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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.
If you could ever have a real moment with Vince McMahon, I have a hunch that he’d tell you it’s incredibly difficult to create and nurture a real star in 2018. With the changing media landscape, the audience’s need to be satisfied instantly, and the overwhelming demographic that WWE serves, one size won’t fit all when it comes to finding main eventers to build around. In today’s world, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Brock Lesnar, and Ronda Rousey each carry the torch as top stars to provide different things for WWE’s massive audience.
The common denominator among each of those individuals is “it” factor. They are top stars because they all carry and display an innate ability that draws in an audience. Even though Roman Reigns is miscast and frustratingly booked, the audience is drawn to him. In addition, most of these stars had a moment or string of moments in time where they took a giant leap forward to force that attention from the crowd. Bryan’s run to WrestleMania 30, Styles battling Roman Reigns after WrestleMania 32, and Rollins turning on The Shield were “it” defining moments that were a launching pad to stardom. They made fans and the WWE office tilt their head, see a different view, and then smile with dollar signs in their eyes. An important part of being a star is being perceived as one. Each of these moments changed the perception of those individuals and the rest was history.
These Austin 3:16-esque moments don’t grow on trees like Elias vs. Bobby Roode matches. Many are right time, right place endeavors that are organic in nature with a talent that’s ready and an audience that’s ready to accept them. Nia Jax, welcome to the club. On Monday Night Raw, Nia Jax was responsible for a monumental segment with WWE’s biggest signing ever in Ronda Rousey. It was Rousey’s first significant on-screen interaction with someone other than Stephanie McMahon and important in kicking off their inevitable main event bout in two weeks at Money In The Bank. Jax not only increased interest and intensity for that match, but she shouldered executional responsibility for the segment, portrayed herself as a confident champion, and secured her defining “it” moment within an artistic alpha-female battle against Rousey.
The segment began with Jax walking to the ring and immediately being unceremoniously interrupted by Rousey. This is where Jax’s defining artistic magic began. When Rousey’s music hit, Jax stopped in her tracks and turned toward Rousey with a well-timed look of exasperation and disbelief. Once Ronda hit the stage and waved to the adoring audience, Jax confidently stormed off to the ring. Strictly within her walk, Jax was able to convey disdain for Rousey while also showcasing an attitude that screamed “how dare you interrupt me, I’m the champion.”
From there, Jax picked up a microphone and sarcastically smiled at Rousey who was placed at the announcers desk. She said she was happy Rousey was out for her upcoming exhibition because she’d be able to show her firsthand what she’ll do to her during their match at Money In The Bank. Jax delivered these lines with confidence and conviction. She spoke in a way that sounded off the cuff and organic, which gave the words a thick layer of realism. Jax then called her opponent over and had her place an arm bar on her because “that’s what Ronda does.” After a couple seconds of writhing in fake pain, Jax lifted her opponent over her head while still in the hold. She then turned toward Ronda and arrogantly said “arm bar” before viciously slamming her opponent to the mat. As she finished the slam, Jax utilized more well-timed expressions and changed her look from a sarcastic smile to a straight faced stare. Again, Jax taunted the arm bar hold by yelling “arm bar” at Rousey – this time with a serious tone in her voice. Jax then picked up the microphone again and confidently told Ronda “as you can see, the arm bar doesn’t mean much to me.” Just like earlier, Jax’s delivery was genuine and serious, which allowed her interaction with Ronda to stay real. From there, Jax continued to beat on her opponent while talking to Ronda on the mic. She hit a Samoan Drop, a leg drop, and a rolling thunder all while detailing to Rousey that she hadn’t seen anything like her in the UFC. Jax’s execution of these moves was important. She was swift, smooth, aggressive, and precise in her delivery. In turn, the crowed hummed in amazement as Jax dropped her opponent which fed Jax’s dominance. That artistic success helped drive the success of the segment as it helped Jax convey how much of a legitimate champion she is.
Jax then arrogantly summoned Rousey to the ring. As Rousey left the announcer area, the audience chanted for her and Jax squashed them with a proper and unscripted rebuttal. The organic nature of that moment painted Jax in a genuine light and highlighted her control of the segment. She surpassed simply saying lines and was feeling the moment with the crowd. After a culmination of many successful artistic strokes in the segment, the full picture of Jax’s defining “it” moment became clear. Jax confronted Rousey in the ring and the two slowly walked each other in circles. Again, the walk said a lot. The slow nature of it allowed their confrontation to simmer which built excitement. Jax held the microphone up and through a straight face addressed Ronda’s intimidating look. Jax slowed down her cadence and said “oh, this, this is the intimidating look that I’ve heard so much about.” She then slowly walked up to Rousey so the two were face to face before saying she wasn’t intimidated and that she found the look humorous. Jax concluded by laughing off Rousey and turning her back on her while calling her cute.
With this segment fully on Jax to control and succeed in, Jax won. A pillar of Rousey’s gimmick in WWE and the UFC was intimidation and quirky charisma. To fully shine, Jax needed to appear on par with Rousey in that regard. By artistically choosing to talk the way she did she conveyed star power that brought her up to Ronda’s level. On the flip side, her physical presentation and execution of her moves gave credibility to all the words she said. In the end, both of those elements worked together in tandem and a new Nia Jax was showcased to the crowd.
We know the audience is already drawn to Ronda Rousey. She’s had her own “it” making moments many times over in the UFC. Those moments were the catalyst to her becoming the draw she is today in WWE and around the world. Defeating Rousey in a battle of alpha-female, charisma-laden, “one-upsmanship” gave Nia Jax her own moment.. Without punches, kicks, strikes, or submissions, she went toe to toe against a made star like Rousey and battled her with sheer charisma alone. In the end, Jax stood tall, looked the part of a star, and beat Rousey at in her own game. With that victory, the real Nia Jax was born.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: ARTISTRY OF WRESTLING: When I think of my father, I think of an artist: A conversation with Brian Pillman Jr.