People who watch wrestling often argue over the legitimacy of the art form with friends who don’t watch. The skeptic will often point to the staged punches and kicks, ignoring the very real table bumps, glass spots, and other physical demands that most human beings aren’t cut out for. The wrestling fan typically retorts by noting the level of performance, athleticism, and emotion necessary to turn it into a spectacle. Bianca Belair’s Royal Rumble victory, stamped by a joyfully tearful victory speech, exemplifies that.
And so does the response of her colleagues.
You don’t have to go as far as professing your admiration through a cracking voice in the middle of a high school gymnasium to affirm how real it still is to you … damn it! But amid a collective call for equality in response to American racism in 2020, as well as today, the first day of Black History Month 2021, Belair’s victory should resonate differently than other wins in recent memory. The women’s Royal Rumble first ran in 2018, and in its fourth installment, Belair became the first Black woman and the second Black wrestler overall to win a Rumble, following The Rock’s victory in 2000. The men’s Rumble has run annually since 1988, so you could do the math on how historic her representation and victory is.
For her, personally, the company ran a WWE Chronicle of Belair on its network in the days leading up to the event. Belair detailed her battle with depression while bouncing from the University of South Carolina, to Texas A&M, to the University of Tennessee on track scholarships. (She even earned All-SEC and All-America honors while at Tennessee.)
As for the art of pro wrestling, Belair’s performance itself was the best ever by a woman in the Royal Rumble, as well as one of the best we’ve seen in general. Belair entered third in the 30-woman match, remaining in the ring for 56 minutes and 52 seconds (a record for women in the Rumble), accumulating four eliminations, and persevering through several close calls.
Naturally, as human beings, we’re prone to look forward and speculate. Whether it’s the upcoming season of your favorite show, the NBA’s next marquee trade, or the 10 minutes you get to relax before needing to do laundry because you’re low on basketball shorts and black socks to quarantine in.
In this instance, the wrestling community is salivating at the thought of Sasha Banks defending her WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship against Belair at this year’s WrestleMania. Banks, a five-time Raw Women’s Champion, is currently in her longest title reign by far and is at her undisputed highest level since arriving on the main roster from NXT nearly six years ago. WrestleMania 37 will be held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida (which is where Super Bowl LV will be held Sunday), the intended site last year before COVID hit. Like in 2020, the event will take place across two days; on April 10 and 11. If Belair chooses Banks as opposed to Asuka — the current Raw Women’s Champion — it will be the first title contested by two Black women at a WrestleMania. If both Banks at Belair remain at the elite level of performance they’ve demonstrated in recent months, it’ll be a main event-worthy encounter.
Banks and Belair are both the best they’ve ever been at this current moment. Here’s to hoping the WWE gives the people what they want.