So here's the thing about CJ Perry, who works for WWE under the name Lana; she gets it.
For all intents and purposes, she is not a lifelong wrestling fan. In another time, she'd be one more in the endless line of fitness models who come in the door, wrestle for a little while, than realize that it's either not for them or that the company doesn't particularly care about it's women performers, and leave quietly, like a host of others.
She's an actress, a dancer, a former singer in an all girl group, and model. She wasn't in developmental for very long before she was put in front of big crowds and asked to cut promos to an audience that has been trained to treat all women as eye candy and disregard them talking. She was bought into an era where there's a huge disparity between the women who have characters and motivations (the NXT girls) and the girls who don't (basically all the main roster Divas), and put in a position of prominence, to help build the next unstoppable juggernaut for John Cena to defeat.
She had every reason to bomb. But she didn't. Because she gets it.
CJ Perry gets the character of Lana. She understands her role. She may not be a wrestling fan, but she totally gets the idea of acting. She knows that she has to channel Bridgette Nielson and make it into her own thing. She knows that Lana could be as one note a character as anyone, but she's imbued her with life and made Lana a thing. A real thing.
Lana is a woman who gets booed not because she's a woman, or not because the crowd knows she's heel and they're supposed to boo her. They boo her because she understands how to generate heat. She knows when to put on that big gorgeous smile, she knows when to glare at the crowd, she knows when to speak quietly and she knows when ramp up the ham to 11. She gets it.
What the WWE creative team has done to Lana is an abomination. It's the worst thing they've done in a long time, at least from a creative standpoint. At long live last, the WWE had accidentally created what they always called the WWE Divas. "Strong, sexy, and powerful". That's the tagline that was born in a corporate board room somewhere that the powers that be in the WWE never really believed.
The Divas are something the WWE has to deal with. They have to give the illusion of gender equality, and they can't make the show a total sausage fest, and so they set up a division and called everyone Strong, Sexy and Powerful and then found increasingly asinine ways to undermine them. By limiting their matches to bathroom breaks, by using them as little more than props in the feuds of men, by refusing to let any of them have definable characteristics other than "crazy, jealous bitch". Ratings and merch sales be damned, we can not have the women be more important than the men on a three hour show, a solid hour of which is clumsily thrown together filler meant to do nothing. Last year around August, when the WWE Divas were getting two segments on a three hour show, it seemed like a minor miracle
The thing is, Lana was important. In fact, Lana carried Rusev through those early months after his introduction. "The evil Russian guy" is an angle that's been done before, numerous times, and Rusev on his own could've been just another boring ass guy that was going to lose to Cena eventually, because AMURICAH.
But Lana elevated Rusev into something more than just a mere caricature. She spoke for him. She carried entire feuds for him, by herself. She literally commanded her to do his bidding. The woman was so powerful that Rusev disowned his own country and took sides with hers. This was the power of Lana, a woman who was the only person who could control this massive Bulgarian who sat on people's backs and made them humble.
She stood toe to toe on the microphone with everyone Rusev came across. There was no doubt that it was Lana who controlled Rusev, and not the other way around.
And it was because of her that Rusev rounded into a three-dimensional character, to match his improved in-ring abilities. Rusev started to be able to hold his own on the microphone...but that just made the act better. The fact that both of them could carry their own weight in the feuds. The fact that Lana was on even, if not even better, footing with Rusev.
They were equals. They were partners. Because they both got it. They both knew that what they were doing could've easily been a one note bit where the evil Russian guy loses to Rocky in the end. But instead, they added layers and depth and complexity to their characters.
And even more so, it made them all the more right when American wrestlers would drop down to the level of suggesting they were boning to pop the crowd. Even if they were, it was none of anyone's business but theirs. It just made them feel more right in their espoused views on America.
And so it came to pass that Rusev eventually lost to Cena, as you do.
And then they started to destroy Lana.
WWE does this a lot with characters. Not just women, but just in general. There was a time when getting over with the crowd meant something, and the WWE would just kind go with it, ride the wave and see where it took them.
Not anymore. Overness is death. Overness without office approval is like Mil Muertes death. The WWE is in this constant cycle of pushing guys/girls, watching them get over, and then immediately doing whatever they can to stop them from being more important than the 8 or so people they want on the top of the show.
They'll spend years trying to get Wade Barrett over, with varying degrees of success. Then they'll hit on "Bad News Barrett". His catchphrase will get over, he'll sell t-shirts, he'll be an important, entertaining part of the show...and they'll he lose. He'll stop saying the catchphase that got him over. They'll take the t-shirts off WWEShop. They'll job him out on TV with reckless abandon.
They'll give Cesaro a clean win over WWE Champion Randy Orton, and have him wrestle a match of the year candidate with John Cena, and they'll beat the hell out of everyone in the Elimination Chamber, and he'll win the first Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and he'll get a kickass t-shirt, and he has a super over move...and they'll slowly remove it all. He'll lose matches to 40+-year-old RVD. His trophy gets smashed. He stops wearing the t-shirt on TV. They'll stick him with Paul Heyman, who could get a bowl of cereal over as a wrestler, and then only have Heyman talk about Brock Lesnar. They'll demand he stops doing the thing that helped get him over.
I don't even have to recap Zack Ryder at this point. It's sad to the point of hilariousness that most fans see him teaming up with Mojo Rawley on the developmental show as a net improvement in his WWE career.
Over and over the cycle goes. It claims countless careers and cost WWE countless dollars that they don't really care about.
At some point, the fans started chanting "WE WANT LANA!". It was probably around the time Lana disappeared for a couple weeks, because she was off filiming a WWE movie you'll probably never watch, which should've been "Giant Red Flag #1" that things were about to go off the rails. Without Lana, Rusev the character didn't quite seem whole. They were a two-some, and Rusev having to carry a whole feud against John Cena (who we all knew was going to win the whole thing) didn't feel quite right.
When Lana was around, Cena took the opportunity to sexualize, demean and verbally harass her at every chance, basically because she was a woman who existed. He took no time to repeatedly infer that Lana was a slut, that she was having sex with Rusev (or others), and that she had boobs. This should've been Giant Red Flag #2, that someone wouldn't sit John Cena down and go "Hey, what you're doing is kind of offensive, and also unnecessary. You're in a blood feud with a Russibulgarian, you don't need to keep calling his manager a whore to get over."
But I can only imagine that WWE heard the "WE WANT LANA!" chants and thought one of two things; 1.) we need to capitalize on this, or 2.) we need to end this right now.
And so it came to pass, that at WWE Extreme Rules, Lana as we knew her died. Lana, who had all but ignored "WE WANT LANA!" chants in the past, who had been a total ice queen, a woman who could get an entire crowd to boo her not just because she had breasts, but because she was actually an entertaining character who knew her job was to be hated...hopped on the apron for no reason, smiled and waved at the crowd.
In that instant, CJ Perry's hard work died a million deaths. Her roles switched. No longer was Lana a powerful woman in control of a powerful man, no longer was she on equal footing as the men she was put on the microphone against.
She went from "Strong, Sexy and Powerful" to "powerless woman bullied by a man" in an instant.
Dolph Ziggler and Lana have the chemistry of the Titanic and the Ice Berg. They have the chemistry of clean tongues and dirty assholes. They have the chemistry of matter and anti-matter. They are, frankly, the worst fucking thing the WWE has put on television in a long time.
Lana exists as a character to be macked on by the most disingenuous face on the WWE roster. "Dolph Ziggler, babyface" is already bad. But Monday Night RAW's segment was brutal. And the worst thing is, you can kind of tell that the performers behind these characters know it's brutal. They know the crowd hates this crap. Ziggler stumbled and hurried through his lines, unable to convince a crowd of people and millions watching at home that he was in love with the most beautiful woman on the roster.
And Lana --- poor Lana --- had to actively retcon the last year of WWE programming. It was Rusev that made her bag on America. (Rusev only bagged on America after Lana made him loyal to the Russian Federation.) Rusev made her dress the way she did. (Even though she's still dressing that way, the only change being that she's --- GASP! --- wearing her hair down). Rusev made her a bad person, but Dolph Ziggler --- who even in WWE's shoddy kayfabe version of events is a known serial boner of women "just because" --- has made her see the light.
Gag me with a spoon.
There is no part of this feud that is not awful. Every performer in it is worse off. Rusev went from being a dominant champion and one of the best heels on the roster to a creepy stalker who takes pictures of his ex's new boyfriend taking a piss. Dolph Ziggler is somehow even more miscast as a chivalrous babyface, standing up for Lana's right to not wear her hair in a bun, while also threatening to further injure someone. Summer Rae has gotten dragged into this, and in one minute she cut a better promo than the Bellas have in their entire WWE careers, and she was made to be the fourth wheel.
But no one, no one is worse off than Lana. The crowd does not care about Lana anymore. They'll still muster a "WE WANT LANA!" chant, but it's a lot less jubiliant and a lot more "we're kinda obligated to do this now that she's a face, right?". They chanted "WHAT" during her promo, not because it riled the heel Ravishing Russian up, but because they were bored.
She's just another girl. Another "WWE Diva", another woman on the roster who's strong, sexy and powerful only under a banner of faux corporate equality but treated with same respect and dignity of an extra in Adam Rose's dance party.
CJ Perry, the performer behind the character, gets it. The WWE, the company destroying the character, clear does not.