This Week In Spandex: Ninth Wonder Of The World
Here at ComicsAlliance we’ve noticed a huge overlap between superhero comics fans and wrestling fans; wrestling is basically superhero theater. This Week in Spandex is a new weekly feature, in which longtime wrestling fan Kieran Shiach and enthusiastic recent convert Elle Collins summarize the week that was in WWE.
This week we're paying tribute to a legendary trailblazer who passed away too soon and taking a look at how WWE is failing her legacy. Also, huge news from an NXT Live Event and tag team wrestling is the best thing on every show.
Kieran: We want to start this week by talking about Joan Laurer, known to wrestling fans as The Ninth Wonder of the World, Chyna. Chyna passed away earlier this week at the age of 46 and both Elle and myself wanted to take some time to talk about her career and what she meant to us as fans.
I grew up during The Attitude Era, but missed the peak of Chyna’s run. By the time I started watching, she’d already had her Intercontinental Championship runs and was teamed with Eddie Guerrero in a romantic storyline that turned into a rather upsetting abuse angle, but Chyna emerged from it looking strong and brave for enduring and overcoming Eddie’s abuse. If one survivor was inspired to persevere thanks to Chyna, she did more than most wrestlers could ever claim to have accomplish.
Elle: I didn’t even watch wrestling in Chyna’s heyday, but I still knew who she was at the time and thought she was amazing. I had never seen a woman — I’d never seen anyone — who looked like that. The way that she mixed strength (not to mention size) and aggression with femininity was groundbreaking just as a pop culture figure, wrestling aside.
And since I have gotten into wrestling, anytime I run across anything featuring her on the Network, I’m stopped in my tracks and have to watch it. And yeah, a lot of sexist and terrible stuff went on back then, but she always rises above it and shines. If I had tried to become a wrestling fan in the Attitude Era, I don’t think it would have gone well for me. But so many of the women wrestlers who drew me in more recently grew up watching Chyna, and have careers that would be impossible to imagine if she hadn’t come first.
Kieran: Throughout her career, Chyna won the Intercontinental Championship three times, the Women’s Championship once, and was the first woman to compete in the Royal Rumble and King of the Ring. She paved the way for every woman that came after her and even if WWE doesn’t acknowledge her achievements, her legacy will live on in the memories of her fans.
Kieran: This week’s RAW continued the streak of being very good, but it’s starting to slip into old formulas and the biggest shake-up it needs is the elimination of the 15-20 minute opening promo segments. It’s been said before, but you can watch an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine in the time it takes to set up an episode of RAW, and it’s such a waste. You have people like Damien Sandow, Zack Ryder and United States Champion, Kalisto not making it on the main show, and 20% of it is that opening segment.
That said, Chris Jericho v Sami Zayn is exactly the sort of match we’ve come to expect of this new era of RAW, and I was really happy with it. I didn’t even mind that Sami Zayn lost, because he often looks better in losses than he does in wins. He’s not called The Underdog From The Underground for nothing.
Elle: This was totally a good match. I like Jericho a lot more as a heel, because it’s much easier to enjoy him when it doesn’t feel like we’re supposed to think he’s a cool guy. I’m also glad we’re definitely getting Zayn vs. Owens at Payback. I hear people saying it’s too soon, but I don’t buy it. This is a forever feud, and having that first main roster PPV grudge match just gets it properly underway. Then they can fight again for whatever title one of them wins next, and then at some point they’ll maybe be friends for a while and then turn on each other again, and eventually (god willing) they’re wrestling for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania.
I’m also really excited about Enzo and Cass and the Vaudevillains both winning their tournament matches. I knew it would be ridiculous to have the Dudleys or the Usos in the finals, but I was cynical enough to be worried. Enzo and Cass remain so much fun, and I’m thrilled that they’re having that fun on RAW every week now (and at the next PPV!). Also, I could write an academic essay on Enzo Amore’s unique brand of working class masculinity, but this is obviously not the space for that.
Kieran: I’m excited that Payback sees a tag-team #1 Contender match between two NXT teams, although I’m still worried for The Vaudevillains future on the main roster. I think the fact that the tag-match on the PPV is non-title shows how valuable the titles are right now, and it’s such a great opportunity for all four men.
I really liked everything with Cesaro and The Miz this week too, I was upset that Ryder lost so quickly to The Miz but his career has been reinvigorated by the addition of Maryse to his Hollywood blowhard act. Cesaro is even more likable than ever with his James Bond gimmick, and I really hope this leads to a larger push for him in the future.
Last week, you spoke about the one thing Shane McMahon’s new era of RAW was missing, the women’s division, and this week was even worse. We only got one women’s match, an eight women tag match that felt very inconsequential, especially after last week’s awesome match between Charlotte and Natalya.
Elle: At this point I am straight-up angry about the women’s division. It feels like we’re back to where we were a year ago, and changing the belt and vocabulary doesn’t mean a damn thing if you’re not going to let women’s wrestling happen on a regular basis. The women’s triple threat was widely regarded as (at the very least) a contender for match of the night at WrestleMania. And not just by internet feminists like us — Steve Austin raved about it, for example. So how did we get back here? There are rumors Sasha’s hurt, considering how little she’s doing, but that still leaves these other seven women, plus MIA Lana and only-on-SmackDown Emma. You’re doing two fake Puerto Rico tourism videos a night, and you can’t find space to give the women more to do than one 15-minute tag match?
Kieran: I almost titled this week’s column "We Need To Talk About Apollo Crews," because we need to talk about Apollo Crews. He needs to do anything else than what he’s doing right now. He’s been around for three weeks and he’s perilously close to tipping into Rocky “Happy To Be Here” Maivia territory. He never developed much of a character in NXT, and he’s got less of one now. Perhaps he should have been forced to join The Social Outcasts, all those guys are so good at on the fly comedy, that it might be just what he needs to develop a more rounded personality.
Elle: I completely agree. He’s great, but he needs to do something that builds his character. I’ve actually wondered if New Day could recruit him as a fourth member. I know I’ll be accused of just wanted to stick all the black guys together, but my thought is that New Day are all happy smiling characters like he is, but they’ve found a way to also have an edge, which he desperately needs. But I realize that would be risky, because the New Day is currently in a very “when are they going to jump the shark” place, and Crews could turn out to be their Cousin Oliver. He definitely needs something though, you’re right.
Elle: This was the Total Divas season finale, and thankfully it lacked the overwrought forced cliffhangers of last year’s. It mostly just finished Rosa’s storyline (yay baby! boo being cut off by her mother!) and set up the Total Bellas spin-off. I’ll definitely watch that show, but I’m more excited about Renee Young and Lana (which means Dean Ambrose and Rusev) joining the Total Divas cast. I like all of those people a lot.
Kieran: I am very much excited for Total Bellas, because it means we’re getting a regular dose of Mr. Excitement, John Laurinaitis, who recently married Mama Bella. He was very much an acquired taste during his time as General Manager, but I think he’s hilarious and very self-aware, so it’s going to be a great show.
Elle: I can’t not be a little sad when NXT starts and I know it’s an off week for both Bayley and Nakamura. But this episode won me over right away with that Enzo and Cass/American Alpha match. Even though both of these tag teams are wildly talented and always fun to watch, I still found myself extra excited to see a match where neither team could just rely on the same “little guy’s in peril for ages then gives the big guy a hot tag so he can knock dudes down” narrative that’s common to both. And indeed, the storytelling here was pretty complex, especially for a non-title face vs. face match, and I enjoyed it a lot.
Kieran: Yeah, I was interested in how Enzo and Cass would cut a S-A-W-F-T on fellow babyfaces, but they pulled it off quite well. Tag team wrestling has come so far in NXT and I’m so happy about it. It’s starting to bleed through to the main roster, and we could genuinely be on the cusp of a new golden age of tag matches.
Elle: After a few weeks of weird teaser videos, I had no idea what to expect from No Way Jose, and even when he came out I wasn’t sure what to make of him at first. Tentatively, with the caveat that he’ll eventually need more of a character than “dancing and baseball,” I think maybe I’m into it? The name’s a little silly, but he has a great look, moves like nobody else, and displays a ton of charisma in the ring. And I’ve said before that I like wrestling with a little dancing in it. So sure, I’ll give him a chance. Yes way Jose.
Kieran: I’m not as enthused about No Way Jose, because I’ve seen this time and time again in Fandango, Adam Rose, and so many other people, and it just never works how they want it to. I’m sure he’s a nice guy and a talented guy, but I don’t see this working out in the long run. It is cool however that we have No Way Jose representing the Dominican Republic, and the Colons representing Puerto Rico, because up until very recently if you were Latino in the WWE, you were from Mexico, so it’s great to see them acknowledge how wide that umbrella is.
Elle: You know what I don’t need to see on SmackDown? US Champion and awesome little guy Kalisto losing to boring hunger-monster Ryback. It was called a WrestleMania rematch, but it wasn’t for the title, so I really don’t get the point on any level. I guess it was just setting up the proper Championship rematch on the Payback Pre-Show or whatever? Kalisto deserves better than this. The US Belt deserves better than this. Even Ryback deserves something that’s not this, at least.
The AJ Styles/Miz match was actually really good, but the most interesting part was Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson showing up just to scare the Miz out of taking a count out. I like the storyline where they seem to be helping AJ but he disavows them and remains a good guy. I hope the resolution is something more interesting than a reveal that AJ was working with them all along, but for now I’m willing to see where it goes.
Probably my favorite thing on the whole show wasn’t even a match, though. It was the Vaudevillains and Enzo and Cass trash talking each other. I think this was the first time English and Gotch have talked since coming up, and it was pretty much perfect the way their anachronistic eloquence contrasted with Enzo’s unique rhetorical style. I particularly liked Gotch’s line about how at Payback, “We’ll be the ones to ask politely, and with proper enunciation, 'How are you doing?'”
Kieran: That reminds me a lot of Rhodes Scholars, especially when they did the proper enunciation version of the New Age Outlaws spiel, so I’m excited to sit down and watch SmackDown tonight and see The Vaudevillains get some mic time. I’ve also seen that clip of Sami Zayn and Dean Ambrose trying to come up with a team name that’s been floating around online, so this looks like a SmackDown that’s well worth watching.
Elle: But the most exciting thing that happened Thursday night wasn’t on SmackDown, or on TV at all. It seems Samoa Joe beat Finn Bálor for the NXT Title at a house show in Lowell, Massachusetts. So when Joe returns to TV, it will be as NXT Champion. I’ll be surprised if we don’t see footage of at least the finish of that match next Wednesday, but that the title change happened unexpectedly at a house show is still surprising and new. And just think about how much more exciting every championship match at every house show is going to feel now! All of the matches where it seems like the outcome is a foregone conclusion have now been cast into doubt.
Kieran: Yeah, I love how this changes the game for NXT going forward and makes every live event a must-see proposition if it's in your area (I need to get my tickets for the Liverpool show). Some people are speculating that Bálor lost the title on the fly due to injury, but I don’t think they’d make that call on a house show. Reports have stated that there were proper television cameras there, and they hyped up the Lowell show a bit too much to the point that it seemed something was going to happen. I think this has been on the cards for a while.
Is Bálor coming up to join Anderson & Gallows? Maybe. Whatever happens, the landscape of the entire company, not just NXT, has changed with this win, and it’s the sort of exciting, buzzworthy thing you want to see from your wrestles more often.