The Acute Angle is a recurring investigation into the essentialness of the stars of WWE, what they’ve done and where they might be headed, and what the real story line that we should be paying attention to is.
During her four-year run as an able WWE competitor, former two-time Divas champion Paige was fond of rendering her opponents helpless and, for emphasis, declaring, “This is my house!” But earlier this spring, recurring neck injuries forced her into early retirement, and she was promptly reassigned as SmackDown’s onscreen general manager. Suddenly, a given Tuesday’s venue really was her house, insofar as she was the scripted ringleader and talent wrangler for that night’s goings-on. Will her rebel yell go silent in her new capacity as corporate babysitter? Can she stand out from the procession of past GMs, which reads like a rogues’ gallery of sports-entertainment legends? And might she remind us all why we tolerate the contrivance of a story line boss to begin with? Not even Paige has all the answers, but for this edition of the #AcuteAngle, we go deep into the 25-year-old, second-generation wrestler’s brief but brilliant in-ring tear, polarizing persona, and potential to make her latest task a blessing in disguise.
The Superstar: Paige
Years Active on WWE Roster: Four years and two months as of early June 2018
Number of WWE Titles Held: 2
Finishing Move: Paige Turner; Rampaige; PTO
Signature Catchphrase(s): “This is my house!”
What’s the Angle? Now that her in-ring career is over, does Paige have the goods to be the Archetypal Onscreen General Manager?
First, a Little Background ... Years before Serena Williams competed while expecting, British women’s wrestling legend Sweet Saraya (real name: Julia Hamer-Bevis) famously laced up while several months pregnant with her daughter, Saraya-Jade Bevis, better known to WWE audiences as Paige. By the time Paige was 13 (!), she participated in her first official match as Britani Knight. She wrestled variously with and against her brother Zak (who performs as Zak Zodiac) and—who else?—their parents. (Dad Patrick Bevis, a.k.a. Ricky Knight, kick-started mom’s career and founded U.K. promotion World Association of Wrestling.) The Norwich, U.K.-bred, second-generation grappler then spent her teens the way most adolescents do: traveling cross-continentally and amassing experience as a choreographed combat fighter while claiming myriad title belts, before eventually compelling WWE to put her into its pre-NXT developmental affiliate, Florida Championship Wrestling, where the company rechristened her as Paige. Her precociousness didn’t stop there: by the following summer, in June 2013, she was crowned the inaugural NXT women’s champion, and was brought up to the big time of Raw and SmackDown less than a year later.
Since Arriving in WWE, Paige has genuinely revolutionized its women’s ranks, serving as a bridge between the preening divas days of yore—she was a two-time women’s champ, with her first run beginning the night of her main-roster debut—and the virtually level playing field (at least in terms of relative visibility and credibility, if not take-home pay) female superstars fight on now. (Her goth/emo look was a direct—and deliberate—affront to the spokesmodel types that immediately preceded her.) She’s typically been most effective as a heel, having no doubt bit her tongue while wedged into a short-lived babyface faction dubbed PCB (Paige, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch—get it?) that mostly functioned to make stars of her stablemates and usher in the division’s new era.
But whether she was feuding with the Bella twins, Alicia Fox, or AJ Lee, to name a few foes, Paige belied her age and elevated everyone’s game with a potent combo of technical skill and believable punk (OK, screamo) intensity. (Her mom’s stage name and, subsequently, Paige’s birth name were both loosely inspired by Slayer.) That tempestuousness, and perhaps the pressure to stay atop a growing division, also landed Paige in hot water over multiple wellness-policy violations and wars of words with WWE. (She was also heavily scrutinized by gossipmongers last year amid a roller-coaster romance with former WWE World Champion Alberto Del Rio and, unrelated to their courtship, having been victimized in a revenge-porn incident.) However, it was a series of neck injuries that hastened her timeline, until she was forced to publicly retire on Raw nearly four years to the day after her memorable debut.
The Good News Is, Paige promptly found new life the very next night, as Shane McMahon shocked the world (not really) and named her SmackDown’s new GM, a vacancy left open after previously retired neck-injury-sufferer Daniel Bryan truly stunned fans by returning to in-ring action. This may well foreshadow Paige’s own future. At 25, she’s certainly a better candidate for a comeback than your average dude in his mid-30s, although as noted she’s absorbed more wear and tear than most sports entertainers narrowly old enough to rent a car. But in the immediate term, her appointment as onscreen authority—an honorarium that, for most fans, dates back to at least longtime quasi-WWF “president” Jack Tunney’s tenure and has, in the modern era, blurred the lines of reality and wrestling thanks to actual WWE execs Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple H’s relish in personifying TV villains—helps clarify the position’s purpose.
Her Signature Moment: As GM, merely having the courage to transition literally overnight from all she knew—and shrug off a trying two years—to the great unknown. As a WWE champ, being pegged to take home gold on your debut is hard to beat.
All Things Considered—It’s been just shy of two decades since WWE chairman Vince McMahon stepped away from the commentary desk and began performing to great acclaim as a full-throated embodiment of peoples’ (not totally inaccurate) perception of him as a raging egomaniac. But a generation later, the very essentialness of prime-time GMs—a part spun off from McMahon’s pioneering act and passed down to a spectrum of aged legends and backstage bookers to varying effect— has been called into question. “When there is no GM, the program seems to run so much smoother,” cried one critic in a typical lament. At minimum, there’s certainly a nit to pick about authority fatigue. Plus, the preponderance of figurehead commissioners, GMs, and COOs has not only watered down what once made Vince’s Attitude Era self-caricature so singular (apart from his singular Vince-ness), but has at times necessitated scripted, intra-show confusion between behind-the-scenes honchos that lays bare actual backstage incoherence (see: Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon’s anticlimactic tension as SmackDown GM and commissioner, respectively).
All of this brings us back to Paige, who could be looked upon as the latest charity case in WWE’s glorified halfway house for sidelined athletes and otherwise positionless employees. (Do we still have to feign affection for Teddy Long’s stint as SmackDown shot-caller?) There have been female authority figures before her—Stephanie McMahon, Vickie Guerrero—but the more accurate perspective, underlined by her unprecedented youth in the position, is that she’s successor to a string of tough and respected Hall of Famers (and future HOFers)—including Steve Austin, current Raw GM Kurt Angle, William Regal, Booker T, and hardcore hero Mick Foley—who’ve used the opportunity to lick a lifetime of wounds and hone their chops in the world’s most widely watched live improv class. Several of her predecessors, including the aforementioned Angle and Daniel Bryan, as well as onetime WWE “owner” Ric Flair, have defied the odds and put on their speedos and singlets for another turn in the ring. Though let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Paige is still finding her footing as a fiery firer and hirer, and the jury’s still out on whether this will make her more polished in time for Santa’s Little Helper 2—let alone a figurehead on par with her impressive run as a wrestler.
In the end, her pivot is hardly cause for pity or concern, no more than it was when Austin or Foley traded right hands for mediating melodramatic contract signings and managing personalities in pretaped vignettes. Paige’s ability to spin so much heartbreak and disappointment into guaranteed weekly airtime is so far more coup than comeuppance, and reminds us that even if we don’t always love the GM role, it’s a pretty prestigious second act.
The Finish: Is Paige the Archetypal Onscreen General Manager?
She’s no Mick Foley yet, but being given the chance is one small step for GM kind.