Tag Archives: becky lynch

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.

Space Mountain May Be the Oldest Ride in the Park: Or How Sexual Harassment Has No Room in Wrestling

Imagine yourself all settled in to indulge in your favourite pastime– whether it’s getting all dolled up in your best swag, holding up your meticulously crafted sign or curling up on your couch next to someone you care about complete with snacks- both instances ready to scream your heart out. Your favourite workers have entered the ring and– BOOM! you get a glaring reminder that this place isn’t for you. This is a man’s game and no matter how much you cry out the odds are never in your favour. “This is how it’s always been,” they cry, “Why are you such a killjoy?”, and “Learn to play along, it’s just for fun.” Being in this community is full of constant reminders that this space is not safe and it’s our responsibility to play along if we wish to be included or leave.

All of the above was made abundantly clear during the 2016 Royal Rumble Divas title match in which the audience is blatantly reminded that women are objects who are at the whim of everyone else around them. You’re peeled in to a match that is showing exceptional prowess and mat work that has, up until recently, been unbeknownst to the women’s division but all eyes (read… cameras) keep cutting to Ric Flair. Don’t worry, Charlotte, Daddy’s here. It’s okay, WWE Universe, there’s still a man near the ring so everything is fine and dandy… nothing to see here. But look, they’re doing such a great job! They’re actually wrestling! Ric Flair has to prove he’s still the boss, so in his natural heel state he grabs Becky Lynch, turns her around, and kisses her against her consent. Talk about a jarring moment that filled me with rage and disgust. But it’s all in the nature and fun of pro-wrestling, except it isn’t. The fun was fully removed when you sexually assaulted a woman. Some would argue that Becky Lynch obviously consented to this outside of kayfabe, but take a moment and think about why– if she won’t do her job, someone else will. It is not a woman’s job to be harassed in the ring by men, and it shouldn’t be expected of anyone at this point (or ever). What a way to throw a wrench into the excitement of an otherwise wonderful match and suck any potential fun out of it, making it almost impossible to pay attention to what’s happening before me– at this moment seeing nothing but red. This extends beyond Becky, past her taking one for the team in the most horrid fashion imaginable, losing the match and getting buried with no room for revenge in a storyline. This extends beyond all of the women who are workers in, and outside, the WWE who are constantly put in these spots where we are treated as nothing more than mere sexual playthings. This extends beyond everyone watching who feels violated, who feels sick to their stomachs, who feel a deep and painful empathy because they to have experienced unconsentual sexual behaviour at the hands of others. It permeates into our culture for workers, for fans, for passersby where this is the norm, and the lovely motto of “Just don’t look” can’t be applied here. This affects everyone. Situations like this continue to fuel wrestling being an unsafe space for anyone who isn’t a cisgendered heterosexual white male. Unless you’re the Nature Boy himself, it’s all downhill from here.

Fellow Femmezuigiri contributor, Brittany Meyer, offered up some personal experience with this sort of situation and how toxic and misogynistic this community can be:

I fell out of love with wrestling after I was a valet, one time, for a wrestler I thought I respected. It wasn’t until the gimmick faded and the texts came from the person, and not the character, that I had to come to terms the fact that this is just spandex and dudes living out a dream on whatever ring that will have them. I have not seen him in person in almost three years, and in that time he had held a toxic relationship with a friend of mine, harassed other wrestlings friends on Facebook and Twitter, and has tried to manipulate me back into his life with suicide threats and promises that he’s getting better. With so many incidents proving he was untrustworthy and manipulative, I cut him out of my life. That was one year ago, and I have refused any message or friend requests since.

As a Chicagoan, I felt good about the fact he was seldom on the wrestling scene here since he’s located in Florida. I have gone to many shows in the greater Chicago area and have come to love one particular company, Freelance Wrestling. Freelance was started by some local wrestlers that I have been watching grow since I first moved to Chicago; they’re smart, driven, and produce one hell of show. They have been around for over a year, and I would religiously attend their events, often introducing friends of mine to live wrestling through their shows and having our own designated standing location by the ring so we could be in a good position to high five wrestlers and yell into the camera.

About a month ago, I saw they booked the unstable wrestler who I had pushed out of my life. I was nervous to attend this show, but I also didn’t want to shirk support of my favorite promotion just because he was in the opening match. Hoping the wrestler wouldn’t say anything to me or attempt to reconnect, I thought it would be best for me to not post about it on Facebook or twitter and quietly attend– thus sacrificing any potential world of mouth the promotion could get at the hands of their fans in order for me to have some peace of mind.

With his match in progress, I noticed he didn’t look at me and he mostly stayed on the other side of the ring; I thought I was in the clear. He won his match and I saw him blow a kiss across the ring to my side. It looked as if it went to a girl standing near me and just acted like nothing happened. I then watched him cross the ring and climbed over the ropes on my side. Now, I got nervous.

As a part of his scummy heel character, he usually asks for a kiss on the cheek when he wins a match. I was now concerned with the fact that he may ask me for a kiss and I would have to decline, in front of all the cameras, and audience members who will most definitely cheer him on. I was getting worried.

Once he hopped off the ring, he was just feet from me. He received a borage or high-fives from a friend before I saw him turn to me. Instead of him presenting h12276656_953088474758070_9296646_n (1)is cheek, I saw him lunge, face first, into my face. It looked like he was about to kiss me, and play all of this off as ‘just part of the show!’ Instinct kicked in, and I slapped him with my right hand to get his face away from mine. His lips didn’t touch mine; he just shoved me and ran off. 

I was mortified. I couldn’t believe that a show I love so dearly became a place of harassment for me directly. This left me to attempt to logically rationalize how to go forward– I guess I’ll avoid his shows since he’ll use his heel gimmick to get away with whatever he pleases. The bigger fear is how Freelance would response when I approached them. After approaching others within the community for advice most of what I received was unfortunate, but many of them offered condolences with the caveat that this was the sad reality of wrestling culture. It’s amazing for something that exists purely in the realm of fantasy that this was an acceptable ‘reality’.

The reality I was dealing with was the fact that I didn’t know how I could ever feel comfortable at a wrestling show again. My reality was grappling with the conflicting emotions of how something I love can accept this behaviour and side with the aggressor.  It may have been the reality, but I couldn’t rightly live with it. For myself, and for every person out there that had dealt with a similar situation and was too afraid to speak up since ‘This is just how it is,’ I needed to say something to the promoter. I swallowed painfully and sent out a lengthy message with a fear at the pit of my stomach awaiting the inevitable “Yes, we heard his side and we know you’re crazy; if you didn’t want to see him you shouldn’t have come.” The moment I pressed send, I began to cry. I’ve accepted the fact that I was targeted, harassed and nothing will be done about it. The unwelcome whiny outcast of the Chicago Wrestling community who spoke up and ruined all our fun.

It only took moments for me to get a response, but my heart exploded with joy. A profuse apology from the promoter thanking me for bringing the situation to his attention complete with reassurance that the footage will be reviewed with their team. More tears, now ones of pure joy. I was awarded the rare opportunity of having a voice and a valid opinion. Legitimate shock that I was allowed to enjoy wrestling without disgust or dread. Being believed and listened to was never a response that I could have anticipated, and I honestly cannot thank Freelance Wrestling enough- you have set the bar for integrity and I hope that promotions around the world can learn from your example.

It would be nice if the story ended there, but to no one’s surprise I’m sure, word got back to the worker of the interaction and the ever-changing “stories” began pouring out. He’s just doing his job and if he upset anyone in the crowd then he was doing it well. News flash: harassing women is no longer an acceptable way to gain heat or pops, and it never should have been in the first place. Instead of the story ending here, he took to his own social media to villainize the company for refusing to book him going forward.

Situations like the one Brittany so kindly shared with us are met with a lot of harsh skepticism and a tense request that we keep our mouths shut. This is not just an issue at a wrestling level but for women across the board. The worker currently isn’t being mentioned because of fear of further backlash, harassment and a furthering sense of dread with regards to attending wrestling events. We don’t want to see the promotions that go out of their way to be decent promotions hurt because of scorned men who don’t want to let go of their patriarchal privilege.

We’re finally getting our brief reprieve from having Jerry Lawler on commentary, but we’re not out of the weeds yet. Someone other than Mr. McMahon needs to tear down this wall and let wrestling fans know that there’s no more room for sexual harassment here. That one day, twitter feeds won’t be inundated with men explaining why it’s okay to ask if a female wrestler has breast implants.  Soon rape jokes won’t just be seen as ribs in t
he locker room, or in training centres, that are fun and lighthearted. Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 12.55.15 AMEventually, intergender matches won’t be rife with spots where our opponent drools and gets a huge pop from the crowd by miming that they’re going to fuck us or get their face between our legs. *Insert pathetic wolf whistle here* We’re here to let everyone, including Ric Flair, know that Space Mountain may be the oldest ride in the park, but it’s high time we shut the old guy down and give him a rest– the park is desolate and he doesn’t even go here. We got off that ride ages ago and we’ll do just fine without it.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.