By Chuck Carroll
For all of us, life is a series of firsts. Whether it be our first steps, our first words, first kiss, or first job, we all have them. It just seems that the women in WWE have more of them.
For the female Superstars in the locker room, breaking barriers and shattering glass ceilings has become the norm. But there is no complacency with these norms. There is no numbness to what continues to unfold in the ring. Nobody is dismissively saying, “Oh, that’s nice.”
Instead, three years into WWE’s women’s evolution, fans are continuing to scream “Oh, wow!” as the division grows ever stronger.
Because the division had been stifled and undervalued for decades, there remains no shortage of firsts for the women to conquer. On October 28, they will have the opportunity to check off two more on the same night. Finally, the women will have a pay-per-view to themselves, and it will be co-headlined by a Last Woman Standing match.
Historically, Last Man Standing matches have been physically demanding displays of brutalities that have left competitors bloodied and bruised. It’s the type of match that commands extra effort and carries with it a heightened risk of injury. It’s the type of match that can only be used to settle sports entertainment’s fiercest feuds. It’s a grudge match amplified by 10.
For WWE, there are only two women worthy of breaking this barrier, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. On-screen they are former best friends turned bitter enemies now fighting over the coveted SmackDown Women’s Championship. But the reason they were chosen isn’t solely driven by storylines. They have come up through the system together, having honed their craft in NXT. Their chemistry was evident from day one but has grown to be unparalleled in the years since.
More than 50 women will be on the card that night, including former UFC Champion Ronda Rousey, who is defending the RAW Women’s Championship against the newly devilish Nikki Bella. But Charlotte and Becky are the chosen ones for what will undoubtedly be a match rife with ruthless aggression.
Some are already predicting “The Queen” will reclaim the title to become a seven-time champion, while others are gazing even deeper into the crystal ball and seeing a match against Rousey at next year’s WrestleMania. The thought has crossed her mind as well, and she’s made no bones about wanting to become the first woman to headline pro wrestling’s grandest stage. But she’s also not allowing herself to look beyond the current task at hand. As she sees it, there is still plenty of time between now and April 7, 2019. For now, the focus remains squarely on making history at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
I had an opportunity to catch up with Charlotte to talk about the history-making WWE Evolution pay-per-view, her chemistry with Becky and potentially facing Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania.
I had a chance to speak with Becky Lynch the day before SummerSlam, and I asked her what she would be doing that night to get mentally prepared and centered for the match the next night. She told me that she was big into journaling and putting on paper how she visualized everything would turn out. What is your routine the night before a big match?
If I haven’t worked out yet, I like to get the gym and listen to my favorite songs and clear my head and not be texting or talking on the phone or hanging out with a friend. It’s kind of my personal space. So, if I haven’t worked out that morning, I’ll do that at night. Or I’ll just make sure to get to bed early and just visualize instead of writing in a journal. I’ll just lay there and visualize how I see things. It’s kind of like when I was in [competitive] cheerleading, I would visualize our routines over and over in my head the night before. I kind of do the same thing now for big matches and then also really dial in what is the story I’m trying to tell, to get to that emotional level for the match.
The women in WWE just keep coming up with firsts. You’ve got this first-ever Last Woman Standing match coming up at Evolution. That’s going to be a brutal match, very physical. What’s it like psychologically knowing that you’re going to go out there and you’re going to get beat up more so than you would in an ordinary match?
I don’t really look at it from the standpoint of it’s going to be more brutal. I hope that every match is just as intense. What makes me more nervous is the expectation of a new “first-ever.” But in the same sentence, there is no expectation because there has never been a Last Woman Standing match on RAW or SmackDown. Now, NXT has had one. So, I guess the best way to prepare is to watch that one from the past.
I want to go back to expectations, not just for this match but for when you joined the main roster. What were your expectations for where the women’s division was going to go when you first set foot in the ring on day one on the main roster?
When I first started in NXT I had no idea about the world I was getting into. I just kind of learned as I went along. Once I hit the main roster, after having so much growth and opportunity in NXT, I was just hoping to bring the same success to the main roster. But I didn’t know that it would be where it would be today.
Is this beyond your wildest dreams?
I thought nothing was going to get bigger than WrestleMania 32. So, absolutely.
How has the culture in the locker room changed for the women?
I think it’s just a bigger locker room to be honest. If you look at RAW and SmackDown and NXT, there’s such a depth of talent. We have so many women of different backgrounds working together. It takes that one little ounce of hope. Say it was the first-ever main event on RAW or SmackDown for the women since Trish [Stratus] and Lita. Then we main-evented a pay-per-view. I think it’s just continuing to believe that we can continue to break glass ceilings and all of the women have the bug. I think that’s the difference. Not that the women before weren’t doing that, because they were working just as hard. It’s just that now the opportunity is back-to-back-to-back.
We’re talking about breaking glass ceilings and leveling playing fields. Where does this all go?
I’ve said it time and time again, but I want to be the first woman to main event WrestleMania. So, that’s where I want to go. That’s where I think we’re headed if we continue at this rate.
On that note, what do you think about the prospect of facing Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania?
I definitely envision it, but right now I’m focused on the present. I don’t want to skip too far ahead, because I still have the first-ever Last Woman Standing match in a few weeks. I don’t want to think of something down the line when I have a first-ever right here in front of me and an opportunity to have one of the best rivalries with my ex-best friend that there’s been in years.
The chemistry that you and Becky display in the ring is extraordinary. The only other person I’ve seen you equal that chemistry with is Nattie. Talk to me about developing that chemistry in the ring with one person. It’s just special with you and Becky. What makes it so special with her?
With Becky, it was right off the bat. I’ve had a couple rivalries that it takes time to get into the groove and figure each other out. But I think with her, it has a lot to do with the fact we came up through NXT together. Whether it’s psychology or training, I actually know all of her moves. So, knowing where her head is at and knowing how she looks at a match and dissects it, I can relate, because we did it together. We learned together and grew together versus we came in at different times and had different coaches. She had more experience than m,e because she had traveled the world and wrestled in Japan, but I think it has a lot to do with how we view the way things should be.
The Saudi Situation
WWE continues to find itself backed into a corner with regard to upcoming Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia. While other major businesses and journalists have pulled out of events in the country following the alleged murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi, WWE appears to be moving ahead with plans for the November 2 show in Riyadh.
Turkish intelligence claims to have an audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder and subsequent dismemberment and alleges the killing was carried out by members of a hit squad with close ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkish forensics teams have been examining the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where the killing is believed to have occurred.
The alleged brutality and intense scrutiny of the situation have many WWE talents feeling uneasy about performing in Saudi Arabia. Multiple talents voiced their displeasure anonymously in a recent article by Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated. The company has also come under attack by commentator John Oliver who spotlighted its lucrative partnership with the country.
With regard to the talent concerns, WWE has stated that it is maintaining an “open line of communication” with talent and production members. The company also says that it is monitoring the unfolding events.
Moving forward, with the show appears to be a gamble the company is willing to take, with tens of millions of dollars at stake. The show would be the second event in a 10-year partnership with the Saudi government, with the inaugural event, “The Greatest Royal Rumble,” being hailed as a major financial success for WWE. However, the company also faced public backlash for running a show in a country where female talent is barred from performing.
WWE has not revealed the exact value of the decade-long partnership, but some estimates peg the deal as being as much as a $45 million annual windfall. Pulling the plug now would result in a massive loss of income that would surely irk investors, who have recently driven the stock price above $90 per share. As of mid-afternoon Thursday, shares were trading around $82.
As scrutiny of the partnership continues to increase, WWE has ceased referencing Saudi Arabia in its promotion of the event.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump publicly defended the Saudis following the alleged murder.
“Here we go again with you know you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump said in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday. He went on to compare the investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance to the recent sexual assault inquiry of Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings.
WWE co-founder Linda McMahon has long been an ally of Trump. Following unsuccessful Senate campaigns in her home state of Connecticut, McMahon officially entered politics when she was appointed by Trump to be the Administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Chuck Carroll is a former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality who now interviews the biggest names in wrestling. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.