By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
“This Sasha and Naomi stuff is fascinating.”
Those words came from Pat McAfee during his Monday podcast. He was referring, of course, to Sasha Banks and Naomi walking out of Raw last week before they were supposed to participate in the main event. They’ve since been indefinitely suspended and stripped of the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles. It’s been the biggest story in wrestling for a week and it doesn’t look like it’s going to calm down anytime soon.
It’s because of as much that it would feel silly to not use a weekly blog/column on a pro wrestling website specifically to pontificate on it. It’s been quite a while since someone pulled the whole “I’m out!” thing on WWE (outside of Toni Storm, of course), and it’s been even longer since a champion (or champions, in this case) did it on the day that live television was set to air. So, this has to be talked about, right?
But the thing is …
WHAT’S LEFT TO SAY?
McAfee’s right. And that’s about it.
As in, there isn’t much else to add to the narrative other than, “Yeah, this is fascinating.” As in, what do we know – as in, really know – beyond whatever dumb statements commentators were told to say on air when it comes to Smackdown and Raw? As in, who’s fault was it? As in why were they mad? As in, what exactly is the timeline here? And as in, what’s left to say about it?
The answer to me is not much, because we are still gathering information – and it’s information we’ll most likely never truly uncover. Here’s what’s been reported thus far: The women’s tag champs didn’t like the booking they were given going into last week’s Raw. They decided to take a stand and walk out on not only the show, but the company. They gave John Laurinaitis their tag belts, gathered their things and essentially said ‘see ya!’
Since then, we’ve heard tons of stuff. Sasha was mad that her WrestleMania spot was given to Ronda Rousey. Naomi was manipulated into taking such a drastic stance. The two weren’t set to defend their tag titles for months, which they both thought was the wrong way to go. Naomi was supposed to beat Sasha Banks in that night’s main event. Blah, blah, blah. It goes on and on. Believe what you want. Believe all of it. Don’t believe any of it. Pro wrestling has always been this shadowy, smoke-and-mirrors venue. It feels impossible to ever know The Truth, but not knowing The Truth makes investing in this stuff that much more fun. Speculation is an elusive mistress we all love to call sometimes.
What you believe and what you conclude are decisions specific to you. Something like this is low-hanging fruit for the AEW vs. WWE crowd, so sure, while there are comparisons to make and lessons to be learned, it’s hard for me to get too wound up over any this, even though that sounds sacrilegious in such a blood-thirsty, rumor-obsessed era of professional wrestling.
And why do I find it hard to get too passionate about this?
CALLING WWE’S BLUFF
Because, really. What are we talking about here?
I fully understand the impulse to hashtag stand with Sasha and Naomi. And truth be told, I do. Why wouldn’t I? WWE booking has been suspect at best, egregious and irresponsible at worst – and it’s been this way for years now. It’s fantastic that two roster members stood up and say, “Nah, this ain’t it; have yourself a good night, dude.” If nothing else, both women deserve a trophy for the balls it took to follow through on something like that, especially considering how both have spouses who continue to work for that company, and that could get … awkward.
But, hey, someone has to say it: What exactly was WWE supposed to do?
The Corey Graves and Michael Cole comments notwithstanding, you can’t really allow your employees (and in this case, champions) walk out on the day of a television taping and not at least try to send a message to the rest of your employees that essentially says, “Don’t you even think about trying that shit.” If WWE wouldn’t have said anything, or if WWE wouldn’t have taken any action, I don’t quite know how it could have kept the respect of its talent and, for that matter, its fans as well.
Now, sure, it seems like the fans hate it. I’ve yet to really read anyone reputable who takes the WWE side of this and says, “Yeah, to hell with Sasha and Naomi!” It’s just not fashionable to side with the suits in Titan Towers and for good reason. For so long, there’s a tiny inner circle of people who’ve ostensibly run this company, made all the creative decisions and smirked in the faces of those who haven’t agreed with said creative decisions.
So, when something like this comes along, it’s almost too easy to use it as a springboard to hop into how incredulous we all are that WWE is filled with nincompoops at the top. “Do better,” is the consensus when it comes to what most of us think the company could and should do on a more consistent basis.
That said …
SHOVING STARS TO THE BACK
Again, what was WWE supposed to do?
Ignore it while knowing the story is going to get out anyway? Pretend that two of their biggest stars (and champions, mind you) didn’t just walk away and pretty much relinquish their titles? Hope that perhaps Sasha and Naomi would come back first thing Tuesday morning?
The prevailing thought behind why Sasha and Naomi did what they did, according to various reporting, is that there was no respect on the women’s tag titles, they meant almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, and having those straps turned out to be a step down much more than it was a step up. If that reporting is accurate, I’m fairly confident in saying that most of us would probably agree with that and we’re not all that happy about it, either.
Why introduce women’s tag belts if you aren’t going to treat them like a big deal? Why have the champions wrestle each other and in separate singles matches at a Premium Live Event (RIP pay-per-views), only to lose their matches at said Premium Live Event? Sasha Banks, on so many levels, is a star, and she seems to be doing a pretty good job crossing over into the mainstream while her star only grows in brightness – why shove her into the middle of the pack because … Ronda Rousey came back?
Those things are fair. They make sense. But when you consider where everything sits as of this writing, those things speak far more to something much deeper than stupid booking and the devaluation of the women’s tag-team titles in WWE. In fact, it’s something I’ve talked about before in this very space in this very manner …
HUNGRY FOR CONTROL
No one man should have all that power.
And this isn’t just WWE. Throw Tony Khan on the list. Brett Lauderdale, if you must. Put whomever is at the top in Impact on the list, too. New Japan. NWA. Pick a wrestling company and find out who makes the decisions and add that name.
Pro wrestling is not the vision of dozens of athletes who come together to produce something special. Instead, pro wrestling is dictated by a very select group of people – almost always white men – who decide which wrestler will win, which will lose, which is in the main event and which one makes the most money. WWE, of all the companies out there, seems to be notorious for defying its fanbase and not listening to what its viewers want to see.
And in some ways, I get that. You can’t have the inmates run the asylum and if every single fan idea was implemented into a pro wrestling show, that pro wrestling show would get awfully convoluted, awfully quickly. There is a “let the professionals handle this” quality to pro wrestling and respect must be paid for it. I mean, I tried the GM mode on WWE 2K22 and almost immediately got a headache. Traveling from city to city and doing that 24 hours a day in real life is daunting.
But to what end? Why can’t somebody stand up and say the system is antiquated and changes need to be made? In a world where someone’s livelihood is literally dictated by a handful of dudes who might wake up and say, “No, let’s make him/her champion!” why are we constantly surprised when we find out that a person or six might just be pissed off?
In the case of Sasha and Naomi, they had every right to not agree with or follow through with the plans the bosses had for them and their tag-team titles. Does that mean I think Vince McMahon is racist and/or sexist? I don’t quite know about all that because I don’t know Vince McMahon on any level whatsoever. But do I think this is the latest in a string of examples that suggest it might be a good idea to change the way professional wrestling companies are organized at the top?
Well, yeah. I do.
So, what happens next?
MORE OF THE SAME
Well, probably nothing. It doesn’t really feel like Sasha or Naomi will be around WWE anytime soon. They could probably have their pick of wherever they want to go, considering how the reporting says their contracts are almost up anyway, but I also continue to wonder if wrestling is something they even want to do anymore. Before this run with Sasha Banks, WWE wasn’t doing much of anything with Naomi, and Banks has acting gigs out there if she wants them, so why deal with the male-driven, fragile-ego-centric world of professional wrestling if you don’t have to?
What would be nice to see – and a true change for everyone and everything involved – would be if we start to find out that women and people of color are put in more prominent spots when it comes to the hierarchy of pro wrestling companies. Say what you want about Stephanie McMahon, but it did give me pause when I read that she’s going to step away for a bit. WWE, out of every company out there, could benefit the most for having women at or near the top of creative decision-making, but the truth is, every wrestling company in existence needs to open its doors and minds more than it does.
If nothing else, Sasha Banks and Naomi exposed that very reality by walking away. The booking issues, the lack of care for titles, the respect for talent that seems nonexistent at times – these are all things we knew about WWE anyway. What makes this story stick and sting a little more is that it happened so abruptly – and it also came from two of the company’s most prominent on-air women, who also happen to be Black.
Does that mean change has been inspired? My guess is no. But it does call upon us, as fans, to reflect on some of the deeper issues within not just WWE, but the wrestling world. Vince McMahon can say he makes movies all he wants, and I’m sure there are a zillion ways to explain away all the dumb stuff he’s done or said through the decades. But the truth is, in a world like pro wrestling, you’re only as good as the talent you have and the talent you have will only be as good as they are happy because if they’re not happy, they’re not going to want to be good.
It doesn’t always work like that, of course, because we hear stories of disgruntled wrestlers all the time in every company. But constantly pissing people off isn’t a way to run a successful business – especially when that business is so dedicated to the thoughts, options and decisions of only a handful of people. It’s hard to think we’re anywhere near the end of the Sasha Banks/Naomi sage, but perhaps more troubling, the end of the egomaniacal power structure inherent in pro wrestling seems further away than ever.
And while it may be fascinating, that doesn’t always mean it’s for the best.