If you’re like me, your jaw was on the floor back in May, watching the tournament final between Charlotte and Natalya to determine the new NXT Women’s Champion. Your jaw went slack because you had no earthly idea that a women’s match under the WWE banner could be this good.
With Charlotte and Natalya putting forth such a heated battle, as though winning the NXT Women’s gold meant more to them than anything on the planet, it’s impossible not to watch that match and be more than impressed.
It’s reign as the best women’s match in WWE history was dealt a crushing blow on Wednesday night, when Charlotte dropped the strap in a fatal-four-way to former partner Sasha Banks, the match also including the precocious Bayley and unretired Irish starlet Becky Lynch.
In the eyes of the most ardent know-it-all fan, the women’s four way occupied the same space as an enthralling can-you-top-this battle between the former Prince Devitt and PAC, and a delightfully-brutal main event that wrote a new chapter in the Kevin Steen/El Generico rivalry. That women’s four way rivaled, and in some cases exceeded, both of those matches in gut-instinct star ratings doled out by enthralled fans (I went ****1/4 for Finn Balor/Adrian Neville, **** for the four-way, and ****1/2 for Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn, but it’s damn close).
Charlotte’s in-ring acumen had a tough act to follow in Paige, whose masterful performances at such a young age buoyed a 300-day Women’s Title reign, a portfolio of work that led to her receiving a thunderous pop from the day-after-WrestleMania crowd when she’d arrived to occupy the ring with AJ Lee. By all accounts, Charlotte will be headed to the main roster soon, where she’ll likely trade harder on her father’s name, per the usual anemic creative oozing from between Vince McMahon’s ears.
New champion Banks looked to be a relatively one-note act palling around with Charlotte and Summer Rae at different points as “The BFFs” before ramping up into a conceited-bitch act, calling herself, “The Boss”. Any notions that Banks was more fluff than fire went out the window at NXT: R Evolution in December, following a thoroughly good performance with Charlotte for the title. The match was somewhat lost among Sami Zayn’s NXT Title win, Kevin Owens’ debut (and eventual beatdown of Zayn), and Finn Balor’s body-paint special, but those that watched Banks quite literally saw an evolution of her ring work. Her getting to pin Charlotte on Wednesday has more than enough merit – she can carry the division as a snotty heel for quite some time, with the lovable Bayley, current ally Lynch, and the spunky Carmella as prospective rivals.
I’d like to throw a name into the hat for another possible opponent.
If Charlotte’s getting the call-up, one woman who could certainly fill the void (you’ve already read the header of the article, so you can connect the dots) would be Sara Del Rey.
Yes, the same Sara Del Rey who currently puts these NXT women through master class after master class to sand the edges off their frames prior to their in-ring spectacles. For over two years, the real-life Sara Amato has fine-tuned all of the women you see performing at Full Sail University, doing more for women’s wrestling and the advancement of the gender in the sport at large off-camera than some of the trade-show models on Raw do on-camera.
I throw Del Rey’s name into the hat and I’m not alone; ask any fan that’s watched her perform in Ring of Honor or Shimmer or wherever. In the pantheon of Best Women’s Wrestlers of the Last Ten Years, it’s a crowded class. Names like Awesome Kong, Cheerleader Melissa, Gail Kim, Paige, and others will invariably make the list, but Del Rey occupies the same space. Anyone trained by Daniel Bryan and worth teaming with Chris Hero and Claudio “Cesaro” Castagnoli boasts one hell of a wrestling pedigree.
Yet, all she does for WWE is train others, and that’s a bit bittersweet for her fans. Del Rey doesn’t have the lithe model’s body or the high cheekbones that Kevin Dunn covets, but that’s not relevant in NXT. Last I checked, the new men’s champion is a bit blubbery with a cauliflower nose and little muscle definition. Doesn’t stop him from being bought as a human wrecking machine, does it?
NXT has become a top-flight independent with WWE production values (I’ve nicknamed it, “Ring of Hunter”). If the hefty Kevin Steen, undersized Kenta, and others can make it based solely on their outsize skills as performers, so can Sara Del Rey (who, I’ll add, is nowhere near a trainwreck in the looks department).
NXT has done so much to revitalize the decaying embers of wrestling fandom, providing a spark of fun and energy days after Raw unimaginatively slogs to the three-hour finish line, that I believe it’s a strong possibility we’ll see Del Rey on camera sooner rather than later. It’s a career victory lap of sorts for a wrestler worthy of the spotlight.
If Raw is the death march into oblivion, NXT can boast the Death Rey as just another coup for wrestling’s greatest weekly show.