Breaking Holds – Episode Three

Women’s wrestling in the United States has, by and large, been a joke for as long as I can remember. While there have been little golden moments, such as the battles between Bull Nakano and Alundra Blayze, and I suppose some of the matches in the Golden Era and the Rock and Wrestling days, it’s never been something that fans take incredibly seriously.

And, frankly, who can blame them? I grew up watching GLOW, and seeing women of little to average ability (even though Ivory, a favorite of mine, cut her teeth there) attempt to have matches with bizarre characters and movesets that consisted primarily of hairpulls, rollups, punches, and other basics. Perhaps it’s simply the time period, and I’m being unfair…but frankly, I don’t think so. Americans have never really had any major interest in women’s wrestling, especially not to the level that the Japanese have with their joshi puro. Wouldn’t you, the smarky audience, rather watch a match between Ayako Hamada and Aja Kong than between, say, Lena Yada and Ashley Massaro? Two models and actresses awkwardly rolling around on the mat and whiffing punches does not a match make.

But really, I’m wasting your time by saying this. You’re reading this at Inside Pulse; you ALREADY know about women’s wrestling, and what a waste of time it is. Thus, let me just get to the point.

It’s actually starting to matter.

With TNA’s commitment to a Knockout division featuring honest-to-God female wrestlers, and WWE actually starting to let their more physically adept ladies go to the forefront, now is the time to start paying attention to what the fairer sex is putting together. Now, if you’ve been reading my column for the last two weeks (and don’t pretend like you have, as I’ll know), you know that I’m a sucker for a good story, and so I think some special kudos are in order for Melina Perez and Beth Phoenix. Last night, at One Night Stand, these two women competed in an “I Quit” match, although it was really just a submission match, with very little in the way of otherwise-illegal shenanigans. Regardless, they put on what I thought was the strongest women’s match that I’ve seen in a long time (despite the feelings of Mr. Scott Keith, a writer for whom I have near limitless respect, which were published on this very website), telling a compelling tale of the nearly unbeatable warrior woman, and the determined and relentless “normal girl” that stood in her way.

I think of how Melina locked in the reverse STF, holding a bridge for a length of time that most men would not be able to, and Phoenix using absolute brute strength to make her way to the outside of the ring. Instead of the semi-fast reach and crawl technique that most of the male superstars use, Phoenix slams her forearm on the ground, and drags herself and Melina, completely unrelenting or submitting in the hold, not only to the ropes, but outside of the ring. That simple slam of the arm, pulling both bodies along, establishes just how far Melina needs to go, as the finisher that so easily dispersed Jillian Hall just a few days before was simply not going to be effective enough to take out the seemingly infinitely stronger former champion. The audience is given this image of Phoenix as some kind of inhuman mega-woman, smashing her muscular Hulk arms, pulling this kraken along for the ride.

Which isn’t to suggest that Melina’s particularly long legs are octopal in fashion. I mean, unless that does it for you…in that case, go nuts. To all their own.

And then, there was the ending. After smashing Melina’s face and body into the mat with a reverse powerbomb, Phoenix locks on her modified sufboard, pulling Melina back in a move that seemingly has no way of reversal or escape, something she had been able to do to nearly every previous attempt. Her face shows one of agony, not necessarily because of the pain, but because it can be seen that she swore to herself not to quit, not to give in, but that she knows in her heart that there is no escape from this kind of move from someone who can hold it almost indefinitely. She seems on the verge of tears. Sensing that it still isn’t quite enough, the warrior woman modifies the surfboard yet again, turning into more of a surfboard choke that nearly bends Melina in half. It is only then, sapped of strength and losing oxygen, that the underdog’s will breaks, and the match is over.

I’ve never really been a huge fan of Melina, but her desire to be a wrestler and prove to the world that she’s more than the girl that does the splits is admirable as hell, and her performance in the match showed me that she may just have the chops to be a contender in a division that maybe, just maybe, can exist as more than just a place to push the jiggle factor of the company’s recent supermodel hire. And frankly, Beth Phoenix is a better female heel than Awesome Kong. Why? Well, for one, she’s feminine enough to still be seen as a woman, and for another, she can actually say syllables, words, and, oddly enough, even complete sentences. This isn’t to say that Kong is in any way BAD. Quite the contrary; her matches are brutal and, when they allow her to compete in anything other than squashes, energetic and invigorating with tons of heat.

Of course, then there’s the argument of what makes a good heel: characterization or building heat? But that’s an article for another day.

Frankly, I’m just happy that a few women are getting a chance to have matches that reach more than 1 1/4 stars. Are we in a Renaissance? Absolutely not. There’s still plenty of suck stinking up that ring during the women’s matches.

But it’s a spark. And where there’s a spark, there’s a start.

Tags: , , , ,