WOW returns with a fast-paced season premiere

WOW – Women of Wrestling returned to AXS TV this week with an energetic season premiere that highlighted its considerable strengths as an episodic television show. However, it continues to have some minor weaknesses that stick out like a sore thumb precisely because everything else is functioning so well.

The second season order from AXS tripled the number of episodes in the first season from eight to twenty-four. Hopefully that indicates AXS has a lot of confidence in the show, because it’s really like little else on television right now.

WWE may have the best production value of any promotion with a TV deal, but, outside its video packages, its visual style is too slick and static to be interesting. It’s an issue that affects all of WWE’s major competitors too, as they chase the high standard set by the big game in town instead of striking out with a fresh style of their own.

WOW does not have that problem. Its frenetic editing and dynamic camerawork match the quick pace of its wrestling perfectly. You get the sense that everyone behind the scenes is having just as much fun as everyone on-screen, throwing around dramatic in-camera zooms on wrestler’s faces like confetti. WOW doesn’t look as expensive as other wrestling shows, but it’s far more energetic and exciting, a rare show that’s enjoyable as television, not just as wrestling.

WOW

The premiere kicked off more or less where last season’s finale ended. WOW World Champion Tessa Blanchard entered the ring and immediately mocked David McLane for bothering to introduce her: “They already know who I am. I’m the World Champion.” She was quickly joined by The Beast, Jungle Grrrl and Havok, the same three women who were sizing her up at the end of the last season. Tessa told McLane to figure out who’d challenge her for the title next week and McLane set a triple threat elimination match for the main event. It took him about a full minute to say that, somehow, but we’ll put a pin in that for the moment.

Jessie Jones faced off with Fire in the first match of the night. Jones’ blatantly Trump-inspired “Make Wrasslin Great Again” gimmick caused some consternation when she debuted against Azteca back in January, but it’s hard to find it offensive when it’s so vapid. She’s casually racist, sure, and her promo this week featured a jab at the “limo-livin’ safe-space-havin’ disbelievers at home”, but what exactly is her goal apart from, presumably, becoming champ? She doesn’t seem to care about winning over the crowd (which is good, because they really hate her) but nor is she a heel wrestling purist like The Revival.

All of WOW’s characters are admittedly drawn pretty broad, but Jones may well be the most shallow. Her match with Fire was fast-paced and high-energy, as per the brand, but nothing to write home about. Fire tapped to the armbar and Jones came another win closer to the go-away heat that she probably deserves.

The first video package of the episode saw Azteca unmask to reveal herself as Reyna Reyes, the Pearl of the Philippines. It was a nice package, even if it hit some familiar notes: her story of growing up in a conservative household where she felt trapped by her parent’s expectations hit all the same beats as Fire’s package from last season’s premiere.

McLane quickly announced that Reyes would tag with Princess Aussie in the first round of the WOW Tag Team Championship Series later in the show, then that Sassy Massy would make her debut next, then segued awkwardly into a second video package about the “history” of women’s tag wrestling. It contained some dubious assertions, e.g. Donna Christanello and Toni Rose were cited as champs in the sixties, a decade when the titles were held almost exclusively by Adrienne Ames and Pat Lyda.

WOW’s persistent issue with presenting itself in kayfabe as the only major women’s promotion also reared its head again: by McLane’s telling, women’s tag wrestling was killed in 1989 and revived by WOW in 2001. But, worst of all, it was dull. Some build for the teams in the Championship Series – or even an explanation of the bracket – would likely have done more to get the audience excited.

massyplinarian

Sassy Massy (aka Alisha Edwards) debuted next in a match with The Disciplinarian, who was backed up by Samantha Smart. Massy’s look was great: the mix of white and red leopard print, as well as the stoned red baseball cap, strangely suggested a secret lovechild of Toni Storm and the Session Moth. The speed of the wrestling was a great advantage again, though this match shone brighter than the first as a classic struggle between power and agility.

Samantha Smart had a nice spot choking Massy under the bottom rope with a ruler while the Disciplinarian distracted the ref. Disciplinarian had the match won with a two-handed choke slam followed by a suplex driver, but pulled Massy out of the pin by her hair to inflict further damage in another callback to the first season premiere, where the Beast did the same with Stephy Slays. Unlike the Beast, however, the Disciplinarian would regret her choice almost immediately. Massy fought her way out of a rear chinlock and got the pin soon after with a cool crucifix/sunset flip combo. Backstage, she celebrated with Chantilly Chella, initially hard to recognise with a new blue-haired look, while Disciplinarian and Smart threw a tantrum in the next room. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say those pairs will face off later in the Championship Series.

For the Series’ first match, Princess Aussie and Reyna Reyes fought the Psycho Sisters, accompanied by their new member, Mezmeriah. The Sisters entered first and cut a brief promo in the ring before the match for a pop that rivalled anyone in the world title picture. Aussie and Reyes followed, with no sign of Aussie’s entourage of “Aboriginal warriors”, thankfully. The crowd was audibly more into Reyes than Aussie, which seems fair. Razor and Aussie started off the match and were legal for most of it, but Reyes dealt the decisive blow by accidentally superkicking Aussie in the face, then getting rolled up by Fury with a handful of tights for the pin. Razor cut the promo of the night in the wake of their victory, asking the crowd if they wanted to be Psycho Sisters. When they booed, she bent down and spoke directly to the man in charge: “You see that, David McLane? These people are smart!”

The main event was a lot of fun, even if it was barely a match. Tessa came back to join McLane and Stephen Dickey on commentary. The Beast, Jungle Grrrl and Havok tore strips out of each other and put together some great spots, the best of which was probably Jungle Grrrl landing a crossbody on both Havok and The Beast while they were choking each other in the middle of the ring. But, before a single elimination had even occurred, Havok’s tag team partner, Hazard (aka Nevaeh), ran in and knocked Jungle Grrrl from the top rope and helped Havok stomp The Beast, resulting in a no contest. Jungle Grrrl drove off the Monsters of Madness with a steel chair and Tessa told McLane she’d pick her own opponent for next week.

It was a tight show and breezed by at a fast clip, but it could have been tighter, and here we need to talk about David McLane. Where there was fat on this episode, it was because of David McLane, who occupies far too much time on screen. He took nearly a full minute to announce the main event, just dragging out what he could have said in less than seconds. Far too much of the promos, especially Tessa’s, were directed toward him, and he’s painfully dull on commentary. Where Shaul Guerrero clearly relishes her role as ring announcer, delivering every word with gusto and a big grin, McLane rambles and repeats himself and insistently refers to Tessa Blanchard by her full name for no reason. He may not insert himself into storylines like the McMahons, but that just makes the focus on him even more baffling. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the show is called Women of Wrestling and it can only be to WOW’s benefit if McLane takes more of a backseat role and keeps the spotlight on his roster.

What did you think of the WOW season premiere? Sound off in the comments and stay tuned to Bell to Belles for more coverage of WOW – Women of Wrestling.

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