Backlash was a bad show. Not the worst I’ve ever seen, not abysmal, but certainly bad. I got just enough entertainment out of it to feel like my $10 didn’t go to waste this month. But I’m always prepared for the May show or shows to be lackluster, it’s that period right after Wrestlemania where you realize the WWE has no idea what they’re doing.
The space between Wrestlemania and Backlash has featured really high points. Some of the moves during the Superstar Shake-up have made for some interesting new match-ups, especially moving Asuka to Smackdown and bringing the Riott Squad to Raw. But the biggest news is probably the call-ups of Ember Moon to Raw and the Iconic Duo to Smackdown. In both cases they made huge impacts and have been getting incredible crowd reactions, which of course doesn’t shock any of us who saw them on NXT. But it’s always great to see Raw and Smackdown audiences appreciate talents we’ve known for awhile. Plus with Zelina Vega headed to Smackdown with Andre Cien Almas we’ve got some great new blood in the women’s division.
I was really worried about the Iconics debuting on the Main Roster for a few reasons. The biggest one was my fear the main roster would ruin their ambiguous relationship by either dissolving it or taking it from subtext to in your face lesbian make-outs text. But instead they’ve been allowed to keep up their kangaroo hopping snark and hand holding on the way to the ring so going forward I am going to be cautiously optimistic. I’m also going to hope they aren’t turned into another Alexa Bliss situation where their nastiness and bullying gets them cheered over the faces for some reason, which I’m actually far less optimistic about.
On the topic of faces and heels: could WWE figure out what they’re doing with Bayley and Sasha? Please? I don’t want a Bayley heel turn, I’ve been extremely vocal about my feelings on that. But at this point I’d rather be angry about the choice to turn her heel against Sasha than angry about this back and forth in-between stuff. As far as I can tell this feud is built up over both Sasha and Bayley being passive-aggressive with each other and backstabbing the other but then apologizing and…honestly, it might not be sexist on purpose but it’s playing into so many negative stereotypes about women’s friendships that the intent doesn’t matter. Just pull the trigger, make one of them a heel and be done with it.
As bad as the Sasha and Bayley feud is, Bayley’s Kickoff show match against Ruby Riott was one of the top two matches of the night, neck and neck with the IC title match. I do wish that they’d let Ruby get a clean win one of these days without the Riott Squad behind her. And I really need them to make Liv and Sarah stand out more as something other than Ruby’s back-up. I love the team, they clearly have a lot of fun together and great chemistry, but it really feels like Ruby and The Other Two. There is no reason to make either Liv Morgan or Sarah Logan feel disposable, they’re too talented for that.
On to the main show and a desperate plea: Just let Alexa versus Nia die. Let it die and be done and never spoken of again. There’s not even much to say about this feud at this point. Leading up to Wrestlemania I defended the storyline, but now the point has been made, the so-called goddess has been defeated, just let it go.
But before we do, I’m going to register one final complaint: one of the two Bliss/Jax matches should have been a squash. Just Nia decimating Alexa, with Bliss getting little to no offense. It should have been just 15 Samoan Drops in a row. Not because of Nia’s size and strength, but because the story called for a decimating defeat to really shut Alexa the hell up.
I get why they didn’t do that: because they’re still invested in protecting Alexa Bliss. She’s the Women’s Division version of Roman Reigns, only she doesn’t get nearly the same level of vitriol, deserved or not, from fans.
The actual match itself felt sloppy and not in the “high emotion” way that Wrestlemania did. But there were a few big moments that sold the hell out of Jax as a champion. There was her grabbing and twisting Alexa’s arm as Bliss looked on in horror. There was also the moment where she managed to slingshot Alexa over her head by her arms. And of course, that perfectly timed mid-air catch where Nia reversed the Twisted Bliss into a Samoan drop.
I’m excited to see Nia’s next feud. I’d honestly love to see her do even a short program against Sarah Logan, both because of the strength on strength factor and because Logan’s experience would help build Nia further. And while I don’t want to see either of them turn heel, I think we know the Nia Jax and Ember Moon feud has a ton of potential.
Oh, and Jersey? Boo-ing Nia’s speech about how her win was for anyone who’d ever felt bullied or shamed and how proud she is to be herself? Get outta here.
As for the Smackdown side of things, I know a lot of people who had serious issues with how that match ended. But the fact is that ending was earned, appropriate and totally in character for both competitors.
Anyone complaining about Carmella beating Charlotte only a month after Charlotte ended Asuka’s streak is really missing the whole idea here. First of all, you’re arguing it as if it’s a power rankings thing, which is never the right approach. Not just in wrestling but in any combat sport. The point is that on any given day any fighter can beat another fighter. Even if the numbers say fighter one should win, fighter two can still manage to win somehow. It’s why we have underdog stories.
Secondly, you’re assuming the fight between Charlotte and Asuka and the fight between Carmella and Charlotte were the same thing. Charlotte and Asuka were in a fight to see who was legitimately the best. They were testing the other’s skills and, by necessity, their own. If it were just about winning the title, Asuka could have challenged Alexa Bliss and won no problem. But from the beginning Asuka and Charlotte was about the fight itself, not the title or the streak.
For Carmella, however, it was the polar opposite. She didn’t want a fight that tested her skills and talent, she wanted to be the champion and to score a legitimate win over Charlotte Flair. And like it or not she did.
I’ve talked before about how Carmella works for me as a character and I’ll do it again here. Carmella isn’t a wrestler. Carmella has never wanted to be a wrestler. Carmella is a fighter. She fights ugly and she fights smart. Yeah, the screeching is annoying, but that’s the point. Carmella trash talks and goads someone like Charlotte into a situation ‘Mella can take advantage of. She knew Charlotte would go for a big move to really stick it to her rather than just lock in the Figure 8 which would have given her the easy win. Carmella watched to see where Charlotte’s weak spot was and she exploited it. She’s not a wrestler, she’s a criminal mastermind.
So while the match wasn’t pretty and definitely felt way longer than it needed to be, it made perfect sense from a story standpoint. Plus, it was great to see the Code of Silence make a return since it’s one of the most unique spots Carmella has in her arsenal.
I don’t think Carmella’s long for that title, she’ll hold it long enough to keep her out of this year’s Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match but I’ll be a little surprised if she makes it to MITB as champ. As much as I applaud her tricks, you can’t keep that up for too long, it’s unsatisfying.
Speaking of unsatisfying, I didn’t want to do a full piece on the mess that was the Greatest Royal Rumble. But I am going to say a few things about the reaction to it. Specifically from the people who were outraged over the women not being allowed to wrestle.
I’m glad you were outraged. I saw a lot of people calling out WWE over holding this event while at the same time trying to promote themselves as elevating women (and of course supporting The Gay Community). And that WWE didn’t answer with a separate special highlighting their women is a PR nightmare. But at the same time, I made my biggest statements about all of this on Twitter and I’m just going to quote them here for brevity’s sake.
“YES, if you are loudly calling this out, you’d better be following through elsewhere. Don’t catcall at live shows. Shut down men who do. Advocate for equal pay and screen time. Shut down body-shaming. DO THIS FOR ALL WOMEN, NOT JUST YOUR FAVORITES.
Basically: a lot of people suddenly super concerned about the Women’s Revolution because of GRR. You’d better be willing to follow through back home, too. This includes respecting women who are fans, btw. And listening to and acknowledging our varying opinions. Consider our points of view. ”
To expand on all of that: it’s easy to call out the sexism in the Greatest Royal Rumble because it’s easy to blame it on another culture. Especially when that culture is non-white. It’s the same thing as saying “American feminists shouldn’t complain because women have it worse other places.” If you can’t see the issues in our own system but gleefully attack sexism elsewhere, then it’s not rooted in supporting women, it’s rooted in racism and jingoism.
If you’re going to backlash, make sure it’s against the real enemy.
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Just a quick note at the end here: a lot of WWE Superstars have thrown their support behind the #SheIs campaign, and I’m here for it. The group’s goal is “to initiate support at all levels of sport, from professional to grassroots. Our aim is to not only encourage representation of the sport(s) in which you currently play or watch, but to show support for other female sports, and in turn for the benefits to girls and women achieved through participation.”
So if you want to do that whole “supporting women” thing I just talked about, this might be a good way to start.