Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
NXT TakeOver: Toronto back on November 19, 2016 marked the return of Mickie James to the WWE after a six year absence. But even the most die hard of wrestling fans may not have realized she was missing, what with her stint in TNA and more recently Global Force Wrestling. The reaction was universally mild among wrestling fans, and with many good reasons.
For starters, the last several years of her career has been marred by a lackluster performance. It’s hard to champion the 37 year old when a bulk of her career exists on Botchamania reels. There’s only so many rest holds, sloppy, loose choke holds and porn star quality screams a fan can sit through before reaching for the remote or heading to the latrine.
Another reason is because she represents a dark era in WWE’s history that is dying a slow, agonizing death: the era of the “Diva”. For as much of the Bella Twins and Mickie James as the company might want to shove down our throats, the fact of the matter is that these starlets represent a time in which women were supposed to be sloppy, eating up precious television time with whining and who-is-sleeping-with-whom story lines and nobody female was deemed anything more important than a disposable sex toy.
Wrestling fans today, surprisingly straight, male ones, do not want this. They want the current women of NXT and Monday Night Raw.
They want Charlotte, the tall, lanky child of Ric Flair, who is going above and beyond to outdo her father in terms of submissions. They want Bayley, a fresh faced heroine with a sunshine attitude and positive image, who serves as a great hero for little girls, but can also wrestle with the ferocity of the standard male brawler. They want Sasha Banks, an outstanding athlete with the heart of an underdog. They want Naomi, Becky Lynch, women who represent the future of professional wrestling with the same fire and tenacity as their male counterparts. Fans enjoy these women wrestlers because they make them believe in wrestling all over again.
Mickie James and the Bella Twins do not fit this mold.
From day one, the three have made it very clear. They do not love wrestling. This was supposed to be a temporary move before moving to more contemporary Hollywood choices, such as singing and acting. Wrestling was supposed to be a stepping stone, not the final destination. And yet time and again, when the modeling gigs dry up, the songs fall off of Billboard and the letter of film rolls drops from a B role to the bottom of the alphabet, wrestling provided this generation of Divas a safety net to fall back on.
This leads me to the top thing that bothers wrestling fans about these leftover Divas.
They don’t really respect their positions.
Oh sure, they say they “love this industry” but keep in mind, there is an over tired WWE writer with a Sharpie marker and a cue card, trying to make these females seem as much in love with wrestling as the new breed. But there’s only so many takes you can film where you try aimlessly to direct their eyes to look wider, more innocent, slip them the eye drops or otherwise dangle a check above the camera lens before you give up on making them seem more caring, and the fans just feel how superficial these Divas really are.
And that angers me.
For generations, wrestling fans had to watch as real women wrestlers were pushed aside or demoted to the status of “sideshow freaks” and never respected as real athletes, because they posses vaginas.
Growing up, I watched amazing athletes like Jacqueline, Victoria and Molly Holly have to pull twice their weight in work, just to get a spot on television, let alone a match. At one point or another, their talents as wrestlers were thrown away, and they were seen as precious more than just pretty faces. Each had to fight their way out of “Valet Land” and prove they were more than eye candy, only to have all of their hard work again tossed aside, so that some blonde bimbo in a bikini could prance around a gravy bowl. We had Ivory reduced from a spirited competitor reduced to a comedic jab at parental coalitions while Terri’s ever decreasing wardrobe ate up valuable screen time. Preceding them, there was Sherri Martel, Luna Vachon and Medusa. Each of them could wrestle, and each could wrestle men and rather well I might add. But for every match any of them had where they fought a man and won, it was a match pushed aside so we could focus on whoever had the cutest dress, pouted the prettiest or looked the most helpless at ringside.
Throughout history, real women athletes, such as The Jumping Bomb Angels, Rockin’ Robin, Wendi Richter, Mae Young and a veritable list of who’s who had to bite, scratch and claw their way to television, only to be chucked aside as a “special attraction” and nothing more.
The NXT class knows all about this, and it shows. They know the privilege of being on television at all, and they cherish every spot they get. Every time the young wrestlers get a main event spot or a top promoted segment, they move like this is the last chance that entire division will ever have on top.
And the sad thing is that they’re not far off. Every match could be the last time the NXT women get the spotlight. Every match could mean the end of their short run. Every week could be the last week they have, because the closed minded misogynists that relegated their predecessors to valet status are still working behind the scenes and aren’t going to retire any time soon. They see Triple H struggling to keep their stars shining, and they respect that. And they show that respect by wrestling like it’s the last night they will ever have alive, let alone in the WWE.
History has shown them why they must fight for survival. At one point between 1999 and 2002, the WWE had a promising future for women’s wrestling. Trish Stratus, Lita, Jacqueline, Ivory, Molly Holly, Jazz and Victoria were all determined to fight at their best and bring their branch of the sport to new heights. By 2003 we had seen a women’s cage match overtake Raw, and the future looked bright.
… And then came the Diva Search. And in a flash, it was all gone.
2004-2014 marked a decade where real women's wrestling was considered to be offensive and taboo. Gone were the properly dressed athletes in hard hitting brawls, replaced with scantly dressed, whiny, self-entitled Divas, botching their way through matches, phoning in their appearances and participating in vapid love triangles written to make all women seem like leeches.
And for as much blame as the WWE has been handed over these years, the truth is that many of the Divas performed just as badly outside Titan Towers once they were released. Many a TNA PPV has been marred by a lazy Gail Kim or Mickie James contest, in which the fans used the bouts as an excuse to visit the concession stand.
Which brings me back to NXT Take Over Toronto. While Asuka did her best to make it look like Mickie had the upper hand, the fans didn’t buy it. Mickie had stalled and used enough rest holds to make Larry Zbyszko proud. The crying, long winded screaming and overall performance just couldn’t keep the crowd vested into her, and Asuka’s win was a well deserved victory, greeted with a pool of men wearing the younger wrestler’s mask and proudly holding up signs in her honor, a sight usually reserved for male veterans in the squared circle. After the champion vacated the ring, Mickie stood, crying, expecting a standing ovation, but instead got a cool “just get the F out” response from the fans.
The excuse for the epic amount of stalling from Mickie?
Oh, she just had a baby not too long ago.
Oh really? Jazz had twins. She was back on the Indy scene in no time, and never needed an excuse for any of her bouts. So why should Mickie get a pass if Jazz doesn’t?
So if the fans did not like the dark Diva decade, why bother bringing any of it back? Especially if we can see by the clutter on the WWE Shop page that none of it sold?
The WWE needs to face facts. Times ave changed, and we are in the process of evolving. The harder you push for the Divas, the harder the fans will push for the NXT women. It’s time to retire the Divas for good, and elevate the women wrestlers.
But with Mickie’s recent return to Smackdown Live this past Tuesday night as the start of a groan worthy three year contract to the WWE --with a rumored future story involving her fighting the talentless Nikki Bella for a title soon to be off the shoulder of current Smackdown Women's champion Alexa Bliss-- it looks like the WWE is not prepared to join us in the new era anytime soon. This foolish decision will either turn out to be an easily corrected mistake, or the company’s ill conceived move to throw away their own future for the sake of nostalgia.