THE WOMEN WARRIORS OF NXT
NXT is the best product the WWE offers, and more than enough reason to become a Network Subscriber.
And I am by no means a WWE shill. I'm hesitant to even write the phrase "WWE Network" because it's become associated with such negativity in our collective fan-mind (something that needs to be corrected in the future as it is actually quite a positive). I write that NXT makes it worth it because I am a subscriber, and every Thursday (soon to be Wednesday) when I see what is essentially a one-hour, genuine professional wrestling pay-per-view produced by the WWE, I feel as though my investment is worthwhile and as though there is hope for the future of the company.
What that future of the WWE looks like is incredibly hard to see. And though it proclaims itself the future, the actual future of NXT is similarly hard to see. It is resoundingly preferred by pro-wrestling and WWE fans to shows like RAW and SmackDown, and yet when NXT's performers are bought up to the main stage they seem to flounder or magically disappear from television.
NXT can't have the ratings those other shows have, of course, but NXT has the consistent praise those other shows so rarely have.
Why? Why is NXT beloved and why is RAW not?
What separates NXT from the WWE main-stage, and the reason fans love it so much, is best summed up in one simple word:
This respect is represented in the specific way in which NXT tells pro-wrestling stories. NXT respects the most fundamental truth of the professional wrestling medium, the purpose of professional wrestling and the quality of professional wrestling that this website is named for: NXT presents itself as a legitimate sports organization promoting athletes who are competing to win championship gold.
Professional wrestling is not supposed to be a "performance" that "entertains" you. In reality, that's exactly what it is, but professional wrestling functions best and remains true to itself as a creative medium when it attempts to make you believe that it's a legitimate sport. Not a performance that's trying to earn your cheer. Professional wrestling is about creating the illusion of sport. Professional wrestling attempts to sell this illusion thoroughly enough that you will suspend your disbelief, and in so doing, your cheer becomes synonymous with the cheers heard at any baseball game or football game or UFC bout.
That's the magic of professional wrestling. In "The Moment of Pop", you think someone has legitimately succeeded or failed. This is the same emotional magic that moves you when you experience any form of art, whether it be a movie or a song.
NXT respects this magic, and, by doing so, NXT respects your intelligence as a human being who wants to watch something that takes itself seriously - something that doesn't hold itself to the misguided notion of trying to appeal to an elusive "everyone", a general audience that simply will not watch pro-wrestling, especially when it's self-consciously, desperately clamoring for a pay-per-view buy and calling itself "sports entertainment".
This respect permeates all aspects of the product. The starkest contrast between the main product and NXT is most evident in the way female characters are presented on-screen and allowed to work in the ring.
Where the WWE main stage frequently reserves Divas segments and Divas matches as time to advertise the more popular, more successful Total Divas on E!, NXT presents a world of legitimate female athletes, complex characters who have aspirations, histories, and unbridled athletic talent.
The main female roster is overflowing with talent, and we've seen some enjoyable performances from The Bella Twins and Paige in the past few months, but these talents are still primarily relegated to the position of eye-candy, crazy-person, or reality television shill. The performers themselves are doing better and better jobs each and every week, but, like their male counterparts, they lack creative freedom.
Each female character in NXT is permitted to be distinct, entertaining, and creative.
As a result of the more respectful, traditional pro-wrestling environment, these characters are also incredibly well-defined as convincing heels and convincing faces, each with their own touch on a time-honored trope.
Bayley is the purest of faces without lacking competitiveness. Her entrance very well may be the best in the WWE today (aside from Finn Balor's remarkable, special occasion entrance at NXT Take Over R:Evolution), her "Whacky Inflattible Flailing Arm Tube Men" and upbeat musical accompaniment tapping directly into the manic-pixy public consciousness, a youth culture revolving around the virtue of childish imagination, positive thinking, and hugs.
Her lead-in promo video package to her match against Charlotte at NXT Take Over: Fatal 4 Way remains the best video package I've seen in perhaps a decade. Her legitimate tears, her speech about accomplishing her dream of becoming a professional wrestler, made you care about her every move in that match and you suffered with her, legitimately, in defeat.
Bayley clearly believes when she's out there with her smile-inspiring arm-streamers, and she's clearly aware of the emotional investment of her fans, driven to tears and a kind of mournful regret when she sees young girls crying after a defeat. Her heart breaks with their heartbreak, seeming to feel as if she's just revealed the truth about Santa Claus to them. But she keeps returning each and every week, handing out her headbands and wrist-band clips to the same children seated in the aisle.
It's enough to make a bitter old smark want to hug a puppy and have a good, cathartic cry.
She is the perfect role model for a young girl, as well as any teenaged or twenty-something boy or girl who might feel a little too goofy to bother being cool; a kid who likes D&D and doesn't want to have to apologize for it.
And this brings us to Bayley's foil; The Boss, Sasha Banks.
Sasha Banks is the best heel in the WWE today.
The entire company. Top to bottom. Minors and big leagues.
There is not a man on the main roster who can hold a candle to her. In fact, the only other heels who come close to being as good as she is at being bad is Stephanie McMahon and Nikki Bella.
Her confident villainy, her relentless swagger and vicious charm are only eclipsed by her talent in the ring.
Her finisher, a backstab into a modified cross-face called "The Bank Statement" is one of the most visually surprising moves in the company, and it's hard not to cringe in genuine sympathy-pain when she does it.
Whether feuding with Bayley or NXT Women's Champion Charlotte, Sasha portrays the self-important popular chick to perfection, eliciting heat with her every little gesture. And she continues to navigate that fine line of being an excellent performer in the ring, but still ensuring the crowd boos at the right times.
Her match against NXT Women's Champion Charlotte at NXT Take Over R: Evolution is one the best matches of any kind that I have ever seen. And her fearless suicide dive through the ropes is a moment unlike any a lot of WWE fans are prepared to see from a woman wrestler.
Recently, Sasha has turned Becky Lynch into her hencwoman.
Becky began as a stereotypical nationality gimmick, working Irish dances into her matches, and then suddenly transformed into a face-Irish-Rocker chick with awesome ring attire and a badass attitude. Watching her slowly settle into herself has been a rewarding process, and she's found a fun place at Sasha's side.
What makes her more than just your average secondary character is that there is still good in her. She doesn't seem like a truly villainous person and the crowd doesn't want to hate her, and that works to her benefit. We're watching a good kid fall in with the wrong crowd. There's tragedy in that process that could eventually lead to triumph.
Alexa Bliss is another face character who receives a little less screen-time. She takes manic-pixie to a near-literal extreme, blowing glitter on the fans and skipping around in a cheerleader outfit. Her upbeat nature and uber goodness does inspire sympathy - especially one match with Sasha Banks where her nose bled. It would be interesting to see how she might work as a villain given the excessiveness of her positivity and her glowing look.
Each of these characters, despite whatever similarities they share, finds a way to differentiate themselves and convince you they're athletes fighting to win a match.
And no one is better at convincing you she's the best athlete, the deserving champion, than Charlotte.
Where Sasha, Bayley, Becky, and Alexa tap into an emotional side of your mind, a visceral, gut-reaction one way or the other, Charlotte captivates you with her strong sense of self-worth as a competitor in a competitive world. The attraction is less emotional and more resultant from getting swept up in the allure of a powerful person.
Even her entrance, while theatrical, is meant to demonstrate athletic prowess. She performs a forward, standing somersault, climbs up to the apron, does a split, slides backward into a rising back flip, and then stops in a standing position. She then gives a "Wooo" homage to her dad (Ric Flair), and casually spreads her hands as if to say, "The Queen has arrived." All of these actions sell you on the truth that you are watching a legitimate athlete arrive for an athletic competition.
Charlotte says and does things that I have not heard or seen from other wrestlers today, and she's successfully transitioned from a heel into a face without sacrificing the truth and nuance of her character.
Not too long ago, an unruly, disrespectful NXT crowd refused to listen to a segment between Bayley and Charlotte. The crowd just kept interrupting with "What?!" chants and aggressively inserting themselves into a narratively significant moment that required one's full attention.
Charlotte, who was essentially a heel at the time, broke the forth wall in a way that could still be considered an extension of her fiction, and directly addressed the audience by saying, "Are you going to let Bayley talk! Shut up!" And then she shushed them. She angrily, genuinely pleaded with them to be a better audience.
In this moment, Charlotte defended her right to perform, Bayley's right to perform, their need to tell a story. In this moment, Charlotte spoke up for the right to cut a promo.
Bayley deserves credit as well for playing off of Charlotte's anger, redirecting her back into the scene by saying, "Charlotte, I'm right here", eliciting an "Ohhhhh!" from the audience. This kind of energy permeates every NXT broadcast. Shows are fun, exciting, and uplifting and this is due in large part to the female roster.
On the last episode of NXT, a jobber wrestler by the ironic name of Blue Pants rolled up Carmella (a new NXT women's wrestler being trained by Enzo and Cass) for the victory. The crowd caught on, and, for their own snarky amusement, started chanting "Blue Pants!" throughout the show (I would have done the same if I was there).
When it came time for Charlotte to arrive and cut a promo, when asked by the ring-announcer who her next opponent would be, the crowd cut Charlotte off and started chanting "Blue Pants!"
Unlike so many of her peers, both on the main stage and in NXT, Charlotte did not mindlessly plod through her next scripted point. She played with the audience. She is aware of the audience. Like any good performer she listens to the audience and reacts.
"There will be no chanting for Blue Pants while the NXT Women's Champion is in the ring," she proclaimed.
The audience was immediately silenced.
That's power. That's an athlete. That's a performer. That's the confidence we need to see in our professional wrestlers, whether they're heel or face.
And we see it every week in the women warriors of NXT.
If you think female wrestling matches are synonymous with a bathroom break or a smoke break or an eye roll, or you think women are only the sum of their physical parts, that women exist solely for your own personal pleasure, treat yourself to an educational, enlightening, thoroughly entertaining experience, and watch these women go to work.
Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article share it with a friend to help raise awareness about NXT, and its roster of tough, awesome ladies.
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