For the last week I’ve read many different people emphatically state that the story between Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss is only a good one if Nia Jax wins at WrestleMania. The complete evaluation of their story hinges on the result of that match. Pat WWE on the back if Nia wins, condemn WWE entirely if Nia loses. I’ve seen this take so many times that I needed to write about why it is so ridiculous.
First off, I want to explain why I watch pro wrestling. I watch pro wrestling for exciting action, compelling characters, and interesting stories. My favorite wrestling memories, matches, and moments usually intertwine all three of these elements.
It’s really hard for me to get invested in a character or story if the match that is being built to is one that I have low expectations for. That’s the most important element to me. If the actual match is one that I have good reason to believe won’t appeal to me, then all the buildup just seems like wasted opportunity.
This is the main reason I could never get into Mark Henry’s Hall of Pain run in 2011 or Braun Strowman’s current run. I saw a ton of Mark Henry matches from 1996 through 2010 and they rarely ever impressed me. Many of them flat out sucked. His Hall of Pain matches on pay-per-view (PPV) in 2011 with Sheamus, Randy Orton, and Big Show were mostly no different, with the exception of the ring breaking fight with Big Show at Vengeance 2011, which I thought was a pretty good match even before that spot. The other matches ranged from poor (vs. Big Show at Money in the Bank 2011, Survivor Series 2011, and TLC 2011, vs. Sheamus at SummerSlam 2011) to somewhere in the neighborhood of average (vs. Orton at Hell in a Cell 2011 and Night of Champions 2011). I knew very well what Mark Henry did in the ring, and it consistently underwhelmed me. Therefore it was much more difficult for me to care when WWE suddenly gave him a massive push in 2011. I watched those PPV matches anyway, and it turned out they were just more of the same. It just never clicked for me.
Braun Strowman and Nia Jax are two current roster members who I view this way too, essentially. I’ve watched enough matches from both to know that what they do in the ring rarely entertains me. Therefore when I see WWE sink so much time into Strowman and push him so hard, it frustrates the hell out of me, because I know there is a pretty good chance that the content of the matches that come from it will probably end up not appealing to me, thus detracting from my enjoyment of the show.
I haven’t enjoyed too much of Nia’s work in the ring either. So I was rolling my eyes pretty hard when the rumors arose of Alexa Bliss defending her title at WrestleMania 34 versus Nia Jax, while Bayley and Sasha wouldn’t get their own singles match. The idea of a Sasha versus Bayley match sounded way more appealing to me and would most likely deliver the kind of performance in the ring that I wanted to see.
But then something suddenly changed all that. On the March 5 episode of Raw, Nia Jax lost a tough match against Asuka. Alexa Bliss found Nia hurting backstage and used her strong bond with her to exploit all of Nia’s vulnerabilities, essentially reinforcing all of Nia’s insecurities. Alexa said the most awful things to Nia under the guise of a friendly pep talk. I was glued to the TV watching this. Alexa Bliss was simply the worst best friend ever and a truly awful person; I wanted more of this.
This was a story that compelled me. I was also a little uncomfortable watching it. I was suddenly much more interested in both Alexa and Nia’s characters and really wanted to see how this new wrinkle would affect their friendship. The heartbreaking moment of Nia actually overhearing Mickie and Alexa verbally tearing her down would come later, and that was what finally opened Nia’s eyes. That was great too, but for me, Alexa’s twisted sit-down pep talk with Nia was the critical piece that set this story on its current path.
Those two segments combined were wonderful enough to overcome my stubborn jadedness as a longtime wrestling fan who is very particular about the type of ring work that appeals to me. I don’t feel too disappointed anymore about Sasha and Bayley being in the WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal (though I’ve enjoyed their story too) because I really want to see what happens when Nia Jax finally gets her hands on Alexa Bliss at WrestleMania. That’s why this is a good story, regardless of the outcome. The story completely hooked its teeth into me and now I want to watch a match that my brain is telling me is probably not going to be any good. But I don’t care about that anymore, because the story has me totally invested in seeing what happens.
Here’s another thing that I embrace and wish WWE took more risks with - heeling that make me uncomfortable. I want to sometimes feel uncomfortable when I watch pro wrestling. I don’t want pro wrestling to be a safe fantasy world where good always triumphs over evil. That’s not realistic, and it also sounds rather boring. In real life, sometimes really bad people do end up winning. That’s just how things occasionally work out.
That’s one reason why this claim that WWE has only set up a good story here if Nia wins is complete nonsense. Why is it being assumed that something truly compelling cannot come from a Nia loss in this match? Nia seemed pretty damn confident and strong to me on that go-home episode of Raw in both her sit-down interview as well as when she chased Alexa away. A win at WrestleMania for Nia would just reinforce that.
But what if she loses at WrestleMania? How will that loss eat into her psyche going forward? How will it prey on her insecurities? What struggles will she endure as a result of that failure, and will she eventually give in to whatever demons may arise from that, or will she fight like hell to overcome it in a cathartic moment down the line? This sounds like a way more interesting path to be explored than Nia simply winning at WrestleMania 34 and ending the story.
Her direct issues with Alexa only began on March 5, so I strongly disagree that this WrestleMania match needs to be the big payoff. It’s their first match! Why is there so much unanimity in the belief that this is the culmination? Because it is at WrestleMania? The assumption that stories must end at WrestleMania doesn’t reflect reality. Maybe for the matches with part-timers that is often true, because the part-timers go away after WrestleMania.
But I’m looking back at matches on recent WrestleMania cards and I see all sorts of feuds that continued on past WrestleMania. This includes Orton vs. Wyatt, Owens vs. Jericho, Neville vs. Aries, Jericho vs. Styles, Kalisto vs. Ryback, Rollins vs Orton, Cena vs. Rusev, Cena vs. Wyatt, Del Rio vs. Swagger, Miz vs. Barrett, Triple H vs. Lesnar, Jericho vs. Fandango, Jericho vs. Punk, Bryan vs. Sheamus, Kane vs. Orton, Rhodes vs. Big Show, Cena vs. Miz, Punk vs. Orton, and so forth.
Sometimes stories end at WrestleMania, sometimes stories don’t end at WrestleMania. It’s not some mandate from the wrestling gods that all stories need to end at WrestleMania. That’s not how it works. It’s certainly not some unforgivable sin of storytelling if Nia Jax loses the first match to the despicable heel at WrestleMania. This conflict just started one month ago and now it’s a given that WWE is awful at storytelling if they don’t have the babyface immediately triumph in her very first opportunity? That sounds like a potentially shallow story and totally bogus logic to me.
I think the reason why this logic has been embraced by so many is because the idea of Alexa Bliss winning this match, considering what horrible things she has said, makes people feel uncomfortable. I think that’s a good thing. I think people should feel uncomfortable sometimes when watching pro wrestling. I would love to have more uncomfortable moments like CM Punk coming out and ruining a 9 year old girl’s birthday in a sick, creepy, and demented fashion. I want to see more segments like Seth Rollins having Edge’s neck under his foot ready to snap it if the hero doesn’t do exactly what he says. I want to see more villains do what Alexa Bliss did and sit down with their best friend and just prey on all her weaknesses in a soft soothing voice. These are the moments that make heels truly despicable and worth caring about.
I look at the current landscape of WWE heels and it is a wasteland. The top full-time heels on Raw right now are the Miz, Bliss, and...I think that’s it. It’s a steep drop down from them to Elias. Raw desperately needs a heel like Samoa Joe who will go out there and make me super uncomfortable while he whispers in Paul Heyman’s ear all the horrible things he is going to feel as he chokes the life out of him. The calmness behind that delivery is sick, horrifying, and completely captivating. With that in mind, I think an argument can be made that Alexa Bliss is the top heel on Raw right now, based on her standing in the women’s division and the way she has treated Nia Jax.
The top heels on SmackDown are Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. What they did to Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan in recent weeks was brutally sadistic. What Kevin Owens did one year ago to Chris Jericho at the Festival of Friendship was borderline psychotic. I am much more intrigued by villains who will stoop to this inhumane depth. After Owens and Zayn, who is next in the heel pecking order? Maybe Jinder Mahal? Unlike Alexa Bliss on Raw, I don’t see any top heel females in the mix here. It’s an extremely steep drop down from Owens and Zayn.
There are six major matches at WrestleMania 34. Three of these matches are babyface versus babyface (Flair vs. Asuka, Styles vs. Nakamura, Cena vs. Undertaker). Two of these matches have part-timers on the heel side (Lesnar, Stephanie/HHH), leaving just one major match with any full-time heels (Owens/Zayn vs. Bryan/Shane). That’s a huge problem. WWE has had a significant problem for years with building credible top level heels. Maybe Alexa Bliss can become that kind of heel, and if so, this is the kind of story that can be told to get her there if her awfulness allows her to keep thriving at Nia’s expense. It might make some people feel uncomfortable, but it can certainly be a good story.
This story is extremely effective and doing a damn fine job of presenting Bliss as an awful person who almost everyone is rooting against. Are the same people who are demanding that Nia Jax wins this match also demanding that Shane McMahon wins his match at WrestleMania? Look at the personal hell that Kevin Owens has put Shane through for over half a year, and Shane has never gotten his revenge. Does that mean it’s a terrible story and that Shane should have immediately won at Hell in a Cell 2017 because the villain was awful enough to attack and draw blood on his 72-year-old father?
I don’t hear any outcry that the storytelling for Shane vs. Owens is only good if Shane wins. So attacking a 72-year-old man is an acceptable heel tactic but what Alexa said about Nia is crossing the line of acceptable heel behavior? It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s just different forms of uncomfortable heeling. Kevin Owens remains elevated because he mostly gets away with being awful. That’s how heels need to be booked to remain at the top of the card. It’s ok for heels to get away with being awful, and it’s ok if that makes the audience feel uncomfortable.
Do you remember how WWE followed up on that segment from March 2010 where CM Punk ruined the birthday of Rey Mysterio’s daughter? CM Punk lost a 6 minute match to Mysterio at WrestleMania 26. WWE took the safe route of the babyface immediately going over. Two months later Punk was having his head shaved after losing to Rey again, in a match where Rey would have to face the sickening fate of joining the Straight Edge Society if Punk prevailed. The latter scenario sounded way more interesting to explore, both for Rey and Punk as characters, but it never happened. WWE threw away all the great potential for a marvelous heel run for Punk right there. He could have been a truly despicable villain who actually got away with his terrible impulses for a long time before paying the price, but instead he was rendered ineffective right away and his Straight Edge Society went on to losing throwaway matches with Big Show afterwards and going out with a whimper.
Do you remember how WWE followed up on Bray Wyatt brainwashing Daniel Bryan and controlling him early in 2014? Daniel Bryan was completely back to normal two weeks later and letting us know that Wyatt never had him under his spell. So much for Bray Wyatt’s magnetism luring others in to his arms. Do you remember Bray Wyatt trying to get into Cena’s head in their WrestleMania story to get him to go strike Wyatt down with that chair? Instead Cena strikes down Rowan and then pins Wyatt anyway. Bray Wyatt’s effectiveness as a heel was crippled.
It’s up to WWE to decide which wrestlers are going to make the most money for the company and then push the hell out of those wrestlers. If new information becomes available to change their mind about certain wrestlers, then adjust accordingly. That’s probably why Cena and Bryan made Wyatt look like a fool in 2014, and it can easily be argued that WWE made the right call there, even if it cost WWE a chance to elevate Wyatt to a top level heel.
But enough heels have been rendered hapless by WWE in recent years that we are stuck in this current situation where there is barely any representation from full-time heels in top positions on WrestleMania cards. We have to go back to WrestleMania 30 to find a full-time heel in the main event, and to WrestleMania 27 before that. The full-time bad guys in WWE lose too often in important moments, they don’t get away with their awfulness long enough, and so they aren’t taken seriously in top spots. Maybe Alexa Bliss can be that kind of heel. Some may scoff at that idea, and that’s fine, but demanding that heels lose right away when they resort to making the audience feel uncomfortable is only going to continue this disappointing trend going forward.
Heels doing awful things, getting away with it, and thriving as a result of it can make for truly compelling stories. WWE hasn’t told enough of these stories in recent years. That’s why it’s totally fine if Nia Jax loses at WrestleMania 34.