With the Greatest WWE Tag Team Ever Project in full swing here at PTBN, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk some more about my favorite tag team, Laycool.
I already spoke about this team and their strengths a bit when I covered Michelle McCool, but now I want to talk about something completely different. For this one we’re going down into kayfabe, brother, to talk about their story together, and particularly their break up. Seeing it play out from start to finish again, I honestly think that it’s one of the most creative storylines WWE has ever done.
That’s a deliberate word choice. Not the best, per se, but one of the most creative.
Creative because it is chock full of things that you wouldn’t associate with WWE all that often, nor with the Laycool act on the surface. Things like… subtlety, and great acting, and very detailed writing, and tiny little character beats that don’t mean anything in the moment but end up making sense and getting paid off a full year later.
For real, like, is this Friday Night Smackdown on SyFy or HBO?
Yes, this is some Golden Age of Television ish. Laycool is the Breaking Bad of WWE. That may be my hottest take yet, so bear with me, sit back, and let me spin you a yarn about the tragic tale of Laycool.
The key thing you need to know about the relationship between Layla and Michelle McCool is that from the beginning, Michelle never saw Layla as an equal partner.
This is consistent with Michelle’s character that she already established in her singles run as a heel – she flat out thought she was miles better than everyone else on the roster, including Layla. So even though they became best friends and cared about each other and formed this wildly successful tag team, Michelle always thought she was the one carrying it.
You see this idea come out every now and then in little moments. They may not seem significant when they happen, but they help paint a picture of their relationship, a picture that shows exactly why everything exploded in the end.
It could be anything: Michelle not bothering to run in when Layla is getting pinned, or offering up Layla to an advancing babyface to save herself, or talking about the title and slipping in an “I” when she should have said “we”, or just rolling her eyes at Layla when she gets beaten or fucks something up.
We get that a lot actually, Michelle looking exasperated. Because of their respective roles, a lot of the time Layla is the one getting pinned in their matches, or eating it when the babyfaces clean house on them, and Michelle ends up being the one dragging Layla’s dead ass out of the ring to safety while she’s shaking her damn head.
In Michelle’s eyes, she has a lackey, not a tag team partner.
All of the nonsense they did with the title belts speaks to this too. When they first got together, Michelle was the Women’s Champion, and Layla backed her up. Fast forward to the spring of 2010, Beth Phoenix won the title off Michelle but then did her ACL a week later, so they had to get it off her again. They do a handicap title match and in a turn up, Layla pins Beth and becomes the Women’s Champion of the Entire World (I’ll have more on that seminal moment in both of our lives when I get to Layla).
Layla wins while Michelle is knocked out on the floor. When she comes to Layla is holding the title excitedly going, “Look ‘Chelle I did it!” expecting Michelle to be proud of her, and Michelle HESITATES. Just for a second. But she does hesitate before celebrating, and you can tell in that split second that she had to make the conscious decision to swallow all her worst emotions and try to be happy for Layla. She wasn’t just… naturally happy for her.
Michelle wanted the title for herself, and had to mentally adjust to the idea of her best friend waving it in front of her face every day when she couldn’t have it.
… or could she?
Because on the very next show Laycool come out with two title belts, one for Layla and one for Michelle, calling themselves co-champions. Hmm, interesting. Michelle never had to share her belt with anyone, but the minute Layla wins it, suddenly they’re both champions! Michelle did not have it in her to take a backseat to Layla and just support her title reign like Layla supported hers. And then pretty soon they start using the Freebird Rule and Michelle is defending Layla’s championship more than Layla is.
(I wish the company treated the Women’s Title more seriously sometimes, because at one point Smackdown GM Teddy Long tried to get them to knock it off, but he phrased it as: “Decide which one of you is the champ, I don’t care which one, just pick one.” When he really should have said “Layla is the official champion, stop fucking around.” But they didn’t even care enough about the lineage of the title to make that distinction.)
So they’re Freebirding it and having a blast, they even unify the Women’s and Divas titles at Night of Champions 2010 (that is, Michelle gets to unify them…) until finally Natalya beats them for the belts at Survivor Series, and then follows up by putting them through a table at TLC. They don’t end the year well and suddenly some cracks start to appear. They’re arguing, miscommunicating, losing… Laycool no longer seem all that flawless (sorry).
At Royal Rumble 2011, their rematch with Nattie gets turned into a fatal four way to get the belt on Eve Torres for some reason I don’t understand, so suddenly Laycool are opponents, and there’s inevitably a moment in the match where Michelle and Layla are the only two left in the ring. The moment of truth.
And it is exactly that, a moment, particularly from Layla’s point of view; it’s written all over her face that she knows, deep down inside, that Michelle absolutely WILL run straight through her to get to the title, and if she does there’s absolutely nothing that Layla can do about it – Michelle is the God Dang Terminator don’t forget. After an eternity Michelle does slowly start advancing towards her, almost subconsciously, but then the babyfaces return and the moment is lost. But it was significant, because it’s the point at which Layla realises that she can’t trust Michelle like she thought she could; no matter how close they are, she’ll always come second to the title.
The thing about the next few months is that Michelle has a broken foot and is stuck in a moon boot, which she still works in occasionally (in her career, Michelle wrestled in sneakers, boots, stiletto heels, a moon boot, bare feet, in puddles… I’m pretty sure she could have wrestled in ice skates) but she has to leave the bulk of the wrestling to Layla. Michelle does not cope with this particularly well.
She spends a lot of time as a guest commentator, watching Layla wrestle, and gets more and more passive aggressive by the week. She refused to take a backseat to Layla in 2010, and now that she’s being forced to, she can’t handle it and lashes out, complaining about everything Layla is doing wrong as she goes it alone.
So we’re coming up to WrestleMania 27 now, and in this context WrestleMania is like an unhappy couple who have one really good night together that makes them feel like they’re going to make it. The feud with Trish Stratus and Snooki is a pleasant distraction, but then they lose to Snooki at WrestleMania (Michelle loses to her, that is…) and the cracks in their relationship reappear as gaping holes.
There’s one particular episode I love: during a tag team match Layla gets bumped off the apron and flies offscreen to her death. When Michelle needs to tag out Layla is on the floor, still dead, but Michelle never saw why so she gets pissed off. Later when Layla wants to make a tag, Michelle flops dramatically on the apron and rolls around like Neymar, leaving Layla to lose and walking away like she’d proven some sort of point.
What a dickhead.
Layla the responsible adult sees that they have serious problems and has her and Michelle go to couples therapy. She’s the only one making an effort to save their relationship, because that’s what she sees it as: they’re best friends, who just happen to wrestle together. Whereas Michelle seems to have no interest in solving their issues. She is cold as ice.
There is a moment in one of the couples therapy skits where Layla finally says, “I just want us to be equals.” And if you’ve been following along you can probably guess Michelle’s response to this. She shuts her down brutally. This is what it’s all about. Michelle doesn’t see her as an equal. She doesn’t respect her. She used Layla to win and keep the title. Now that’s over she’s gonna drop her like a bag of spuds, like all of that BFF best friends stuff never even happened.
Cold as fucking ice.
Layla finally reaches the end of her rope on the Raw before Extreme Rules. Michelle shoves her one too many times and this time Layla fights back, beats the crap out of her and HURLS her over the announce table (Michelle eats all kinds of shit on this bump by the way – a true soldier).
And then… Layla cries.
This isn’t a babyface turn or a triumphant moment for her. She’s heartbroken. She worked so hard to keep the team together and it wasn’t enough. This sucks for her.
So they face each other on Smackdown later that week, they brawl to a double countout, and then Layla is the one who challenges her to a No DQ, No Countout match at Extreme Rules. Michelle fires back with the Loser Leaves Town stipulation. Michelle sees a way to get this nuisance out of her life once and for all, and Layla, realising it would be too hard to stay on the same show after they’ve broken up, accepts. This shit is on.
There are three key things that happen at the PPV, and they’re all to do with Layla. The first is that before the match, Layla approaches the babyface Divas in the locker room and apologises for being such a dick to them. She knows it could be her last night, that she probably can’t beat Michelle, and she doesn’t want to leave without trying to clear her conscious a little. She’s not a babyface yet, but she’s showing some remorse at least.
The second thing is that they have the match, they beat the utter shit out of each other, lots of bombs, they hit all their finishers, the works, and in the end Layla rolls her up and wins. Now this result wasn’t a surprise to anyone who heard that Michelle McCool was retiring in real life, but in kayfabe this was a huge upset, and after the way Michelle had been trashing her abilities for so long, and how Layla had always been portrayed as such a goof who needed Michelle’s help… Layla beating her 1-2-3 at the end felt like a real achievement.
The third thing is LAYLA’S FACE when she gets the pin. It is extraordinary. You can see so many different emotions move across her face at once; she’s SHOCKED that she got the three count, then has a split second of triumph that she beat Michelle, then feels bad that she had to do her best friend like that, then she flinches like she thought Michelle might lash out, then the ref raises her hand and she’s proud of herself, then it really, truly sinks in that she ended Michelle’s career. It is a fascinating 20 seconds or so, some of the most fascinating acting I’ve seen in wrestling.
Both of them are bawling by this point and once again, this isn’t a happy moment for Layla. It sucks. Because they were best friends and they were happy and yet they fucked things up so bad that they ended up here, and now Michelle is gone forever and Layla is left alone. Booker T nails it on commentary here when he says, “Layla never wanted this.” You can even see her say the words, “I’m sorry!” to Michelle as she’s going up the ramp.
She was sorry. For winning. Nobody really won here.
That’s the interesting thing about it. This isn’t the usual pro wrestling angle, where there’s a good guy and a bad guy and an easy to understand conflict. This thing is complicated. It’s so very detail-oriented – it required the viewer to pay acute attention to the exact part of the show that WWE had always trained its audience not to pay attention to. And on top of that, it was between two bad guys who remained two bad guys, there was nobody for the crowd to cheer for, and in the end, they both lost.
I told you. Breaking Bad as fuck.
What it actually was is just a very real depiction of a break up. Sometimes two people just can’t be together anymore. A relationship that was once beautiful turns completely toxic, there’s nothing they can do to save it, and a trail of bodies is ultimately left in its wake. It’s very Greek, very tragic. And just way too much for a pro wrestling storyline. Especially a Divas storyline. It’s almost like this could only happen because nobody was paying attention.
Nobody, that is, except Layla, Michelle, the guy who was writing their skits, and me. And I certainly appreciate all the work they did. I hope after all this, you do too.
Next week I’ll be doing something I haven’t actually done yet – a match review. I have been holding my breath for over a year waiting to speak in public about this match, and this time next week I will finally exhale.
Check it out:
Layla vs. Beth Phoenix (Smackdown, January 8th 2010)
Laycool vs. Mickie James & Beth Phoenix (Smackdown, February 5th 2010)
Beth Phoenix vs Laycool – Women’s Title Handicap (Smackdown, May 14th 2010)
Natalya vs. Eve vs. Layla vs. Michelle – Divas Title (Royal Rumble 2011)
Layla vs. Eve Torres (Smackdown, February 11th 2011)
Laycool vs. Beth Phoenix & Kelly (Smackdown, April 8th 2011)
Layla vs. Michelle McCool (Smackdown, April 29th 2011)
Layla vs. Michelle McCool – No DQ, No Countout, Loser Leaves Town (Extreme Rules 2011)