Holy sidekick, Hurricane!
We had three huge Championship matches this week, a majestically brilliant heel turn, and more Diva screen time than WWE has given us since the golden era of the mid-2000's.
There's no best place to start, so let's begin at the beginning.
|Let's start a new era, shall we?|
First of all, expectations were low for the Cameron and Naomi match, as tends to be the case for kickoff matches. They were predictably only given a few minutes, but this might have been the fastest-paced Diva match I've seen in months. There was only one point at which the action slowed - which I'll get to in a moment - and the rest of the contest was gritty. Lots of hair pulling and fists to the mush with few holds.
Just what these two best friends-turned rivals needed.
|Slayomi. All business.|
And Slayomi is terrifying.
There are moments of brilliance in Naomi's in-ring performance, especially when she's given a reason to lose her cool and really start getting fired up. The girl throws those fists like nobody's business. I'm serious, I think Naomi currently has the most legit-looking punches in the business. And the best part is she doesn't even need them! She's so athletic that she could throw hurricanranas and make top rope-clearing leaps for half an hour and dazzle the entire audience.
There's a tremendous upside to Naomi that I don't believe has even begun to be tapped. If she doesn't get a meaningful Championship reign before she retires it will be a great injustice, but not a huge surprise given the fact that Natalya still only has the one brief reign from a hundred years ago.
Back to the match. The former Funkadactyls really tore into one another and after Naomi started mounting a comeback it looked like she might actually take the victory. I predicted on my blog that she would have her hand raised high after this one, and I guessed wrong. Cameron took advantage of a slip-up by her former partner and rolled her up with a handful of tights to get the pinfall.
|Lou Thesz would be proud.|
And speaking of AJ and Paige, what a great match they had at Battleground! Divas matches rarely get nearly enough time and this one was no different, but so as to not sound like a broken record I won't harp on that in this case. It could have done with another five to ten minutes but what they did here was nothing short of fantastic.
|These two have great chemistry.|
Just one thing I need to get out of my system. The Diva rest holds have got to go. They've been around for a while now and are not useful in a scenario where the women need to be showing their athleticism and proving why they're a valuable part of the show. I thought the problem might be getting better, but then in two separate matches on the SAME SHOW, this happened:
AJ is obviously being booked different now as a babyface, and that's perfectly fine. She spent the majority of the match getting mauled by Paige and it's what made the encounter work so well. It had the double benefit of getting the audience on AJ's side as the underdog and playing to Paige's strengths as a violent brawler. There were subtle moments throughout where Paige showed us a hint of silent hatred which would turn out to be foreshadowing events to come the next night on Raw.
And the audience - oh, the audience. Tampa was really into this, more so than a crowd has been into any big Divas match in a really long time. It's obvious that these two are over, and AJ herself may be the most over female wrestler since Trish Stratus and Lita retired. Which is appropriate since this AJ/Paige feud is drawing a lot of comparisons (including by yours truly) to the infamous rivalry which spanned the entire careers of both Trish and Lita.
The crowd popped huge when AJ countered into the Black Widow on Paige, and Paige sold it like a gem with an expression of genuine pain. And then, in order to get out of the move, Paige reached back and grabbed a handful of AJ's hair and just threw her off, one-handed. It was a thing of beauty.
|The Black Widow has never been sold so well.|
Upon the three count which declared AJ Lee as having retained the Divas Championship the audience gave her a nice ovation, and after seeing this match I didn't even feel very shortchanged about the lack of appropriate time given. These two women worked hard to cram as much storytelling as could possibly be crammed into the time allotted, not to mention it was obvious the feud was to continue so there's hope that we'll get a more deserving amount of time at the next showdown.
It felt like something magical, and that was even before they shifted the whole thing into overdrive twenty-four hours later.
I feared Paige and AJ Lee would be tagging together on Raw again, which they did, but my fear was based on the assumption that another tag team match would be a stall tactic so that the storyline didn't need to be worried about again until a week or two before SummerSlam.
I was right about the match, but completely wrong about what it meant.
AJ and Paige were to team against Natalya and Emma, so right off the bat I was hopeful that we'd get a really good, though likely short, tag match because all four women are sickeningly talented wrestlers. But then the Divas started making their entrances. And their entrances were being rushed.
Every wrestling fan knows rushed entrances mean that everyone in the segment has been told to kick it into fast-forward because the last match ran too long and we don't need to be cutting time off the main event.
I was worried, needless to say. Imagine my distress when the match ended in what was probably under a minute. Natlaya took a sick Shining Wizard from AJ followed by the Black Widow and it was over almost as soon as it started. I was fully prepared to hit Twitter in a nerd rage.
And then Paige grabbed AJ by the hair from behind and slammed her head into the mat.
We knew it was coming. It was like knowing Dolph Ziggler was about to cash in his Money in the Bank contract on Alberto Del Rio last year, and then still marking out when it happened (side note: let's hope it doesn't end with the same lack of climax).
The assault was intense. It was beautiful and filled with screams. In the midst of it, Paige proclaimed, "You're gonna' love this!" And I did. I loved every second of it.
After dismantling the Divas Champion, Paige skipped away. Yes, skipped. There are no words.
And then this took place on the Raw fallout:
This is only the beginning.
The stuff with AJ Lee and Paige would have alone been enough to make significant strides in WWE's Divas division. But these days we're getting several Divas segments every week now and I think it's very important that we give WWE credit for it. Thank you, WWE. This is what we've been wanting. There will always be room for improvement but for now you are doing very, very well.
Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella will most likely compete against one another at SummerSlam. Prior to this week the build had been uneventful following Payback when Brie slapped Stephanie and "quit." It's really just been week after week of Nikki Bella being booked into losing situations. I thought we were about to get the same thing this week when Nikki was set to face Eva Marie, Rose Mendes, Cameron, and Alicia Fox in a four-on-one handicap match.
There was so much more in store, though. Brie Bella had bought a ticket and was sitting at ringside as a fan to watch Nikki compete. Stephanie made her way down the ramp and confronted Brie, who once again called Steph a bitch, which Steph did not take kindly to. She slapped the hell out of Brie and had her kicked out of the building. Stephanie's four Diva henchwomen then destroyed Nikki in another match that lasted only a few seconds.
Before moving on I'll say that while Raw was fantastic for the progression of Diva storylines, I think the next step is to figure out how to have these moments without taking time away from the actual Divas matches. In this particular case, it was fine. Four-on-one handicap matches never need last very long. The tag match in the AJ and Paige segment is a great example of a match that should have at least gone around five minutes. The screen time is a great way to get people invested, but there is still a problem where people can never take the women as seriously as they take the men if the women aren't treated with as much respect by the company.
|The feud between Brie and Stephanie is organic, as the best feuds are.|
There's no one better in the business at the art of the facial expression than Stephanie, and the line, "Do you have any idea how much power I have in this city?" brought the whole night home.
If there is indeed set to be a match between Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella at SummerSlam, Stephanie just sold it.
|Stephanie McMahon prepares for the Cell Block Tango.|
If we could just combine WWE's storytelling with TNA's respectful match times then one of them would have a damn near perfect women's division. Not a lot of story or character development going on for the Knockouts lately but they always leave it in the ring, that's for certain.
|It don't get no better.|
Even still, I found myself anticipating this Title match following Kim and Terrell's epic matches last year. I'm not sure I've been more surprised by someone's wrestling ability than I've been by Taryn's and there's certainly no better way to learn the craft than by wrestling Gail Kim.
Diverging for a brief moment; I'd like to mention how much heat TNA seems to have gotten over the last few years for thus far only inducting wrestlers who were made famous elsewhere in the industry into the TNA Hall of Fame. As it stands we've got Sting and Kurt Angle with the Dudley Boyz/Team 3D going in this year. I see what they're trying to do - establish a group of people respected worldwide to instantly give the Hall of Fame sense of exclusivity and prestige - but it's time, guys. It's time to start inducting some of the hard-working folks that made Impact Wrestling. It's good to have established names around, but honestly it seems as though the popularity of the company was rising quickly UNTIL legends from other corners of the wrestling universe began coming in and winning the World Heavyweight Championship. My point is that some TNA originals need to start getting inducted and Gail Kim has got to be near the front of the line.
So, Knockouts Championship match. Pretty solid until it ended in a disqualification thanks to the Beautiful People. That bugs me, but I guess they're preparing for something more. I don't read spoilers, so I'm completely unaware of what's coming next week, but I hope it furthers something meaningful. I like the Knockouts matches, obviously, because the women are shown a lot of respect by TNA, but I need more substance. Characters and narrative, please.
Or not. Really, I'd probably be fine if Gail Kim just had twenty minutes every week to show the world how it's done.
NXT brought us our third Title match of the week as the bright future of the Divas division, Charlotte, defended the NXT Women's Championship against Summer Rae.
The former BFF's collided in a contest that has been building for a few weeks and gave us our first lengthy look at Summer Rae's grappling ability since she was called up to the main WWE roster. The match ran a decent length and Summer used a lot scrappy tactics to stay in control a large portion of the time, but we were treated to the Figure Four Headlock.
|The Flair legacy lives.|
Charlotte came back right at the end to hit Bow Down to the Queen, a super impactful variation on the Diamond Cutter/RKO, and pin Summer Rae to retain the NXT Women's Championship.
Unfortunately, the crowd at Full Sail University didn't seem to enjoy it and they got a pretty loud "boring" chant going before they resorted to doing a giant wave while they waited for the match to end. It's a shame, really. That's all I can say about it.
As for me, I look forward to many, many years of Charlotte busting heads authoritatively in the Divas division.
What turned out to be easily the biggest and most exciting week for the WWE Divas in years came to a nice, soft landing on Smackdown. Paige came down - still skipping - for a match against Naomi, but grabbed a microphone before the bell to say that, following her assault on AJ Lee on Raw, she and the Divas Champion are still friends. She said that she likes AJ and she also likes Naomi.
Apparently not a lot, though. Once the match started, Cameron's music hit and Naomi's former partner came to the stage. Naomi was distracted and Paige came from behind to destroy her with a cradle DDT and the PTO for the win. Post-match, Paige skipped away and Cameron laid some more hurt on Naomi. Michael Cole mentioned that the Divas division is getting "delusional," which was a line I wish he would have used on Raw because it's a great way to show the announcers are interested in what's going on. That tends to be up for debate sometimes.
The whole thing was done in under a couple of minutes, which is the way Smackdown usually rolls. Let us not get so hung up on the amazing groundwork which has been laid that we forget that none of the many Divas matches this week got a proper amount of time. If this week was meant for the division to get a running start, then that's all good. But we need to show that the women aren't all talk now. This is a wrestling show, after all, not Total Divas.
The door is now closed on what was likely the most productive and respectable week of women's wrestling WWE has seen in over half a decade, but wrestling is a week-by-week, sometimes night-by-night business and we shouldn't take any of it for granted. WWE is nothing if consistent in its inconsistency, so it's safe to be extremely cautious with any and all optimism.
What I'm trying to say is that this week was pristine. Remember it fondly, but don't get too excited that it's a sign of things to come.
The wrestling world is talking about the Divas, perhaps more than the male Superstars right now.
That won't sit well with you-know-who.
What did you think of all the Diva goodness this week? Let me know in the comments.
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