Thursday, September 23, 2021

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SmackDown Redux (March 5th, 2015): Putting a Dent in the Fourth Wall

Welcome to a special edition of the SmackDown Redux, in which the fourth wall is broken by the Divas and all hell breaks loose. Okay, so mentioning #GiveDivasAChance doesn’t shatter it in a Deadpool or Frank Underwood way, but it’s interesting nonetheless. Does it signal the success or doom of the movement? That’ll be discussed a bit later. For now, we have a match to review.

In her first match since TLC in December, AJ Lee takes on Brie Bella. Will ring rust be AJ’s downfall? Let’s watch:

We join Brie and Nikki on their way to the ring. After a recap of Raw’s events, we cut to both Bellas with microphones in hand. Nikki speaks first, saying that everyone’s been talking about #GiveDivasAChance, as they should be. She wants to be clear, though: it’s not #GiveAJAChance, it’s #GiveDivasAChance, which is exactly what she and Brie have been doing while AJ has been on vacation. Nevermind that the utter shittiness of the booking during AJ’s absence is what tipped fans over into starting the movement in the first place. ANYWAYS….

Brie says that while AJ was relaxing, she and Nikki have been giving Divas “a chance” (like Paige and… Paige), but none have lived up to their standard. That’s why Nikki is still Divas Champion, and they’re still the stars of Total Divas. Nikki says that no one, not AJ or Paige, is going to “save the day”. There’s only one voice that matters, and that’s the one that comes from the top. Oooh, meta. Brie beckons AJ out, promising to give her her “chance”.

Not a bad promo, even though it’s riddled with flawed WWE logic. I suppose you could chalk that up to in-character, heelish willful ignorance. After all, there’s no better way to get heat than take fans’ outrage, claim ownership of it and exclude others from it in one fell swoop. For my thoughts on whether or not #GiveDivasAChance is being co-opted by the WWE, skip down to the “Thoughts” section at the end of this Redux.

AJ then hits the ring, followed by her own backup: former-friend-turned-frenemy-turned-friend-again Paige. It’s match time!

The bell rings and Brie tosses AJ out of a tie-up. They circle again and tie up, Brie again taking control of the hold and backing AJ into a corner. She slams AJ against the corner until the referee forces her back. She charges back towards AJ, but the former champ brings up her knee and halts her. AJ comes charging out, ducking a clothesline and taking Brie down with an arm drag.

AJ locks in a modified armbar, wrenching Brie’s arm and twisting it behind her back. Brie elbows herself free, but she doesn’t get far, running the ropes and being met with a back elbow from AJ. Brie is stunned a bit and stands against the ropes long enough for AJ to hit a baseball slide and sweep her legs out from under her. She taunts Nikki a bit before hopping back up on the ring apron, climbing to the top rope and hitting Brie with a crossbody. She goes for the pin and earns a near fall.

AJ tries to stay on the attack, but a back elbow from Brie stop her in her tracks, and she’s laid out by a second rope dropkick from the Bella. Brie goes for the pin, but AJ kicks out at two. Brie slams AJ’s head against the mat a few times before trying for the pin again, but AJ kicks out even faster this time. Brie sends AJ into the ropes and takes her down with a clothesline. Another pin attempt, another kickout.

Brie props up the prone AJ, wrapping both arms back and locking in a chinlock. Soon enough, AJ’s on her feet, fighting for freedom. Brie halts this, though, pounding AJ on the back and sending her to the mat. She hits AJ with a low dropkick, eliciting a crowd pop so canned it sounded like it came from an early SmackDown vs. Raw game. Hey production team: Brie is a heel, right?

Brie goes for the pin again, AJ kicking out. Brie brings AJ to her feet and slams her face into the turnbuckle thrice. Brie exchanges words with Paige while AJ regains her bearings, allowing her to dodge Brie’s next attack and roll her into a pin attempt. Brie kicks out and springs up, taking AJ out with a clothesline. She pins AJ again, and again elicits a near fall.

Brie captures AJ in another chin lock, and AJ’s slower to fight back this time. The fight is short lived, too, as Brie quickly plants AJ with a DDT. She covers AJ, but AJ again kicks out. She tries again, but gets the same result. Brie can’t believe it. She sends AJ into the ropes and knocks her down with a back elbow. She taunts Paige some more, eliciting the same, “THIS IS MY HOUSE!” as before, as if someone pulled a string on their speaking Paige doll. Brie returns to AJ, covering her for another near fall.

AJ is taken down with snapmare, Brie then vaulting forward and snapping her head forward and allowing momentum to smack the back of her head on the mat. Brie covers AJ for the 230802398th time this match, AJ again kicking out. Brie decides to lock in another submission, catching AJ in a headlock. AJ fights free, but is taken down with a knee. AJ is left propped against the bottom rope, allowing Brie to hit her with a running knee strike. Brie then ventures to the second rope, going for another dropkick. AJ dodges it, though, Brie hitting the mat hard.

Both Divas take their time regaining their bearings, getting to their feet at the same time. It’s AJ who takes control, though, hitting Brie with a Lou Thesz press and pummeling Brie’s head. She goes on an offensive streak punctuated with a neckbreaker. She then sends Brie tumbling out of the ring with a dropkick.

Paige gets a little too close to Brie on the outside for Nikki’s liking, and she steps toward her, Divas Title held high. AJ joins them, creating an interesting mini-standoff that ends when AJ reclaims Brie and brings her back into the ring. From there, it only takes moments for AJ to lock in the Black Widow. Nikki tries to interfere, but Paige lays her out, allowing AJ to claim her prey. Brie taps out!

Brie and Nikki weren’t the only heels attempting to take claim of the #GiveDivasAChance movement. Cameron, Eva Marie and Summer Rae argued over who deserved “a chance” like it was an ice cream cone. You know, only one person can have it.. Whatever, bad metaphor:

Elsewhere on the show, we caught glimpses of Lana and Natalya as they performed managerial duties:

Thoughts: The match wasn’t too terribly exciting, but it told a good story: AJ, despite her past dominance of the division, isn’t above getting some ring rust. Brie dominated much of the match, resulting in the typical plodding pace of a match with a heel in control. I like that AJ wasn’t booked as a superwoman, needing to get her mojo back. She doesn’t even have it back completely yet, as her win came as a result of lucky circumstance, catching Brie unaware with the Black Widow. That’s AJ’s usual M.O., sure, but it still tells the tale of a woman who snatched a lucky win out of the jaws of defeat. I hope the WWE continues to book AJ as someone who needs to work to get back to where she was. It’ll add some much needed depth to this feud.

By the way, this match’s runtime was 7:42, which is an eternity in SmackDown terms. It’s even longer than Paige and Nikki’s match at Fastlane. A SmackDown match outlasting a PPV match? Whaaat? Is this one of the early signs that #GiveDivasAChance is working?

Speaking of which: like many, I’m wary of the WWE using #GiveDivasAChance as part of their storyline, as that would cheapen the fan movement into a kayfabe argument. Though, just mentioning it doesn’t necessarily make it *part* of the storyline. How could they really utilize it in the storyline? Arguing about who deserves “a chance”? Debating who the fans wanted to see more of? I don’t see that having much mileage. As of now, I think it’s just the WWE acknowledging the fans directly and hoping to mitigate some of the damage they sustained in the media for their poor treatment of women. I suppose they think if they confront it directly, it shows that they’re not hiding from the criticism. Hopefully that means they’re intent on making real, lasting change, but that remains to be seen.

Still, having heard “#GiveDivasAChance” uttered by both Nikki and AJ on screen this week, I can’t help but think it’s amazing. When’s the last time a fan movement has been acknowledged by name on WWE television? Sure, the WWE has skirted around the “Occupy Raw” dissent and CM Punk chants, but to mention a hashtag by name is incredible.

As for the status of the Divas division right now, it’s miles ahead of the weeks and weeks and weeks of repetitive booking and a 30 second match (Which was allegedly booked with outrage in mind… Okay, sure.), but I wouldn’t proclaim “Mission Accomplished” just yet.

A big part of the reason there’s excitement around the division and a freshness to it is because AJ just returned. Naturally, things will seem a little more exciting now. I think we need to sit back and assess what happens on the road to WrestleMania (and beyond) to see if any real change is being made. The real test will come when there isn’t a huge Pay-Per-View to build up to: can the WWE invest in the Divas from week to week, like they do with countless Superstars? I trust Diva fans to be vigilant enough to keep watching with a critical eye and make their voices heard again if the WWE slips back into its familiar habits.

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