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The Beach Ball Effect: The RAW Women’s Championship and its Parallel with the WWF Tag Team Championship

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It should be hard for me to bash the Women’s Championship division on any of the three shows. RAW, Smackdown, and NXT all host a cast of dynamic, eclectic female wrestlers that have always buoyed free and Pay Per View programming with exciting matches that have electrified the crowds.

It should be.

The ladies fight scene on the longstanding flagship show of pro wrestling is much like a junker car with a dependable engine—always able to roll over hills and rough roads with solid action, but bits and pieces of the machine fly off into the distance with every mile driven. Okay, maybe that’s what it was like a little more than a year ago, so I’ll try to stick to the title of the article as well as one facet of the female division: the championship picture.

Much to the chagrin of a large chunk of the fan base, the red brand’s women’s belt has been volleyed about like a beach ball, never staying in one champion’s grip for very long. Aside from Charlotte Flair’s 309-day reign as the undisputed champion (counting the atrocious Diva’s Championship), the lengthiest title run goes to who else but The Queen herself at 57 days, according to ESPN. Her longtime rival Sasha Banks’ longest reign was actually replicated, with her first two being 27 days each; her most recent ended at just 20 days. Now, each time the gold has swapped hands, it’s always been in a dandy of a contest between these two. Even though their two biggest Sunday affairs were maligned by logic busters such as an unnecessary stretcher spot at Hell in a Cell or Sasha tapping out with three seconds left in an Iron Maiden Match, the matches were hard-hitting, crowd-popping battles.

With that in mind, even I have to complain about the constant movement of the Women’s Championship. The one constant was that Charlotte Flair in some way, shape, or form always regained or retained the prize on a Pay Per View, but her spotless record was trashed by current champion Bayley on the depressing, B-level show Fastlane. Even though she’d lose the title on occasion, Flair could always balk at her critics by flaunting an ironic 16-0 winning record at the big events. It was the one thing a valiant heroine could take from such a venomous braggart, something that could be the focal point of a match at Wrestlemania.

It could’ve been.

So here we are in a beyond-irritating situation. One babyface dethrones the heel on free television, but you have to pay to always see the same heel take the title back. Repeat for months on end and throw in just one more person at the end to shatter the one element of storytelling that hasn’t been bandied about. Perfect.

I get it. What’s my point? Yes, we should’ve had a more dominant champion on both sides of the broadcast fare for RAW. Yes, women like Emma and Nia Jax and even a refurbished Amazon in Dana Brooke should’ve mixed it up more with the alpha ladies to make the championship division seem more like a championship division. So what? Well, we’ve been here before, and during the most beloved period of wrestling history: The Attitude Era—more specifically in the WWF Tag Team Championship division.

Ah, the glory days of tandems in wrestling. We got Edge and Christian’s side-splitting comedy, the Hardy Boyz’ magnetic teamwork, and the Dudley Boyz indiscriminately sending anyone through a wooden table. The Big Four definitely delivered quality tag team attractions, with each title match at the Sunday shows increasing the six men’s star power.

Wait…Royal Rumble 2000 had the Hardyz and Dudleyz in a tag team table match, but the Acolytes and the New Age Outlaws fought for the gold in a match only remembered for Bradshaw nearly decapitating Billy Gunn. Okay, but Wrestlemania 16 and Summerslam 2000 speak for themselves so well, so that’s something! But the titles weren’t even defended during Survivor Series. And just who were the champions at that point? The Goodfather and Bull Buchanan? What…

Overall, the pair of belts changed hands eleven times before 2001 rolled around, with the Dudleyz, Hardyz, E&C, NAO, APA, Right to Censor, Too Cool, and even The Rock and The Undertaker all having worn or carried them around at some point. No Way Out, Wrestlemania, King of the Ring, Unforgiven, No Mercy, Armageddon, and a few editions of RAW and Smackdown all played host to the title changes as well. Now that’s overkill when it comes to a championship if I’ve ever seen it! It really is. But nobody ever complains about the mosh pit that was the WWF Tag Team Championship scene. If the ladies’ scene is following a similar pattern with great talent, why do we deride it instead of appreciate it?

Let’s break it down (Yes, like DX.). The talent pool, though spread over two shows back then, was still rich and diverse. Adding Nia Jax into the Wrestlemania fold improves the complexity of the RAW title match, but who’s left after that? Emma and Dana Brooke, who should have always been involved in a team on the main roster in some capacity, are the only two left in the division and can help anchor things on the red show, but it will take a lot of work to get to Smackdown’s level of doing a lot with a little.

Pertaining to diversity, it’s real easy to tell who is who, or is it? Bayley’s a hugger, Sasha’s a BOSS, Charlotte’s a queen, and so on. But when the face-heel dynamic kicks in when you have more than one type of wrestler in the ring, it gets a little muddy. Babyface Banks and Bayley sound much the same with their never-say-die attitudes, muscle-bound Dana Brooke was completely sapped of her dominant and condescending nature when she became Charlotte’s shadow, and the less said about Emma right now the better. A bit more vanilla than daredevils, extreme demolitionists, DUUUUUUDES, radical censors, hip hop posers, and whatever Lo Down was, don’t you think? Okay, maybe not Lo Down.

But what about the more prominent position of the title itself? Seventeen years later, the Women’s Championship has emerged as a central prize while the tag straps have been largely regulated to the background. It’s an interesting change, but ironic in that while the championship is bandied about much like the tag team one, it appears that every title change is met with a mix of fan adulation and venom, with much more of the latter. Sure, each babyface victory over the past year has been bathed in “This is awesome” chants and loud crowd cheers, but subsequent reactions are increasingly despondent. A lot of us fear the title is being disparaged by being traded so often and that nobody will match Charlotte’s dominant journey point for point. Then there’s also the absolutely wasted PPV streak and the lack of urgency for anyone involved in this Wrestlemania program. It’s like the RAW Women’s Championship scene has been placed on a pedestal that’s constantly getting tipped over.

So there are some factors concerning why the 2000 tag team division is heralded much better than the current RAW women’s scene, but what changed with us as fans? Clearly the wrestlers’ hard work wins us over, but we always have a sour taste in our mouths. Clearly, booking patterns are more evident to us than ever before with the rise of the internet and wrestling dirt sheets, and the Attitude Era began the era of wanton booking. Perhaps the hot potato phenomenon was so foreign to fans that they were still completely wrapped up in the spectacle to care.

There may be several problems with the division, but that’s one thing that’s stayed constant: the spectacle. We may complain right or wrong, but we do get caught up in it, and while I give the lion’s share of the credit to the females of Team Red for spinning straw into gold, clearly the minds behind the scenes are at least succeeding at employing a timeless element into their sports entertainment, and that leaves at least a glimmer of hope.

this article comes to you via Kai of @BeccasAsylum

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