For a long time now, fans of the female wrestlers in the WWE have been beating their heads against the wall. There are few things more frustrating than seeing a talented group of performers being relegated to second-tier status because no one in creative seems to know how to create a storyline that doesn't revolve around a male wrestler. The WWE should be giving more TV time to entertaining, well-developed Diva's division plots that can stand alone, separate from the men's story arcs.
Be careful what you wish for.
Maybe all of us who want more substance (and, please, a new name) from the Diva's division don't actually want the same thing. Perhaps some people are looking for longer, better-developed matches. Others might be looking for feuds that have more depth to them than just fighting over a guy. Personally, what I'm looking for is the whole package.
There has to be a solid story, a well-thought out purpose to the feud, and then, when the women get in the ring, I want to be blown away. But above all else, when these individuals get a mic in their hands, I want my face to be melted off. I want to be behind their characters 100%. I don't ever want to see catty, petty, childish antics. I grow weary of every female wrestler throwing a tantrum and wrecking the joint when she loses. If the WWE wants to empower their female fan base, they need to give us characters we can get behind, who handle their business just like our favorite bad-ass male characters.
Arguably the biggest female-centered story line in the WWE currently is a feud between Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella, which is set to culminate in less than two weeks with a match at SummerSlam. It's inspiring to see two women receive so much attention, to see their story play out in prime time spots on Raw three weeks running. That is, until you sit down and actually watch the segments.
Now, I am a huge fan of Stephanie McMahon. I recently pointed to her as someone that young talent should look up to in terms of promo work. Stephanie has been in this business a long time, and knows exactly who her TV persona is. The way she gives her character depth, how she goes through a series of emotions for each situation, it's breathtaking. In the most basic of terms, it's just good performance. There is nothing about the WWE that suggests someone should come in prepared to give a performance akin to Brando in Streetcar Named Desire -- the product isn't that serious. But a good WWE character should know where they came from, what their goals are, and what they're willing to do to achieve them. Stephanie hits all three of those key points every time she appears on our TV or in the ring. She's a McMahon who will do anything to achieve whatever she feels is best for business.
When Stephanie McMahon is cutting a promo, you have to watch. Maybe we haven't been completely enthralled by every story line she's been a part of, but her piece of that story is worth watching (unless she's puking, then all bets are off). When you put her up against someone, you know she's most likely going to run circles around them. What you don't expect is for her to have to carry them through the whole program.
Brie Bella has been presented with a great opportunity. She's been in the spotlight quite a bit over the past year between the Total Divas reality show and her marriage to former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan. After quitting WWE at Payback to save Daniel Bryan from having to give up his titles, and slapping Stephanie in the face on her way out, it was clear to everyone where this story was going. Brie and Stephanie were headed into a heated feud that could potentially alter the way women in the WWE are viewed, going forward.
When Brie returned to Raw on July 21, 2014, we finally got the storyline that had been over a month in the making to come to fruition. Just as Nikki Bella stepped into the ring to take on four other Divas in a handicap match, Stephanie comes out to verbally eviscerate the now audience-bound Brie Bella. When it's Brie's turn on the mic, she doesn't seem quite as comfortable or as prepared as Stephanie. She manages to get out a good line or two (I particularly enjoyed "You're just mad because I left my handprint on your face") before calling Stephanie a b*tch. Twice.
Since then, we've only gotten more of this foul-mouthed Brie, whose promo delivery leaves much to be desired. Last week's Raw was the perfect example of how Brie Bella overshot the target on her character in this story line. It's one thing to be the wronged hero, out for vengeance. It's something else entirely to try to play the evil mastermind against arguably the greatest villain the WWE currently has to offer. Brie's consistently angry, one-level delivery of her "diabolical" scheme to get Stephanie backed into a corner so she can demand a match at SummerSlam was predictable and unexciting. We should be behind Brie as the face in this feud, when instead she's starting to grate on my nerves. She's also repeating her lines, and speaking in a strange, slow style that almost sounds as though she's slurring her words. When you're standing in the ring with someone whose voice is crisp, whose words are chosen with purpose, you can't wing it and hope no one notices how nervous and unprepared you are.
The use of the term "b*tch" over and over throughout the past few weeks is clearly meant to bring WWE right up to the line between TV-PG and TV-14. Even John Cena used the word during a promo against Paul Heyman a week ago. But instead of it stinging, of it being a real insult like it was the first time Brie used it, it's now getting played out. As a member of the audience, you're almost waiting to see when it shows up in Brie's vernacular. To be a good stick-man/woman, a performer must always be two steps ahead. If you're working off-the-cuff, you should be listening to what your opponent is saying so you can feed off of their word choices. If you're working with a script, you should still be listening so your interjections come at the proper time. Brie doesn't seem to fit into either of these categories. Anything she says that appears to be pre-written, she delivers poorly without putting the right emphasis on her words so the audience can really feel the power behind them. When it seems she's shooting from the hip, she just bombs altogether. Not only that, but when it comes time for that button on the end of her sentences, the thing that should stick in the audience's mind and leave everyone wanting more, she's using a rising inflection that reminds me an awful lot of Brock Lesnar. That's not a compliment.
Brie Bella is not going to be cutting promos at Stephanie's level overnight. It's going to take work. Hopefully, this experience with such a talented veteran will help Brie to progress in the right direction. Maybe the match at SummerSlam will be so amazing that we will all forget how tragic Brie is on the microphone. Maybe Brie will decide to stay off the mic from now on. Whatever she ends up doing, I hope the WWE doesn't count this as a failure and continues to give the women in the company opportunity to work on challenging, fun, and empowering story lines.
I know we've already learned one lesson: not everyone is ready to tango with the Queen.