Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Maybe Nikki Bella Is Where She Is Because She's Actually Good?

Don't blame Bella or Cena for the shortcomings of her title reign
Photo Credit: WWE.com
As expected, Nikki Bella retained the Divas Championship last night. It was done in a screwy manner so as to preserve the big pay-per-view title match at Night of Champions on Sunday, but many thought that she might lose in order to pop the crowd wanting AJ Lee's record Championship reign to be preserved. Just because WWE was more cordial in Lee's exit from the company than her husband's doesn't necessarily mean officials are chomping at the bit to preserve her name in the narrative, but that point is really neither here nor there. However, the reaction worth parsing has been that Bella somehow doesn't deserve a long reign with the title because of politicking on behalf of her significant other, John Cena.

That feeling arose from Dave Meltzer reporting on Observer Radio that someone within the company told him if Bella were to retain that it was Cena who had the pull to make it so. The Observer crew is already predisposed towards enmity at the Bella Twins, so passing along that nugget really isn't too surprising, and of course, the fans have taken reacting to new lows. Again, the Bella Twins aren't exactly beloved performers, regardless of how good they are now.

Of course, while Brie has seemingly lagged, Nikki has shown titanic improvement over the last two or so years since she was reintroduced from her in-character firing. She's turned into a legitimately good in-ring worker, and her character mannerisms and promo stylings have increased in quality as well. Even if she wasn't dating WWE's Time Baby, she'd be an ultimately effective foil for Paige and the NXT call-ups. She's a bridge from the Johnny Ace Era of female hirings, and she can go in the ring with them (unless she's not scheduled to go over and isn't really feeling it, but hey, no one's perfect). In a vacuum, one can totally justify her getting the "Scrub AJ Lee from the Record Books" narrative.

But nothing exists in a vacuum, and now that that accusation is out there, it's a big ugly elephant in the room rooted in society's institutional sexism that a woman can't really get ahead in the workplace without using sex as leverage*. Of course, if Bella has Cena going to bat for her, then it's probably wrong in the most technical or procedural sense, but again, Bella isn't exactly stinking up the joint when she's out there. She and her faction are legitimate heat magnets, and at least the Champ and Alicia Fox can be counted on for solid performances in the squared circle.

Even so, to throw scorn on Bella is to ignore that wrestling is, by nature, is political. Everyone loved to pile on Triple H back in the day, myself included, for his alleged machinations, and for good reason. They provided an easy out to dump on an insufferable main event push that produced boring promos, middling matches, and barely any star creation up until around WrestleMania XX. But it's not like Trips would have been the only one, pardon the pun, playing the game back then. The Rock, Steve Austin, Undertaker, and basically anyone with any kind of standing were also accused of playing politics as well. Hell, Chris Jericho has even admitted in interviews that he tried to use extrajudicial means of making sure his spot was always one step ahead of Rob van Dam's. It's a tricky business.

I'm entirely certain that Bella probably has a powerful ally backstage in Cena, but if you don't think Triple H and Stephanie McMahon or other people in power aren't also advocating for their favorites, you're naive. The fact of the matter is that Bella is good at her job, and while she's not necessarily been flawless in her run, the major shortcomings can probably be blamed on the writers, agents, and the head bookers for totally fumbling this Divas Revolution story. Whether or not Cena is going to bat for her is ultimately irrelevant.

* - To be entirely fair, the most glaring example of someone being accused of "sleeping to get ahead" in the business happens to be Triple H, who just happened to marry into the most powerful family in wrestling after dumping Chyna to the curb. It's one of those examples of wrestling providing a subversion of societal norms in the most peculiar fashion possible.