This Week in Spandex: Killing Time on the Road to Wrestlemania
Here at ComicsAlliance we've noticed over the years that there's a huge overlap between superhero comics fans and wrestling fans, almost as if people who are drawn to the violent over-the-top adventures of cartoonish, brightly costumed, outlandishly gimmicky heroes and villains might also enjoy superhero stories. In fact, if we're honest, wrestling is basically superhero theater.
In recognition of that crossover appeal, we've decided to try something different. Welcome to This Week in Spandex, a new weekly feature in which longtime wrestling fan Kieran Shiach and enthusiastic recent convert Elle Collins summarize the week that was in WWE. Ring the bell!
Elle: Outside of my weekly token wrestler in Cast Party and the occasional Ask Chris column, this is basically the birth of wrestling coverage at ComicsAlliance, and I’m very excited to be a part of it, as I’m sure you are. By way of introduction, I’ve only really been into wrestling for about a year, but I’m the sort of person who jumps into my interests with both feet, so let’s just say I’ve caught up a lot. I also host a wrestling podcast called Hard Times, with my co-host Megan Nielsen. What about you, Kieran? I know you’ve been thinking, writing, and podcasting about wrestling a lot longer than I have.
Kieran: I was joking earlier in the week that my wrestling origin comes from being a ten year old boy in 2000, and I’ve been watching pretty much regularly since then, with a gap of a couple of years in the late 00s. Before I wrote and podcasted about comics, I was writing and podcasting about wrestling, and I’ve travelled around the world just to see indie shows in smalltown Pennsylvania community centers.
I feel like for the first installment, we should clarify what this is going to be. The idea behind This Week in Spandex isn’t to recap everything that happened on Raw, SmackDown, NXT, Lucha Underground, Ring of Honor, Impact, etc. The idea is to give people an idea of what happened this week in wrestling, point out which segments are worth seeking out, and probably which ones to avoid.
Elle: And for now we're going to be focusing pretty exclusively on WWE content, not because it's necessarily the best, but because including every promotion would simply be too much for one column. Also the channel I used to get RoH and Impact on has switched to an all-ghost-hauntings format. And let's be honest, Lucha Underground really deserves its own weekly recap anyway.
Elle: So this RAW couldn’t compete with last Monday's RAW, when Shane McMahon made his return. All we got on that front this week was the Undertaker showing up just long enough to say “Sure, whatever,” to his match with Shane at Wrestlemania.
But what I really want to talk about is Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, who had a really great match. I might not have always been sure what they were going for in every moment, but the energy level was so high, and they were both working so hard. Sasha’s everybody’s favorite, and Becky has become the most likable character in the Divas Division (or at least in my heart) over the last few months. It was great just seeing them go at each other full throttle. The only thing I didn’t love was how similar the finish was to what literally just happened with Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe on NXT.
Kieran: Yeah, and they did a similar thing on Lucha Underground too, with Prince Puma just eking out the win in the last second. I think this one was done a lot better than Zayn/Joe, where I don’t think Joe had an argument for having won that match.
This match was great though, especially, as Timehop tells me, we’re just over a year removed from the match that prompted #GiveDivasAChance. A year later and I think it’s fair to say the division has been revolutionized. We’re not all the way there yet, but this match was treated by the wrestlers, the announcers and the crowd as if it was any other #1 Contender's match, which is great to see.
I want to talk about Stephanie’s promo, which is possibly the best promo of her career. She ripped both her brother, her father and the crowd for their sexism, and I loved that she fought for her daughters' place in the WWE landscape. It’s the most I’ve liked Stephanie in a while, even if that wasn’t the intention of the promo.
Elle: I agree, Steph’s promo was fire. I love when somebody can be a bad guy and still be right in what they’re saying, and she totally achieves that here.
Elle: I feel like before we leave RAW behind, we should at least mention the Triple H/Dean Ambrose confrontation, which is setting up a title match between them for the Network Roadblock special. It’s weird how much this seems to undermine the Roman Reigns angle, especially considering how much more over Dean Ambrose is with the crowd.
In fact, I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but there’s a whole conspiracy theory going around online that Triple H is deliberately setting Roman up to fail as part of a plan to gain creative control of the company by making Vince McMahon look (even more) like he’s out of touch with audiences. I’m reluctant to buy into that theory without actual evidence, but I have to admit it would explain a lot about how things seem to be going in two different directions at once lately.
Elle: Total Divas may be a weird fit for this space, considering it’s not technically a wrestling show, but I really need to talk about it, because I can’t hold my feelings in anymore.
The way Total Divas handles Paige and her relationships makes me so mad. She’s only, what, 23? And she’s in this serious relationship with a guy that she obviously doesn’t like very much. She constantly says things like, “I don’t really do relationships” and, “This is why I don’t have boyfriends,” but the idea that she might actually end her relationship in favor of being single is never put on the table. Monogamous heterosexual relationships are presented at every turn as something that you “make work” at all costs.
I just wish I could tell Paige that if she’s not into relationships, she could choose not to have one. And if she’s just not into the sort relationship she’s having, she could find different ones to have. It’s 2016, and there are all sorts of options for people to be happy, but you’d never know that from watching Total Divas.
Kieran: Unfortunately, I can’t watch Total Divas yet, being in the UK, but whenever I do end up watching, I get worked way more than when I watch actual wrestling. I end up shouting at my television whenever someone bends over backwards to stretch out the drama instead of just talking, but I guess that’s reality shows in general. I love Total Divas though, and it’s very fun to make jokes about.
Elle: Is it just me, or is NXT kind of spinning its wheels at the moment? It’s one of my favorite wrestling shows, and I’m always going to enjoy watching it, but it feels like they’re not letting anything big happen during this extra-long gap until the Wrestlemania-weekend Takeover. Bayley’s trading partners for multiple matches against Eva Marie and/or Nia Jax (both of whom she’s already had successful title defenses against). Sami Zayn and Samoa Joe are arguing over the Number One Contendership. The Vaudevillains seem to be in the midst of the world’s most gradual heel turn. And Finn Bálor is left to have non-title matches with returning NXT alumni.
But at least that non-title match between Bálor and Neville was a lot of fun to watch. They’re both good guys (although Bálor seems to be getting more and more brutal lately) and there was nothing on the line, but wow did they go hard at each other.
I imagine it must be a bittersweet feeling for Neville to make a return visit to NXT, because it’s inescapable how much more he gets to shine here than on the main roster. Up there he’s the little superhero guy who teams up with whichever babyface (or CW actor) needs a temporary partner, but down here he’s a former Champion and a serious competitor. Obviously the current champ won, but it never for a second felt like it was easy.
Kieran: I think they made a mistake with their taping schedule. They had everything up until WrestleMania in the can by the end of January, so stuff feels a little less vital. The highlight for me from NXT was Dana and Emma, because I love their friendship. I need a .gif of a Emma saying, “You’re about to be emasculated in 3… 2… 1…” to use on all the Ghostbusters haters, and they seem to genuinely be friends because they enjoy each other’s company.
We should comment on Austin Aries’ debut, I guess. All I’ll say is I’m not a massive fan of his, but he is very good in the ring on a technical level. One time I heckled him, and his comeback was really good.
Elle: Oh SmackDown. Ever since the show moved from Syfy to USA, there’s been a lot of talk about how WWE might retool it to be something other than “the show that’s less important than RAW,” but so far there’s no sign of that happening. At least they hired Mauro Ranallo, who immediately became the best lead announcer WWE has at the moment.
Kieran: SmackDown’s been really great this year, but it’s not on in the UK until Friday night, so I have to use the clips from WWE’s YouTube channel to catch up on the highlights for This Week In Spandex. I’ve always been one to give SmackDown a chance because in the UK it was a Saturday morning show when we were kids, and I have a lot of nostalgia from the 2003-ish era where Paul Heyman was in charge and it was head and shoulders better than Raw.
Elle: The rematch between Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks wasn’t as high-energy as what they did on RAW, but it still had good storytelling and some great spots. But then of course Ric Flair got involved.
Now look, I have as much affection for Ric Flair as anyone. He really is high in the running for Greatest Wrestler of All Time. I’ve been watching the old NWA World Championship Wrestling show on the Network, and he’s just fantastic anytime he’s on screen there. But seeing him as an old man who interferes in women’s matches just makes him seem like a creep. And doing his little dances and struts at this age mostly makes him seem like a joke.
Anyway, his interference led to Charlotte beating down Becky and Sasha, ending the match without a winner. Backstage, Renee Young announced to an annoyed Charlotte and Ric that the Wrestlemania Divas Title Defense will now be a triple threat. So once again, WWE has taken us on a long journey to exactly where we guessed they were going ages ago.
Kieran: Yeah, I don’t want to sound ungrateful for two Sasha v Becky matches in one week, but if Charlotte had left it alone, she’d have one challenger at WrestleMania. Now she has two, but I guess that’s the sort of thing that would happen to Flair where he thinks he’s got the upper hand, only for his actions to put him at even more of a disadvantage.
I wonder if part of the reason to do it again was to get the WrestleMania announcement on SmackDown, therefore making SmackDown seem more important?
Elle: I was thinking that too, but you know they're just going to announce it again like it's news on Monday. Anyway, the main event was Kevin Owens vs Dean Ambrose, and it was great.
Kevin and Dean have fought more than a couple of times, but I always enjoy it because they’re two hardcore ex-indie guys who just love to beat the snot out of each other in a way that makes you feel their pain. I really popped for the moment when Owens went for the Pop-Up Powerbomb, and Ambrose reversed it into a Frankensteiner. As far as low-consequences main events on The Show That’s Less Important than RAW go, this was a great one.
Kieran: Yeah, my favourite matches are with two guys who can really go heck-for-leather against each other, so any combination of Ambrose/Owens/Sheamus/Rusev/Cesaro/etc is always something I want to check out. I question the idea of having the Intercontinental Champion lose to set up a WWE World Heavyweight Champion match that we know Ambrose is going to lose, but the wrestling itself was great.
Elle: That does it for this week, but we'll both be back with you next Friday, further down the slightly blocked road to Wrestlemania.