You Say "Bendy", I Say "Flexible"
Before it even began, Battleground did not have a lot going for it as a Pay-Per-View event. A lackluster build, a repetitive card, a generic name. Once it was over, the majority ruled that it was a waste of time and money, accomplishing little more than being worse than Night of Champions. Actually, that’s quite an accomplishment.
As of Wednesday night, much has already been written of the event, and its long, boring shadow eclipsed Raw as well. I was going to skip my Anatomy of a Match for this PPV, but I can’t walk away from the wreckage. Let’s muck around Battleground to see if there were any survivors beyond the Rhodes family. I wanted to pick a match that had both redeeming qualities and areas for improvement, and for the second time this year, I’m going with the Divas.
AJ has spent the last few weeks expressing her disgust at the perceived abilities/entertainment value of the women who star on “Total Divas”. Of the show’s cast, Brie Bella has emerged as the title contender for this occasion (perhaps due to her recent engagement to Daniel Bryan? I don’t know if there is a plot point beyond this). AJ has also managed to alienate the rest of the Divas roster, because I guess not everyone digs crazy chicks?
If we look at a PPV like a collection of short stories, the author would likely assemble the stories in the same manner one would tell a single story: grab the readers’ attention, then gradually build momentum to a climax. The opening match, a hardcore battle between RVD and ADR, did its job of grabbing my attention. But then we got a comedy match (Santino), followed by the cure for insomnia (Axel), and then the Divas. By this point, a generous portion of my goodwill had already been sunk into the PPV. I was weary, and skeptical that a Bella could put on any sort of match.
As she and Nikki come down the aisle, I need to adjust to them being all smiley and good – not too difficult because they are being subtle about it. Nothing depresses me more than a wrestler trying to connect with the crowd by waving like Forrest Gump. That being said, Brandon Lasher made a point earlier this week that by insulting the Total Divas cast as a whole, AJ has turned them all face, and some aren’t quite sure what to make of that yet. Perhaps that’s why the Bellas are coming off as understated here.
As Brie enters the ring, Michael Cole shills for Hulu Plus, saying, “I’d like to watch Brie Bella over and over and over and over…” which already has me on edge about the commentary during Divas matches. You might say that Brie’s job is to be sexy, and have fans want to watch her for that reason, versus for her wrestling skills, and so it’s okay to paint her in that light. But why are none of the male wrestlers ever sexualized like that? Is it because they are only going out there to wrestle, and not to be physically attractive? Is it because it would be gay for Cole to say “I’d love to have unlimited access to that on my tablet!” whenever Dolph Ziggler wiggles down the ramp? Why not have a Diva sit in at the announce table then, and make suggestive remarks about Fandango? I’m not saying I even want that to really happen, I just can’t stand the hubba-hubba routine every time a Diva appears. It’s old fashioned and it’s lame. It reminds me of the scene where Spinal Tap is told that their album cover is too sexist, and Nigel replies earnestly, “What’s wrong with being sexy?” The WWE may have Hornswoggle and El Torito, but until I see a miniature Stonehenge, this is no Spinal Tap.
Oh dear, where were we? AJ is accompanied to the ring by Tamina Snuka, a decent choice since Tamina has the wrestling heritage and counter-stereotype image that (mostly) supports AJ’s stance on the Total Divas (I say mostly because so does Natalya).
Brie slaps AJ, delivers some forearms to the face, and chases her out of the ring. Tamina blocks Brie on the outside, while AJ scoots around and back into the ring. I think it’s a great choice to have Brie be the aggressor from the start, because she is supposed to be enraged by AJ’s insults, and AJ is supposed to be the cocky “authentic” wrestler who couldn’t be bothered to take Brie too seriously. That being said, she’s still heel enough to bring an equalizer. I love how threatening Tamina is just by her presence alone. She carries herself very well as a solemn bodyguard type.
Brie continues to attack AJ, lifting her repeatedly into the corners so that she can kick her. Upon receiving a decent dropkick from the second turnbuckle, AJ channels her inner Seth Rollins and makes it look devastating. She kicks out at two.
Lawler: “Brie won’t go anywhere without Nikki. Of course, Nikki will go anywhere.” If this quote doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of what’s happening, then you’re right on track with how sh-t operates around here. Jerry decided that this would be a really clever line to use during the Divas match, and by golly he had to make sure he fit it in somewhere, lest we mistake him for a not-gross person.
Lacing Up Her Chucks
The next series of moves results in AJ smashing Brie’s entire body against the ring post, which she appears to hit hard, then bounces backwards off the ring apron onto the floor. The crowd goes, “Whoa”, as do I. Nikki stays vigilant from a safe distance, a great babyface decision, while AJ sasses the ref about making sure Brie gets back in the ring. I love how confident and comfortable AJ has gotten, not that I ever thought she was wanting in that department, but she continues to flourish. I was going to comment on how impressive she is at her young age, and realized she is close in age to what Mickie James was in her stellar performance at WrestleMania 22 (26-27 years old). They both come off as younger-looking with older-wisdom.
AJ capitalizes on Brie being winded and sore, by working on Brie’s arm in preparation for her submission hold, The Black Widow. AJ relishes each wear-down move, as Cole praises her for her flexibility and Lawler follows up by saying she’s “bendy”. The women trade holds and counters, until AJ grounds Brie for a 2 count.
She gets Brie into the ropes and delightedly presses her throat into the cables. Brie coughs feebly, like a child who’s trying to prove that she has a cough, but who isn’t fooling anyone. AJ stays on the arm, which is brilliant in its simplicity and its complexity, as she finds many ways to attack the same limb. At one point, she charges Brie in the corner, and Brie moves at the last minute. AJ channels Ziggler this time, taking a dramatic bump that may have led to the concussion reported the next night. She does not falter, and goes back to working Brie’s arm. Meanwhile, the announcers scoff at AJ referring to her Divas Title as the only person who likes her. In my mind, it characterizes AJ as dedicated and intense, which is a good direction.
Making Her Father Proud
After a very awkward slide under AJ to roll her up for the count, Brie is denied victory while Nikki starts a continuous drone of “ComeonBrieyoucandoitletsgocomeonBrieyeah” in the most grating voice.
Brie takes advantage of this new momentum, landing some dropkicks and a serviceable back breaker to AJ. After a 2 count, Brie lands a pretty lame-looking knee on AJ when suddenly the camera cuts to Tamina choking out Nikki on the floor (hilarious by virtue of its sudden nature), and Nikki screeching to get her sister’s attention (somehow maintaining that grating monotone). Brie turns her attention to the outside, when naturally AJ rolls her up for the win (with a teensy handful of tights, for heel measure).
Tamina calmly accompanies AJ back up the ramp; I like her in this Chyna-type role of grim liberty-taker on the outside. Meanwhile, Brie comforts her ailing sister quarter-heartedly as she mourns her loss. Jerry wonders what Jimmy Snuka would think of his daughter’s behaviour, and JBL is Over This and simply informs him that Snuka would be proud. At least the commentary team participated in this match, compared to the awkward moments of silence and sputtering during Santino and Khali.
Also awkward? Going to wwe.com to grab photos of the Divas Title match, and discovering that they haven’t included it in their Battleground photo gallery. They have photos from every other match, including the pre-show, plus filler like “Randy Orton Claims He Will Re-Release His Sadistic Side”. I had to go to the results, choose the Divas match, and click on a link marked “View Photos of Brie’s Heartbreaking Defeat”. That’s an oversight - or an omission - that speaks volumes. It's no wonder the women aren't sure if they should be smiling or sneering.
The story at Battleground was that Brie wanted to score a victory over AJ, not so much to win the title, but to stifle AJ’s trash talking. Meanwhile, AJ was looking to prove that the Total Divas cast is inferior to her in the ring. I think they stayed on track, by having Brie assert herself as much as possible. Her lifts and dropkicks were fine; I can see that she is making an effort to improve as a wrestler. She’s far from there, but AJ helped fill the gap a bit. Her cocky antics and cheap victory showed her to be worth shutting up, and I’m hoping they will send a better wrestler to try next time.
They spoke of power couples, if both Brie and Daniel Bryan had won titles that night. Well I have a new power couple on my list of faves, and that’s AJ and Tamina. They’re the outsiders who don’t want to be in; they’re the scrappy Chihuahua and the humorless Bulldog who only have each other – making their allegiance to each other even stronger. Please keep them together for a while.
And finally, there’s nothing wrong with being sexy, but there’s no excuse for keeping such a terrifically bad color commentator on your major programs.
Please weigh in on my analysis using the Comment section below, on twitter @kickyhick or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Thanksgiving to our Canadian readers! I am very excited to be celebrating with both sides of my family this weekend, in what is my favorite time of year.
Late-breaking update: I just got off a call with Eric and Jason on the Mouth of the South Shore radio show. We talked wrestling for over an hour, and they were super-fun hosts. We swap opinions on Bray Wyatt, Triple H, Ziggler, the Divas, Brock Lesnar’s voice and Randy Orton’s legs. Give this podcast a try!
Here is the Divas Title match from Battleground.