Progress in Professional Wrestling Marred by (Real-Life) Controversy
January 15, 2020 9:27 AM   Subscribe

Over the weekend, Tessa Blanchard won the Impact World Championship, making her the first female champion of a major wrestling promotion in the U.S. The victory -- coming as the culmination of a months-long feud with Sami Callihan that was marked by sexist remarks from Callihan (and from the worst parts of wrestling's notoriously gross fandom) -- should have been a triumph not only for Blanchard but the entire industry. But the result of the fight in the ring was soured by a fight that Blanchard didn't see coming... on Twitter.

It started when Blanchard tweeted the day before the match (seemingly out of the blue), "Hey women, try supporting one another. Cool things happen." Several female wrestlers replied with memories of Blanchard being less than supportive, and then Allysin Kay dropped the ultimate reply: "Remember when you spat in a black woman’s face and called her the N-word in Japan? Was that you "supporting women"? The AUDACITY of this tweet". Blanchard immediately tweeted (without context) "not true", but the woman in question, La Rosa Negra, all but confirmed the story in a YouTube clip (mostly Spanish, with English subtitles).

The tweets probably led Impact Wrestling to lessen the celebration of the historic title win, ending the pay-per-view broadcast almost immediately after the match and before Blanchard could deliver a short speech that alluded to the allegations, saying "Nobody in this life is perfect. We’re all human. It doesn’t matter what you say about me. It doesn’t matter what you call me." Unsurprisingly, Blanchard's first post-match interview on Impact's television show made no reference to the controversy, instead setting up a continuation of her feud with Callihan. Can her bittersweet win still lead to progress?
posted by Etrigan (9 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
No. It's professional wrestling. It's a work.
posted by Billiken at 10:17 AM on January 15

No. It's professional wrestling. It's a work.

It really isn't.

Wrestlers talk and gossip just like everybody else, the kayfabe line is a lot blurrier than it used to be because wrestlers use social media both to promote themselves and also just for their own lives, and wrestlers now talk in business terms to fans (if they perceive the fans as friends, which is another thing social media helps push).

If you know and are friendly with wrestlers, you know that there are a lot of wrestlers who genuinely do not like Tessa Blanchard - she was considered a blue chip prospect in the first Mae Young Classic that WWE ran three years ago, and then didn't get signed because she ran her mouth at other wrestlers about how she was better than them, plus there was a lot of talk when she and the very popular wrestler Ricochet broke up with one another about how it was because she cheated on him (and, to be clear, Ricochet has a bit of a rep for being free and easy himself, but he's well-liked so, yeah) - and in this particular instance she's being condemned by wrestlers who don't work for her company, so there's very little financial incentive for them to attack her. Allysin Kay and La Rosa Negra aren't coming to wrestle for Impact: they have their own commitments elsewhere.

The truth of wrestling is that it's a skillset, and shitty people can have that skillset. Blanchard isn't even close to being in the neighborhood of the worst. I mean, the first woman to be a world champion with a major men's title, Sexy Star, is basically blackballed from the industry now because she intentionally tried to injure an opponent during a match (and she's done and said lots of things nearly as bad as that). Sami Callihan, who is her feud opponent in her current angle, has been accused of white nationalism. Michael Elgin gaslit a female wrestler who was being sexually abused by one of his students. JBL is a world-class bullying asshole. And so on and so forth.

Pro wrestling has lots of lovely people in it, and it's got shitheads, and the problem is that sometimes the shitheads are really good at drawing money, which is the most important thing in wrestling from the wrestlers' standpoint. Tessa Blanchard is kind of a shithead. These things happen.
posted by mightygodking at 10:31 AM on January 15 [21 favorites]

the first female champion of a major wrestling promotion in the U.S.

Princess KimberLee says what, now?

Blanchard is undeniably talented but her reputation with the other workers is apparently bad enough that WWE passed on her and given that WWE has two murderers and Donald fuckin' Trump in their Hall of Fame she must have been seen as positively radioactive.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:40 AM on January 15 [7 favorites]

Oh hell. I'd heard shit about Tessa Blanchard, but I had not heard about the allegations against Sami Callihan. I loved him in Lucha Underground. Bleh.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:00 PM on January 15

Blanchard is undeniably talented but her reputation with the other workers is apparently bad enough that WWE passed on her and given that WWE has two murderers and Donald fuckin' Trump in their Hall of Fame she must have been seen as positively radioactive.

Alternatively, WWE has a higher tolerance for assholism among men than women. Which isn't to say that they *should* be tolerating Blanchard just because they tolerated men who were worse, just, you know, women are often judged more harshly than men.

Something I'm curious about as a person who really only follows wrestling by reading the wrestling posts on MetaFilter -- what does it represent that Blanchard won this title? It's obviously not a pure measure of skill like one person beating another in a foot race. But is it indicative that she is currently the best wrestler -- in terms of the kind of display she can put on in the ring and how she can sell the moves? Or is it more indicative that she's currently the biggest draw in the promotion in terms of audience and merch sales, a reward for making everyone more money? Or do these kinds of decisions get made largely in service of the ongoing plot development?
posted by jacquilynne at 12:02 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]

what does it represent that Blanchard won this title?

It's kind of all three things you mentioned. The champion is by default one of the biggest names in a promotion, one who will get people to watch (which may just be "shock value"; see David Arquette's time as WCW World Champion) and/or buy merchandise (WWE would issue multiple new Stone Cold Steve Austin T-shirt designs per week when he was on top). And sometimes there are "transitional champions" who exist primarily to keep your two biggest names from facing each other just yet (it is rumored that Callihan was the only person in Impact who was willing to lose to Blanchard), or other "storyline champions" who serve another narrative while not being the biggest name (to quote GLOW, the money's in the chase).

Blanchard is a very good in-ring performer (especially considering that she's only been doing this for four years, but she does have the advantage of having a father, stepfather, and grandfather in the business) and sells a lot of merchandise, but the PR value of the First Ever Female Champion definitely also weighed in on giving her the belt. To put it kindly, Impact is a distant third place among U.S. wrestling promotions behind WWE (airing weekly on Fox and USA) and AEW (airing weekly on TNT), and by some metrics you could place it as low as seventh. Putting the title on Blanchard would put Impact in the news for something that WWE and AEW have straight-up said they will not do -- let women "compete" against men as equals.
posted by Etrigan at 12:37 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]

More generally, it means whatever the people in charge of the promotion want it to mean. A modern pro wrestling promotion is best understood as a mostly-scripted (but with some improv) TV show about a fictional wrestling league, like Friday Night Lights if you could actually go to a stadium and watch the actors play football games. There's any number of reasons why the writer's room would want the Panthers to win or lose any particular game or the overall championship, and the same goes for WWE, AEW, Impact, etc.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 1:03 PM on January 15

Whoa. That's a hell of a good idea for a show: Friday Night Lights, but cast people who actually play football and write the script based on what happens in actual games. You should sell that idea.
posted by BeeDo at 1:34 PM on January 15 [2 favorites]

No. It's professional wrestling. It's a work.

It's cross-promotional. We've got the Impact! champion on one side, and the NWA champion, several WWE NXT wrestlers, several AEW wrestlers, and at least one more minor league wrestler on the other. Given that the WWE tries to not acknowledge the others and I don't think AEW and the NWA would team up the idea it's a work is ... unlikely.
posted by Francis at 4:51 AM on January 21

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