On Monday night, many members of the WWE Universe finally got their wish, as Sasha Banks returned, got the largest pop of the night, and ended her segment by holding up Charlotte's WWE Women's Championship. It was a terrific few minutes, because it felt important. Over the last few months, despite your opinion of those involved, the writing for the women has been lacking, to say the least. Even worse, they've seen their match times cut and watched their storylines fall off a steep cliff.
I've occasionally thought maybe WWE knows exactly what it's doing. If the women aren't treated as a big deal, and then the writers plug in a gigantic, blinding spotlight as soon as Sasha joins the fray, it makes Banks look like a dynamo and injects epinephrine into the entire division. Lull the audience to sleep a bit, then wake those people up and do it in a fashion that makes them feel like The Boss actually arrived and announced she had placed keys to Cadillac Escalade's underneath everyone's chairs. However, it almost feels like a conspiracy theory, or at the very least, something highly unlikely.
Just three months ago in Dallas, the triple threat between Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch, was one of the two most well-received bouts on the entire Wrestlemania card, and featured high points for each of the three performers. It's possible WWE should have just dropped the gold on Sasha right then and there, but the company was committed to establishing a lasting heel on the women's side, and used Ric Flair to help mold his daughter into that character.
In some ways, it's been a success, as we've seen flashes of excellence from her in the role, but overall, it's hard to describe her title reign as anything greater than average. She's worked hard, but occasionally she's come up short, including when she was flustered on the post-Mania RAW show and failed in her attempt to confidently address the fans who were hijacking the activities in the ring. She can be taken completely off her game fairly easily, which is something she must continue to battle against, because once she puts everything together, her value explodes.
One of Charlotte's biggest problems, however, has been the overwhelming feeling - amongst the audience - that her Championship was never in peril during the Natalya program. It never felt like anything more than a stopgap to get to the Sasha Banks feud, which had the dual effect of also being what most fans wanted. I always believed, since Wrestlemania, that Sasha-Charlotte would happen in Brooklyn, and that the match would culminate in a babyface victory and a coronation for The Boss. In the meantime, WWE added Dana Brooke to the overall women's equation, but to this point, the chemistry with Charlotte has been shaky and the interest is beginning to waver.
So, when the music hit and The Boss strutted out onto the ramp in Phoenix, everyone lost their minds, because we hadn't seen her in a while and also because most of the fans knew how talented and charismatic she was. However, I'm a little worried, as I've seen this movie before with the women, and with this woman in particular. It isn't limited to gender, as I've also caught the double feature with many of the men on the roster. But, Sasha stands out, because we've all commented on it in some form or fashion.
"Wow, the fans are sitting on their hands."
"Man, no reaction right now for Becky and Sasha."
"This is pretty good, but it's dead silent. What's going on?"
The music and the entrance are over, and Sasha Banks seems to be over, but when the bell rings, no one is over. It's not NXT, where those in the crowd feel as if they're responsible for everything that takes place within the organization. This is WWE, where the outdated, absurd "bathroom break" perception of women's matches does still exist. I have friends, people whose opinion I respect, who simply fast forward every women's match, because they just don't care. Those individuals are wrong (though entitled to their opinion), but it's tough to overcome a decade of meaningless, poor scripts and sub-par wrestling. The stigma remains, and though we've seen a few slices of progress, those pieces are inconsistent at best.
As someone who would take the time to read this piece, you watch NXT. I know you do. You know the words to Sasha's music and you tweet about The Boss, even when you haven't seen her on television for two months. You care about her, are invested in her, and root for her with every fiber of your being. I've met you before. Every time I look in the mirror, I see your face. But, we must remember, the vast majority of WWE fans are entirely oblivious to NXT, and others may know of the group and still have no desire even to give it a chance.
And, if you didn't watch Sasha Banks in NXT, it's up to the writing and the wrestling to get you on board that train. With the knowledge that so many tune out the women once the bell rings, it places even more of the onus on creative to hold fan attention through the angles. That's a scary thought isn't it?
When she actually works, pay attention to the crowd response, and also keep one eye on her mannerisms in the ring. I've occasionally seen her fall into early heel Seth Rollins mode, where for the first few months, he was so focused on the match, he forgot to sell himself to the people. She has shown a propensity to fall into a state of tunnel-vision, and when she does it, all those "on the fence" types are likely to hop onto the wrong side. More often that not, she does play to the audience, pose for the camera, and engage in a bit of Kevin Owens-style smack talk with her opponent. That's when she's at her best, and also when she can attract someone who's barely paying any mind to her.
WWE needs to see its audience respond to Sasha Banks this time around. Remember the Lita pop, and the eyes that stayed with her during her matches? That's what needs to happen here, or Vince will move even more quickly to Dana Brooke or someone else. For Lita, there were two key factors that aided her success, outside of anything associated with her appearance. She was affiliated with the most popular tag team in the company, and she had the perfect rival.
Sasha's real rival, Bayley, is still sitting in NXT, but it's possible the Charlotte feud could elevate the fan-favorite, babyface Boss into a previously untapped realm and a new direction for the character. This woman could be The Rock, because she has the swag, she has the look, and she has the skill. If we ever reach a time where a mainstream fan can look at her and feel about her the way he or she felt about The Rock at any point, THAT'S progress. We're far from that world, but when you allow yourself to think about how good she is, with a ready made John Cena in Bayley to work with, and a growing collection of women who can really go, the hopes aren't unfounded.
It all starts with this next few months. Cross your fingers that the television crowds get behind her and the ovation starts to creep into the matches, rather than sputtering out when the music stops. The timing is right, with SummerSlam being the appropriate show and the ideal audience to make her victory special.
Finally, unlike the vast majority of her peers, Sasha is capable of getting over on the microphone, and it's here where she could change the game. Much of the dialogue written for the women since the Meh-volution has been putrid. Those in control must change it, right now. They have to stop writing bargain basement trash, as if they don't think the performers can actually handle real words. It's true for the men, but doubly true for their female counterparts.
Right now, the jury is most definitely out on what's to come. But the rubric is right there. Don't push her "like a woman." Just push her. Push her like you'd push a celebrity. Give her every opportunity to "push it all out the way," and she might lead this generation of WWE women into a much more exciting, empowering, and equal professional wrestling world.