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Art is the creation of something from nothing that elicits a reaction. Pro wrestling embodies that definition. In wrestling, men and women step inside the squared circle and create with their actions, expressions, words, and bodies to garner a specific and distinct reaction from their audience. In turn, the audience responds to, engages with, and affects the work. No other art form in the world carries that uniqueness. In this column, we explore that art form inside real and relevant examples. Enjoy.
This week on Monday Night Raw, Nia Jax and Asuka were promoted and featured in prominent fashion. After a week in which Jax attacked the empress of tomorrow from behind, the two went one on one in what was the only match marketed to the audience ahead of the show going live. The women’s revolution and both divisions are criticized for a lack of storytelling and character development when it comes to the women’s programs on shows. Much of that criticism is warranted as deep storylines with purpose are dismissed in exchange for a large volume of women appearing on shows each week. On Raw, Jax and Asuka carved a story for themselves. Using proper psychology and artistry in their match, they flicked criticism away and made fans invest in their work. It was entertaining, it was intricate, it protected both characters, and the WWE can go back to it at any time for a money drawing program.
From the second that both Jax and Asuka entered the ring, their story began. Jax made her entrance with her usual confidence due to her size advantage. Asuka’s entrance was confident and extravagant, but instead of removing her mask on the top rope and playing to the audience, she removed it slowly while staring down Jax face to face. This interaction laid the foundation of their match. It showed that not only would Asuka not be intimidated but that she was confident in her own right.
The match began by using the psychology from the mask removal. Asuka struck Jax with quick kicks to the body, dodged a grab by Jax, and then connected with more kicks. Asuka capitalized on her setup and the quick kicks allowed her to instantly connect with the crowd by giving them the ability to believe in her right out of the gate. In classic heel fashion, Jax squashed the fan’s belief as quickly as Asuka gave it to them. Immediately after the second round of kicks, Jax tossed Asuka across the ring like a rag doll. The way the toss was executed positioned Jax as dominant. The rag doll affect that Asuka sold well showed the audience that Jax wasn’t like any other woman, but a true monster in the ring. In addition, the bump that Asuka took looked painful and even though she popped up immediately after, the confident look that she had when removing her mask, turned to a look of potential concern.
From there, Asuka and Jax continued to engage and invest with the audience by using that David vs. Goliath psychology. Asuka continued to go for quick strikes to stun the giant and Jax smugly batted those attempts away as if they were a buzzing fly. Jax beat up and treated Asuka like an annoyance. Asuka’s reactions and intensity countered Jax’s arrogance which cultivated the audience’s support for her. Asuka’s work in this part of the match made the crowd commit to her on two levels. First, the crowd worried about her well-being. Second, with every attempt at offense, the inception within the audience that Asuka could pull out the victory grew. When that feeling got to its first boiling point Asuka rewarded them by connecting with and locking in her first significant offensive move. Not only was this a fun moment in the match, it was a moment that further built up the audiences belief in Asuka.
The submission used was a black widow variation that she flipped herself into. This was the first time that Nia Jax appeared to be in pain. Jax sold the move incredibly well and Asuka sold her effort in a way that mirrored the pain that Jax was selling. Once again, the audience was riding to Asuka’s side and it was because of how both Asuka and Jax sold the move. The audience popped when the move was locked in, but invested when they saw the reactions of Jax and Asuka. Asuka brilliantly jerked her head back and forth while aggressively pulling Jax’s arm and Jax’s expressions showed true pain and discomfort which the audience enjoyed seeing. Then, because of Jax, it was all snatched away again. She escaped with her brute strength and as Asuka hit the ropes for more offense, Jax picked her up and wrecked her with a sidewalk slam. Asuka’s selling was convincing and believable which made the crowd sympathetic towards her.
That specific artistic flow was utilized throughout the entire match and the ride that Jax and Asuka took the audience on in the match was circular. Asuka attempted to slay the giant with whatever offense she could muster and Jax countered as the monster heel. That circular formula allowed for the audience to feel and create the drama in the match. Each time Asuka attempted to fight, the crowd was behind her. Whether it was a butt bump move, submission hold, or her striking, the attempts at offense were delivered in a way that created a belief with the audience that she could win. Each time that offense would build, Jax would squash it. When Jax countered those attempts and laid her own offense in, Asuka gained extra sympathy from the crowd. That circle and the seesawing back and forth between those two points created emotional swings that further engaged the crowd. Because of them, Asuka was positioned as the valiant hero and Jax as the evil villain.
The finish at the 11 minute mark put a bow on the psychology that Jax and Asuka used pristinely. In the finish, after getting assaulted on the outside of the ring and being tossed into the ring apron, Asuka caught Jax with a roundhouse kick that caused her to fall off the ring steps. Because of the fall she tweaked her knee and was writhing in pain. Jax did a very believable job In selling the injury and showing her pain to the audience via her facial expressions and by physically grabbing her knee. Due to the pain, she almost didn’t make the referee’s ten count. As the count was turning from nine to ten the crowd buzzed as they wanted Asuka to win the match and felt her opportunity with the potential count out. That buzz wouldn’t have happened without the proper setup that was executed throughout the match. Once Nia beat the count, she collapsed in the ring and the ref called the match due to injury. Given how good the match was, I understand the audience’s frustration in not getting a definitive finish. That said, the fact that they booed once the ref called it is a testament to just how invested they were in the story of Asuka beating Jax.
The David vs. Goliath psychology in a pro wrestling match only works with perfect selling. Without the sell, fans can’t engage, and the match becomes boring because it’s incredibly one-sided. The sell by the babyface pushes the investment of the crowd. Asuka was perfect in this role. She conveyed pain in a way that was convincing while also staying true to her character and mission of winning. Nia Jax played off the sell equally as perfect. The grins she used while dominating and the winces she put together when taking Asuka’s minimal offense were effective in relaying to the audience that she was arrogant when she had momentum, but shocked when up against the ropes and on her heels.
Both Asuka and Jax created a story for themselves because of how great their in-ring work was in a match that had little to no build. Now, the WWE can turn to this match whenever they need a woman’s program to go to. Jax and Asuka have equity with the audience as fans want to see Asuka overcome the odds and defeat Nia. The Jax vs. Asuka feud is a money making program. Regardless of the heights that it reaches in the future, the foundation of fan interest started because of the work and artistic choices they made on Monday night.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: The Big Dog Takes a Big Step – Breaking down his performance in his latest promo on Monday Night Raw