Apr 5, 2019
Note: This article was originally published in January 8th, 2015.
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 focus, in NXT, is on the womens' abilities in the ring and on the microphone.
As a result of this more respectful, traditional pro-wrestling perspective, the characters are well-defined and alluring. They are convincing heels and convincing babyfaces, each imbuing the good/evil dynamic with personality and relevance.
For example, Bayley is the purest of babyfaces, without lacking the spirit of competitiveness. Her entrance features "Whacky Inflattible Flailing Arm Tube Men" and upbeat music, tapping directly into the manic-pixy public consciousness of our time, a youth-culture that revolves around the virtue of the childhood imagination, a positive mental attitude, and, of course, hugs.
Her video package before her match against Charlotte at NXT Take Over: Fatal 4 Way perfectly encapsulates the strength of her character. Her legitimate tears, her speech about accomplishing her dream of becoming a professional wrestler, made the viewers care about her every move in that match, and we suffered along with her, in defeat.
Bayley clearly believes in what she's doing when she enters a wrestling ring. Her sincere emotional investment becomes our sincere emotional investment. Her heartbreak becomes our heartbreak. But, even after defeat, Bayley keeps returning each and every week, handing out headbands and wrist-bands to the same children whose hearts were broken, reminding them of the importance of determination and strength.
She is the perfect role model for young people, as well as any teenaged or twenty-something who might feel a little too goofy for the "cool kids".
And this brings us to Bayley's foil; The ultra cool Legit Boss, Sasha Banks.
Sasha Banks is the best heel in the WWE today.
There is not a man or woman on the main roster who can hold a candle to her. 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 devastating 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 girl to perfection, eliciting heat with every gesture. And she continues to navigate that fine line between being an excellent performer in the ring while ensuring the crowd boos when they're supposed to.
Recently, Sasha turned Becky Lynch into her henchwoman.
Becky began as a stereotypical nationality gimmick, working Irish dances into her matches, and then suddenly transformed into a babyface 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 your average sidekick, is that it seems as though there is still good in her. She doesn't seem like a truly villainous person, and the crowd doesn't want to hate her. That works to her benefit. We're watching a good kid fall in with the bad crowd. There's tragedy in that process that could eventually lead to triumph when she becomes a hero again.
Alexa Bliss is another babyface 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 during a match when Sasha Banks nearly broke her nose. It would be interesting to see how Alexa works as a villain, though, 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 most 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. The attraction is less emotional and more the result of getting swept up in the allure of a powerful person.
Even her entrance 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 also isn't afraid to put the audience in its place (an attribute many of her peers lack in the era of putting smiles on faces).
A disrespectful NXT crowd once 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.
Charlotte directly addressed the audience and argued on Bayley's behalf, 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.
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.
In the end, Charlotte managed to command their attention. This kind of energy permeates every NXT broadcast. Shows are fun, exciting, and intense, and this is due mostly to the female roster.
On the last episode of NXT, a jobber 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.
Later, Charlotte arrived to cut a promo, and 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. 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 went silent, obeying her command.
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, man or woman.
And we see it every week in the women warriors of NXT.
If you think female wrestling is synonymous with a bathroom break, or you think women are only worth the sum of their body parts, treat yourself to an enlightening and entertaining experience.
Turn on NXT, and watch these women go to work.