Editorial Columns

In Defence of Alexa Bliss

Alexa Bliss; Star of the “Women’s Revolution” or “over-rated”? Matthew Roberts thinks he knows what you might think…and he’s here to prove you wrong.

Alexa Bliss; is she the star of the “Women’s Revolution” or “over-rated” and taking the spotlight from those who deserve better? I think I know what you might think…and I’m here to prove you wrong.

The age old debate about Roman Reigns is pretty ubiquitous on Social Media. It’s pretty much the equivalent of Godwin’s Law for Wrestling on the Internet. Sooner or later a discussion on wrestling will inevitably mention Reigns, his suitability (or not) to be the face of WWE and whether or not he’s actually, you know, any good.

But if there’s one other topic that challenges Reigns for airtime it might well be Alexa Bliss. You know, that woman who “can’t wrestle”. The woman who is “over-pushed” in the women’s division. The woman who only has her spot because Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn like blondes. The woman who got where she is today by…well if you’re an unnamed ex WWE star bleating to dirt-sheets, I’m not paying any attention to you.

First, let’s set a little background as to where I’m coming from. I think that Manami Toyota has a legit claim to being one of the best wrestlers in history (about the only thing I’ll ever agree with Dave Meltzer about). If you added Io Shirai to any discussion about the current best in-ring performer in the world, I’d listen to you and argue a case on her behalf. I’ve been watching Shimmer, a promotion that prides itself on the ability of its females, for years. In a few weeks’ time I’m making my first trip to London for two years for a wrestling show in the form of Pro Wrestling Eve’s “Strong Women Style“ because I firmly buy into the idea that Women’s Wrestling was stealing the show world-wide far before the time WWE’s “Women’s Revolution” was apparently breaking new ground for women. Simply put, I’m a fan of great wrestling. And if women provide it, I’ll support it just as much as I would anything else.

Perhaps to put it less subtly, the point I’m making here is this article isn’t being written because Alexa Bliss is a fantastically attractive young woman (which she is) I’m madly in love with (I’m 39 celeb crushes aren’t really my thing anymore beyond comedy value with friends – and anyway, Bull Nakano will always have my heart on that score). Perhaps, even, this article is being written in spite of her looks. Because being “good looking” doesn’t automatically equate to “no talent”. So that might be a good place to start when refuting the criticism of Alexa Bliss…

 

“SHE’S ONLY WHERE SHE IS BECAUSE OF HER LOOKS”

First off, anyone arguing that looks aren’t important in WWE haven’t been paying attention to the company since Vince McMahon took over in the 1980’s. It’s different from saying you agree with that approach and you do have to appreciate that “look” doesn’t just mean “attractiveness” but there’s no getting around it. Looks are important to the man who, ultimately, signs the pay cheques.

At a not too distant time in the past, women were hired purely on looks. Athletic ability was not a requirement. It’s not all that long ago, after all, that Eva Marie was on the books. For all the dedication that Trish Stratus showed in her career (and we’ll get back to her momentarily), she was hired based on her resume as a fitness model. She debuted on TV as the manager of a team called “T & A”. It took her years to get to a level of competence in the ring. And yet she’s welcomed back as a legend (rightly so, by the way). If Bliss’ push was purely down to her looks, it would have died a long time ago.

As an aside, what is also missed out when discussing “looks” is the way that Bliss’ “look” has evolved. Whilst her wrestling attire has remained fairly constant, there have been different nuances to it over the past few years. Whether it be evoking the spirits of Freddy Krueger or Harley Quinn, Bliss has somehow kept her look fresh whilst at the same time having a look that is instantly recognisable.

 

“SHE CAN’T WRESTLE”

This is perhaps THE MOST common thread in the criticism thrown at Miss Bliss. She “can’t wrestle”. The compilers of the WrestleTalk Magazine Women’s 50 certainly didn’t subscribe to that last year when they placed her 25th in that list. Now if your idea of wrestling is the flashy, high risk end of things that a Will Ospreay delivers, you are not going to be too enamoured with Bliss. There’s no getting away from that, even with her graceful Twisted Bliss top-rope finisher. Not that a far less graceful moonsault from Lita back in the day wasn’t partly responsible to her being labelled a legend of Women’s Wrestling, but again we’ll get to that. Yet we are constantly told by almost everyone that there is more than one way to wrestle.

Take Survivor Series 2017. At a week’s notice a match between respective brand champions Alexa and Charlotte Flair was set up after Flair defeated Natalya for the Smackdown title. No-one bought into a Raw Vs Smackdown feud (largely because the WWE were so slapdash about promoting it) and it seemed like this match had little going for it. And yet it worked. Partly this was due to Bliss before the match. With precious little time to hype it, Bliss was able to convey just how much it meant to her to win the battle of the brand champions. This was not your typical WWE match where the win or loss didn’t matter (even if actually it was). Bliss needed a win. This continued into the match itself. I don’t think I’m over stating it to say that it was reminiscent of a classic 1980’s NWA style match where an increasingly desperate heel was trying everything she could to put away her babyface opponent. The look of utter despondency after her loss just emphasised how much the match had meant and how upset she was to lose. Storytelling in the classic sense may be a dying art, but it doesn’t have to be dead. Perhaps patience from a section of fans in the era of flips and flops is limited, but there is still a place for slow-burn wrestling.

A recent reddit post I read on her match with Ronda Rousey raised a similar point about the “old school” psychology that Bliss possesses in spades. Some Bliss fans were naturally disappointed that the match was a virtual squash. I myself thought it could be been handled slightly better, to give Bliss more of an “out” for the loss. (Perhaps, Bliss could have cheated, tried to take a count out loss only to be thwarted by Natalya, thrown back into the ring and then battered). But this is wrestling. Every conniving and sneaky heel has to get their comeuppance. This wasn’t just a case of Ronda waltzing in and destroying the champion; this was Ronda doing what the likes of Nia Jax and Bayley couldn’t do. Playing Alexa at her own game, not letting the usual mind games affect her. Again, some fans do not have the patience for any long term nuances to storylines. For once, Alexa’s game plan hadn’t and couldn’t work.

Bliss will now have to re-group. And I for one wouldn’t bet against her doing it.

But the point is simple. Bliss isn’t supposed to be a flashy wrestler. She can be, and she has some impressive trademark moves. But she doesn’t need to be. She can forge her own path. And whilst it’s one that isn’t to everybody’s tastes (and after all there are plenty of people out there who decry the high-spot, no psychology style that many love, or think entire shows where everybody kicks out of everybody’s finishing moves aren’t for them) to lazily say Bliss “can’t wrestle” simply because she doesn’t work your favoured style perhaps says more about you than about her ability. This of course also leads into the next copmlaint…

 

“SHE’S NEVER HAD A GREAT MATCH”

Now this is one criticism that I have some, limited, agreement with. This is not to say that I don’t think she’s ever had a great match. As I mentioned before, her clash with Charlotte at Survivor Series 2017 was a great match. Matches with Becky Lynch (the Steel Cage match on Smackdown), Bayley (Payback 2017), Sasha Banks (Summerslam 2017) and Mickie James (TLC 2017) were all very good too. But people don’t really mean that Alexa has never had a “great” match when they say that. What they probably mean is that she’s never had as good a match as the Charlotte / Sasha Banks / Becky Lynch match from WrestleMania 32 or as good as what I would term the best women’s match in WWE history, the NXY Takeover Brooklyn clash between Sasha and Bayley. And, as I’m nothing if not fair, I would agree. But that is far from saying she’s never had a great match.

This also raised an interesting point when the furore over the announcement that Bliss would take on the returning Trish Stratus at Evolution hit social media. Many of Bliss’ detractors were quick to denounce that she was nowhere near the league of Trish. And yet, when I look back at her career I could quite easily find myself saying that “Trish has never had a great match”. Of course, Trish’s original retirement match against Lita at Unforgiven ’06 was a great match, but was it appreciably any better than anything Bliss has had? I’d argue not. And it’s not as if the WWE of this period was quite at the level of disinterest with women’s “wrestling” that it was years later when 90 second TV matches were the norm and ignited the “Give Divas a Chance” campaign. Nostalgia doesn’t always paint thing in an accurate light. Yes, Trish Stratus and Lita, to name but two, are bona fide legends of WWE. Both were super over (which is what WWE wrestling is all about anyway but that’s another article entirely) and both contributed a lot to both the WWE and Women’s Wrestling. But to pretend that either woman was churning out five-star match after five-star match, night after night, clearly is being economical with the truth.

And on one final point; Alexa Bliss made her debut on NXT television on May 8th 2014, having only been signed to a contract about one year earlier. She’s had more “great matches” in her first four years than Trish Stratus ever did.

 

“SHE’S OVERPUSHED”

This is a woman who made her on-screen debut in NXT as a ring announcer, to absolutely no fanfare. After that she was stuck in an outdated smiley babyface gimmick that wasn’t being done ironically in order to incite boos. So we certainly can’t say that her push and stardom was pre-ordained from the start.

She never wrestled on a Takeover show, and her biggest moment on one was the inaugural Brooklyn show, when the biggest pop was reserved for the surprise appearance of Blue Pants in the corner of her charges Blake & Murphy’s opponents The Vaudevillians. This was a night when Eva Marie and Carmella did get a singles match, by the way.

Few would have expected her to be, arguably, the biggest surprise success story NXT has ever produced for the main roster. Some will argue that the lack of tangible success in NXT automatically means that her push on Smackdown was undeserved, of course. But the same people will probably confuse the terms “push” and “overpushed”.

To say she shouldn’t have been the one to face Ronda at SummerSlam misses the point of wrestling in some ways. Who else, if the WWE wanted to go the route they did with the match, could have done such a good, ahem, “job”? What other heel wouldn’t have been completely ruined by such a loss? If you thought fans were rioting when Becky Lynch didn’t win the Smackdown title, can you imagine what might have happened if she’d took such a quick loss to Ronda? Would you throw away “dream matches” against the likes of Charlotte by having Ms Flair take the loss here?

It’s a similar thing with Trish Stratus’ return to the ring for singles competition at Evolution. You might think a match between Trish and, say, Sasha Banks would be “better”. You might even be right. But the returning legend going up against the biggest (and best) heel in the division almost writes itself. Sure, the announcement of the match was almost a throwaway social media post, but you can bet that after a few weeks of promo’s from Alexa there will be “reasons” for the match to take place…and reasons why fans will want to pay their money not just to see Trish back in the ring but in the expectation that Trish will deliver the beating Bliss’ words deserve.

Has she had a “strong” push? Undoubtedly. She’s held the various incarnations of the women’s title for more days than she hasn’t since first lifting the Smackdown title. In an era when being traded “up” to Raw from Smackdown can often result in relative mid-card obscurity Bliss bucked that trend and continued her title success. But has this been at the total expense of anyone else? Sasha Banks and Nia Jax have held the Raw Women’s Title in between Bliss’ reigns and Naomi had Bliss’ number on Smackdown. Charlotte has 24 wins on pay-per-view, the most for a woman in the WWE in history and has headlined a PPV opposite Sasha.

Admittedly the split brand nature of the WWE offers more opportunities and there will always be a brand that Bliss isn’t on as result but a default position that Bliss is pushed more than anyone else to the detriment of those other wrestlers brings me to perhaps the catch all, final, criticism….

 

“SHE’S NOT AS GOOD AS SASHA/BECKY/BAYLEY/ANYONE ELSE WE DON’T THINK GETS THE PUSH THEY DESERVE”

Even those “haters” who would concede that Bliss does some things very well will always fall back on this point. As if it’s not so much that Bliss gets a push but who doesn’t. It’s eerily similar to the criticism of Roman Reigns.

As I’ve stated above, I’m not saying that Alexa is “better” than some of the women on the roster. I’ve watched Becky Lynch for years and know that if given the chance she’s one of the best workers on the roster. I’m hoping this current “heel” run finally allows her that chance. I could say that Asuka, despite being the sole survivor at Survivor Series, that Women’s Royal Rumble win and also facing the WWE’s real chosen one Charlotte at WrestleMania has been booked poorly by the promotion. And yet even if it is true that many deserving talents don’t get the “perfect push” that is most certainly not Bliss’ fault and isn’t always entirely the fault of the WWE either.

If the WWE don’t want to push you, they won’t push you. But is there really a big name on the women’s roster that hasn’t been “pushed”? Since Bliss made her main roster debut Becky Lynch, Naomi, Natalya, Charlotte Flair, Carmella, Sasha Banks, Bayley, Nia Jax and Ronda Rousey have all been Women’s Champions for one of the brands. The Iiconics, The Riot Squad and Absolution have been called up to TV in the past year and the likes of Mickie James, Lana, Asuka, Alicia Fox and Zelina Vega have all been at least featured in televised feuds. Regardless of how good or bad those pushes have been (and, again, in the interest of fairness there are name on that list who haven’t been given a totally fair shake) to say that Bliss has been pushed at the expense of all those names is clearly a fallacy.

What is clear is that not all of the names above have made the most of their TV time. You can decry the ever drawn out storyline dissension between Sasha Banks and Bayley and there is no doubt that the storyline has been poorly handled by the office. But are Banks or Bayley appreciably different from the minute they first set foot on the main roster? Their characters haven’t evolved. Other than the fact she’s arguably the least likeable babyface on the roster, do we really know that much more about Charlotte than the fact she is Ric’s daughter? She’s essentially been the same personae, without a change, since her debut. Ditto Natalya. As Total Divas shows, there is definitely a “character” in there but if your only exposure to her is on Raw or Smackdown you’d be pushed to know any more about her than her Hart Family connections. As the rise of Carmella shows, personality and a definable character can get you noticed, without any real discernible “mega push”. Even when Charlotte is calling you a diva, probably unaware that The Queen of Staten Island is also a “second generation” wrestler.

Even when given a throwaway backstage promo during a three hour Raw, Alexa Bliss gives you something to remember. It may be a simple look or a gesture, but she gives you something that is identifiable with her. And this is nothing new. Back when “Talking Smack” was a regular thing, Bliss’ interactions with Daniel Bryan were like some long lost disapproving dad/rebel daughter sitcom which transferred to TV as well. Even in Vince’s “land of opportunity” you sometimes have to take the little scraps you’ve been given and run with them. How many of the “under-pushed” women can truly say they’ve done that?

 

IN CONCLUSION

There will be some out there reading this who will refuse to be convinced. Whether it’s their own innate bias over styles, other wrestlers pushes or a simple distrust of anything the WWE does some will revel in the lazy default of saying Alexa Bliss isn’t very good.

But as a more than competent worker, who has a grasp of psychology and the little things that make a connection with the crowd beyond impressive (but meaningless at times) high spots and has a fantastic character and promo to boot, saying that she isn’t at the top of the list for the “WWE style” is quite frankly bonkers. Throw in that she’s someone who sits near the top of the merchandise sellers, is someone who by all accounts has no history of backstage dramas, or imagining themselves too good to put people over, AND is someone throws herself wholeheartedly into the WWE promotion machine with very little complaint (and seems to leave a positive impression on the media wherever she goes) even her harshest detractors should be able to see why the WWE give her the “push” that they do.

And best of all? There’s still plenty more to come from her.

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