Simply Flawless: LayCool overcame problematic booking to be trailblazers
For Women’s Tag Team Wrestling Appreciation Week, we look at how LayCool overcame problematic booking and became trailblazers.
This week, Bell to Belles will honor the best of women’s tag team wrestling. That couldn’t be done without looking back at LayCool, the duo of Michelle McCool and Layla, and how they became an unconventional team despite WWE’s puzzling creative decisions.
When memories harken back to the best of LayCool, we often think about their perfectly timed combo catchphrases, their unforgettable reigns as co-champions, or their presentation as “Simply Flawless.” Unfortunately, the origins of the group saw them given some truly horrendous creative direction, even from WWE standards.
Now, it’s important to remember who Layla and Michelle McCool are before looking at these issues. LayCool are performers, who played their characters in the way WWE is directing them to. While some WWE superstars do get to have input in what they do at times, the company always gets to make the final call.
LayCool were a part of WWE when things were so focused on framing all women as Divas that the WWE Women’s Championship was ultimately retired and the WWE Divas Championship replaced it. Even today, WWE Superstars are often given controversial creative directions.
Look no further than veteran Jeff Hardy, who for weeks was stuck in an offensive storyline with Sheamus playing on his real-life struggles with addiction and alcoholism. Is that story Jeff Hardy’s fault? Should we blame Sheamus for the things he’s said? No, because he did what he was told in an industry where not doing what you’re told can easily end your career.
LayCool, no different than Sheamus today, were doing their jobs. Even when their jobs included having to portray stereotypical “Mean Girls,” engaging in body shaming and spewing transphobic bile. Had LayCool refused to do these things, their characters likely would’ve lost momentum, and today we may barely remember the contributions of Michelle McCool and Layla to women’s wrestling.
From their very beginnings as a team, they were pitted against Mickie James. Layla and Michelle McCool threatened to make life very difficult for James, proceeding to shred her clothes with a pair of scissors at ringside during one of Mickie James’ matches.
It’s no secret WWE wanted them to be “Mean Girls” in every sense of the term, because commentary frequently described them as exactly that. Unfortunately, commentary would also use these antics to add fuel to misogynistic narratives about women never getting along, being emotional, and acting in a vindictive manner for seemingly no valid reason.
The infamous Piggy James angle
As their rivalry with Mickie James heated up, fat-shaming took center stage. Michelle McCool, with an introduction by Layla, presented a parody of “Old MacDonald Had A Farm” with Mickie James presented as “Piggie James” in the footage and given a Porky the Pig style closing moment.
It was truly terrible. On top of being just badly crafted, the body-shaming combined with bashing her country background was extremely difficult to watch. Mickie James was brought to tears by the segment, and while you could argue that’s just good acting, the in-character attacks certainly seemed to personally affect James who was gone from the company for six years following the conclusion of this rivalry.
As the feud continued, so did the body-shaming antics. In one segment, James was gifted a Jenny Craig certificate and LayCool continued to stress that she needed to lose some weight. Layla even dressed up in a fat suit with James’ gear and a pig nose, portraying “Piggie James,” more than once during their feud. They even tossed out some more general body-shaming, often mocking Mickie James’ friend, Maria Kanellis, for being “underfed.”
Fortunately, when things came to a head at the 2010 Royal Rumble, Mickie James got her retribution. While it would’ve been better to give them more than 20 seconds of actual match time on the pay-per-view, these three women did their best with what they were given. They made the best chicken salad they could out of the chicken shit that was written.
Layla came to the ring in the “Piggie James” costume, only to be rushed by James at ringside. After the bell sounded, it only took 20 seconds for James to put down Michelle McCool and defeat her for the WWE Women’s Championship. After the match, several other women in WWE made their way to the ring with a large cake which Mickie James got to smash over LayCool.
As terrible as much of the creative direction was for this, we saw Mickie James deliver some scathing promos throughout the storyline and give us some powerful performances. LayCool became two of the most hated figures in WWE, garnering massive heat from crowds and helping make the pop when James won the title truly memorable.
However, less than a month later Mickie James lost the title in a rematch with McCool where Vickie Guerrero served as the special guest referee and interfered on behalf of McCool. A few months after that, Mickie James was released by WWE.
A new rivalry with the The Glamazon
The next big rivalry for LayCool was against “The Glamazon” Beth Phoenix, and it was no less problematic than their feud with Mickie James. This time, rather than body-shaming, LayCool were as transphobic as possible, constantly mocking Phoenix for looking “mannish,” even wearing shirts that said “Glam-a-man.”
At Extreme Rules 2010, Beth Phoenix challenged Michelle McCool for the WWE Women’s Championship, but it was in an Extreme Makeover Match. The attacks on Phoenix’s appearance took center stage, and the ring was surrounded by a smattering of beauty products and a table covered in makeup.
However, again despite their horrendous antics, they played their part and garnered severe heat, which made Phoenix’s win (despite interference from Layla and Vickie Guerrero) to become the WWE Women’s Champion a huge moment. Unfortunately, her title reign was even more shorter-lived than Mickie James’ had been.
Beth Phoenix was champion for a mere 18 days before WWE here put in a handicap match to defend the match against both McCool and Layla. Ultimately, it was Layla who pinned Phoenix, making Layla the new WWE Women’s Champion. It was a historic moment, as Layla became the first British woman and first WWE Diva Search winner to hold the WWE Women’s Championship.
It also saw LayCool become an even more cohesive team. From that point forward, LayCool both carried titles and even defended them similar to how The New Day often defend their tag titles with the “Freebird Rule”. Opponents would have to prepare for both Layla and Michelle McCool. They often wouldn’t find out which one would defend the title until the moment the bell sounded.
During this time, while Layla was technically the only recognized champion by WWE, LayCool operated entirely as a unit at every turn by always referring to themselves as co-champions. The two even carried two WWE women’s title belts. When SmackDown General Manager Teddy Long demanded they relinquish one of the titles, LayCool gave one up only to break the remaining title in half like the ultimate BFF charm.
They didn’t stop making history there, as just a few months down the road was Night of Champion 2010.
LayCool become the unified WWE Divas Champions
Going into that night, LayCool had made a surprising appearance on WWE Raw. The SmackDown Superstars challenged the reigning WWE Divas Champion, Melina, to a title unification match. At Night of Champions, Michelle McCool took the lead and defeated Melina to unify the WWE Women’s Championship with the WWE Divas Championship.
It became clear the next night the WWE Women’s Championship had been officially retired, making Layla the last recognized WWE Women’s Champion before a new version of the title was introduced in 2016 that ultimately became the WWE Raw Women’s Championship. LayCool showed up on Raw both wearing a WWE Divas title, and Layla defended the title in a rematch with Melina, making clear once again they would be moving forward as co-champions.
LayCool’s next big rivalry would be against Natalya. Unfortunately, the same sort of antics they’d been given before were handed out once again. However, by this point, LayCool had developed such an enthralling and united personality as a tag team that it seemed to successfully overshadow even some of their cringeworthy scripted dialogue.
The rivalry culminated at Survivor Series 2010, where they faced off against Natalya in a handicap match only to lose, making Natalya the new WWE Divas Champion. Shortly after, Beth Phoenix returned from injury and stood by her longtime friend against LayCool who desperately wanted their titles back.
This led to a tag team tables match, a first of its kind for the women of WWE, and potentially the only one. The only other women’s tables matches were Becky Lynch vs. Alexa Bliss in 2016 and Ruby Riott vs. Natalya from TLC 2018. Fans have since seen two women’s TLC matches, which WWE didn’t them until 2018.
That means six to eight years before we’d ever seen the women spotlighted in this way again, and five years before the Divas Revolution sparked change in WWE’s women’s division, LayCool took on Beth Phoenix and Natalya in a Tables Match at TLC 2010.
I actually had the opportunity to see this match live, and it’s one I’ll never forget. Beth Phoenix was a favorite of mine back then, but I always appreciated just how good the character work of LayCool was. These four women held nothing back in this match and gave us something memorable despite being given less than ten minutes of match time.
The finish saw LayCool topple off the turnbuckle into a table, but it didn’t properly break. It appeared as if the plan was for them to crash through the table this way, but as it had only bent at the center, Natalya came off the top rope with a splash to definitively drive LayCool through the table and take the win for duo sometimes known as “The Divas of Doom”.
In the following weeks, they actually played into this as LayCool insisted they didn’t weigh enough to break the table and only Natalya’s splash put them through it, meaning Natalya had gone through the table and she should’ve been the one who lost the match. It was classic heel deflection.
Near the end of 2010, WWE held their somewhat annual Slammy Awards and had a battle royal to crown the 2010 Diva of the Year. Michelle McCool took the win in that contest, but LayCool proceeded to carry around two Slammy Awards in the following weeks and declare both of them Slammy Award winners.
The demise of LayCool
The next big target for LayCool ended up being Kelly Kelly, who they had consistently referred to as “Smelly Kelly.” This was surely a gem from WWE creative once again. Yet again, LayCool powered through their bad creative direction and went on to make history in an all-new way.
In February of 2011, World Heavyweight Champion, Edge, was embroiled in a bitter rivalry with Dolph Ziggler. Edge’s ex-wife (on WWE television) and acting SmackDown General Manager, Vickie Guerrero, was doing everything she possibly could to take the title from Edge and put it on Dolph Ziggler. One night on SmackDown, Vickie Guerrero got inventive and created a never-before-seen main event.
Edge was forced to defend the World Heavyweight Championship in a Two-on-Three Handicap Mixed Tag Team Match. Edge teamed with Kelly Kelly while Dolph Ziggler teamed with LayCool. It was a rare SmackDown main event for the women of WWE at that time, and also historic in that Kelly Kelly was defending the World Heavyweight Championship against LayCool.
Throughout the contest, Dolph Ziggler spent most of his time on the apron hoping LayCool would win the title for him, and they came very close on several occasions. After a fantastic match, it was a huge spear by Kelly Kelly to Layla that scored the victory and helped Edge retain the World Heavyweight Championship.
After that, the Road to WrestleMania 27 was fully underway, and LayCool were two of WWE’s most consistent and trusted women at that time. WWE loves having celebrities involved at WrestleMania, and this year was no different as they brought in Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi of Jersey Shore fame.
LayCool teamed up with Dolph Ziggler once again, and went up against the trio of John Morrison, Trish Stratus, and Snooki at WrestleMania 27. Unsurprisingly for that time period, the match was only given a hair over three minutes, but LayCool did their best with what they were given and made Snooki look like a star in her brief appearance.
Following WrestleMania, the cracks in LayCool started to appear and Michelle McCool’s time in WWE was about to come to a close. In later years, McCool revealed that her real-life relationship with The Undertaker had started to affect her career and most people within WWE didn’t treat her the same once she was dating him.
The way others treated McCool made an impact, and she decided to bring her career to a close rather than stay and end up hating something she had loved for so long. Fortunately, she did get to have a great exit as LayCool imploded and were even given a pay-per-view finale.
The team had issues on SmackDown following WrestleMania 27. Michelle frequently attacked Layla for being the weak link of the team that McCool felt she had carried throughout their tenure. Layla became a babyface because of this confrontation She genuinely wanted to mend things. She even enrolled the two of them into couples therapy sessions, although they didn’t work as intended.
Things came to a close at Extreme Rules 2011, almost two years after LayCool had first come together. Layla challenged McCool to a match at Extreme Rules that would have no disqualifications or countouts, and McCool agreed only after adding the stipulation that “Loser Leaves WWE.”
LayCool were only given five and a half minutes for the match, and weapons were relatively nonexistent, but once again they thrived despite that. Layla showed truly devastating emotion throughout the match, struggling because she didn’t want to be the reason her former BFF had to leave WWE.
Layla finally took the win, only to immediately burst into tears at the realization of what her victory meant. While Layla continued with the company for four more years before retiring, this was Michelle McCool’s swan song and marked the end of the “Simply Flawless” tag team known as LayCool.
In many ways, the way they went out was as indicative of what they had to overcome as a team as their beginnings. LayCool were rarely given the match length they deserved, all too often left off lesser pay-per-views entirely, and handed truly problematic and offensive creative direction from WWE with little choice but to deliver things as they were scripted.
Despite all of those obstacles, LayCool became trailblazers as a tag team almost a decade before WWE brought back the WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles. Long before we got to see teams like The IIconics, The Golden Role Models, and Bliss Cross Applesauce, LayCool made history at every turn in spite of every terrible thing they faced.
Women’s wrestling, especially women’s tag team wrestling, is better because of the impact that LayCool made on it. Honoring the history of women’s tag team wrestling includes the teams that thrived at a time when it was nearly impossible. Layla and Michelle McCool, in spite of WWE, were Simply Flawless.
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