Tonight on Smackdown Live, Brie Bella will fight Maryse in the main event, and R-Truth will face Andrade “Cien” Almas. We’ve known about these matches since Sunday, because Paige, the General Manager of Smackdown, announced them in a video posted to her Twitter account.
She also took to Twitter yesterday to officially make the match that Jeff Hardy wanted with Shinsuka Nakamura, and announced that it would open the show.
Basically, Paige is living the gimmick right now. We all know how kayfabe GMs work — that Paige isn’t really making these matches or deciding where they go on the card, — but she’s doing all she can to promote them, and in turn WWE is doing plenty to promote her as an important part of the company and the Smackdown brand in particular. We saw this in full effect the week after SummerSlam, when the TV ads for Smackdown started and ended with Paige talking about the extra special episode she’d put together.
When news first broke that Paige would be forced to retire from in-ring action due to her injuries, nobody expected she’d find such a prominent role to kick off her post-wrestling career. Before that, as recently as last year, when she was on indefinite leave after a combination of injuries and wellness policy violations, it seemed far from certain that she’d ever even make it back to WWE TV, let alone become a star who’s used to promote a main roster brand. Obviously, it’s a sad thing that Paige can’t wrestle anymore, and I don’t mean to dismiss the significance of that. At the same time, however, we should acknowledge that Paige is doing great work and that her WWE career is going gangbusters. The company obviously trusts her (which feels particularly meaningful after everything that went down in the Del Rio days), and they clearly see her as a hot property.
When Paige first became General Manager of Smackdown, it sometimes seemed like she still mostly interacted with the women on the roster, but that soon changed. Sure, she’s still making women’s matches and condescendingly calling Carmella “babygirl,” but she’s also running out to help stop brawls between the men, directing security guards like a (literal) boss. Also, let’s be real, it was way more exciting when Paige fired James Ellsworth than it was when Asuka or Becky Lynch beat him up. A woman who fights a man like James Ellsworth feels a bit diminished, because we all know that’s the only sort of man the company will let her fight. A woman who fires James Ellsworth, on the other hand? That’s a woman with power.
If wrestling’s going to become less of a boys’ club (as it must to be vital and interesting), it’s going to take more than just an all-women PPV and the occasional “history making” main event. Female fans need to feel welcomed into WWE’s product, and Paige is uniquely positioned to play a role in that. She’s a once and future Total Divas star with a popular social media presence. She also has her own clothing brand and recently modeled for Hot Topic stores. There are women who consider themselves Paige fans but have yet to watch wrestling.
So when you see Paige on Twitter announcing a Brie Bella/Maryse main event, instead of focusing on how the wrestling in that match probably won’t be the most impressive, think about the young woman who follows Paige and watches reality TV, but doesn’t watch wrestling. Now here’s Paige saying basically, “Come watch my wrestling show, where one of the stars of Total Bellas is going to fight one of the stars of Miz and Mrs in the main event!” Then on Smackdown, you promote the Hell in a Cell match that also feature Brie and Maryse as well as their husbands from those same reality shows. If you do all that, and you also feature more cool women — we know for sure that Zelina Vega, Charlotte, and Sonya Deville will be featured tonight, and Becky Lynch will almost certainly show up — and if on top of it all you manage to put on an entertaining show, you might just have made some new WWE fans.
Obviously, I’m toying with some stereotypes here. There are plenty of women who love wrestling and don’t care about reality TV or social media stylemakers, and plenty of men for whom the reverse is true, and of course non-binary people who may fall anywhere on that spectrum. But that doesn’t change the fact that building these kinds of bridges brings in a more diverse fan base with a more diverse set of interests, which can only help strengthen the vitality of wrestling and its fandom for the future.
So making Paige the GM of Smackdown isn’t just good for Paige, and it isn’t just good for Smackdown (although both of those things are true) it has the potential to have a positive impact on WWE as a whole, and even on wrestling as an art form. Ironically, the fact that Paige can’t wrestle anymore may have led to her becoming more important to the future of wrestling than ever before. Even pushing aside everything that might sound like hyperbole, it’s undeniable that she’s great at this job she’s been given, and I for one would be happy to see her keep it for a very long time.