric Flair’s daughter” and luckily she has given wrestling fans plenty of reason to see her as her own woman.

In a showcase of the benefits of the WWE Performance Center, the company would be blind not to feature Charlotte front and centre. She has combined her athletic background with wrestling training that has come exclusively from the facility and in turn put together impressive performances that have allowed her to strut her way onto many Match of the Year lists. Charlotte is evidence that the approach to developing women’s wrestling in NXT is working, provided women are allowed the opportunity to put in the time and the work, and it’s clear Charlotte has put in tremendous work.

It has been incredible to see Charlotte’s growth over the duration of NXT, beginning as the new girl in the BFFs to taking the opportunity to become the next face of the NXT women’s division. Her big break was at NXT Takeover to determine the new Women’s Champion against Natalya.

The match was largely a ground game/submission match, a style that showcased Charlotte’s grit and determination to take her place as the Queen of NXT. It was also a sign that women had a place in the WWE environment to take their time and develop more detailed, psychological matches.

nxt-takeover-natalya-charlotte

From there, her in-ring acumen has seen her embrace new styles and moves, enhanced by the talents of those she shares the ring with. From exciting matches with Sasha Banks to more emotionally charged bouts with Bayley, to the stunning performance of all three plus Becky Lynch in the fatal four way, Charlotte has a bounty of opportunity to keep getting better and better, and potentially develop a richer character.

Charlotte’s progress was enough to allow her a chance to grace the main product at the end of 2014 in another match against Natalya, but as many could see something was off. The two women work well together but the current environment of women’s wrestling in WWE proper is not conducive to what Charlotte, and with many other talent are meant to accomplish.

Whatever comes of the state of women’s wrestling in WWE, the work Charlotte has done in her short time becoming a wrestler does justice to her family name.

 

Bayley’s Gonna Hug You

You can just hear her name or see her face and your mouth curls into a smile. Is it the thought of hugs, headbands and high ponytails? The electric personality evident in most everything she does? Whatever it may be, Bayley is one of the most unique characters at the level she performs at, and arguably the most important character in all of WWE, because Bayley dares to cover territory a woman in WWE has never been allowed to enter.

 If you take a peek at the women’s division in WWE, for years it has been plagued with the stale notion of “all women are catty and out to get each other.” This has led to the absolute minimum amount of differentiation between faces, heels or the Divas in general other than “this girl dresses goth” or “this girl wears sporty clothes.” It’s not often that you can be quirky and happy all the time without having some kind of “crazy” label stamped on you.

Bayley is as babyface as a babyface could get. She only truly hates her opponents when they’ve given her no reason to like them, and although her counterparts may deem her strange, she’s never painted in a negative light for her positivity, ultimately earning the respect of many of her opponents because of her passion and heart, and maybe even her hugs.

 It could have gone up in flames from the get go. A perpetually giddy, awkwardly shy superfan could have been a nonstop cringefest. But Bayley touched on moments and experiences that many if not all wrestling fans could relate to. Let’s be honest, not all of us have played it super cool when meeting professional wrestlers, and some of us to this day still embarrass ourselves around anyone who’s laced up a pair of boots. We have all experienced the excitement that Bayley showed about wrestling and as a result people connected with her.

 As she’s developed, more of her own personality has come through in shows. Bayley has never made any secret of her pogo-sticking past and love of Randy Savage but on a deeper level, the superfan persona has evolved into showing her drive to be a great wrestler and how much she loves wrestling. Bayley simply can’t be bothered to constantly engage in tearing her rivals down, she’s busy making sure she is the best she can be.

 One of the strongest examples of Bayley’s heart and determination was in her match against Charlotte at NXT Takeover Fatal 4-Way.

Bayley was the loveable underdog who put her all into battle with the whole crowd behind her. While her efforts were not enough to secure the championship, Bayley earned the hearts of the fans and gained new appreciation from Charlotte.

 Of the “four horsewomen”, Bayley interestingly enough brings the hard hitting moves to competition, ramming opponents into the ring, employing a number of suplexes including her signature Belly-to-Bayley, in essence taking her #huglife to a punishing level.

 

As far as role models in wrestling go, Bayley is no doubt among the top of the list. Her genuine nature, drive for self-improvement, respect for her peers and colourful presentation style has made her a favourite of young and old. And to have a character in wrestling that dares to be different beyond the normal alternative, not-like-most-girls specifications is refreshing. Bayley is all of us deep down, many years ago, when wrestling was the number one thing in our lives, and for quite a few of us out there, Bayley is still us.

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