Welcome back to “Guys and Divas”, the only column on Inside Pulse Wrestling that identifies itself as “heteroflexible” (based on a true story)!
In this week’s column: the “Total Divas” newbies hit the ring for the first time; plus, a bud gets nipped early (and often)…
…BUT FIRST(!), the World Heavyweight Championship has been dancing a hearty limbo for most of 2013. After last night, it looks like that may change. Let’s hear it for the boys!
[NOTE: If you please, skip ahead to this week’s “THE BONUS BALL” segment before reading the rest of the column. It was written days before and informs a great deal of what you’re about to read. Thanks!]
True story: I spent most of this weekend up to about 9pm Monday night planning on making my first “GUYS” segment a lively rant about the boring and seemingly interminable World Heavyweight Championship reign of Alberto Del Rio, after which I’d segue into a ramble about poorly-executed heel/face turns this year.
However, in the ongoing spirit of optimism and due to recent developments, I think it’s time to talk about the future of the goldest belt in WWE.
As most of you saw Monday night, John Cena will make a “miraculous” return to the ring at Hell in a Cell to challenge ADR for the WHC. WTF? (NOTE: I’ve never used the acronym “WTF’ before this column. I detest internet-speak with a violent passion.) Confusion aside, I like when this show surprises me, and this did an honorable job of making my eyes bulge. (Plus, Ricardo got a pin out of it, so right on.)
So, taking it as a foregone conclusion that the returning Cena will win the belt, what’s next for the current champ?
This year has been seemingly a failed experiment in things to do to the Alberto Del Rio (or as I sometimes call him, Albert Rivers) character. From his beyond-random face turn to his current shoddy, clearly-out-of-creative-desperation heel run, the Man with the Destiny is all but a non-issue. The question can be raised: is it the man or is it the belt?
On the former tack, I’m pretty stumped. The more layers that have been pulled away from the Del Rio we met in 2010 (the cars, the elaborate entrance, Ricardo, etc.), the more uninteresting he has become. Traditionally, this would probably call for a complete character and gimmick overhaul (likely, knowing this show, as comic relief); but this isn’t a lower card schlub like Zack Ryder or the members of 3MB (#HeathSlaterIsADateRapist #NeverForget).
This is a guy who debuted as a main eventer. Sure, there was some vague, cosmetic character building via small programs with guys like Rey Mysterio, Christian, and a pre-beard Daniel Bryan; but within four months of his first live (to tape) televised appearance, he was part of a Fatal 4-Way Tables Match for the belt. His cache as a modern legend of lucha libre made him a valuable part of the WWE roster…but that can only take you so far.
So, what will it take?–As of late, it seems tag teams are the re-birthplace of solo stardom. Daniel Bryan–talented as hell though he may be (and is)–was pretty much down and out as the standard tenacious technician (with an admittedly entertaining inferiority complex) until those glorious anger management sessions. Pairing a cookie cutter character with a capital-C CHARACTER like Kane proved the catalyst for the heir apparent to John Cena as the face of the whole damned company.
Who could fill the role of ADR’s Kane?–Aye, but there’s the rub. Other than the Wyatt Family (who have their own thing going; although, I’m looking forward to seeing what exactly that’s going to be), the “reality era” has really sucked the CHARACTER out of this show. There’s Santino, but–tempting as it sounds (I keep my fingers crossed that he gets a serious run someday)–there’s no fathomable reason their two worlds would collide. Where’s Dr. Shelby when we need him?
Meanwhile, what of the belt itself? The sight of it around John Cena’s waist will certainly help it reclaim some of its lost glamour, but then what?
The obvious answer is Damien Sandow, but–as much as we all love him–is he really ready to be main eventing alongside the company’s top man?–From a technical standpoint, certainly; but he seems to be fading into a level of obscurity, even with that finely-crafted leather briefcase. Then again, perhaps I’ve just answered my own question.
In general though, the continued use of the World Heavyweight Championship perplexes me. Now that the brand extension is–save for separate GMs–nonexistent, what is its purpose?–WWE itself seems to waver about whether or not it’s still to be considered on par with the WWE Championship. In the current scheme of mens’ singles titles, I see the hierarchy thusly: WWE, World Heavyweight, Intercontinental, United States. Even simply denoting such a pecking order would do wonders for not just the WHC, but every belt in the company.
Rumors of a WWE/World Heavyweight title unification continue to run rampant and, truth be told, having the future Bella Husbands (Cena and Bryan) with the two belts could go somewhere really interesting. Maybe I’m not giving the creative team enough credit…but I doubt it. I shall stay positive. (It’s what I do.)
…and another thing I do is talk about the lady half of the equation. It’s time for the real reason this column exists.
Yet another surprise this past Monday: the in-ring debut (in a fashion) of “Total Divas” newbies Eva Marie and JoJo. How did they do? Where do they go from here?–Let’s discuss.
So, the contents of this week’s Bonus Ball aside, my commenters made some good points last week. (Although, most of their feelings for the Divas division in general leave a lot to be desired. Hence, the Bonus Ball. WE’VE COME FULL CIRCLE!) However, I’d like to tweak their thoughts a bit.
Monday night, we saw Eva Marie in action for the first time and–it pains me to say this–yikes. I found myself experiencing flashbacks to the dreadful era of Kelly Kelly; where half-hearted clotheslines were THE offensive maneuver. Having seen Eva Marie’s backstage dealings on the hit E! reality show, it wasn’t all that surprising.
The crimson-haired rookie is a product of what made the later half of the last decade somewhat distressing for me. She’s a model, not a wrestler. I know that accusation could be lobbed at a lot of the roster currently, but–before anyone calls me a hypocrite on the comments–we have to remember that it’s not the Divas themselves that are to blame. These girls are going out there with the best of intentions, and for the most part, I see potential in all of them. It’s a booking failure, plain and simple.
Now, unlike one of my readers last week, I don’t think it will take a scorched-earth overhaul of the entire division to fix this. Moreover, I think strides are already being made. The Divas division down at NXT is doing some great things, all told; and with Sara Del Rey at the helm, I think it’s safe to say the future of women in WWE is in good hands.
Dealing with the current failures is the key here. At the risk of doing another full roster evaluation (SEE: last week’s column), let’s count off the current faces who’ve got the skills (regardless of whether or not they’re being utilized to the fullest right now): AJ, Alicia, Brie (yes, I said Brie), Kaitlyn, Layla, Naomi, Natalya, Tamina. That’s eight–count ’em, EIGHT–currently-competing Divas who’ve proven able to carry out a feasible to great match. That’s 8 out of 14, 57%, O.57–no matter how you slice it, that’s not a bad number. Hell, that could keep the creative team busy with Diva stories for a good long while…and sometimes, they do.
(Let me state something: I never said the division is perfect, but  as I said above, it’s not the Divas’ faults themselves, and  writing off the entire enterprise is foolish and–considering some of the arguments I’ve seen laid before me–borderline, if not entirely, sexist.)
So, what do we do with the remaining 43%?–Let me throw this word at you: VALET.
Do you remember this word?–I sure do. Admittedly, their kind was dying out when I came into this business, but we all know that valets have played a pivotal part in some classic matches and storylines.
I remember my older sister (who’s only been watching this show–at the behest of her husband–for about two years now) invoking the name of Miss Elizabeth when AJ rose to prominence last year. Clearly, the late Former Mrs. Randy Savage made an impact on not just the world of wrestling, but culture as a whole. (Seriously, my sister is more the Jane Austen/Audrey Hepburn type than a member of the WWE Universe.)
Or how about Sable?–Yes, we remember her as one of the first Divas to hold the Womens’ Championship when it was reinstated at the end of last century; but we came to know and love her as the woman on the arm of her forgettable ex-husband Marc Mero.
Sunny/Tammy Lynn Sytch?–Not only spent time as the sideline presence for people like The Road Warriors and Farooq during her time in WWE, but was the veritable figurehead of her partnership with Chris Candido in both ECW and WCW.
Hell, why not even Vickie? (That’s right. I said it.) True, her valeting did tend to coincide with her various stints as a governing body on Raw and Smackdown; but I know there are a lot of us who will never forget her on-screen courtship with Edge (Oh, that fabulous romantic montage in the park!). Her unmistakable cackle and immortal delivery of “EXCUSE ME!” helped skyrocket that particular heel run for the Rated-R Superstar AND made her an irreplaceable presence on WWE television.
The adorable Summer Rae stands as the company’s lone valet at the moment, but if the crowd chanting her name during Fandango’s matches is any indication, she’s already made an indelible impression on the WWE Universe. Why can’t the untested 19-year-old JoJo?–She’s already been an honorary Funkadactyl on a number of occasions. Heck, Eva Marie and Nikki are, in many ways, already Brie’s ongoing ringside support.
It CAN be done, AND(!) with NXT just…sitting down there in Florida, there’s no reason the more technically-lackluster Divas can’t improve their in-ring skills while cheering on a Superstar or, indeed, another Diva on the proverbial main stage.
There’s always hope. This division is not a lost cause. We just need to get the people in charge to pick up the slack…and I’ll be waiting patiently until they do.
…Go on now.
…and sadly, it’s almost time for us to part for the week, but for those of you who didn’t heed my bracketed note up there, it’s time for this week’s edition of…
THE BONUS BALL
(I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I need to do this, and I’ve concluded that if I don’t do it now, it may only devolve further than I can live comfortably with.)
Let me start off by thanking everyone who stopped by for my first column last week. I’ve wanted to be part of the Pulse Wrestling family for a very long time and it seems I’ve been welcomed with the openest of arms.
That said, we need to have a family meeting.
Kids, I decided to do a Diva-centric column for a number of reasons. Over the past 15+ years that I’ve been a wrestling fan, I’ve had a lot of opinions about the show. I’ve cheered as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin stunned pretty much anyone in his path (including women; something that in retrospect, I regret deeply). I’ve shed tears watching promising individuals lose their lives for the business they love. I’ve rolled my eyes at plenty of miscalculated character ideas (Los Matadores, anyone?).
However, there has been one constant. I LOVE THE DIVAS DIVISION. I truly, truly do.
When I was 11, the Womens’ Championship had just been reinstated and over-the-top characters like Sable and Ivory were ruling the roost. I was like any other guy at the time, grunting approvingly as the present-day Mrs. Lesnar took to the stage and asked us if we were ready for “the grind”.
Thankfully as I matured, the show did with me. Sure, there were still Divas and storylines meant solely to titilate (SEE: Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie); but there were also real wrestling talents making statements every week. It feels almost redundant at this point to mention names like Trish Stratus (who, to be fair, had to evolve past being Mr. McMahon’s on-screen mistress and other such degradations), Lita (once merely the forgettable Essa Rios’ arm candy), and Molly Holly (WCW’s former Miss Madness)…but the fact remains that these women were bringing something–for the most part–legitimate and respectable to the table.
I, like most people, lamented greatly a few years back when WWE made the shift to the much-maligned “PG era” in a blatant bid to aid Linda McMahon’s repeatedly failed senate campaigns. The show got less risqué, the stories less compelling, the characters less interesting. For a few years, the show was generally pretty hard to watch.
Maybe it’s clichéd to do so, but one must attribute the undeniable resurgence in quality these past three years or so to CM Punk’s legendary “pipe bomb” promo in Las Vegas. Over the course of roughly five minutes, he showed the audience (and the creative team) that it was time to get back to why we loved this show in the first place; and the fruits of his statement proved wide-ranging and plentiful.
This, of course, included the Divas division. Sure, there’ve been some speed bumps (e.g. the ill-treated all-Diva season of NXT), but it can’t be disputed that there has been a concerted effort–particularly in the last two years–to make the fairer-sex portion of the show more important.
It feels more redundant still to attribute the rising notoriety of the Divas to the current champ AJ Lee; redundant…but arguably accurate. Did her rise come through less than traditional means?–Perhaps. I never expected that an on-screen romance (let alone several) would be the saving grace of an entire portion of the company, but there it is. (Let me reiterate though that–as I stated last week–the contingency that wants to credit only AJ’s leading men for her rise to prominence is, I feel, woefully mistaken.)
From AJ came the reinvigorated presence of her real-life bestie and fellow NXT hopeful Kaitlyn. While it’s clear that the company has known they’ve had something special in the lovely former bodybuilding champ, what with her presence as a public face of many of the company’s charitable works (their partnership with the National Guard, most notably); it was a rare spot of continuity from the writers that brought her back to the forefront. Like it or not (and I’m in the former camp), AJ vs. Kaitlyn is a true Divas feud with deep roots that has brought us some quality matches over the past year.
Then of course, there’s “Total Divas”.
I’ll admit, when the idea of a weekly reality show focusing on–most notably–the Bella Twins was presented, I groaned a bit. For all my nearly unconditional love of this division, Brie, Nikki and I haven’t been very…simpatico. I’ve bought into all the trash-talk; the Johnny Ace hot tub jokes, the accusations of backstage political skullduggery from former employees such as–one of my favorites–Maria Kanellis, etc. I’ve often placed the blame for the less-enjoyable facets of the division squarely on their identical shoulders.
I sit here today, hat in hand, ready to eat crow.
Over the course of the first run of the E! series, I’ve come to appreciate these sisters a great deal. If I may harken back to my thoughts on the concept of celebrity from last week, we hold notable personalities to a high standard that we cannot reach ourselves. I’m not a perfect guy. I’ve got hypocrisies out the proverbial wazoo, and to deny anyone else the courtesy of recognizing that would be absurd.
The conniving Eva Marie notwithstanding, the cast of “Total Divas” are a group of women just like those in our own lives. Yes, they work in a popular entertainment industry and that has gained them some level of moderate wealth and ease as they go about the world; but they are still human beings, with flaws and idiosyncrasies but also, kind hearts and hard-working spirits. We may not agree with the paths that have led some to the WWE, but these girls truly have a passion for what they’re doing and you’d have to be pretty hard-headed and set in your ways to not respect that.
Which brings me to the reason why I’ve just said all this. Let me reiterate: I LOVE THE DIVAS DIVISION. It has its highs and its lows like anything else, but I love it.
Let me tell you a little something about ol’ Jeff. I’m 26 years old, and for the past 23 years I’ve lived in a house full of women. My father passed away when I was three, and so I’ve spent the bulk of my life being raised by two sisters and my indomitable mother. I’ve seen my family go through a lot, but what they’ve taught me through their example is that no matter your flaws and hypocrisies and traumas, everyone is a human being that–at root–just wants to live their lives peacefully and without incident.
I respect women. I respect them more than any other gender, genus, class, phylum, etc.
With that in mind, I’d like to address some comments made by readers (JUST LIKE YOU!) after last week’s edition.
Once again: I LOVE THE DIVAS DIVISION. Anyone who gleans anything to the contrary from my words is (A) putting words in my mouth, (B) clearly not reading the same column I wrote, (C) a set-in-their-ways bag of hot wind that will–to quote one of my heroes Patton Oswalt–“miss everything cool and die angry”.
So on that tip, I’d like to request that commenters don’t try to pull me into their arguments. What I feel about the topics upon which I write is right there on the page. No interpretations needed. If your thoughts can’t stand up on their own (or last for more than four consecutive hours), keep them close to the vest.
As I stated numerous times last week, this column comes from a place of affection and optimism. I’m not here to make loud, across-the-board statements of dissatisfaction; which unfortunately seems to be the m.o. of the bulk of the IWC. I’m here to talk about a show I love, characters I adore and (if you’ll pardon the term) the actors who portray them. Perhaps a lack of conflict will drive readers away, but I’d rather lose your eyes by saying something positive than gain them by being a raving grump about every little thing.
So, in summation, if the thought of someone speaking fondly of the Divas division on a regular basis bothers you to the point of uncontrollable rage, there’s the proverbial door. I’m not changing a thing. Sorry, not sorry.
Family meeting adjourned.
Well, that just about wraps up this week’s edition of “Guys and Divas”. I hope we can all sit back, relax and ponder all those thoughts I just laid down for you; and that this is the start of a beautiful, enlightening, fun, informative, thought-provoking friendship between you and me, dear reader.
As always, join me this Monday for my weekly live-tweet (@biscuitman18’s the username; #GuysAndDivas is the preferred hashtag); and a big thanks to all of you (and I mean ALL OF YOU; yes, even the detractors) who stopped by for my debut column last week. Your questions, comments and eyeballs were appreciated greatly and I look forward to typing up a storm for you all again.
Until next time, I’m Jeff Heatherly saying “Kill the fish tank.” See you next Wednesday!
Tags: aj lee, alberto del rio, Brie Bella, Damien Sandow, divas, edge, Eva Marie, Guys and Divas, john cena, JoJo, Kaitlyn, Miss Elizabeth, Nikki Bella, NXT, Raw, Sable, Smackdown, Summer Rae, Sunny, The Bella Twins, Total Divas, Vickie Guerrero, World Heavyweight Championship, WWE