There was a point at the end of every college party I attended in my junior and senior years when we’d reached the dregs of the liquor. There was nothing left but a few shots of the good stuff and some half-finished mixers, but nothing that actually went together, and this one bottle of Goldschläger we just could not get rid of. That was the point where we’d resort to just throwing random things together in hopes it would be drinkable.
That’s sort of what the build to Fastlane felt like, especially with regards to the women’s matches. One of those matches was even a semi-random tag match that was announced on Twitter only days before the show. With that total lack of build and what felt like haphazard at best booking for the title match, there was every reason to expect Fastlane would be like our cocktail experiments: good elements combined in a terrible way.
But Fastlane was one of those combinations that managed to work out.
A lot of it had to do with the strengths of the performers. I don’t think I need to tell you that Becky Lynch, Naomi and Natalya are good at what they do. Carmella is still a bit green and rough around the edges in the ring, but I love that she’s seemingly settled into a style that fits with her kayfabe background. She’s not technical like Becky or Nattie and she doesn’t do the sort of aerial work and striking Naomi does. The skill set she seems to be concentrating on at this point is “I’ve fought a lot of people who’ve gotten into my face at clubs.” It’s a style that works with her smaller stature and follows up on her debut vignettes where she insisted pre-Crisis Enzo and Cass train her to fight. Her continuing to pull on Naomi’s hair was great for this, Carmella knows she’s gotta fight dirty and take every advantage she can. Her defining characteristic ever since her Money in the Bank win last year has been that Carmella at her core is a criminal mastermind.
Part of me wants to see that aspect played up even more as her deadline to cash in her MITB briefcase looms. I happen to believe her smarts and scheming will be central to how it goes down. The rest of me, though, has loved her work with New Day as part of the MMC and wish she was going to have the chance to turn face and continue that collaboration. If you haven’t seen any of the videos they’ve done together, go do that. Well, finish reading this and then go do that.
Though I do need to stress something very important here, and that is Carmella’s cash-in has to be successful. I’ve seen some people talk about her being the first person to let it expire, but that is actually the worst possible approach you could take. Just like the ending to the original Women’s MITB match it might make sense story-wise, it might be an interesting twist, but it’s the wrong time, the wrong situation, she has to cash in her MITB.
Before the go-home show, the only things that excited me were that the former Heidi Lovelace was getting a Women’s Title match and that she and Charlotte could likely put on a good show. But the final Smackdown Live before Fastlane let Ruby Riott deliver a promo that suddenly gave the feud the kind of context it needed. Ruby finally revealed that Charlotte was the reason the Riott Squad was formed, in order to “destroy the myth” of Charlotte Flair. Then the two began a back and forth which turned into “wrestling accidentally does feminist discourse.”
Okay, I’m reading a lot into both what was said and especially what was left unsaid between the two. And this isn’t “who’s the REAL heel,” because it’s very clearly Ruby. She’s utilized sneak attacks and 3-on-1 scenarios too often to be considered anything else. But at the same time what she said to Charlotte gave the whole thing a very “ends justify the means” feeling. Yes, she’s doing bad things, but she sees her reason as necessary. Anything that takes down an unfair system can be excused, no matter how terrible it is.
I’m not exactly okay with using the term “jealousy” to explain Ruby’s motives, because that’s so horribly done in terribly shallow ways in the WWE before. But there is resentment behind it: Ruby has watched someone achieve all of this but with the advantage of having traditionally good looks, a foot in the door at WWE and a last name she could capitalize on. Even if Charlotte personally didn’t try to take advantage of that, it’s hard to claim it didn’t in some way influence the people doing the hiring and making the matches. She even told Charlotte it didn’t make things any better if she DIDN’T exploit her privileged looks and connections, because Ruby was going to prove that’s all Charlotte ever was.
On the other hand, you had Charlotte pointing out some truths herself. She came into the business with a heavy weight of expectation from some people and resentment from others, and both stemmed entirely from her father’s legacy. Because of these she’s had to work harder than anyone else just to prove she deserved to be there, that she earned her spot, but she’s also worked because she wants her legacy to be her legacy. Not a continuation of her father’s, not to be known as Ric Flair’s daughter, but to be known as Charlotte Flair, an entity of her own.
And not once during this exchange was there a mention of jealousy. Charlotte didn’t fire back at Ruby’s comments about being “a bleach blonde failure” with anything about Ruby’s looks. Ruby was definitely playing the heel, but Charlotte was absolutely playing the face. In less than 5 minutes, the two of them took essentially a filler feud and made it into something with depth.
Of course maybe I’m over-analyzing it here with a hearty helping of Academic Feminism. And I’m sure there are people willing to make arguments that Ruby’s position came from internalized misogyny or being a “cool girl” or something else, I don’t know. All I know is that it made the match that much more exciting.
With the actual match? One of the things I love about Charlotte Flair is that the woman is a risk taker. I don’t just mean that in “she puts her body on the line,” but also that she is willing to risk trying a new spot that might just turn out to be awful. Charlotte seems like she’d rather try something and have it look sloppy or ridiculous than just do the same things that’ve been done before. Mixing her with a new opponent like Ruby Riott who comes from an impressive indie background and seems just as open to taking those same chances resulted in something that was a little messy, but paid off.
The problem that comes up with women’s sports “catching up” to the men is that there’s this feeling they have to replicate what the men do in order to move forward. The important thing isn’t innovating on your own so much as it is showing you can do things “like the guys.” The thing is, though, we’re not seeing that all the time with the women in the WWE. Yeah, they’re doing a lot of moves more commonly associated with the guys, but they’re not “guy’s moves.” Beyond that, you have situations where they try their own things that the men haven’t before. It’s not about copying the boys and meeting certain requirements for “just as good.” It’s their own thing, their own standards, they don’t want to wrestle “like the boys,” they want to do better. And that’s impossible to do if you’re not innovating. Also, I think there’s just too much importance placed on “reality” in wrestling matches.
This is something I’ve had issues with for awhile for judging both men and women’s matches. Actually, wait, just the men’s matches considering how much of this I blame on Dave Meltzer and his ilk. It goes along with my disdain for “you can’t wrestle” chants that I mentioned on Twitter, and my issues with “you want me to believe x could beat y?!” It’s essentially wrestling fans trying to treat wrestling like a real sport. Which it just isn’t.
Oh, wrestling is absolutely real. But when I say a “real sport” it’s more in the vein of having to prove legitimacy to the rest of the sports world. I tend to assume the insistence comes from fans who feel self-conscious about liking wrestling, as if they’ll be judged for it unless they can successfully defend their love of it. And you can’t say ironically anymore, that doesn’t fly when you own every single Bullet Club t-shirt ever made. So instead you insist that no, wrestling’s not that stupid stuff from the 80’s or 90’s anymore, it’s legitimate! They’re doing real moves! There’s a trusted scale that rates matches! And it’s not like they watch that stupid WWE stuff, they watch New Japan, a federation so serious that a feud involved the (kayfabe) death of a stuffed cat named Daryl.
If you’re that kind of fan, I can’t stop you. But please try not to be a jerk about it and consider maybe some people are just in it to watch WWE because they find John Cena attractive and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Gatekeepers are gonna catch these hands.
Anyway, back to Fastlane and the biggest takeaway of the night:
I cannot believe Charlotte Flair versus Asuka is going to be the main event at Wrestlemania.
Modern WWE has this strange and completely subjective definition of what actually makes something the Main Event. While it used to be the match that went on last, and in most reasonable situations it still is, WWE’s mentality has changed over the years and all rules have gone out the window. When CM Punk gave his now infamous interview on the Art of Wrestling podcast with Colt Cabana, he detailed a conversation with Triple H about not getting to main event a Wrestlemania. His exact words were “So Hunter goes ‘you know, Punk, you were in the best match at WrestleMania last year and that was the main event.'”
Take this alongside the fact that the Raw main event technically takes place in the middle of the show, around the end of the second hour, because of stats showing viewership drops off in hour three. WWE’s made it clear that the best and most important match of the show is the actual main event.
Which means Charlotte and Asuka are main eventing Wrestlemania.
“What about Styles and Nakamura?” “Aren’t Brock and Roman going to headline?” Look, I’m sure Styles and Nakamura will have an incredible match and it will be worth every second. I’m not dismissing that. I also think it’s going to be interesting to see Roman and Brock again with Roman having a few more years of visible growth in the ring this time. One of those matches will inevitably go on last. But again, that doesn’t make it the main event.
But with Charlotte and Asuka you have two of the finest athletes in the company, and I don’t mean women athletes I mean ATHLETES, facing off for the first time one on one. It is the first match featuring the winner of a Women’s Royal Rumble and her chosen opponent. It is the Queen versus the Empress. Most importantly, it is Title versus Streak. The stakes in this match are higher than any other match on the card.
So try all you want to convince me there’s a more important match on the card. I’ll continue to have nothing but respect for MY main event.
Next stop? Wrestlemania! Did you know Ronda Rousey is going to be there? Because she’s in the WWE now? Are you aware the WWE has hired Ronda Rousey? Hey, guys! Ronda Rousey is going to be in WWE and has a match at Wrestlemania! I bet you’re wondering, wow, hey, is Ronda Rousey in the WWE and about to have her first ever match at Wrestlemania? The answer is, surprisingly, “yes!” Yes, Ronda Rousey is now in the WWE, which, wow, I did not know that! I should write it down or something.
Wait, write what down? Something about…the WWE and…Ronda Rousey? Do we suspect that there may be some kind of connection between Ronda Rousey and the WWE?
Oh, by the way, I bet you forgot, Ronda Rousey is in the WWE! Don’t worry, if you forget again WWE will continue running nine million vignettes on every single one of their shows to remind you. Which I guess is good because she’s not going to be on Raw again until the go-home show.
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