mark my words

Mark My Words: The Father-Daughter Dance We Didn’t Want

So, Charlotte is our new WWE Women’s Champion. That’s a statement I should be incredibly happy to write, because holy shit, it’s a WOMEN’S TITLE BELT. Not a fucking pink butterfly, not a ‘diva’ as everyone is a superstar now, and that is so, so wonderful to hear. The belt itself looks amazing, like the men’s title but red where the heavyweight title is black, and with a white belt – it’s slightly more delicate, but not in a patronising way. And it’s a far, far cry from the horrible pink butterfly that looked like something a sorority girl would win after a wet t-shirt contest.  Just looking at our two new champs post WrestleMania 32, the belts are beautifully comparable; different enough to be told apart, but similar enough that you know they’re from the same family, that they’re matched. It’s a real sense of the company trying to make amends for the Divas and the mistakes they’ve made in the last six years that division has existed.

That new belt looks so, so good here, up against the men's title. 
That new belt looks so, so good here, up against the men’s title. 

Part of me is so very, very sad to see that they aren’t acknowledging the lineage of the WWE Women’s Championship. When it was retired in 2010 it was the oldest title belt still in use within WWE – started in 1956 – and that’s a lot of weight that’s been removed. Calling Charlotte the first WWE Women’s Champion is a misnomer at best, and at worst, it’s an insult to all those women who came before her and put up with bra and panties matches, swimsuit competitions and Miss WrestleMania titles in order to get us to where we are today. It’s forgetting the legacies of The Fabulous Moolah, Alundra Blayze, newly accepted Hall of Famer Jacqueline, Sable, Beth Phoenix, Chyna, Trish Stratus – hell, Stephanie McMahon herself once held the title. To push all that history under the carpet like it’s so much rubbish, as opposed to calling it a redesigned belt in keeping with the legacy just seems like such a shame.

The previous women's belt was retired in 2010.
The previous women’s belt was retired in 2010.

The other part of me that’s upset about how the WrestleMania title match went down is the part that complains every week when Ric Flair – who has become ‘lich king Ric Flair’ on this blog as we tire of seeing him week in, week out – rocks up alongside his daughter. The part of me that wants to see Charlotte stand on her own as a heel, wants her to have her own strategies and skills and points of view. I don’t want to see her as an extension of her father, and reading back through interviews with her and things she said in NXT, it doesn’t look like she ever wanted that, either. But that’s exactly what she’s become, and that’s starting to overshadow who she is. If they’d brought her out as ‘Charlotte Flair’, if her plates had ‘Flair’ on them, if we were playing with legacy the way we did when Randy Orton, Ted DiBiase Jr. and Cody Rhodes were placed together, I could understand it. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing is someone who fought her way up onto the main roster, and was good enough to get there on her own merits, but is now becoming homogenised with her aging father.

Don’t get me wrong, the match? The match was incredible, you only have to look back through my rehash of it to see how into it I was, how excited Charlotte’s moonsault made me, how many superlatives I used. Becky, Charlotte and Sasha put on an incredible show, a long, grueling match where I caught my breath so many times thinking this would be it, this would be the pin that changed it all. My heart was in my mouth for these three women, all of whom were amazing in NXT and who have only developed and thrived since coming up to the main roster. They have a belt that deserves them now, and I’m so happy about that, and this match proved without a shadow of a doubt that the days where women weren’t taken seriously as wrestlers have to be over. The crowd were so into it, the women were clearly so involved in it and have been honing their craft – the whole thing was a delight.

This spot was a breathtaking moment that left me gasping for air.
This spot was a breathtaking moment that left me gasping for air.

But the finish. The finish was a mess. Firstly, a lot of us were disappointed to see Charlotte retain the title. The standard thing when debuting a new belt is to put it on your biggest face character, someone who can head the whole division, someone the crowd will cheer and scream for, because you want to get that belt over, too. You want to say ‘the belt is important’, and so you put it on someone who the crowd think is important. This is not to say Charlotte doesn’t deserve the belt, simply that placing a new belt on a heel can make things a little tricky, as the audience want to applaud the belt, but not the character.

The part I object to is Ric’s interference in the match. The women were doing an incredible job, and I managed to almost pretend that last time Charlotte’s title was at stake against Becky, and Ric was there, he forcibly kissed her, and we’re just supposed to pretend it didn’t happen. As you can see from my recap, where I cheer in all caps as Becky lands on Ric, I haven’t forgotten, and I certainly haven’t forgiven. This match was for a brand new women’s title –  a title for women, a title fought for by three women who strongly deserve to be the face of this new belt, the first to have their sideplates screwed onto it, the first to hold it aloft in victory, and the first to defend it. It’s not Ric Flair’s title, it’s not his belt, it’s not his division, and it wasn’t his match. To have him interfere at the end, holding Sasha back to keep her from breaking the pin between Charlotte and Becky cheapened the belt.

The whole point was to get away from cheap belts.
The whole point was to get away from cheap belts.

In fact, it cheapened what this whole new title belt and an end to the divas was supposed to be about, and that’s women being treated as real competitors in their own merits. Making sure that the winner of the new WWE Women’s Championship was decided because a man did something makes that whole idea seem laughable. It says Charlotte can’t win on her own, it says the division is still as much of a joke as the divas ever were, and it says the rules don’t apply to the women’s roster in the same way they would to the men. No one came out on Monday’s Raw and said Charlotte shouldn’t have the title because her daddy stole it for her, despite some evil glares from Sasha and Becky, and no one told Ric to get out of the ring during a celebration that was meant to be for the women.

You can just see Ric with his hands on Sasha in the background - such a shameful way to end an incredible match.
You can just see Ric with his hands on Sasha in the background – such a shameful way to end an incredible match.

I wouldn’t mind so much if I felt this was a set up for a larger storyline, where Sasha and Becky remind Charlotte every time that her title is only there because of her father, that she’s nothing without her dad, and that he wins all her matches for her. But as much as it was mentioned a little, on the way into WrestleMania, no one seems to ban Ric Flair from ringside, and he never gets any comeuppance. There’s no story to give us a reason for his interference, there’s no backlash from the rest of the roster, and so we, the fans, are left with nothing but a bad taste in our mouths about the whole situation. I was so excited about the new belt, and the possibilities this meant for our female superstars – and now I just feel like it’s the same old shit. Just with a new shiny title.