Category Archives: Pro Wrestling

How to legitimise WWE’s Women’s Revolution

A few months ago we witnessed the inaugural women’s Hell in a Cell match. It was considered important enough to headline the early October pay-per-view and was billed as a crystallisation of the progress made by WWE’s women over the last twelve months. Charlotte and Sasha Banks, admittedly proving my initial doubts wrong, justified their place on the card that night. The match itself was fantastic, disproving the nonsensical claim made for many years that female wrestlers either should not be made to withstand such punishment, or that they would not be capable of it. For women in sport everywhere (readers of this blog will have to put up with me referring to WWE as a sport, I’m afraid), this was a crowning moment.

The problem, though, is that Hell in a Cell wasn’t capitalised on in any meaningful way. As with most of WWE’s attention to its women, including during the so-called revolution, what has followed has demonstrated that the company is only ever prepared to go half-in. Go back just a few weeks and logic would have told you that for a ‘Women’s Revolution’ to be substantive and longer-term, a women’s Royal Rumble match, possibly consisting of just 15 females and representing both brands, would have been added to the card on Sunday night in San Antonio. It would have been a history-making moment to cap what I thought, barring the last fifteen minutes, was an excellent pay-per-view.

So, one missed opportunity. And let us not pretend that time constraints are the sole barrier to such a match becoming reality. The event’s other main event matches could each have been shortened by a couple of minutes and 205 Live’s Cruiserweight contest could have been placed on the pre-show, replacing an excruciating segment with Dean Ambrose in the social media lounge, trying unsuccessfully to make ‘aloof’ funny. There is also no worked or storyline reason why it wouldn’t work, either. Women’s elimination matches take place fairly frequently, and if so many women on the roster have little to work with then all signs seems to point glaringly towards adding a second Rumble. And doing so every single year from here on out (thus working toward bridging the large gap that still noticeably exists between the men and the women).

A women’s Royal Rumble match would be a great creative move for a very distinct reason: it would give, in storyline, a sense of purpose and direction to female talent. They will focus, just like the men do, on their road to WrestleMania, strengthening storylines that lead into the event and ensuring that fans consider the women much more of a reason to buy the event. Yes, a Rumble produces one winner, but ensuing storylines often branch out and can include other wrestlers too. This is vital for the women, who right now find themselves divided into two categories: Charlotte and her challenger, and the rest. Setting up an interesting new platform for the girls would carry some of the focus beyond RAW’s champion.

Necessary, too, are the inclusions of the Money in the Bank ladder match and Elimination Chamber match into the women’s schedule. As we have previously discussed, experiencing brutality is not beyond the capabilities of female wrestlers. Suggesting that it is would appear to me to be sexist and lacking any real basis in fact. We witnessed a steel cage match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship only days ago, and since the wellbeing of athletes (with particularly admirable emphasis on tackling concussions) has emerged as a top priority right across the realm of sport, I feel confident that the women would be more fiercely protected in the event of an accident in more dangerous matches.

Adding a women’s Money in the Bank ladder match would allow for female talent to showcase their skills in an entirely fresh environment. It would raise the prestige of both belts concerned and would aid the development of the briefcase holder’s character. Similarly, the Elimination Chamber match would add some longevity to feuds in the women’s division. By mixing talent together in a six-way pool of the kind that the chamber match provides, fans are less likely to view female feuds as stale or repetitive. I do not think that many wrestling fans would object, for instance, to seeing Natalya, Naomi, Nikki Bella, Alexa Bliss, Mickie James and Becky Lynch go at it inside two miles and six tonnes of chain.

Big matches often provide the fertile soil out of which big stars grow. Big matches help to put the female talent on a more level playing field with the men. Big matches incentivise both emotional and financial investment into women’s wrestling. Storylines, it should be said, are crucial both to prolonging interest in the women’s product and distinguishing female characters, but they are not enough. Adding more storylines doesn’t provide the spark that incorporating exciting new matches does. And since storyline focus in the women’s division always has had a tendency to circulate around one particular feud or a tiny batch of talent, it would make sense now more than ever to introduce new concepts to women’s wrestling, forcing the girls to be more competitive than ever before and giving them better opportunities to shine. Giving the women’s division the same spotlight in terms of matches afforded to male stars would add legitimacy to a ‘Women’s Revolution’ which, I’m sorry, hasn’t really taken off yet.

Michael Phelps is awesome, but Kurt Angle is my Olympic hero

I was informed whilst browsing Twitter earlier this afternoon that Michael Phelps, the decorated American swimmer, is one Olympic gold medal away from breaking a 2,168 year-old record. Both Phelps and ‘Leonidas of Rhodes’ are tied on 12 golds in their respective competitions (and generations), with the former looking increasingly likely to win a 13th in Rio.

It’s an astonishing achievement to even think about. Michael Phelps is a superb athlete and Olympian, and will surely go down as one of the greatest sporting figures of all time, let alone swimmers. But it got me thinking. Would this really be the greatest achievement in modern, or indeed any, Olympic history?

Commentators are rightly heralding Phelps as the greatest Olympian of our age. He continues to break records and set the bar for swimmers the world over. It is a shame that swimming doesn’t receive the kind of attention that it perhaps should. If it did, Michael Phelps’ praises would be sung as often as he deserved.

But when Olympic season comes around, it isn’t Michael Phelps who captures my attention; it is Kurt Angle, the former amateur wrestler who became a star on the professional scene. Angle was a shining star in my childhood, and I’ll always have huge respect for him and his accomplishments.

For those unaware, Kurt Angle won gold at the 1996 Olympic Games (hosted by the United States) with a broken neck. It’s an achievement that is often forgotten by sports journalists and writers, who prefer not to cite wrestling in any meaningful analysis, but it is one that is so uniquely impressive that I felt the need to raise awareness of it during this summer’s Games.

There was a documentary on YouTube in which Kurt talks openly about his training pre-Olympics and the problems that he had been having with his neck, but, alas, I can’t seem to be able to find it. During his Olympic trials in 1996, Angle suffered a severe neck injury; two cervical vertebrae were fractured, two discs were herniated and four muscles were pulled. He spent a long time trying to find a doctor [in his words] “either stupid or smart enough” to clear him for the Olympic Games that year.

Having not ever been in a similar position myself and not knowing Kurt Angle, it is incredibly difficult to describe what it takes, both physically and mentally to compete with the weight of your country on your shoulders whilst having a broken neck. Ordinary athletes would have been ruled out for the majority of the year and many would have retired altogether.

In Atlanta in 1996, he competed in the 220lb Freestyle weight class. In his Gold Medal match, Angle beat Iran’s Abbas Jadidi. Kurt mentioned in an interview some years ago that his overriding feeling when he knew he had won Gold was not one of jubilation or excitement, but one of relief. He had been through hours of excruciating pain and personal torment in the form of his trainer’s murder and the death of his father; something I may say could not be said for many Olympians competing in Brazil this year.

A video of the match can watched below.

Whatever your view, you cannot deny that the United States has produced and continues to produce exceptional sporting talent. Michael Phelps is perhaps the greatest performer in the history of the Olympic Games, but Kurt Angle will forever be my Olympic hero.

Leave your daughter alone and let her forge her own path, Ric

Every time Ric Flair appears on WWE television, I am reminded of why it is I enjoy his absence so frivolously. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing personal; I just find even the mention of his name or mere presence a poison to both wrestling fans and society in general.

The silly over-use of a noise that, at one point, made him hundreds of thousands of dollars and his incessant crying during celebratory occasions are habits that grate on me more so than perhaps any human being I’ve ever had the misfortune of witnessing.

Last night at Night of Champions, his daughter Charlotte captured gold by defeating record-reigning Divas Champion Nikki Bella. It was a good match, but one that – perhaps a little ironically – I felt was one of the latter’s most convincing technical career performances. Maybe the now former champion felt the need to prove her abilities, which to her great credit have significantly improved, one last time.

Charlotte’s not-so-surprising victory signals the initiation of a brand new and entirely refreshing female revolution in professional wrestling, of course, but let us not pretend that she’d be wearing gold right now were it not for her ‘legendary’ father. As you will no doubt perceive from my use of inverted commas, or by my initial two paragraphs, I’m not a huge fan of Flair, Sr.

Is Charlotte talented? Certainly technically, but whether or not this will translate into entertaining content to mainstream audiences is, for the moment, unclear. As I wrote not too long ago (which can be read here), Nikki Bella’s record reign was used as a vehicle to drive AJ Lee’s very legacy out of the annals of WWE history.

A newly crowned Divas Champion presents WWE with vastly new creative opportunities, and will allow fans to enjoy a multitude of different clashes and feuds, but only if Charlotte is allowed to flourish and settle into her own distinct character…rather than that of her father’s.

It’s all heart-wrenching and emotional for a father to bask in the glory of her offspring, but there comes a point where daddy has to back off and let her baby grow into her own. I’m not hugely convinced by Charlotte thus far – and yes, I’m familiar with her work down in NXT – and if Ric Flair’s presence becomes a more consistent component of her reign, I fear I’ll never be able to enjoy her work.

I mean, who is Charlotte? Yes, she’s athletic and beautiful, and she can work a good match, but what is she all about? The same silly noise that fans were so enthralled by in years gone by will not wash for much longer. She’ll need something new in order to remain fresh and worth watching.

How do we ensure the long-term success of Charlotte? Simple. Less of daddy and the unnecessary woo-ing, and more logical, compelling story telling. A remedy like this works in the interests of everybody involved, will provide the women’s division with a sense of character and diversity, and will mean less Ric Flair on television.

And who wouldn’t be happy about that?

The repression of AJ Lee’s record title reign is an act of extraordinary spite

Having to watch RAW during the early hours of the morning is a prospect I seldom look at with enthusiasm.

It is one of the many drawbacks that come with residing on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean. Last night, like many before it, I was rendered exhausted by the day’s activities, and so decided to go to sleep instead of watching the show live. I politely request that you do not begrudge me for choosing this option.

This morning I woke up, apparently unperturbed by my rejection of the live show, and decided to catch up on the evening’s events by means of the internet. As I perused through Google, an article written about a subject I had previously given little thought came crashing to my attention.

The piece itself was short, and shed light on the close proximity between the title reigns of both Nikki Bella and AJ Lee. I knew Nicole was close, but I didn’t realise, until now, that she was within seven days of becoming the longest reigning WWE Divas Champion in the company’s proud history.

Forgive me for remaining somewhat unenthused by this fact, but doesn’t this all seem a little forced? The repression of AJ Lee’s record reign (which stretched from June 16th 2013 to April 7th 2014) seems to me to be an act of extraordinary spite, and a deliberate policy carried out in order to overturn the achievements of a performer with whom WWE clearly have little admiration.

I cannot, for a second, profess to know exactly why AJ Lee felt the need to retire, nor why her departure from professional wrestling was so abrupt, but what I’d like to know is why her former employer has tried so diligently to besmirch and stamp out her solid championship reign.

During the course of her meteoric rise to fame, she smashed through her respective glass ceiling, raised the standard of women’s wrestling and became an integral part of WWE’s most entertaining storylines. I still, to this day, wonder what she and Kane could have been…but that’s an article for another day.

I think it wholly irresponsible and disrespectful for WWE to sweep her achievements to one side and have them overwritten by a performer – in Nikki Bella – who, quite frankly, isn’t up to the required standard. AJ Lee’s talents, even in her absence, continue to outshine those of Nikki Bella’s by some distance, and I doubt whether many fans would disagree with me.

What exactly the catalyst is behind the rather noticeable animosity between AJ Brooks and the McMahon juggernaut has remained distorted and unclear, but I suspect it wise to suggest that AJ’s personal involvement with (her now husband) former WWE Champion CM Punk could weigh heavily on WWE’s mind.

Why is that, though? Why should a retirement and some differences in opinion mean that a performer, with whom the divas division significantly improved, has her legacy watered and down and made to look redundant in the eyes of the current audience? All I can say is, thank god CM Punk didn’t end the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania 29.

Next week on RAW, the newly-promoted daughter of Ric Flair, Charlotte, will go one on one with the current Divas Champion. In the event of her likely eventual defeat, which I suspect will occur at the hands of an enraged Paige, Nikki Bella will be able to boast the mantle of being the longest reigning WWE Divas Champion of all time. Will fans care about the achievement? My completely honest and gut feeling is no, they will not.

And please don’t get me wrong on this one, either. This piece was not designed to rubbish the efforts of Nikki Bella, nor has it been written to dismiss her abilities and work ethic. I think the girl has passion for her craft, and has improved between the ropes, but when her WWE career is all said and done, I believe many will look back upon her as the woman used to overhaul AJ Lee’s title reign for no reason other than personal malice and company pride.

And so there we have it. I understand WWE’s political intent in suppressing what was actually an entertaining and far more credible championship reign, but I wouldn’t want to endorse it.

WWE may not cherish the success of AJ Lee, but I certainly do.