The latest episode of Monday Night Raw saw a contract signing between Charlotte Flair and Natalya for a main event match for the Women’s Championship, with the stipulation that Ric Flair must not be involved. It’s a rite of passage for any title bearing heel to get away with breaking a rule so much that the company explicitly reminds you that you can’t do that at a pay per view. There is certainly something to be said for over using specific heel tactics, leaving the bad guys as predictable as the good guys that the most vocal of the WWE universe take pride in outwardly complaining about, but I’m a fan of the classics. I never got tired of Wile E. Coyote painting a tunnel on a boulder and I doubt that I will ever get tired of a quick escape, a cheap countout to retain, or baiting a face into a DQ.
Charlotte and Natalya are a perfect pair to usher in a new title, and a new era, for women’s wrestling in the mainstream. Neither woman lacks in ring skill or the ability to tell a story through physicality and in ring psychology. The legend of Harts and reputation of Flairs certainly lend themselves to possibly the cleanest good versus bad story women’s wrestling has ever seen in the WWE and Charlotte at least has proven that she can be captivating on the mic, like her father before her. Nikki Bella’s heel turn against her sister Brie and subsequent in ring choices to taunt, cheat, but simply annihilate when she really has to are the closest things we’ve gotten to women being clear cut heels, just like the boys, and even that was rife with aesthetic arguments and sex motivated complaints… So why doesn’t this feel like a good thing?
The story in this feud, unfortunately, isn’t booked as a struggle between an up and comer trained in the art of stylin’, profilin’, and doing whatever the hell she wants to take what she wants, and a seasoned veteran of honor and right, unwilling to allow an old familial enemy to tear apart the main roster. It’s hardly booked as an argument between long time neighbors. Charlotte was a stoic face, a sensible, lawful middle ground in the latest sweep from NXT to the main roster, and her initial turn had more to do with Becky being confused and forgetting she was in a wrestling match than any decision on Charlotte’s part. Natalya has longevity with the company, but no definitive characterization, and was last a pseudodominatrix valet before she was presumably banished to wherever the seedier executives of the WWE send women they don’t currently want to argue about boyfriends and self tanner (or, more likely, sexualize regularly for the benefit of a “PG” audience). The only person the WWE has given any characterization to is Ric Flair, who we already knew was the absolute worst and a cheater supreme. Charlotte didn’t become a heel on her own terms, she just sort of gave up on telling her Dad no. Charlotte Flair has as much big bad motivation as your great Aunt Diane does on Thanksgiving when she stops trying to keep your Uncle Larry from the malt liquor in his trunk and continues passing potatoes as he insults his sister. Charlotte Flair has not proven herself to be a heel. Like Aunt Diane, she’s not bad, she’s just been to too many Thanksgivings with this guy.
Natalya, much like Bret Hart, is loved and worshipped by every breed of wrestling fan, and is as fundamental to the division out of the ring as she is talented in the ring. She has the potential to bring in more fans if she continues to headline shows thanks to her Total Divas fan base and accompanying renown for being the Den Mother of professional wrestling. It would take very little effort to make us believe that a Hart is putting her foot down in the face of slick Ric call backs and that Natalya, regardless of the house she comes from, is protective of women in this company and won’t allow a big ego to disrupt this fighting competition. But the WWE is clearly not interested in giving us that little. It’s absurd enough that they haven’t managed to give Natalya a single promo to lay a foundation for her general alignment and motivation, but it becomes insulting on top of that when you consider that this is the only opportunity they’ve ever created for one of their hardest workers to actually be somebody.
With no genuine motivation and not even the beginnings of a character arc on either side of the ref, the story thus far makes women look weak. The company took time to develop motivations for referee Charles Robinson in lieu of doing it for two people stepping in the ring and fighting the fight. I’m happy Natalya is here, but she’s still just a Hart prop, ol’ faithful, that you pull back from the back whenever you get an idea in this one particular vein. Charlotte’s established gimmick of no-nonsense dedication to success and athletic, and perhaps genetic, superiority, that required no braggadocio, is long dead. It was stripped from her and replaced by a watered down antagonist profile, by no fault of her own. The company is lucky that dedication to NXT, to Flair’s and Hart’s, and to pushing women’s wrestling so far ahead that it can never be tread on again is enough to let them skirt by on minimal tantrum chanting and continued merch sales because nothing they’re doing is working.
The WWE vocalizes more and more how important the women on their roster and the universe are to them, but they’re incapable of backing it up in action. It is yet another instance since July 13th, 2015 of the company simply rehashing NXT’s Greatest Hits, instead of streamlining their fresh talent with their veterans. It speaks to the WWE refusing to trust their talent, particularly when that talent is a woman, as well as refusing to listen to the female faction of their fanbase. Ric Flair and Bret Hart aren’t hype men, aren’t managers, aren’t even valets… their chaperones, and they’re comedic break at best, but more commonly a vulgar distraction. Calling women just that, Women and not Diva’s, is a good first step, but not if it’s a shuffle in the dark because a knife is at your back. You have to understand why it was so universally wanted.
A brand new title, a legacy match up, a main event slot, any other thing women have so often dreamed of seeing themselves doing in the WWE…
If it doesn’t mean anything to the men running this company and it doesn’t inspire creative and receive their full attention and total effort, then it’s just bandaids on bullet holes.
image credit – WWE.com
Follow Mira on Twitter @lostwolfling
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