Image credit: SEScoops.com

Welcome back to Nylons and Midriffs, good wrestling fans!

I hope 2019 is treating you all well so far. I am ecstatic to rehash what went down at this year’s Royal Rumble for you all, as I feel it encompasses all that is going on in the women’s division as a whole — good, bad, and possibly thorny.

This year’s Rumble offered up very memorable moments for the women, with sensible booking and captivating storytelling. But, as I’ll detail in this review, I was most taken by the attention to detail that WWE Creative and the performers themselves put into each of their matches. There will little payoffs for loyal fans of the product that showed continuity in the WWE canon.

I won’t break things down into the usual sections, and instead do a straightforward review of each match that involved women.

SmackDown Women’s Title Match: Asuka (c) vs. Becky Lynch

Image credit: cagesideseats.com

A perfect match to start off the night, these two fan favorites clashed in a battle of one-upsmanship. Each woman moved at a frantic pace to try to outdo the other’s offensive tactics. There were seamless sequences of reversals and pinfall combinations, as well as hard-hitting spots throughout the match. The swinging neckbreaker that Asuka executed from the ring apron was a devastating-looking bump for both women. Becky’s Beck-sploder off the top rope was exciting to see pulled off, especially since WWE rarely allows their wrestlers, especially women, do big top rope spots like that.

Another great aspect of this match was simply seeing Asuka be presented seriously as a competitive champion. We saw intensity from her that we haven’t really seen since NXT, with her scowling at Becky in Japanese and condescendingly kicking her challenger while she was down. It was so great to see given the roller coaster of booking she’s been on since last year’s Rumble. The right woman won, too, as it is far too early to strip Asuka of her title. I also found it fitting that Asuka got Becky to submit with a bridged version of her submission finisher — in a similar way to how Charlotte made Asuka tap at WrestleMania 34 with her bridged Figure 8. While I’m sure this was only a coincidence, it was great to see her triumph in her first title defense in the same way she’d been previously (and perhaps infamously) defeated.

The only dilemma now is who among the SmackDown women will WWE build to challenge Asuka going into WrestleMania? Surely they will need the entire road to the event to do so, as there isn’t really anyone right now that feels main event-level ready to step to Asuka. The good thing is though, there’s potential!

RAW Women’s Title Match: Sasha Banks vs. Ronda Rousey (c)
I was shocked when I read that this match was nearly 4 minutes shorter than the other title match; it was that captivating to watch. I liked that this match was distinctly different than its SmackDown counterpart: while the first match was fast-paced and spot-heavy, this one was more methodical and mat-based. This was due to the stellar in-ring psychology of Sasha Banks. Sasha clearly did some homework to prepare for this match, as she was busting out submission holds not previously seen in her arsenal. Some of those holds actually look as if they would do harm to Ronda’s joints, and that’s saying something in a sports entertainment world.

Ronda as well was no stiff; while her match with Charlotte was probably better in terms of sheer intensity, this match saw her most expanded moveset yet. My distaste for her aside, it is hard to deny at this point that she can wrestle in a WWE ring. And she even won with a pinfall, I believe a first for her on pay-per view. My only gripe with her wrestling is that she has to understand the concept of a finishing move. She hit Sasha with her Piper’s Pit finisher multiple times in the match, so much so that when she did actually pin Sasha for the three with the move, it felt anticlimactic.

Image credit: foxsportsasia.com

But, the ending didn’t damper the rest of the match. If anything, I think this match proved that Sasha Banks is an elite wrestler and performer. Her character work is insane. From biting Ronda’s hand while holding a submission with a sly grin on her face, to undoing the arm strap of her ring gear and using it to gag Ronda in the Bank Statement, Sasha showed intelligence as a competitor both in and out of kayfabe. This match reminded us of who the hell The Boss is and can be. I hope we see Sasha climb back up the ladder of the division this year.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match
I won’t lie, this match from an in-ring standpoint was pretty hard to get through. Put simply, the women need to hit harder, move faster, fight stronger. As much as I would like to not compare it to the men’s Rumble, when you watch them both in the same show, it is obvious that the men are more consistent with their level of energy throughout the match. In the men’s Rumble, almost every 90 seconds there was either an elimination, or an interesting bit of action that occurred to make you forget about the clock running. In the women’s, it looked as if everyone was a bit confused as to what to do to fill the time in between entrants and their inevitable eliminations. Although the division has surely mastered the battle royal match format for better or worse, the Royal Rumble match still needs some perfecting, and that’s okay.

To be fair, many women in the match likely were not used to being in matches for as long as they perhaps were in the Rumble, and in turn not used to cameras being on them for that amount of time either. The first few men’s Rumbles were just as, if not more, awkward to everyone involved. I’m not too worried about this for the women though, because I know it is one of those things that can only improve with time and practice.

However, I should note that I thought the women’s Rumble had the more interesting saves for wrestlers trying to make it back to the ring from the outside. Ember Moon hung on by her toes, Kacy Cantanzaro had an unreal re-entry into the ring using every abdominal muscle she had, and Naomi leaped feet from the barricades to the ring steps. But, it was Naomi’s elimination that annoyed me, as it tied into her god-awful feud with Mandy Rose. I understand that Mandy is trying to get real heat from the crowd and their storyline will continue. However, as we’ll get into in future editions of Nylons, their feud is very unbalanced. Yes, Naomi eliminated Mandy, but that was pretty much her only victory in a string of zingers by Mandy over the weeks. And it was immediately met with yet another squash from Mandy.

Image credit: cbssports.com

The ending of course is what we will all remember. The final three of Nia Jax, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch (replacing an injured Lana) proved to be poetic in more ways than one. We all knew it was coming down to Becky and Charlotte, which is why Charlotte yelled at Nia to “stay out of it” after Bayley’s elimination. Becky got her sweet revenge on Nia by eliminating her, but Nia, Becky’s storied tormentor, pushed her off the ring steps to injure Becky’s leg.

It was in this moment that it became apparent that WWE is actually expecting us to see Becky as a resilient babyface underdog. The rivalry that stole the show so many times in 2018 would be the tug-of-war that would finish the women’s Rumble. Out of the ashes, it was Becky that arose. And everyone popped for her.

And so her road to the main event of WrestleMania begins!

Nia Jax in the Men’s Royal Rumble

Image credit: sportskeeda.com

As I am sure many of us are, I’m still trying to figure out my feelings about seeing Nia steal a spot in the men’s Rumble. I will say that the thought crossed my mind recently that perhaps Nia should wrestle with the men, since it seems much of the criticism she receives from fans is that she is an unsafe worker, not considering that she is nearly three times the size of most of her division counterparts. That absolutely affects her in-ring capabilities, as she can’t truly lean into her moves for fear of hurting her opponents with her body mass. This leads her to look sloppy and clumsy in the ring.

So when I saw her walk to that ring and stare down the likes of Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio, my knee-jerk reaction was positive. It was, on its face, cool to see that visual. I think where my feelings get complicated is the visual of three different men hitting their finishers on her. In the context of the match, I understood it. Considering that Nia catches the ire of so many (male) fans, though, I worry more insidiously that fans may get carried away with the idea of men hitting women that they don’t like. And I also have reservations with how sensitive WWE will be with intergender wrestling if we open up that can of worms.

But, I am curious to see if and how this continues with Nia. Perhaps this could be the start of a larger conversation about the role that gender plays in wrestling. I know it is fairly common on the indies for men and women to wrestle each other, but with a company as big as WWE, the implications of walking this road could be huge. The world will be watching intently, I’m sure.

***

I’ll be back in two or so weeks with the regular Nylons and Midriffs format. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the women’s division on this Road to WrestleMania.

Stay legit bossy,
AC

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