WWE Network aired its monthly special for NXT, its developmental organization, on Wednesday. It’s hard to write about these without sounding like part of the herd at this point. How many ways are there to say they’re spectacular, and that Triple H is doing just a phenomenal job building something that is not just a feeder system for WWE, but stands up in its own right as an alternative?
This is likewise a day late on giving high praise to Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, who put on a hell of a match. However, I couldn’t find video for it yesterday, and didn’t want to just be speaking to people who already had the context. Nevertheless, if you used to watch wrestling, but have wandered away at some point, this match is a solid re-entry point. Banks and Lynch spent 20 minutes just kicking the shit out of each other.
It stood out not just as a women’s match, but as a tremendous demonstration of what you can do with the pro wrestling genre. This wasn’t just violence for violence sake as in ECW matches — it was done in an artful way which told a compelling story. While I wouldn’t go as far as the (outstanding) wrestling blog Cageside Seats in saying this was “among the greatest matches in WWE history,” it was nonetheless important in the sense that it sent yet another loud and clear signal that the women of NXT are coming inexorably to take airtime on Raw, Smackdown, and Pay-Per-Views — and this will come at the expense of both men and women on the main WWE roster.
The tides have been changing for months. “I’m proud that the [recent NXT] show in Philly was headlined by women,” said Triple H on a conference call earlier this week, via the National Post. “I think that what we are doing in NXT is changing the perception of what women do in the industry.”
It’s hard not to read this as a subtle shot at Triple H’s father-in-law Vince McMahon, who presides over shows where, as the recently retired AJ Lee aptly pointed out, women receive a “fraction of the wages and screen time” of most of the men on the roster. Unless a woman in WWE is involved in a feud with Stephanie McMahon, she’ll be hard pressed to find herself in a storyline that is written with much logical acuity. (For example: The Bella Twins, whose split and reconciliation was booked in an unsatisfactorily haphazard manner.)
On the other hand, it’s more complicated than just blaming Vince for all these issues. WWE’s creative team listens to the crowd and makes decisions accordingly (some will point out Daniel Bryan as a counter-example, but that’s not the case — he was elevated by the ‘They don’t believe in me, you do’ shtick all the way to the WWE title), and the crowd is often lamentably listless for the Diva division. In a way, it’s like complaining about ESPN running with too many Tebow or Favre stories. Decision-makers are sitting there reading a meter, and giving the people what they’re demonstrating they want.
But, with the way the NXT crowds are zealously responding to these women’s matches, and with Triple H and Stephanie gradually gaining more authority up-top, it’s inevitable that this is a sign of things to come in WWE. In five or ten years there, women will have a much greater proportion of the air-time, and that will be a byproduct of not just looks, but performance in the ring and on the microphone. While this has taken way too long, it won’t take much longer.