This past Sunday, WWE was going to make women’s wrestling history. They booked the first ever women’s Money In the Bank ladder match, hyped it up with a montage of the female performers who’ve paved the way, and declared all across social media what a special moment it would be.
For the uninitiated, Money in the Bank is a fairly long-running WWE angle that places a contract for a WWE World Title Match in a briefcase. The briefcase is then hung above the ring and the contestants have to use a ladder to retrieve the case. The contract can be cashed in at any time. History shows us that the winner usually waits for the most opportune time to cash in.
So as I settled into the couch in my parent’s basement, I fought back tears as the women made their way down to the ring. I was so overwhelmed. It felt big, exciting, new. And when the match started, it was amazing. Everyone was giving and taking ladder bumps like champs, it was hardcore, intense, passionate. There were amazing spots (like Charlotte’s high risk moonsault), so many great uses of the ladder as a weapon.
But about 13 minutes into a very good match, Carmella’s chinless lackey James Ellsworth jumped into the ring and tossed Becky Lynch off the ladder to stop her from climbing up and securing the briefcase. Carmella sat below the ladder, jostled from a big hit a few moments prior. Ellsworth motioned for her to climb, but she didn't get up.
Instead, James Ellsworth, corny, annoying jobber and a professional piece of shit, climbed the ladder, unclipped the briefcase and threw it down to Carmella. She’s declared the winner.
My jaw dropped. I started crying angry tears. “Are you fucking kidding me?!” I shouted at the TV. I retweeted what felt like a million tweets expressing betrayal, hurt and despair; we had been promised a historic match for women athletes, and I had just watched a man unclip that briefcase. I didn’t get the picture-perfect moment I was expecting, and it gutted me.
Don’t get me wrong, I wanted ’Mella to win. She’s a great heel, and that MITB contract is way more fun in the hands of a villain. I’m not even upset Ellsworth interfered, because heels never win clean. They cheat. It’s what heels do. He could have helped her up from the ring, pushed her up the ladder — hell, he could have given her a piggyback ride to the top of the ladder. All I wanted was to see Carmella unclip that briefcase.
If the writers were aiming to give Carmella some good heel heat, it was not the ending that would do it. It just made everyone hate Ellsworth even more.
That being said, Carmella cut an INCREDIBLE promo on Smackdown Live last night in the very first segment. On her way to the ring she flaunted her fancy briefcase in the faces of booing fans at ringside with a priceless shithead grin. She gave a proverbial middle finger to everyone whining about missing out on the aforementioned picture-perfect moment. ‘Fuck that sappy nonsense,’ her promo implied. She was Miss Money in the Bank, and she wasn’t going anywhere.
“I’ve been overlooked and underestimated,” she declared. This was now the Fabulous Era of Carmella.
Now the boos were for Carmella. She earned them by asserting her agency, asserting that it was a no DQ match with no rules, and therefore she didn’t do anything wrong. If her lackey is going to do her dirty work, so be it. She won that shit fair and square.
“I’m Miss Money in the Bank, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still pissed at the writers for robbing me of my historic feminist moment, but Carmella sold the hell out of the storyline angle, and I’m buying it.
But toward the end of Smackdown Live, freshly returning new dad and General Manager Daniel Bryan came to sort this stuff out. I didn’t enjoy where it went from here.
All the women came to the ring. They argued with each other, Carmella and Ellsworth got in Bryan’s face, and despite there being no rules in a MITB match, Bryan was pissed off enough at that mouthy-prick Ellsworth to revoke ’Mella’s status as Miss MITB, declaring a rematch next week on Smackdown Live.
Kate, the graphic designer behind the weekly Raw Breakdowns, tweeted the most apt feeling on the matter:
Good job. You took Carmella's heat in an actual box away. Can't wait to see you all root for Carmella now.#SDLive
After she’s robbed of her briefcase, nearly in tears, chaos descends upon the ring. Charlotte and Becky Lynch teamed up to beat the snot out of Carmella, when they should have been beating the snot out of James Ellsworth.
It didn’t feel satisfying. The heel heat didn’t stew long enough. Instead you feel weirdly kind of bad for Carmella. And when she cried on Talking Smack (a smackdown wrap-up show), even if they were crocodile tears, you still kind of felt shitty.
WWE has this really bad habit of writing in a way that’s super tone deaf. They recognize that they need to become more feminist in order to stay alive as a company, but their brand of feminism is painfully elementary and lacks any sense of depth or nuance.
They give us a Women’s MITB match, but a man unclipped the briefcase a mere 13 minutes in, even though the men’s MITB match got a full half-hour. Rather than allow a heel like Carmella to steam up for a long time, garner real hate from the audience to get that great, enormous boo whenever she came out, they immediately softened her and made you sympathetic to her plight, when we should have been pissed that she’s a corner-cutting meany who doesn’t care about anyone else.
Every time things like this happen, my reactionary side wants to cancel my WWE Network subscription and quit wrestling fandom forever. But I always end up talking myself away from the ledge.
I have to remind myself that women’s wrestling has come a long way in a relatively short time. It’s been just one year since the women’s division became ‘superstars’ instead of ‘divas.’ The women, especially the women of Smackdown, carry that show on their shoulders with ease. Just because the writing room is full of ignorant folks with no grasp on intersectional feminism or meaningful images of empowerment, that doesn’t mean these women aren’t absolutely crushing it in the ring, on the mic and in the gym.
I want Carmella to win that briefcase next week just to prove that she can do it alone, even if she does some shiesty shit to get there. And then I want Carmella to dump Ellsworth’s ass, only to have the entire women’s locker room beat the snot out of his chinless face.
Until then, I’ll spend an insane amount of time thinking about what we can do as fans to encourage storylines that are actually representative of the thoughts and feelings of the modern fanbase.