wrestling / Video Reviews

Enter the Beyond – The Real Mixed Match Challenge

February 24, 2019 | Posted by Jake Chambers
Beyond Wrestling

Equality for women is as hard to come by in professional wrestling as it is in all other aspects of society in a male-dominated global culture. And while the women’s “division” in WWE seems to be growing in popularity, intergender wrestling has been decidedly pushed to the side. Nia Jax entering the men’s Royal Rumble last month and holding her own with some of the top stars in the WWE for a few minutes has brought this issue into the spotlight again. On the other hand, the WWE also had two Facebook Live streaming seasons of Mixed Match Challenge in 2018, as well, where they partnered up some of their biggest stars from both sides of the traditional gender aisle for mixed (but not intergender) tag team matches. Does the pro-wrestling audience need to be tippy-toed around when it comes to combat between men and women in 2019?

Well, the whole conversation is kind of a waste of time, really. The WWE pulled back the kayfabe curtain long ago, and they now pride themselves on declaring that everything they do is just a staged performance, so it seems dopey that they should optically be holding themselves to the Olympic standard of ethical competition in sport. If The Punisher, NCIS, Power Rangers or Steven Universe can all portray women in simulated combat with men, then it’s pretty silly for the WWE to hold out like they’re some kind of arbiter of good taste on this issue. Besides, we’ve seen the kind of damage WWF/E has done when booking a separate women’s division for decades, until recently it was extremely sexist, catty, stereotypical and exploitative. Imagine standing by that tradition rather than thinking it’s okay to let women perform as equals to the men?

One promotion that has never been conflicted about their willingness to let the women wrestle with the men, has been Beyond Wrestling. They even had an entire event at Wrestlemania weekend last year, Lit Up, comprising totally of intergender indie dream matches and it was awesome. This week in Enter the Beyond, I want to look at some of the mixed tag team matches that are available to watch on Beyond’s YouTube channel, and see how they measure up to what I saw on WWE’s Mixed Match Challenge.

Because I reviewed every episode of the second season of WWE’s Mixed Match Challenge right here at the great website 411mania. It was rough to watch, but often still very fun to write. As someone new to reviewing and “star ratings” I wanted to make clear what each star I was going to give was worth to me, with examples if possible. I wasn’t attempting to measure the MMC against Bruno Sammartino matches from the ’70s or Daniel Bryan ROH matches from the mid-2000s, but rather what I wanted to see in a mixed gender tag team match specifically. So I created this “WWE Mixed Match Rating Rubric”.

MMC Match Rating Rubric

5 Stars – a transcendent match that truly evens the playing field for the male and female wrestlers involved at a main event level.

For example = Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon & Triple H: enraptured a Wrestlemania audience with action, drama and moments of believable inter-gender combat, and featured a star defining debut performance for mainstream celebrity Ronda Rousey.

4 Stars – near-flawless and exciting wrestling action, where characters are out of the element and realistically trying to win the match in dramatic fashion; elements of inter-gender wrestling will be a strong bonus.

For example = MMC S2 – Week 1 – AJ Styles & Charlotte vs. Jimmy Uso & Naomi: house-show level competitive back-and-forth between Charlotte and Naomi, fun verbal interactions between Styles and Uso, and inter-gender elements that resulted directly in the finish.

3 Stars – solid, clean wrestling where you don’t notice any continued errors or lethargic sequences; if lacking in drama or action, superior exterior features such as macro or micro storylining and/or character flourishes are taken into account.

For example = MMC, 1st Round – Alexa Bliss & Braun Strowman vs. Becky Lynch & Sami Zayn: this match featured wrestlers on either side that were severely outmatched by their counterparts, however, all four illustrated new sides to their non-wrestling personas that made this match an extremely fun watch.

2 Stars – even if the wrestling performed is average or the outcome predictable, a match at this level should feature a solid pace that stops it from being overly boring or pointless.

For example = MMC S2 – Week 6 – Finn Balor & Bayley vs. Bobby Roode & Natalya: dull wrestlers being instructed to “have fun” in between moments of chain wrestling with the energy of a backstage run-through.

1 Star – basically a match that goes through the motions, relies heavily on rest holds, or features a lop-sided effort from competitors of one gender; mistakes and botches stand out significantly.

For example = SummerSlam KickOff Show – Lana & Rusev vs. Zelina Vega & Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas: simple, boring, featured mostly the men, and the finish was cheesy.

So based on this scale, I will now review three mixed intergender matches from Beyond Wrestling. You can check them out and, if so inclined, and compare my star rating with your own opinions.

Match #1: Tessa Blanchard & David Starr vs. Penelope Ford & Joey Janela – WWR Five Year Plan, January 2018

This one comes from Beyond’s sibling promotion Women’s Wrestling Revolution, but features another chapter in the Beyond feud of 2018 between Starr and Janela, who I also recently wrote about fighting at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve and in the main event of Americanrana.

Right off the bat, you’ve got Janela squaring off with Tessa Blanchard, and then Ford vs. Starr, so there’s literally no indication that this is an unfair situation nor is it discussed as such on commentary. These are just four wrestlers, period. In fact, it’s such a non-point, that even labeling it as an “Intergender Match” does a disservice to a match that other than the visual gender difference between the men and the women, is just basically a badass, hard-hitting, regular tag team match.

In the Mixed Match Challenge, clearly the rule was that the women and men are not allowed to fight. This doesn’t mean those wrestlers don’t come in contact with each other, but when it does happen it’s always treated like an amazement for the women to get any offense in against the men. However, here we see Starr and Blanchard isolating Janela traditionally in the corner and Ford making the hot tag save. There was also no necessity for preening or dancing or romance elements to justify having women in the ring. Compared to the WWE, this was really like plugging wrestlers into the All Japan Pro-Wrestling tag match engine from the ’90s rather than the carnival side show style I came to expect from the MMC. Aside a kind of weak story angle finish, this is a pretty fantastic match. Match Rating: ****

Match #2: Jordynne Grace & Jonathan Gresham vs. Veda Scott & Ryan Galeone – Head Over Heels, April 2016

Without the meaty length of the previous match, this mid-card style mixed tag match clocks in around 10 minutes, which had to be about the average time the matches got in the MMC. Establishing character work becomes the focus in both cases, and the contrast is striking. The WWE tended to rely on comedy (not their strong point) and bright visuals (definitely where they put their budget) to convey character, and so that’s why in 10 minutes their matches can feel real boring when the wrestling is so plain and pointless.

In this Beyond match, it’s a textbook example of how to position characters in a smaller, quicker, inexpensive and physical way. Each wrestler conveys a different visual persona: the technician, the powerhouse, the giant, and the schemer. We see them set up those roles in the first half of regular tagging, and then watch them get shaken up together in the more chaotic second half that pays off all that you learned earlier. An actual relationship between Gresham and Grace is hinted at on commentary, which adds an unspoken layer to some sequences in the match, but not because they’re trying to kiss or something constantly like you’d expect in the MMC. Nah, basically, what you’re seeing here is the difference between an off-Broadway theatre performance and WWE’s CGI Hollywood blockbuster. Match Rating: ***

Match #4: Kimber Lee & Drew Gulak vs. Cherry Bomb & Pepper Parks – Alive and Kicking, November 2014

Kimber Lee is one of the most renowned practitioners of the indie intergender style, so I wanted to get a mixed tag match with her on here, to show exactly what WWE missed while they had her “training” down at the Performance Center during the first season of the MMC, before letting her go unceremoniously in March of last year.

This match actually works the MMC style a little closer, featuring a early sequence where the men face the men, and women the women. However, once Gulak gives Cherry a stiff backbreaker and begins stretching her, it starts to become really interesting. Unlike Ford and Blanchard, who in 2018 are used to seamlessly wrestling as peers to the men, Lee and Cherry Bomb are giving a little more oomph in their struggle against the strength and size of their opponents. There is a neat part where Cherry tries airplane spinning Gulak, which starts out fine, but wears her out after a few rotations.

While not necessarily an advantage, as this is from a few years before the equality Beyond has currently established, this match really expertly leveraged the expectations of the audience for a mixed tag match and worked it into the narrative. The athletic struggle of the women in this situation is on display, but not treated as special or empowering, just a competitive challenge. Emphasized are the transitions from crisp moves in the beginning, fair match-ups for size, and then turning to more tired desperation at the match progresses and both teams looking to utilize the advantages of the gender swapping to try and gain an advantage. This provides the women moments to show “fighting spirit”, which is heightened by the disparity in our consciousness of what we had been conditioned to see and what we are seeing play out. This was the more balanced style that could have worked in the MMC. Match Rating: ****

Beyond has gotten many hits over the years for their videos that show the women being crushed in some brutal looking attacks by men. Of course, that wasn’t “real”, and was able to lay the groundwork for years of work the promotion has done to make the company an equal playing ground for wrestlers of any gender. The WWE wants to dip their toes into the water, but everything that company does is generally confusing and directionless, and thus Mixed Match Challenge was ultimately a dull failure while Beyond chugs along with fantastic intergender matches show after show.

And this weekend, Beyond will be at it again, as Feb. 24th they are presenting the Treasure Hunt Tournament as a lead-up show to their weekly streaming debut in April. The first round of this tournament is ALL intergender match-ups, and it’s not being promoted with tears or self-congratulation, just 8 great wrestlers with all an equal chance of winning it all. I’ll be back next week with my thoughts on the show… after I Enter the Beyond!

article topics :

Enter the Beyond, Jake Chambers