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There’s a question that’s been asked of me a few times lately: When did Carmella turn face and how did it work? It’s a fair question.
On the face of it, Carmella is an unusual subject for a piece of Colohue Dogma. She’s not currently holding a title; she’s nowhere close to the top of the card and she has no tag partner in place were she to decide to pursue the all new women’s tag team championships. That said, despite never being booked as a star even when she was a champion, Carmella has a certain charm that appeals to all of us.
It’s not just about the dance breaks, or the fact that she took her Money in the Bank briefcase on the New York subway with her when she got hungry. It’s not that she sings the “What’s up?!” part of the song that you’re very clearly not supposed to sing. No, it’s something else entirely. Carmella has one distinctly relatable quality that you practically never see in the world of pro wrestling: She is very insecure.
Just like the rest of us, Carmella shows fear. She spends time wracked with self-doubt. She fights battles for other people in the hope that they like her. She always has someone backing her up. She wrestles within herself, afraid to give her all because she thinks her all isn’t good enough.
Just like the rest of us, Carmella is trying to make it while desperately believing that she might never manage it.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Carmella debuted on Smackdown Live right after the brand split. Formerly of NXT, Carmella was the last person drafted to either brand, leaving behind her backup Enzo and Big Cass. While technically a face from the off, Carmella’s confidence was fragile, leading to a fast attack on the returning Nikki Bella after she was overshadowed.
Carmella, her ego fragile, would go on to feud with Nikki Bella for several months. From Summerslam in August all the way up to Tables, Ladders, and Chairs in December, Carmella fought that battle. While she didn’t have a lot of background heat to lend to her promos, Carmella showed herself a smooth talker and, despite being beaten by a fire extinguisher, she delivered on her side of the feud.
So, why didn’t people hate her? Nikki Bella is a huge name in women’s wrestling and had an obvious affiliation with John Cena. She had just made a big return from injury; clearly Nikki Bella was the good guy here. Why didn’t it work?
Well, Nikki has a very clear fanbase. They’re typically younger fans, casuals or fans who started watching during a very specific time frame. Nikki also has a very firm anti-fanbase. A lot of people don’t like her for a lot of reasons and that turned into support for Carmella. There was a bigger factor though; instead of having the feud end in a cloud of heat as per usual, the WWE flipped the script.
There’s a reason that people didn’t blame Rikishi when he ran over Steve Austin. Sure, he got a big heel push, but really it was all about Triple H. Instead of Carmella vs. Nikki Bella being one complete feud, Carmella was swapped out halfway through for Natalya. The heat was transferred. In reality, Carmella was fighting someone else’s battle. She was new to the division, she didn’t have friends behind her and she found herself some backup in Natalya. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.
From there, we moved to Ellsworth round one. For several weeks, Carmella was a background player. She took up James Ellsworth, redesigning his fashion sense and dialogue to match her. Why? For backup. She literally skipped from Nikki Bella straight to Ellsworth. With Natalya disappointing her, Carmella tried to build herself a new friend, and it worked.
Here followed the beginnings of a solid background push for Carmella. She was the jewel of the Welcoming Committee. She worked both inside and outside of that group using the twin anchors of her current best friend James Ellsworth and her newly forgiven former friend Natalya. Meanwhile, she won two Money in the Bank matches thanks largely to James Ellsworth, defeating big names in the division such as Natalya, Charlotte Flair, and of course Becky Lynch.
Carmella, not confident of victory, brought backup to secure the briefcase. And she hated him. She slapped him, then kissed him in one segment, but he made the difference. Carmella was afraid that she couldn’t deliver alone but with help she did. Was there anyone more perfect to carry a briefcase?
Before holding that briefcase, Carmella never had a one-on-one title match. She came close to the inaugural title, finishing behind only Becky Lynch in the match for the first championship. She would be involved in the six woman WrestleMania match that was won by Naomi. Outside of that, Carmella never came close.
She didn’t use the briefcase for a long time. Once again, she would sit in the background, waiting for her moment. Once again, the heat wasn’t with her. James Ellsworth had earned the ire of the fans by winning the briefcase for her. Once he was out of the picture was there any reason to still hate Carmella?
Between winning the briefcase in June and cashing it in in April the next year, Carmella didn’t do all that much. She dumped Ellsworth and wrestled a few matches, certainly, but didn’t do much with it. At Survivor Series she began what would become probably my favourite of her more subtle character traits; her overwhelming fear of Asuka.
Literally, look at any point at which Carmella has faced off with Asuka, one-on-one or not. Survivor Series, the recent battle royal match which Asuka won, Carmella shows eternal and endless fear of Asuka. She literally runs away. I love little consistencies like that. She also changed her style and her gear a lot. She tried different looks. She experimented with styles. One thing that Carmella has always done since day one is change and grow, unsure of what might be considered her ideal look.
Carmella didn’t cash in on Natalya at all, undoubtedly due to a mix of fear of loss and a lack of wilingness to attack someone that she still considered a friend. When Charlotte won the title, she should have been fair game. Survivor Series should have been a perfect moment, but Carmella wasn’t confident enough. WrestleMania should have been a perfect moment but Carmella wasn’t confident enough.
It wasn’t until the night that the Iiconics debuted, leaving Charlotte barely conscious in the middle of the ring, that Carmella felt ready. She dared, she dreamed, she did. Did we hate Carmella for it? A little, maybe, but the heat was all with the Iiconics. As always, Carmella took action and someone else took the blame.
Carmella, constantly being pushed but never being blamed, was the women’s champion.
As reigns go, it was not great. She picked up lucky, cheap, and cheat-leaden wins over Charlotte Flair and Asuka, both of whom are considered of a much higher calibre. She changed her look again, but this time she seemed to be finding something new. Her Mella is Money catchphrase, her pride in being “a Diva in a woman’s world,” it all showed her comfortable she was becoming in her position. Carmella was gaining confidence. Enough? No. James Ellsworth was brought back to handle any lingering insecurity.
And then there was Becky. The anti-Carmella. Secure in her position, confident in her ability and without a shred of doubt in her decision making. Watch the build to Summerslam again and you can see Carmella unravel. Her support was gone; fired by Paige. Cheating wasn’t an option; the match was no DQ and she was outnumbered. The pressure of being champion would tell. She would add to her arsenal. She would add high risk moves to her offense. It would all be for nothing.
We are very close to having a complete Carmella. A confident, sure of herself woman wrestling without fear. A lot of that comes down to her current niche. Now that she is no longer under the pressure of being a champion, she is starting to pick up wins. She’s found solid, reassuring support with a reliable friend in R-Truth. She is the reigning Mixed Match Challenge champion and opportunities continue to come in.
She’s still afraid of Asuka. She’s still proud to be a diva. She’s still constantly chairing her hair, her make up, her attire, and her style. She still has backup with her almost wherever she goes but it wasn’t long ago that she had the confidence to step into a triple threat number one contendership match with no backup at all. We’ve watched her through her trials, through her fears and now we’re watching her get her rewards.
Why could Carmella turn face so smoothly and convincingly? Well, she was never at fault. In fact, she’s very hard to blame at all. Carmella is a small fish in a big pond. She’s somebody who doesn’t believe in herself. She’s someone who doubts she’s capable. That makes me care. What if I, as a wrestling fan, don’t feel all that comfortable with myself? What if I don’t like my hair or my clothes? What if I don’t feel confident without someone backing me up? What if I’m afraid to step forward?
Some women are divas. Some men are divas too. Who’s representing them? Who’s making them feel that it’s okay to be themselves? Your John Cena’s come out preaching working hard and believing in yourself. Well, what if believing in yourself isn’t so easy? Becky Lynch had several years of aggressive saved up to unleash as soon as the opportunity arose, but what if you thought you deserved to lose the few opportunities you got?
Carmella is in a unique position; on the card and in the WWE. She is all of us. She is at her best when she is not at her best, just as we can be. She is a story not of overcoming doubters and haters but of overcoming the greatest doubter: Yourself.
And you know, at the end of all this, one thing is very clear. I believe in Carmella.