Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fare Thee Well, Layla El

Goodnight, sweet princess
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Layla El, one of the longest tenured female performers on the WWE roster, retired yesterday after a nine-plus year career with the company. Her talents weren't being utilized all too much recently, and she wants to "start the next chapter of her life." She recently got engaged to her boyfriend and former WWE superstar Ricky Ortiz as well. Although she entered the company via the publicly reviled Diva Search contest, she grew into one of the most well-rounded performers on the women's roster, and at her peak in the Lay-Cool teaming with Michelle McCool, she was among the most effective and entertaining heel performers of any gender.

Before her WWE career, El made her bones as a dancer, mainly for the Miami Heat in the National Basketball Association. She entered Diva Search in 2006, and ended up winning. Her first real story of note came as part of the Extreme Exposé stable along with Kelly Kelly and Brooke (Tessmacher/Adams). When Brooke was released from the company in 2007, she sort of bounced around feuds and angles until becoming involved in a bizarre love triangle between Jamie Noble and William Regal. After turning heel to join Regal in a short-lived tryst, she moved onto the legendary Lay-Cool alliance with McCool in 2009.

Although their feud with Mickie James over the latter's weight seemed tasteless, Lay-Cool proved they could work effectively as heels. They had one of the better runs as a top women's act that included perhaps the best portion of the second NXT season in their mentorship of Kaval. The act had run its course in 2011, and El was set to receive a huge babyface push out of the dissolution, but right after she won the blow-off match with McCool, she blew out her knee and lost nearly a year of her career.

Even though she was given the Divas Championship shortly after her return, El never really found the same footing she had right after her hot breakup with McCool happened. She drifted around again, mostly appearing on B-shows and such until she found a niche as Summer Rae's replacement at the side of Fandango, which turned into a short-lived but entertaining friendship between his two former dance partners.

While 37 seems to be young for a pro wrestling retirement, El bucked the odds for female performers who started with WWE around the time she did and lasted nearly a decade. WWE's reputation for the women who engage in active competition has only recently improved to the point where five years in the company isn't a drop dead date for a vast majority. Certainly, El didn't show up at a time when the focus was this intense on the same sorts of things for women as it is for men like it seems to be now, yet she worked at her game and became a legitimately well-rounded talent. She could never be mistaken for one of the Four Horsewomen, but she could work a match when she needed to and look good doing it.

While wrestlers like the Horsewomen, Paige, the vastly improved Bella Twins, and Naomi lead the vanguard of the new women's wrestling movement on the roster and pushed El to the backburner in the last few months of her career, I still always held a candle for her to have a bigger role than she had, even at the end. I'll be sad to see her go, but hey, if she's doing what she wants with her life, then who's anyone to say anything cross about her decision to walk away. She had a darn nice career, one that most wrestlers don't get a chance to have. Godspeed, Ms. El.