On the main roster of the WWE, women are treated like jokes.
Scratch that, less than a joke; a joke has substance, creativity, buildup, and a punchline to tie it all together. Women on the WWE's main roster - referred to as Divas (a bit of branding that tends to feel either appropriate or insulting depending on how well they're being treated by the writers at that moment) - have very little to look forward to in terms of their place on the show. They have one of two roles: either they're a manager/valet for a male wrestler, or they're involved in the 'Divas' division.
If they take the role of a manager, they can expect to see no ring-time and for the all-white-men-over-45 commentary table to crack jokes whenever they attempt to stand up either for their client or for themselves. Meanwhile, if they venture into competing against other women, they can expect to see no ring-time and for the all-white-men-over-45 commentary table to crack jokes whenever they attempt to wrestle a match. I attended this year's WrestleMania at Levi's Stadium, and of the show's four-hour runtime, a grand total of 6:42 - six minutes, forty two seconds - was dedicated to the sole Divas' contest on the card, which wasn't even a match for the division's title. Accounting for entrance time and post-match celebrations, a case could be made that of the 240 minutes WrestleMania 31 ran for, ten minutes, a twenty-fourth of it, was devoted to womens' wrestling. And that's not an isolated incident; the WWE's flagship show, Monday Night RAW, has run three hours every Monday night since July 2012, yet the Divas have had to squeeze whatever meager story beats they're given into matches and segments that get at most five minutes of runtime. The issue became so problematic that earlier this year, several fans and even some of the Divas themselves started up a hashtag to get people behind their cause: #GiveDivasAChance.
However, on the WWE's developmental brand NXT, the female talent never needed to be 'given' a chance - they had it all along. For over a year now, NXT's Divas have been competing in sleeper hits-of-the-night at the brand's quarterly Takeover events, whether it was Paige and Emma 'arriving' to the WWE Universe at-large at NXT ArRIVAL; Charlotte and Natalya having a classic worthy of both their bloodlines at NXT Takeover (named as such before "Takeover" became the full name of all major NXT events); Bayley proving to Charlotte that she wasn't just cute-'n'-cuddly (and was in fact a true Huggernaut) at NXT Takeover: Fatal 4-Way; Sasha Banks' starmaking performances at Takeover: R-Evolution and Takeover: Rival, the latter of which saw her dethrone Charlotte as NXT Women's Champion; or even tonight's instant classic between Sasha Banks and former-bestie Becky Lynch.
Tonight's Takeover event was disappointing, but only in comparison to its previous quality... which in the scheme of things, is probably the best kind of disappointing. The opening match, a bout between male-model Tyler Breeze (imagine if Derek Zoolander traded in his gasoline fights for a pair of red-and-gold tights, complete with fuzz-lined accoutrements) and actual male-model-but-also-capable-of-summoning-a-demonic-power-up-trust-me-it's-cooler-than-I'm-describing Finn Balor (totally serious, the dude repped Armani Exchange during his days wrestling in Japan) with the winner receiving a future title match against the reigning NXT Champion. The match had originally been a three-man bout that included Japanese breakout Hideo Itami, but due to an injury that occured in the interim between the weekly show's tapings and tonight's live show, Itami was removed from the fight. The match wasn't bad at all... it just felt like nothing we hadn't seen before. They went out and had a completely serviceable match, one that would be welcome on any given wrestling show, but not one that's going to be particularly memorable any time soon.
The first of two Divas' matches of the night (yes, two, the fact that this is something I need to point out shows how much better it is for the girls down in developmental) followed, pitting perennial fan-favorite Bayley and heir to the Ric Flair legacy Charlotte against recent debutee Dana Brooke and Australian ace Emma. Once again, the match itself was fine, but it was forgettable. There's no reason this couldn't have been a singles match between Bayley and Emma, who have been working an interesting program in recent weeks with Emma - who, due to reasons both in and beyond her control, burned out on the main roster - seemingly trying to 'toughen up' Bayley because she doesn't want to see Bayley 'fail' the way she did.
The third match up - the 'hardcore' veteran Rhyno against nigh-unbeatable up-and-comer Baron Corbin - was one I saw coming two months ago, because I literally saw it two months ago, the night of NXT's much-lauded show in San Jose. Corbin fought Rhyno, as he did tonight. Corbin beat Rhyno, as he did tonight. Just about the only thing that didn't happen was Rhyno getting cheers by flattening Corbin afterward.
The fourth match up was for NXT's tag-team championships, between the teams of Wesley Blake & Buddy Murphy and Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady (referred to mostly by the nickname Big Cass). This is where the quality kicked up a bit, because there was some actual storytelling going into the match: in the weeks leading up to the show, Blake and Murphy had tried charming Enzo and Cass' valet Carmella into ditching them. She refused. However, one of her peers was charmed by their offer: Alexa Bliss, a former gymnast and bodybuilder whose gimmick is essentially a cute giggle and the sound effect of fairy dust. There are times when I swear that NXT must have a Whedon on its creative team for how often the show's most popular fan-favorites get rugs yanked out from underneath them, especially when it comes to championship glory. Sami Zayn, one half of the main event to tonight's show, was battling for the NXT Championship as far as the summer of 2013, but got strung along until last December, when he finally won the title. The same thing seems to be occurring with Enzo and Big Cass: every time they get close to the titles, something happens and they can't get the job done. While this has a positive effect in making fans even hungrier to see them finally win the belts, they're starting to straddle a very defined line between 'harried favorite' and 'choke artist'.
I'm gonna do what NXT should've done tonight and place the NXT Championship match before the Women's Championship match. So, Sami Zayn, nice guy, won the belt after a year and a half of heartache, yadda yadda. The night he wins the title, his best friend, fellow Canuck Kevin Owens debuts. End of the night, Zayn's being hoisted up on everyone's shoulders, he and Owens have a teary bro-hug in the center of the ring, and they walk to the back together... up until Owens grabs Zayn's shoulders and throws him onto the metal ramp, before following that up with a vicious slam onto the edge of the ring apron. They ended up having a match three months ago at the last NXT special, which ended with Owens defeating Zayn for the title by way of TKO, and the story since has been Zayn struggling to recover so he can get revenge. Unfortunately, that story's actually pretty on-the-money. Zayn went into the match cleared to compete, but the guy threw his shoulder out only a few weeks ago. As such, tonight's rematch between Zayn and Owens was effectively a storyline segment that played itself out over fifteen minutes. No pins, no submissions, and a referee making the slowest ring-out count in history. Eventually, Owens caught Zayn in the middle of a move on the outside of the ring and delivered yet another horrible slam onto the ring apron, effectively ending the match. When Owens wouldn't stop his assault, independent-wrestling legend Samoa Joe (using said name, a move which doesn't usually happen with WWE signings, as one of the major points of signing on WWE's dotted line is names; guys who use their real name are often tasked with choosing a pseudonym while guys already using fake names are given the opportunity to either sign the name over to WWE or come up with a new one) made his debut for NXT, intimidating Owens into leaving the ring with his title belt secured for another night. On any given Takeover, this would have been a fine main event, but it fell extremely flat given the match that it had to follow.
On the note of "any given Takeover", though, the NXT Women's Championship bout between champion Sasha Banks and contender Becky Lynch could easily place itself among the greatest matches to be contended on any one of them. To say it was a good match "for girls" is not only an insult to the both of them, but to everyone else who wrestled at Unstoppable, given that if Banks and Lynch merely did good 'for girls', what excuse does everyone else on the card have given that they were outshined by them?
From the stellar ring psychology on display by both sides (Lynch worked on Banks' arm the entire match because Lynch's submission finisher affects the arm, while Banks worked on Lynch's arm explicitly to weaken said finishing move) to the relentless pacing, to the genius finish that saw Sasha Banks incorporate Lynch's injured arm into her finishing move, the match they had wouldn't have felt out-of-place at WrestleMania, let alone a developmental show.
I can only hope when Banks and Lynch get that chance, that they've got more than a twenty-fourth of the show to work with. So yeah, 3.5 of that 6.5 is Banks/Lynch, the remaining 3 is everything else.