|Photo credit: WWE.com|
Brooke came to WWE in mid-2013 through the Winter Park, FL-based promotion NXT - reportedly signed by ascendant honcho Triple H himself. With an extensive background in fitness competition and gymnastics, she picked up the art of professional wrestling sufficiently enough to be put on television beginning in the fall of the following year. Though the presentation was on point - captivating entrance theme, glamorous ring gear, fancy side summy flip - out of the gates Dana's "squash" performances left something to be desired. She lacked flow, and the apparent limitations in her moveset glared more egregiously with each outing. To draw the comparison is a bit extreme, but the situation nearly smacked of the premature Roman Reigns main event shove we're all sick of thinking about.
But then something happened. Dana got better. With NXT being a wealth of time-tested and world-renowned talent in recent years, from Kevin Owens and Asuka to Shinsuke Nakamura and Tommaso Ciampa, it can be difficult to remember - or maybe just difficult to accept in times of roster transition - that the developmental "territory" is just that - developmental. Week after week, through perseverance Dana was starting to look more and more polished.
Soon under the learning tree of "Evil" Emma's expertise, Dana's fresh character began to brightly shine, bringing her to new qualitative heights. Often a solid character is all that's needed to become must-see - just look at Bo Dallas. Dana adeptly discerned which knobs to twist to create an effectively grating heel persona - unabashedly condescending to any who dared question her, and following it up with a wholly debasing head pat. Dana's time in NXT culminated at NXT Takeover: London as she managed her mentor against the dominant Asuka in a match-of-the-year contender. She had honed tools that would assist in her call-up to the main WWE stable.
Dana would wait about a month after one of the greatest spectacles in wrestling history - the record-setting WrestleMania 32 in Dallas - before debuting on national television to join Emma on Monday Night Raw. Less than two weeks later a shocking back injury to Emma threw Dana's place in the storylines in to question, though she was soon reshuffled to become Charlotte's protégé and commence one of the more complex WWE angles in recent memory. Per her booking, Dana has been inefficient in the ring contrary to the game she talks and the physique she commands. As a result Charlotte has treated her more or less like garbage, only employing compliments when they are deemed convenient to her own selfish goals. The obedient Dana remains eager to improve, however, and repeatedly forgives her master's transgressions. On occasion she has displayed great frustration in holding her tongue, and once as of this writing has snapped and assaulted Charlotte. Credit to both performers - though Dana's mass popularity at the moment is questionable at best, the long-awaited slap across Charlotte's gloating face elicited a massive babyface pop from the Baltimore crowd in attendance (not to mention social media).
Later that evening, Dana was pitted against Sasha Banks and Bayley - two of the most deservedly adulated women in WWE - in a triple threat match that marked the best she's been to date. Sure, the affair was designed to spotlight the others, but like the great Ted DiBiase Dana played her fall role pitch-perfectly throughout. The remarkably involving climactic sequence featured Dana refusing to submit to Sasha's signature submission hold - a maneuver she'd succumbed to repeatedly in prior weeks - in an enthrallingly brilliant moment pairing physical growth with character development.
So what do fans resent about Dana Brooke? Is she really that good at being a heel? Well, to be fair she really is darn good at that. Is it because Michael Cole likes to call her finisher incorrectly, leading people to believe it is in fact her getting it wrong? It is entirely possible some have not been able to let go of the choppiness in her initial ring work. It is more possible some hold it against her that she's not on the level of her more elite contemporaries (though she holds her own with them just fine). Maybe it just comes down to the fact that she didn't come up through the ever-revered independent scene, and by appearances obtained this opportunity due to management favoring her look. Then there's what gets perceived as her tendency to "botch." Shoot, in the above video you'll see her clasping the top rope to remain balanced for Sasha's double knee attack, an act that goes much-derided among hardcore wrestling fans. Does it look ridiculous? For sure it does, though that is partially the fault of the attack concept itself. And yes, it also looks ridiculous every time Dana slams her ponytail against the turnbuckle when we're supposed to believe she's being hit in the face, but come now - you'd be hard-pressed to find a single wrestler who doesn't make routine of at least one similar issue. There's this one dude who essentially pins himself each time he applies his signature submission hold, and he's The Undertaker for crying out loud. And have you seen [insert literally any name] do a suicide dive lately? Things like this are quite simply a part of the nature and danger of being a single-take stunt performer with multiple live cameras and microphones pointed your way at all times.
It is amidst all this derision Dana's most admirable trait arises. She sheds hate. Dwelling on negativity gets you nowhere, and Dana clearly embodies this mentality as she is constantly showered with peoples' worst yet keeps pushing forward whether onlookers recognize it or not. Rumor even has it she is not well-liked by some backstage - the very contemporaries she makes her livelihood working with - and still every day she's glowing with the determination to continue improving, and the appreciation for the opportunities she's been afforded. It's damned inspirational is what it is.
More than ever, pro wrestling's adult fanbase clamors for a brand focused on absolute perfection between the ropes, and the benchmark has been set high. Dana Brooke may not be a Becky Lynch or a Nikki Bella, and those ladies are fantastic but any wrestling fan should understand the very best ring prowess is not necessarily required to create an entertaining product. Dana is not only physically impressive, she's also gorgeous, charismatic, resilient, and most importantly has demonstrated an understanding of the psychology it takes to work an audience. All the legends of the business from Jerry Lawler to Steve Austin and beyond agree: you do not need to be a nonstop daredevil to achieve greatness - you just need to work smart, and Dana's got that on lock.
Now let's just hope WWE gives this slow-burning Dana/Charlotte thing a worthy payoff.
|Photo credit: WWE.com|