I can’t say Elimination Chamber was a bad show. The last Raw solo show gave us the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match. It also provided a great match-up between Asuka and Nia Jax, a rematch from NXT that resulted in proving just how much Nia has grown as a worker and a performer since then.
I also can’t say Elimination Chamber was a good show. Part of that is because I could not have cared less about That One Segment outside of making jokes. We’ll get to that later. But the biggest issue I had with Elimination Chamber is that it was essentially pointless. There was nothing accomplished there that couldn’t have been done on an episode of RAW, outside of the Elimination Chamber matches themselves, and even those were so relatively tame that you could have aired them on USA in primetime.
But that’s one of the biggest problems in WWE these days, isn’t it? Everything is in stasis. Titles generally won’t change hands on weekly TV, if they’re even defended on weekly TV. There’s little to no innovation in match-ups. Characters don’t go anywhere or evolve in anyway. Of course there’s outliers to this, every now and then it’s like someone realizes they should maybe switch things up.
The most glaring example of this in the Women’s Division is Alexa Bliss having the WWE Raw Women’s title for almost an entire year. She won the title at Payback last year on April 30th, lost it for a single week in August to Sasha Banks, and is headed to Wrestlemania as champion. This is only made slightly more palatable than Brock’s reign because Alexa is regularly on TV. Not defending her title most of the time, but at least appearing.
Alexa winning the Elimination Chamber is just part of my continuing issue with her booking and her character. I’ve gone into it time and time and time again. For those of you may have never read this column before: my issue is that while Bliss is an incredibly talented heel, I’m not sure the audience is aware she’s supposed to be the heel. I’m not sure WWE is sure she’s supposed to be a heel. When the crowd broke out into a “YOU DESERVE IT!” chant after the Elimination Chamber match it was kind of a last straw for me.
It’s a shame that wrestling audiences can so easily and decisively ruin certain talents for the rest of us. By the end of Daniel Bryan’s in-ring career with WWE I couldn’t stand him because of the particular kind of fans attracted to him. Not Bryan’s fault any more than it’s Alexa’s fault so many of her fans are gross, stupid guys. I’m not discounting that she’s got fans of other sorts, I know she has fans who aren’t straight cis-men, but it’s like I’ve said in the past. When those kind of chants happen, you can tell that it’s mostly guys.
It’s hard to word all of this in a way that doesn’t seem nasty towards Alexa or disparaging her for her appearance and her appeal. She just does her job and does it consistently. But maybe the best way I can put this is a quote from Daria. Specifically, the episode “Quinn the Brain.”
Daria Morgendorffer: The thing is, if she’s a brain, what do I get to be?
Jane Lane: You’re still a brain.
Daria Morgendorffer: Yeah, but she’s a brain with bouncy hair; I can’t compete.
Before we get into arguments about perceptions of women based on looks and labeling women and whatever else we can dig up, let me cut you off. Alexa has earned her place on the roster, she’s had strong matches, she’s an excellent performer who clearly gets crowd reactions. And I can’t say I didn’t pop for her when she called out Angle over the fact that she had to defend her title in the Elimination Chamber, but Brock didn’t have to even show up, let alone defend the Universal Title. But her reasoning wasn’t equality, it was cowardice, she accidentally made a good point.
But there is a different standard set for traditionally attractive people. And I truly believe that even if Alexa makes herself full hateable, she’ll never be hated in part because who cares, she’s hot?
There’s a Chris Jericho quote I think of a lot when it comes to situations like this. While talking about the challenges of being a heel he said “It’s a lot easier to make people hate you, at first, than to make them like you. But then once they start hating you, it’s very hard to keep that going.” He also ate a bunch of hot wings, but that’s beside the point.
The point is the veneration of bullies. That’s what Alexa Bliss is. A bully. And again, she’s very good at playing that part. The problem is it’s celebrated and championed. This is someone who mocked Bayley over supposedly never having kissed a boy, a terrible angle WWE luckily dumped before it really took off. Through all of this it isn’t even that Alexa is a “love to hate” figure, it’s almost like her rudeness and snark is seen as admirable. It’s in the same vein as the upcoming Heathers remake where the showrunner’s take on the titular characters is just baffling.
“The main thing to really take away is I don’t view the Heathers as the villains,” showrunner Jason Micallef told EW. “The three Heathers are incredibly powerful and ruling the school; they’re the people you would want to be. In the original film, the Heathers were the ones I always loved, and it’s the same with the series. The Heathers are the aspirational characters.”
Liking a character for being effective as a bully? Fine. But wanting to see a character succeed in spite of or even because of that bullying makes me question where that message comes from and what kind of damage it could do.
But WWE likes their bullies. Which is my segway into finally having to address the Sandy Hook Truther in the room.
In my Royal Rumble column I successfully avoided addressing Ronda Rousey’s arrival in WWE. I didn’t want to then. I still don’t want to now. I keep hoping all of this is going to blow up in faces or fall through terribly and we can all move on and forget about it the way we forgot about Kevin Federline’s brief wrestling career.
But since the Royal Rumble we’ve been reminded, week after week, that Ronda Rousey was now in the WWE. Within hours of her showing up she had multiple t-shirts in WWE shop and was a “featured superstar” in the drop-down menu. It’s been impossible to escape. Which is exactly how WWE wants it. They want the mainstream attention. Rumor is that they want to use Rousey to prop up Stephanie McMahon the way they propped up Vince McMahon during his feud with Austin. They want Stephanie to be a household name.
This is entirely unsurprising. Stephanie is entirely her father’s daughter: they do nothing unless they profit from it personally.
There was a lot of speculation from wrestling fans and a lot of skepticism in general. Rousey is an incredibly gifted athlete, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to succeed in learning to wrestle. Even if she does that there’s no guarantee she’s going to be able to work as a performer. Ronda’s acting chops have been tested repeatedly and they’re not great.
Which was apparent during her contract signing. She was clearly and visibly shaken when she came out to an underwhelming crowd reaction. It got worse as she floundered on the mic and there was an audible “Holly Holm!” chant, reference the fighter who ended Ronda’s undefeated streak in 2015, a loss Rousey never recovered from. The question from people was how could she be that easy to break after years of media coaching and, one would assume, some kind of acting training for her movie roles?
Ronda may get better on the mic. WWE may find her a mouthpiece, especially if Brock Lesnar leaves the company after Wrestlemania and Paul Heyman needs a new client. But even fixing that problem can’t fix the fact that Ronda Rousey is, for lack of a better word, trash.
I hate saying things like that. I hate making that kind of full-on judgement call. I can honestly say some good things about Ronda’s athletics and even feel like her losses were encouraging. She supposedly came into UFC to make people care about Women’s MMA and to raise the game. Which is exactly what she did. After dominating every fight, there were other women who stepped up and got better than her. Rousey set the bar and women like Holly Holm, Miesha Tate and Amanda Nunes. And because of her celebrity, UFC saw the money in having women’s bouts and even with Rousey’s retirement their women’s division lives on.
The problem there, though, is that Rousey was never really in it to raise the profile of women’s MMA. She was in it to raise her profile. It wasn’t about a UFC women’s revolution, it was about the Ronda Rousey brand. Once she wasn’t on top anymore, she couldn’t handle it.
Even that’s not my problem with Ronda Rousey. It’s that she’s a noted bully. She’s tried to start fights with UFC ring girls, she reportedly verbally abused a producer on The Ultimate Fighter. She went after fellow MMA competitor Paige VanZant because VanZant congratulated Holly Holm after she defeated Rousey, letting loose an expletive laden rant at the other fighter which was witnessed by Miesha Tate.
She’s also made outwardly transphobic comments about two fellow fighters. When challenged by Fallon Fox, an out transwoman, Rousey declined the match, which she had every right to. The problem came when she went into the explanation that Fox “can try hormones, chop her pecker off, but it’s still the same bone structure a man has. It’s an advantage. I don’t think it’s fair.” She later made comments that while she’d fought intersex athletes in the Olympics, “that was something they didn’t choose,” and “It’s not something that happened to [Fox]. It was a decision she made.” Rousey later refused to fight Cris Cyborg, who had previously tested positive for steroids, which, again, was her right to do. But again, it was the words she felt the need to use that took it too far. “This girl has been on steroids for so long and [has been] injecting herself for so long that she’s not even a woman anymore. She’s an ‘it.’”
And, though I already made reference to it above, Rousey has made claims that the Sandy Hook shooting was faked by crisis actors. She posted a propaganda video about it and after deleting it said she felt it was “more patriotic” for her to call the incident into question.
For WWE to be poised to center the next phase of their Women’s Revolution around someone who has been so outright hostile to other women doesn’t feel encouraging. And though they claimed Rousey didn’t want “any extra perks” to her contract, that contrasted sharply with her already having merch, a licensed theme song and a guaranteed match at Wrestlemania. Beyond that is the topic of how much Rousey is being paid by WWE compared to the other women on the roster. According to reports on Total Sportek, Rousey is making $1.5 million for a two year contract. The second highest paid woman in the company is Charlotte Flair, who is reportedly signed to a $500,000 three year contract. By comparison, Flair’s contract is on the same level as Luke Harper’s (though Flair gets more depending on her booking), while Ronda’s base pay is more than the likes of Bray Wyatt and Dolph Ziggler.
Alicia Fox, who has been with the company since 2006 and on the main roster since 2008, only saw her first shirt come out last year. Becky Lynch and Bayley are signed for $250,000 and $200,000, respectively.
The only situation where it felt like the heel who was acting like a heel was getting a heel reaction was when Nia Jax faced Asuka. The match itself was stronger than their meeting in NXT, as I already mentioned, but it was after the match when Nia put the victorious Asuka through the ringside barrier that really stood out as the banner moment.
The night also gave us Mickie James diving off the top of a pod in the Elimination Chamber. It had a heartbreaking moment when Sasha, apparently shifting back into Full Boss Mode, turned on Bayley and indirectly caused her elimination. Mandy Rose was eliminated first, but held her own alongside Sonya Deville and Bayley. And oh, Bayley. Bayley got an incredible run during the early part of the match where she somehow survived against both Rose and Deville on her own and then managed to be part of the final three.
In fact, Bayley’s booking on Raw has been stronger lately. So has all of the booking to be quite honest. Sasha and Asuka put on a classic the night after the Rumble. Bayley and Sasha reminded everyone that they can tear the house down together given the chance. Nia being free of that incredibly stupid plotline with Enzo Amore is refreshing, because that was uncomfortable even before the rape accusations against him. All around the six women in that chamber were rough, vicious and pushing their limits the entire time. While I’m still not happy with the result, I am so proud of everyone involved for not holding back for a second. Because those are the moments that make a Revolution.
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