This week in wrestling, we're looking to see if the gangs of female wrestlers get any lines that real people might say.
[Updated] Two weeks ago, the WWE introduced the same angle on Raw and Smackdown Live. New three-woman squads joined the shows’ rosters and established themselves as disruptive forces. The sequences rocked in the way that new arrivals do, but this week started the hard business—making them parts of their shows. In each case, the results were mixed.
On Raw, Paige announced herself as the woman who took “Diva” out of the WWE vocabulary and began the next generation of women wrestlers in the company. None of that explains why she’s so angry, or why she, Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose want to beat everybody up. They incapacitated Bayley and Mickie James backstage before their three-person tag match before Paige explained herself to Sasha Banks, who stood alone in the ring as the three women came to the ring, surrounded her, then shitkicked her because she wouldn’t join the three in their new group, with the improbable name Absolution.
The invasion angle is fine, but the writing is painful, and it required acting chops that Sasha Banks didn’t have to make it anything tiring. Later in last week’s Raw, Absolution (again, really?) came out and confronted Asuka, surrounding three of the four sides of the ring after Asuka dispensed with Dana Brooke in three seconds. After a stand-off as Asuka kept her eyes on the three as they approached her from different sides of the ring, she backed out of the ring, up the ramp and to the backstage area—the one avenue master tactician Paige didn’t seem to account for. That slow, tedious scene seemed to set the stage for further confrontations between Paige and Asuka, but it also left me wondering how or if Nia Jax fits into this.
The WWE has to know that the same people who watch Raw watch Smackdown Live, but that hasn’t stopped them from running a version of the same invasion angle there. Instead of goth punk Paige as its ringleader, the Riott Squad is led by the also punk Ruby Riott—the second “T” is silent. She’s joined by a similar lineup—an attractive blonde (Liv Morgan, vs. Mandy Rose) and a scrapper (Sarah Logan, vs. Sonya Deville)—but the backstage segment before they took on Charlotte, Naomi and Natalya suggested that none are ready for what the show needs from them.
Throughout the history of professional wrestling, most wrestlers cut their promos extemporaneously, building feuds in character. The beauty of Ric Flair’s promos from the ‘80s in the ESPN documentary Nature Boy were the obvious freedom he felt in character, and his ability to make everybody in the audience believe every word of his promos because of his complete commitment. Such stars as The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin made their names by being “themselves” and not scripted by someone else.
Now, characters are often scripted, which suddenly requires acting chops that many of the performers lack, as well as script-writing chops that many writers lack. In backstage “scenes,” Naomi, Riott, Morgan and Logan all struggled with big, corny chunks of Basil Exposition that they never would have chosen for themselves if they were given points to establish and address in character.
The match itself worked much like the women’s tag match the night before did. Natalya walked out of the match to leave Naomi and Charlotte shorthanded, then Naomi was gooned outside the ring including a creative use of the metal stairs. Then Charlotte, like Sasha Banks before, eventually got beaten by the numbers.
I’ve already written that I’m not sure the women’s divisions needed fresh blood as much as better writing, and this week only underlined that.
In other notes:
- On the weekend on Twitter, Matt Hardy posted a video of a promo in his "Broken" incarnation, so that change is definitely happening. But because they can't legally use the word "Broken" in his name, he's referring to himself as Woken Matt Hardy, and finishes the promo by saying, "Get woke!" The WWE knows that "woke" means something in 2017, right? That it has become part of the vocabulary of social consciousness? The premise is that Hardy is now awake to the larger, cosmic truth, but in context, the word sounds like your dad trying to be cool, and since Hardy's character is crazy, the name choice is really trivializing.
- A pet peeve is gestures designed to make wrestlers look tough that don’t. The sales job for The Bludgeon Brothers focused on their war hammers, which they now bring to ringside then carefully put down and leave behind before they go in the ring. If they’re the badasses they’ve been sold as, wouldn’t they take their hammers in the ring and crush their opponents? Wouldn’t they be handy? Best thing about Bludgeon Brothers so far: High impact tags and slaps that appear to be as physical as anything they do to their opponents.
- This week’s A.J. Styles/Singh Brothers match ended with Jinder Mahal trashing his entourage after they lost yet again to Styles. That sure looked like the end of their time in the Jinder Mahal story, and if it is, I’ll miss them. I’ve rarely liked the comic relief guys, but they were often the best part of a Mahal promo, and they had some of the best moments in Mahal’s Punjabi Prison match with Randy Orton.
- This week’s Smackdown Live ended with Randy Orton against Kevin Owens in a no disqualification match. The match revealed one of the few things that Sami Zayn doesn’t do well right now when he dished out some of the softest chair shots I’ve ever seen.
The premise of the match was that it was punishment for Kevin Owens’ betrayal of the Smackdown Live men’s team during “Survivor Series,” but there’s a disconnect in positioning Orton as a company man. No matter what promos he cuts out of the ring, he wrestles as a heel. Much in the same way that The Usos essentially wrestle as faces, no matter what they say out of the ring, Orton’s in-ring behavior is anti-hero at best, and more often heel. His poses are preening, and his key moves including his RKO finisher are all sneaky. I suppose that made it possible for him to beat down Owens in a way that a more conventional face wouldn’t, but the moment was one more muddled one in a year that has been undistinguished for Orton.
Updated December 4, 6:15 a.m.
The Matt Hardy news was added after the story was initially posted.