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The MMC With Smark Henry: Off To An Awkward Start With Week 1


Hello, boys and girls, and welcome to another new series here on Smark Henry. With the Mixed Match Challenge, WWE's first offering on Facebook's new broadcasting platform Facebook Watch, we've got an entirely new series to cover for the site. As always, we're right here along for the ride.

For those who haven't been keeping up, the Mixed Match Challenge seems to be this year's January tournament, pairing 12 mixed teams (men and women) from RAW and SmackDown Live against each other over the course of 10 weeks, all for a charity of each team's choice. There's only one match—between a RAW team and a SmackDown team—every week, after SmackDown airs. Unfortunately, Facebook Watch is only available to people in the US; they say that the episodes will eventually be aired on the WWE Network, but we just don't know when they'll put it up.

(There's a bit of a pattern established in 2016 with the Cruiserweight Classic and continued last January with the inaugural United Kingdom Championship Tournament. If we didn't know any better, we'd say that they're gradually introducing new tournaments every year to rotate.)

The first week of the Mixed Match Challenge features a pretty salivating matchup in Finn Balor and Sasha Banks (heretofore known as The Boss Club) against Shinsuke Nakamura and Natalya—which is an odd pairing to behold at first, until you see Nak wearing Jim Neidhart's old Hart Foundation leather jacket. Anyway, it's a dream match if only because of the idea of Finn and Nak finally meeting in a WWE ring.


Now, you're probably wondering whether the whole idea of the Mixed Match Challenge means we're finally going to see some real intergender action. The answer is no, because WWE's still too touchy with the idea of men and women scrapping against each other, even though they've already had Nikki Cross fight dudes in NXT. They try to make up for the restriction by introducing a special rule that automatically makes the both teams' partners the legal wrestler after one team makes a tag.

But it's pretty awkward for most of the match because both teams here don't take advantage of this special tag rule until the last third. Because the partners are restricted to their equivalents, the whole thing feels like two different singles matches taking turns in one bout, especially in the middle. You can tell that the men are still doing the heavy lifting, even if it's because of their dream match status, and I was ready to give up hope on it until they had Nakamura and Sasha interact outside the ring. I wish they pushed through with Sasha hitting that crossbody on Nak on the outside, but they made up for it by letting her break up a pin attempt and Natalya sabotaging Finn on the top rope.

I—and many other fans, I'd imagine—are going to continue to look for these moments because that progression is what we're looking for in this whole tournament, considering places like Lucha Underground, PWG, and even NXT and SmackDown itself (when they had James Ellsworth and Becky Lynch wrestle), were not shy to give us actual intergender action. In order for the rest of us who don't tune in outside the main WWE shows to believe that this is okay, WWE itself has to start pushing the idea that women can wrestle men. If they allow the wrestlers to do that, then it's on the wrestlers to be creative about making things believable. And it's possible, trust me.

But because the rules have already been set, the only way they can do better now is to be more creative with the tag rule. I can see some explorable space with that rule that would allow them to not sacrifice pace when someone tags out, and the teams about to wrestle in the coming weeks are gonna have to figure that out. There's time to adjust, and I hope someone smart enough to figure out how does so and helps everyone out. Meanwhile, this week's match gets a B-.
*****

Mixes and Matches

  • The show's opening seemed awkward, with Renee Young and Byron Saxton opening the show and doing a bit of commentary until Michael Cole and Corey Graves take over during Naktalya's entrances. 
  • And speaking of commentary, it wasn't obvious to me that Beth Phoenix was even in the booth with Cole and Graves until Cole threw to her after five minutes. In fact, I thought Renee and Beth were supposed to be doing commentary for this. 
  • MeYeahOh! is a great catchphrase, yo. 
  • But AweSuka is an even better team name. I'm legit excited for that team to advance. 
  • So the moment of the night has to go to Sasha breaking up a Nakamura pin, because it was the one thing people actually tuned in to see: gals fighting guys. That really has to happen more, even if it's relegated to those small moments like that. It definitely helps push the image of women and equality on to a hesitant audience. 
  • Also... let the ladies have more time in the ring against each other. Kudos, though, on letting Sasha have the winning moment. 
Photo from WWE

*****

Romeo Moran (@roiswaris the Editor in Chief of Smark Henry, one of the three hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, and is associated with Philippine Wrestling Revolution. He gets by in this hard knock life through working in publishing. Smark Henry was his and Stan Sy's original vision of a watering hole for local wrestling fans. He roots for the undersized guys who hit hard, but really hates Davey Richards with his entire soul. He likes taking your wrestling questions over on his Curiouscat account.

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