By April Lavalle
On Sunday, we finally witnessed the historic first ever women’s Money in the Bank match. Weeks of anticipation and many emotional promotional packages later, fans finally got to see Charlotte, Carmella, Becky Lynch, Tamina, and Natalya put their athleticism and talents on display compete to be the WWE’s first Ms. Money in the Bank. I was pumped. I was ready. But in the end, I was disappointed as hell.
It seemed like the match was just picking up when shell-less turtle James Ellsworth entered the ring, climbed the latter, and threw the coveted briefcase down to Carmella. The image was almost too on the nose: a man climbs to the literal and figurative top of the ladder to effortlessly snag the prize so many women worked their whole careers for. I was happy for Carmella (I was rooting for her since the match was first announced) but the image of Ellsworth retrieving the briefcase hurt. Optics are important, and damn it the WWE picked a really effective one.
My reaction was visceral. My heart dropped. The fury bubbled up inside me. I murmured “oh, of course” to no one in particular. Why was I surprised? I should have seen this coming but still: ouch.
I want to be clear, I expected for Ellsworth to interfere in the match in some way, but by making him the person to retrieve the briefcase felt like a slap in the face to the female wrestlers and to fans. And before you say, “Well look, that’s what they wanted! They wanted to make people angry to put heat on the heel!” I would like to clarify that I was not particularly angry at Ellsworth or Carmella—my feelings on ‘The Princess of Staten Island’ and her sidekick remain lukewarm at best. For me, all the heat is on creative for stripping their fans and their wrestlers of what could have been a brilliant moment on its own without stupid gimmicks. The match made me feel much more exhausted than angry. Sure, I felt duped, tricked, mocked for investing my energy in the match, but my anger was aimed at the writing, the booking and ultimately, the WWE. And that is the big problem here.
This obviously sparks questions about the “state of kayfabe,” so to speak, but that is a post for a different day.
Meanwhile, over on Raw, the women have not received any better treatment. WWE managed to screw up their “sure thing” in Bayley, the huggable, big-hearted superstar with John Cena potential. By writing her as a sniveling wimp who, despite being a wrestler, is “too nice” to actually fight her opponents, they reduced one of their top women into a bad children’s book character who thinks that the only attribute one most possess in the world is a cuddly personality and brightly colored pants.
Instead of standing strong and tall, fighting bad guys, and doing what’s right, the WWE stubbornly doubled down on the childish gimmicks of Bayley’s character that simply don’t work outside of NXT. Instead of letting Bayley evolve, they sentenced her character to a slow, sad death. She gets booed when she enters, she recites the same tired promo over and over, making her infuriatingly catchy music sound like a very upbeat death march. Next time I see Bayley, I want to see her stab a wacky waving inflatable tube man. Not in a heel way, in an “ok, let’s get serious way.” Okay, I recognize there is probably no way to stab a wacky waving inflatable tube man and now come off like a total heel, but you get what I mean.
And what is going on with Sasha Banks? The former fan favorite recently acted as a cruiserweight valet, escorting Rich Swann to the ring and randomly feuding with Alicia Foxx, who at this point, seems like a cautionary tale come to life. This is what happens to you if creative doesn’t utilize you: you become a “crazy girl” trope who is on TV once a month.
I felt, and I still feel, that the WWE did wrong by their talent and their fans by writing in the history books that a man was the one to retrieve the briefcase in the first Women’s Money in the Bank match. It is worth noting that not everyone is disappointed with the outcome of the Women’s MITB match. Fellow fans and writers that I respect have broadened my perspective on the situation, giving me hope that this let-down of an ending is only setting the women of Smackdown Live up for bigger things to come. Unfortunately, no amount of convincing could really justify my guttural disappointment away.
Despite these glaring failures, the WWE still never fails to pat themselves for bringing their women’s division “such a long way”. This is not cutting it anymore. It is time to do right by the talent and the fans by elevating their female roster. It is time to stop with the sentimental speeches about how far the women’s division has come. It is time to quit the self-congratulatory bullshit that the WWE no longer makes women wrestle in mud or act as boner fodder. Just treat your female athletes better. Celebrate them. Give them better storylines, longer matches, and more opportunities. The fans are already on board—they don’t need convincing. It is time for the WWE to get out of their own way and let the female wrestlers shine.