Welcome to this week’s round-up of all the action from WWE’s women’s divisions. This week I’m celebrating two full years of this column. I thought about how to mark the occasion (hey, it’s a big deal for me) and decided to do a little comparison to see how well WWE are living up to their hype regarding the women’s division. At the end of each show’s section, we’ll have a look at what the shows were doing this time two years ago and compare the two. It’s been a busy week for the women, and with the TakeOver Chicago II preview as well, it might be a ‘grab a drink and a biscuit before you start’ kind of a week.
Nia Jax def Natalya
The Riott Squad def Sasha Banks, Ember Moon, and Alexa Bliss – sort of, it’s complicated.
Natalya vs Nia Jax
Natalya was shown being given training tips by Ronda Rousey before the match, then Rousey joined commentary. So, of course, they spent the vast majority of it quizzing her as to how she’ll deal with Nia Jax at Money in the Bank. They did comment on the match from time to time but mainly to point out something Jax had done and ask Rousey how she’ll cope with it. They also reinforced the idea of Rousey and Natalya’s alliance by frequently referring to Natalya as Rousey’s friend.
The match itself was interesting. Natalya is one of the more powerful members of the roster, and one of the most experienced. The technical style she favours does not play to Jax’ strengths. That said, she still spent the vast majority of the match being thrown around.
Natalya turned things in her favour with a discus clothesline and got a two-count on Jax, unfortunately for Natalya, it didn’t last.
As she ran over Jax and bounced off the ropes her right knee buckled. The pain made her hesitate and Nia Jax grabbed her and delivered a Samoan drop for the win.
After the match Natalya stayed on the mat clutching her leg. Nia Jax looked concerned and was hovering around trying to ask if she was ok. Ronda Rousey came down to comfort Natalya and kept backing Nia Jax up. They ended up nose to nose twice and Jax backed off. Rousey told her to leave but she stayed put looking upset while Rousey and the official helped Natalya up the ramp.
Backstage Natalya had ice on her knee and told Rousey she heard something pop. Nia Jax came in to apologise, told Natalya she didn’t mean to hurt her knee and asked her if she was going to be able to compete at Money in the Bank. Rousey said, ‘haven’t you done enough already’, and they started to argue with Jax protesting that Natalya is just as much her friend as Rousey’s. Natalya stopped them by telling Jax she knows it was an accident, it was a match, these things happen. Then hobbled off on crutches saying she needed a minute to herself.
Alexa Bliss, Sasha Banks, and Ember Moon vs The Riott Squad
It was unclear, initially, why on earth Alexa Bliss had been teamed with Banks and Moon.
Ember Moon and Ruby Riott started things off and I truly enjoy them as a pairing. They’re a lot of fun to watch.
Alexa Bliss tagged in for about thirty seconds before collapsing to the mat holding the back of her leg. She tagged Banks in, rolled out of the ring, and limped backwards up the ramp and out of the match.
Now a three on two handicap match, Ember Moon got isolated by the Riott Squad with lots of quick tags. She got to Banks eventually and it wasn’t long before Banks was in the same predicament.
While she was trying to get to Moon for a tag Sarah Logan and Ruby Riott ran round the outside of the ring to take Moon out. She fought back but Liv Morgan pushed her off the apron and Logan dropkicked her into the barricade.
Banks dealt with all three of them, briefly, But when she was desperate for a tag with no-one for her to turn to, Bayley ran down and tagged in. Bayley delivered the Bayley to belly to Sarah Logan and pinned her.
Confused? So was Corey Graves, he was shouting about it right until they cut away. In Kurt Angle’s office, Angle and Baron Corbin argued about it. Oh, yeah, Baron Corbin is now ‘Constable’ of RAW, Stephanie McMahon’s eyes and ears. He told Angle to go and tell Banks, Moon and Bayley that the victory doesn’t count, unless he wanted to talk to McMahon about it himself.
Moon, Banks, and Bayley were talking backstage. Before Angle interrupted them, Ember Moon was telling Bayley and Banks to hug it out so they could go and celebrate. They moved towards each other, and that’s when Angle appeared. He told them they had been disqualified because Bayley was never part of the match. Moon walked off in frustration and Sasha Banks shook her head at Bayley before she walked away.
RAW two years ago.
Charlotte Flair was the WWE Women’s Champion (this was pre brand-split). The previous week she had told her dad to get out of her ring and she had Dana Brooke as her sidekick.
There was no match for the women’s division on this episode. Instead, there was a monologue from Flair about how the stuff with Ric Flair was a professional thing, not a personal thing, and her still being daddy’s little girl. That was broken up by Becky Lynch and Natalya who were trying to tell Dana Brooke that Flair was no good for her. It devolved into a scrap which set up Becky Lynch and Dana Brooke for a match on SmackDown. The women were on screen for a total of eight minutes of the three-hour show.
Verdict: Things have clearly improved from this time two years ago. Two matches and two short backstage segments obviously beats one segment and zero matches. Natalya versus Nia Jax on its own, without the aftermath, was as long as the single women’s division segment two years ago, the six-woman tag was even longer. I mean, the women’s division still only got twenty-five minutes of a three-hour show, but it’s an improvement on eight. Time isn’t everything though, storylines matter too. I’m not sure there has been as great an improvement in that respect. There is still very little happening away from the title. There are plenty of potential feuds within the women’s division, WWE just need to pull the trigger on some of them.
Asuka def Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose
Naomi and Jimmy Uso def Lana and Aiden English
Becky Lynch def Charlotte Flair
Carmella opened the what was going to turn out to be a massive show for the SmackDown women’s division, by telling the audience to give her the praise and admiration she deserves as the SmackDown Women’s Champion. When they booed instead she said it was ok, because tonight wasn’t about her it was about Asuka. She believes Asuka is not what she seems and everyone needs to know the truth. She played one of Asuka’s hype packages and talked about how incredible she was – was as in used to be. Then she showed a video of ‘the real’ Asuka, losing at WrestleMania, losing her first match on SmackDown, and being beaten down by Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville.
When the videos were over she said that was painful to watch but Asuka’s loss at WrestleMania shattered her and she hasn’t been the same since. And that’s why she’s not afraid. Mella is money and the age of Asuka is over. Asuka was undefeated but now she’s just defeated. It used to be no-one is ready for Asuka, now everyone is ready for Asuka.
She asked the crowd to raise their hand if they’re ready for Asuka and said they’re all ready for Asuka.
They got Asuka, but she didn’t have time to do more than get to the ring and stand in front of Carmella before their next interruption.
That interruption was Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. She said Asuka is a shadow of her former self and while Asuka did beat her last week and she is dangerous she was a second away from beating her and, now she knows the truth, she knows she can beat her. Sonya Deville said Rose had left just enough of Asuka for her, and it was her turn tonight.
Carmella started to ask Asuka which one she wanted to fight, Rose or Deville. She said the undefeated Asuka would take both, but this is the defeated Asuka. Of course, making matches is someone else’s job.
Paige came to the stage and reminded the women that no-one speaks for her. She makes the matches. But, as Asuka has unfinished business with both Rose and Deville, she asked Asuka who she wanted to fight. Asuka grabbed the mic from Carmella, making her jump, and said, ‘give me both’. Paige agreed and set the match.
Asuka vs Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose
Carmella joined commentary for the match. She spent the early part of the match trying to convince them that Asuka was a shadow of her former self.
Meanwhile, there was a decent match going on. Rose and Deville used frequent tags to keep themselves fresh and try to wear Asuka down, that wasn’t going to work. They kept bring Asuka back to their corner and didn’t give her any chance to recover.
Eventually, Asuka fought back anyway and had Mandy Rose reeling. Carmella left the announce desk and stood taunting Asuka. That was a big enough distraction for Rose to tag Sonya Deville and for Deville to attack Asuka from behind.
Carmella started moonwalking on the announce desk for no apparent reason as we went to an ad break, but at one point Sonya Deville and Asuka were both watching her. Ok, so Asuka was watching with her throat hanging over the ropes and Sonya Deville’s knee in the back of her neck, but they were still watching.
By the time we came back, Asuka was back in it. Mandy Rose was forced to break up a pin attempt. Asuka nearly got rolled up by Deville when she threw Rose out of the ring. Simultaneous kicks laid both Asuka and Deville out on the mat. Asuka was back up first and they carried on. Deville took a knee, Asuka took a spear and a couple of kicks.
As Deville bounced off the ropes to go for something (could have been a punch), Asuka grabbed her arm and wrapped Deville into the Asuka Lock. Sonya Deville tapped out.
After the match, Carmella got into the ring. They were facing off when Mandy Rose attacked Asuka from behind. Asuka dealt with her but got hit in the back with the belt by Carmella. As she got to her feet Carmella caught her with a superkick.
Naomi and Jimmy Uso vs Lana and Aiden English – Mixed tag rules
Jimmy Uso and Naomi got to cut a backstage promo before the match. Lana and Aiden English didn’t, but English sang their intro.
The guys started things off and English faked a throat injury, Lana came in and was checking on him, then they both attacked. It didn’t work and they both ended up outside the ring on the wrong end of an over the top rope dive from Naomi.
By the time we were back from the ads, the women were in the ring. Can we talk for a moment about Lana’s improvement? She’s clearly worked extremely hard and she’s making it work for her. She’s not doing anything fancy, she’s just turned up the aggression and kept it relatively simple. She was in control for a lot of their long stint and she looked decent.
Lana got involved again, breaking up Jimmy Uso’s attempt to pin English, but Naomi dealt with her and they rolled out of the ring. Naomi reappeared by flying from the top turnbuckle into Aiden English a few moments later. Jimmy Uso followed it up with a superkick and pinned him.
Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch
I like watching Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair fight. They will tell whatever story they’re supposed to but, underneath it all, they have genuinely been friends and rivals for a long time and it shows. Of course, that essentially was the story they were telling here. Charlotte Flair is desperate to get back to the top and regain her title. Becky Lynch just needs to get into the mix, having been left on the sidelines for much too long. They’re both completely committed to their paths, and if they have to go through each other to get there then so be it.
They weren’t holding back on each other, they both know the other can take it. There was a lovely moment where they caught each other’s legs and had to agree to let go at the same time. There was a lot of respect on display and it was great fun to watch.
With them knowing each other so well there were a lot of anticipated moves and reversals, but they both landed plenty. Becky Lynch rolled outside after a Flair spear, and Flair launched herself over the top rope after her.
Back in the ring, Becky Lynch got her knees up when Flair went for the moonsault. Flair went for the figure four a couple of times. On the second attempt, Becky Lynch got hold of her arm and locked in the Dis-Arm-Her. Charlotte Flair tapped out.
After the match, they hugged and Flair left the ring to allow Lynch to take the applause.
SmackDown two years ago
Becky Lynch def Dana Brooke
At least there was a match for SmackDown, but it was a proper old-school WWE women’s match. According to the first column, the match lasted three and a half minutes in total, with Natalya and Charlotte Flair getting involved after two minutes and being ejected from ringside. Dana Brooke attempted to roll Becky Lynch up off the distraction but got caught in the Dis-Arm-Her and tapped out.
Verdict: This isn’t a like for like comparison because post brand-split SmackDown has its own roster and storylines instead of being RAW’s lesser sibling. Still, there’s no contest is there? The women’s division got the half-hour opening segment which is a quarter of the show and almost half of that was match. They also got a mixed tag featuring Naomi and Lana, and Becky Lynch versus Charlotte Flair as well which ran eight minutes from bell to bell. With entrances, celebrations, and promos, the women’s division got more than half the show. Clearly, this was a fortuitous week for comparison, I don’t think that’s happened before (maybe once or twice). But, even taking that into account, the women’s division is clearly better off. The brand split has meant more talent on the rosters and a significant increase in the number of matches.
Three-minute matches still happen. Weeks’ without a women’s division match still happen. But they are much rarer now. In the two years this column has been running we’ve seen the women in Hell in a Cell, Money in the Bank, Elimination Chamber and Royal Rumble. We had the Mae Young Classic, and there’s another one coming up. Things aren’t perfect, there is still work to be done and the progress seems frustratingly slow at times. But it is all heading in the right direction.
Kairi Sane def Lacey Evans
Shayna Baszler opened the show this week to discuss her issues with Nikki Cross. She said that last week she showed the entire locker room, through Dakota Kai, that if they step in the ring with her they’re going to get smacked in the face with a hard dose of reality, and she is that reality. It doesn’t matter how brave they think they are to stand up to her, she’s tougher stronger and better, and the strong will always defeat the weak. But there’s always one person who thinks the laws don’t apply to them, and in this case it’s Nikki Cross. If Cross wants to get in her face she’ll make sure it’s the last thing she ever does.
That was the cue for Nikki Cross to make her entrance. Baszler looked disturbed by Cross’ mania. Baszler reminded her that she is the NXT women’s champion and said the only place Cross is better than her is in that ‘whacked out corner of her brain’. Cross hadn’t said anything, or moved since she got in the ring, Baszler asked her what was wrong with her, is she crazy? The crowd chanted, ‘yes’, and Cross nodded with a grin. Baszler told her if she ever tried a stunt like last week again she should know she could put her to sleep in a heartbeat.
Baszler threw the mic at Cross, who retrieved and said, ‘do it Shayna’, then repeated do it and please a bunch of times while laughing. Cross lunged forward and Baszler jumped back and dropped the belt. Baszler pushed her, Cross leapt on her and started pounding on her and stomping on her in the corner. Unfortunately, Cross got distracted by the belt laying on the mat and, as she contemplated picking it up, Baszler punched her in the side of the head and threw her out of the ring.
Baszler took her jacket off and prepared for another go as Cross got back on the apron. Cross forearmed her in the face, ascended to the top turnbuckle and launched herself onto Baszler. Shayna Baszler ended up outside the ring bleeding from the mouth. She backed away after Cross threw the belt out to her.
It was interesting to see Baszler looking rattled by Cross. She hasn’t shown anything other than calm collected aggression until now, but she obviously had no idea how to deal with Nikki Cross. She’ll need to figure it out, the NXT TakeOver Chicago II match has been confirmed.
Lacey Evans vs Kairi Sane
This was the third match for Sane and Evans and they went into it with one win each. Lacey Evans took off her right glove to reveal she written Kairi on her hand, so ‘A Woman’s Right’ actually had Sane’s name on it. Kairi Sane was not impressed or phased, she just shook her head.
If anything, the writing on the hand acted as a target for Sane, she worked on it at every opportunity. Evans’ brand of disrespectful arrogance didn’t really work in her favour either, it just fired Sane up.
Lacey Evans greatest advantages are her power and size, and they did help her to dominate sections of the match. She had Sane down and went up for a moonsault. It was beautifully executed, but Sane got out of the way and she crashed to the canvas.
Kairi Sane hit her with a spear as she struggled to her feet and followed it up with two more. She started her usual sequence of moves leading up to the InSane Elbow, but instead of going for it she locked in an armbar.
Evans shifted their weight so Sane’s shoulders were on the mat to make her break it. Sane lifted her up and hit an Alabama Slam which kept her down long enough for the InSane Elbow. 2-1 to Kairi Sane.
NXT two years ago
This week two years ago was the NXT TakeOver ‘The End’ match between Asuka and Nia Jax. It was the last of the TakeOver events that took place in a regular Wednesday slot. The match should have been Bayley’s rematch for the title, but she was out with an injury and Jax one the number one contender match to replace her. Bayley was featured heavily in the build to the match, even being shown wishing Asuka luck.
This was easily Nia Jax best match to that point. It did both of them a lot of good. Jax established herself as a contender and Asuka showed she could deal with someone as powerful as Jax. The experience difference between them is huge. At this point, according to Triple H’s Facebook live chat after the show, Asuka had been wrestling for around ten years, Jax for a little over one.
The match ran around ten minutes, which was probably the longest match Jax had been in by then. Asuka made Jax look good. She spent a lot of the match being thrown around the ring and overpowered by Jax. Of course, we all know how it ended because Asuka left NXT undefeated. The way she beat Jax was interesting though. It wasn’t a big move, nor a clever submission, none of that had worked because Jax had powered out of everything. To finish Nia Jax, Asuka simply kicked her in the head until she stopped moving long enough to pin her (four massive kicks when one would have put most people down for a day).
Verdict: NXT, before the call-ups brought about by the brand-split, was a great place for the women’s division and the match was given a lot of time in the preview and pre-show programming. The women’s division as it stands today is a bit of a mess. They have all the talent required to build themselves back to the best women’s division in WWE, but recent call-ups left them without any viable storylines or title contenders. It’s sorting itself out. The fast build for Shayna Baszler versus Nikki Cross works in this instance, but it’s no excuse for how little has been going on in the NXT women’s division lately. The TakeOver match will be superb and there are theoretically a huge amount of really talented women waiting for that next shot, but none of them have been built into natural contenders yet. It’s a worry, but it would be incredibly difficult for NXT to fail long term with the women they have. In its current state, the division was better off two years ago in terms of how well prioritised the women were.
No original women’s division action on Main Event this week. They did show the aftermath of Natalya versus Nia Jax, and highlights of Becky Lynch versus Charlotte Flair.
NXT TakeOver Chicago – Preview and prediction
At the start of this week we didn’t have an NXT Women’s Championship match confirmed for TakeOver. It was fairly clear it was going to be Shayna Baszler versus Nikki Cross, but that wasn’t confirmed until Wednesday.
Obviously, it’s been a quick build for the match, but it’s been done well. It just means there isn’t much to write about. There’s still next week’s go home show, but I genuinely don’t think there is much they need to add to the events of Wednesday.
Until now, Baszler’s biggest weapon has been fear. Nikki Cross isn’t scared. She’s not frightened of getting hurt and she’s not intimidated by Baszler in the slightest. She’s not impervious to pain, but I’m not convinced she doesn’t enjoy it. And she thrives under pressure. I still think Cross’ best match to date was the last woman standing match with Asuka.
Not being able to get inside Cross’ head is a new challenge for her since she became champion. Baszler’s not unbeatable. She lost the Mae Young Classic to Kairi Sane, she lost to Ember Moon, and Nikki Cross proved last week that she can lay her out with The Purge if she can catch her with it.
Nikki Cross should be a future NXT women’s champion. I’d be extremely surprised if that starts at TakeOver Chicago II – happy, but extremely surprised. It’s hard to predict results when there is no build for potential storylines for either of the competitors. The question of, where does X go if she wins, has no answer, for either of them. If they take the title off Baszler now she is simply a bully with no real power. If they put the title on Cross she is a champion with no challengers, because she appears to be somewhere between liked and ignored by the rest of the locker room.
There’s always the possibility of a switch for the sake of the moment followed by a quick switch back on the rematch, but that’s not really NXT’s style. I’m not sure how they’ll work it, but I’d like to see this continue beyond this match. This time round, I think Baszler will be walking out of TakeOver still NXT women’s champion.
Prediction: Shayna Baszler
I’ll be back next week with all the build-up to Money in the Bank weekend, the TakeOver results, and the preview for the Money in the Bank matches. I like these new co-branded PPVs, three women’s matches on the card is much more like it. In the meantime, if there is anything you’d like me to cover or anything you want to discuss, tweet me @manda_why.