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Diva Devolution: Taking a hard look at the myriad flaws in the #DivaRevolution

To sum up most of the problems in one word: Empty.

The #DivaRevolution has been empty in basically every way. From the empty and fake "taking women athletes seriously" corporate branding nonsense when showing us that they're doing the absolute opposite, to making all nine of these women amorphous empty characterless blobs that are totally indistinguishable from one another, to the empty soulless Diva matches of old, just made longer, everything about this feels totally lifeless. The exact opposite of how a ‘revolution' is supposed to feel.

Revolutions may be bloody, violent, misguided, liberating, wonderful, or terrible, but you know what they never are? Boring.

And that at its core is a big problem with this too. It's not just their problems with booking women. Since the days of WCW's death, WWE has struggled mightily with Invasion or ‘revolution' type angles. WCW may have went too far with how much they let the nWo run roughshod over their company, but there are definitely many lessons to be learned there about why that angle worked as unbelievably well as it did at the outset. On the other hand, with WWE, they never let the revolutionaries get any kind of a foothold or have anything more than a momentary impact. And beyond that, almost every revolution, whether it's the WCW and ECW invasion, the nWo, and now the Diva Revolution, they always have to be fronted by a McMahon, which kills their heat from the start. The point of a revolution is to institute exciting change. And the problem when you make a McMahon the face of this is that it calls to mind the iconic lyrics of The Who's aptly titled  given the situation, Won't Get Fooled Again, "Meet the new boss... same as the old boss."

What this revolution really needed was to let us ‘Meet the New BO$$... very different than the old boss.'

But let's get to the substance of the issues. First of all, characterization is a huge problem. Rather than bring the characterization from NXT up to the main roster, they've brought the WWE Diva characterization to them. They basically have no characters and are just lifeless. And maybe even worse, the little characterization they get when they do get it is to make them the standard shrill catty unlikable WWE Diva tropes, on all three sides of the angle. They've managed to basically make me hate all of these people, and I love them to death in NXT.

Becky Lynch feels like the biggest culprit of that horrible and typical characterization. Watch any interview with her, or the way other people talk about her, and you can see she's one of the most endearing and charming natural babyfaces they have in the entire company. She should absolutely be a total babyface in this angle. And last night she's either taking a funny little thing about her being hyperactive and excitable that they did in a backstage bit after Summerslam and turning it into her ranting like a deranged person or worse, getting in Alicia Fox's face making dumb Real Housewives quips that are nothing like her, nor any babyface ever.

Then you have Charlotte, who basically has become subsumed as a cheap knock off of her father's character without any of the charm. Hell, Charlotte shaded it herself on Paige's periscope recently when Paige cut to her and she did a Woo! and said "that's pretty much what I do now." She knows.

Team BAD is just basically nothing at this point, and the only distinct character from Sasha comes from development on her other show.

And finally, the Bellas, who WWE, the audience in general, me specifically, and themselves have absolutely no idea week to week whether they're supposed to be heels or faces. That's not how you get characters over. The crowd may cheer heels and boo faces, but to get a reaction, typically they need to know which one you're supposed to be.

WWE absolutely loves crowing on about Ronda Rousey every 30 seconds, but don't get her, and what makes her important, at all. There's a reason that Ronda went from a very good draw to a ridiculous draw in her last fight. It's because of her. It's because of her story, who she is, her character, her personality. She's as dominant as ever, but her babyface turn over recent months is what sent her to the stratosphere because she's relatable and interesting as a human being. People don't just want to see her fight, they want to see her. Her instantly iconic DNB (Do-Nothing Bitch) interview probably sold more PPV buys than any promo in MMA or wrestling since Chael's takedown of Anderson Silva years back. At the most recent fight, Dave Meltzer reported that bar owners that were broadcasting the fight noticed a huge influx of women never before seen at MMA fights, including older women. That's a massive change.

And the thing is, NXT does that well too. It's done a good job winning over female fans in a way WWE hasn't in years, maybe decades. I've seen reports from folks at Takeover who talked about how much more heavily female the audience was, and made the point that a lot of women weren't there with significant others or kids, and thus were just there to actually watch pro graps because they themselves are into it. They were even wearing Sasha Banks and Bayley merch, because Bayley and NXT Sasha are actually relatable human beings that fans have a reason to care about. They're well developed human characters, just like Ronda. That's one of the biggest things this feud is missing in its effort to feature nine people at once while developing none.

Nikki Bella also summed up a massive problem with this whole angle last night in living color. "Wins and Losses? They don't matter." They certainly do not. That's the other problem, beyond the individual characterization, there's no story here to speak of whatsoever. What are any of these women fighting for? Who are the heroes? Who are the villains? Hell, commentary can't even get straight who started the revolution. Now they're talking about how Nikki and the Bellas started the Diva Revolution with her title reign, when the whole point of this shameless inorganic maketing campaign is that the Diva Revolution was done to improve the quality of women's wrestling and challenge the Bellas dominance. But now they started it? Ok then. Multiple people have beaten Nikki since this started, none have shown interest in winning the championship. This is just about nothing at all. If you can tell me what the Diva Revolution is about as a story, please do.

And then we get to the next problem... the matches. You know what makes matches a lot worse? Having no stories, no characters to invest in, nothing to care about, and being over-long. All the agents have done is taken the same standard soulless Diva match format, added a couple unnecessary dives, and made them much longer. In a vacuum, the match last night wasn't terrible, but when combined with how heatless and meaningless the match was (and the disaster of a segment beforehand), it was exactly that bad. As Nikki said, "Wins and Losses? They don't matter." So why should people care about the match, then? To supersede how bad everything else is here, the matches would need to be insanely good. Just serviceable is not nearly enough, not if you don't give people a story to get excited about or characters to invest in. No one is going to get over with long, lifeless, meaningless mediocre to bad matches that aren't building toward anything.

Beyond those issues, another more speculative problem came to mind recently, which is that the Bellas might have a similar problem that Sheamus experiences. Reigns is kind of dealing with this at the moment too. Sheamus wins a whole bunch, is actually a very good wrestler, and has played a pretty good heel, but yet his overness level is completely inconsistent with that, because Sheamus is damaged goods. Stuff like the 18 second match with Bryan and his babyface run in general just buried him with the audience to a degree he can't really come back from. The audience has made its decision on Sheamus, and they have said no thank you. I think it's possible that the Bellas might suffer a similar problem. And part of it is probably that Brie is still an albatross around Nikki's neck, but even beyond that, The Bellas are seen by the audience as anathema to women's wrestling. Nikki, while not nearly on the level with Sasha, Becky, and Bayley, has substantially improved as a worker to get herself to a level where she's capable of having very good matches, as she did in January against Paige on Main Event, when given time and an opportunity to work. She worked a wing consistently and smartly. She's not great, but she's at least capable. But it just doesn't matter. Whether it's because of them being the stars of Total Divas, how long they were bad, her sister still being bad, AJ's promos burying the division, or the perception that they're everything wrong with women's wrestling, the fans have seemingly made their judgment and found them Guilty of not being allowed to be Women's Wrestlers (TM). If this is the case, the reported idea that Meltzer wrote about in the Observer of the NXT women creating an entire overhaul of the division was the correct route, because the old division is just too much of a toxic brand in the eyes of a large portion of the fanbase.

Another person who bears responsibility here is Stephanie McMahon. With Stephanie, it doesn't feel like women's wrestling is something she's as serious about as she presents herself as. She seems to see it more as a branding opportunity, because that's what her day job is, that she happens to be good at judging by how much mainstream media coverage WWE is getting, compared with declining ratings and declining house show gates. But when it comes to this, she's done way too much to attempt to make herself the face of this and to present herself as a noble hero trying to raise the profile of women in WWE. Within six days from the start of the Revolution, Sasha Banks was already crediting Stephanie as the one responsible for this revolution. Not the hard work of the women in question. Nope. The work of someone who had virtually nothing to do with it. At least if they credited Triple H, it would be easier to stomach.

Even if he's not perfect (not building Sasha/Bayley as the Main Event of the last Takeover, for example), Triple H has put his money where his mouth is in his presentation of women in the promotion he runs, and has for years. He's also been hiring talented indy performers since as far back as 2011. He's earned his cred. Stephanie has not. With Stephanie, it's piggybacking off a hot trend that WWE wants to glom on to and building her own clash with Ronda Rousey.

You know who's mostly NOT to blame, though? The crowd. We Are Awesome chants are obviously really dumb, as is the wave. And that was dumb at Post-Mania Raw as well during the main event with Reigns. Everything else about that reaction was completely and totally fine. It is not the audience's responsibility to get an angle over, it is the angle's responsibility to get people invested in it. You can say "oh, well they cheered Lana and Summer catfighting... what a bunch of jerks! They just want T & A!" But at the same time, during that terrible Miz TV, you had 15,000 strong chanting "We Want Sasha!" too. When you're loudly chanting "We Want Sasha!" it's clear you're not against the concept of women's wrestling. You're against this concept of women's wrestling.  It was a miserable segment, followed by a heatless, boring match. They wanted Sasha, because Sasha is the only one that they have a reason to care about, and that's only because of Saturday night. Hell, they chanted for Blue Pants! When you're chanting for Blue Pants, you obviously are at least in a substantial amount, an NXT audience. And an NXT audience is one that is highly receptive to women's wrestling. The problem is that the NXT audience is absolutely furious at what they're seeing from women they fell in love with as performers being made into unlikable catty bitches and having soulless boring matches, and are reacting viscerally, and those not exposed to NXT are just bored, because they're being presented with boring stuff. I'm sure there were a few bad apples in the bunch, but not nearly enough to create that level of reaction.

The reason that Lana and Summer are over is because even if you think the story is dumb, it is a story, with clear heroes and clear villains. Summer is really good at being an unrepentant villain, and so that gets the crowd on the side of Lana. If they were chanting for Lana and Summer during the women's stuff, those folks might have a point, but they were cheering for one of the best damned professional wrestlers in the world, who large portions of the crowd just saw have an honest to God top end match of the year candidate two nights prior in the same exact building and wasn't even on the show last night, and was eliminated at Summerslam after about 30 seconds of ringtime.

Look, was the reaction over the top to the quality of the match they saw last night? Yes. I watched it with the sound off as an experiment, and it wasn't a good match, but it wasn't outrageously terrible. But neither is Roman Reigns. Neither are Sheamus/Orton matches. But they get crapped on for the exact same reason, that the crowd doesn't want something shoved down its throat. And what's being shoved down their throat isn't women's wrestling, it's this highly inorganic branding nonsense, and this particular presentation of women's wrestling.

Is Alex Greenfield's point that this is playing into the hands of Dunn correct? Sure. Of course it is. But the problem with that line of argument is that there's no way the crowd could react that would be helpful. If they sit on their hands, it's basically the same thing. If they cheer, then they'll assume people like it and keep running the angle the exact same way until people give up trying to get bad storytelling and bad matches over. The truth is, once they started booking the angle like this, the forces against women's wrestling had already won. Even if the crowd cheered everything last night, they would have still received a terrible segment and a mediocre to bad match, and WWE would just kept doing that until the fans gave up cheering something they weren't entertained by because they feel obligated to get it over. They've set a clever trap here. Booking it terribly to get the confirmation bias they want. Blaming the crowd, rather than taking WWE to task is a waste of time, and obscures the absolute volley of blame that should be going in their direction for how much they've ruined this.

What the division needs is very simple. They need to focus on and develop a smaller amount of individual characters that fans can invest in, tell interesting stories, and build up to wrestling matches that feel like they're about something. Just like any wrestlers in any company ever, male or female. That's really it. No cute corporate branding, no hashtag revolutions. Just tell some stories that people want to see with characters they are supposed to like or dislike and watch it actually get over. Just like NXT. That's what an actual #DivaRevolution looks like.

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