***WARNING: YOU ARE NOW ENTERING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE! PLEASE KEEP EYES AND EARS INSIDE OF KAYFABE AT ALL TIMES*** The Raw After WrestleMania (RAWM), for all its “charm,” has always been your correspondent’s least favorite show and was the first time I knew definitively the difference between a smart mark and a smark. Even the year I went, WrestleMania XXIX, and personally experienced most of the loud idiocy I was in store for (having taken the post-WM train home with what was presumably the entire hard camera side of the crowd,) it was still the kind of thing that makes you hate being a wrestling fan.
To frame it as entitlement of the crowd, I think, ignores what it is they used to actually do: harass the (female) performers (in particular) and explicitly try to ruin the show.
Post-Mania Raw was basically a Freedom Caucus (nee Tea Party) meeting, where the idea of any show existing in a way that was meant to appeal to all of the people in the audience and not just the white dudes meant that NO ONE should have a show. While it manifested itself in countless ways, the most explicit and demonstrative example to me — the “rosetta stone” of their behavior if you will — was their reaction to nearly any match involving women, wherein they would chant the names of whomever was in the ring at the time. This was done for two reasons, both of which are equally shitty and disturbing.
The first reason was, of course, to performatively demonstrate how “smart” they were about the product and people who make it. This is normal fanboy shit, while OBNOXIOUS, it was be a lot less insidious if it weren’t only directed at the women on the show. (Maybe it would be funny to hear a crowd chant “Renee” to Dean Ambrose? I don’t know, I suppose only God can say.) But it was directed at the women, and deliberately so.
It was done to make it very clear to the women in the ring that none of them were valued in the same way the men were. And that, perhaps worse, that every woman on the roster should be defined by the person they are dating. It is shitty on its face, and given the treatment of the “Divas” division at that point, it would have in any other context constituted an hostile work environment.
For the first time, maybe ever, none of that happened last night. Not only was the Women’s division treated with the utmost respect (Nia got an extremely heartfelt “You Deserve It” chant, y’all) by what was still a fairly raucous crowd — bless the hearts of the folks who will make it Tuesday night after roughly 87 hours of wrestling in the past four days — but the show opened up with two of the three most significant women in the industry at the moment: Stephanie McMahon and Ronda Rousey. And the crowd lost their shit.
Part of this was because of Stephanie’s brilliance on the mic, but a lot of it was just how much everyone watching loves Ronda. And, more importantly, what she represents: a real, honest-to-God star that wants to be a star in a division already on the rise up the card. Like Rey Mysterio before her, her mix of palpable talent and potential is (again) literally the kind of thing companies are built around.
And the fans can sense that. Part of the reason shitty WWE fans are the way they are is because they no longer feel hope about the future, definitely in wrestling and maybe in their real life. Ronda — and Charlotte, Asuka, Nia, Alexa, Sonya, Mandy, Sasha, Bayley, Naomi, Ruby, BECKY, Natty, Carmella, the NXT and Mae Young Classic rosters, et. al — represent something that fans can attach themselves to, where wrestling isn’t just a thing certain people do but a representation of the best kind of people the world has to offer doing something they love for our entertainment.
While the WWE has a long way to go towards anything resembling real equality, nights like these — where the opening story for the show isn’t about Ronda as a pioneering woman making history, but where her womanhood informs her take-no-prisoners character (she is, let’s not forget, the “baddest woman on the planet”) — are the kind of hope and change we can believe in.
***WARNING: YOU ARE NOW EXITING A WRESTLING NERD DISCUSSION ZONE! PLEASE ENJOY YOUR COMPLIMENTARY CHILI CHEESE DOG SHAKE FROM SONIC ON THE WAY OUT, NOW WITH EXTRA DOG SHAKE!***