Coming out of WrestleMania, the WWE’s newly re-branded women’s division was the hottest thing on the card. Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks stole the show, producing the best match on the WrestleMania card and the future looked incredibly bright for women’s wrestling. While that future remains bright, the short term has been severely hampered by terrible booking decisions. It also started in the aforementioned match with the decision to keep the title on Charlotte.
The stars aligned that night and every sign, including the storyline going into the match, was saying Sasha should be crowd as the Women’s Champion. Her Eddie Guerrero inspired ring gear, her entrance containing both confetti and Snoop Dogg, the reaction she got from the crowd and the quality of the match itself all seemed like the perfect storm to create the biggest female star the WWE has ever had. Instead, they opted to keep the title on Charlotte which was probably the most deflating of the three options they had that night, but still workable creatively. So, for the time being, we let it slide thinking Sasha would use the momentum from WrestleMania to capture the title in the next few months and things would pick up from there.
Instead, WWE opted to make Natalya the first challenger for the women’s championship which, on paper, sounded like a smart decision. Natalya and Charlotte had the first five star women’s match in NXT and have shown on multiple occasions that they’re capable of wrestling fantastic matches. However, the difference between a NXT/Roadblock bout and a semi-main-event on a WWE pay-per-view is stark, and Natalya was not up to the challenge. In the ring, she’s as good as anyone, but when it comes to promos, getting storylines over and selling a rivalry, she would be in the bottom five in the entire company. This, coupled with only one women’s feud being developed outside of the championship picture really slowed the momentum of the division. For the record, that other feud was Becky Lynch versus Emma, which between WrestleMania and Payback received less than 10 minutes of total airtime in the four weeks. In fact, it was probably given more exposure on YouTube and Twitter than on WWE television. On top of that, Sasha Banks, the biggest breakout star to come out of WrestleMania 32, found herself on Raw twice between WrestleMania and Payback.
A squash match against Summer Rae and a pointless eight-woman tag match severely crippled her momentum. Of course, things were set to change, Natalya and Charlotte had Payback around the corner and you could bank on them to deliver a quality match.
Their match went no longer than eight minutes before the shenanigans started. Ric Flair got involved, followed by a referee screw job simply done because Bret Hart was at ringside and making no logical sense. A potential match of the year candidate was pushed to the side to focus on Ric Flair, Bret Hart and a referee, because he used to dress like the Nature Boy. Imagine a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match ending as illogically as that – you can’t, because they don’t. However, again, we bit our tongues, took a deep breath and waited to see where they would go with this angle. To their credit, the follow up was smart with Ric Flair being banned from ringside and a rematch with the submission stipulation made for the Extreme Rules pay-per-view. Why the referee wasn’t kayfabe fired for fixing a title match we’ll never understand, but still, this looked promising.
Unfortunately, this meant another three weeks with WWE having nothing to do with Sasha Banks and the hottest woman in the company two months ago was now off television completely, simply because they had nothing for her to do. It was also another three weeks where Natalya had to carry the weight of the top feud in the division and she floundered. Whether it was on commentary, refusing to answer legitimate story building questions from Michael Cole, or butchering lines in a main-event segment on Raw, she was simply not up to the task of being in an eight-week feud with top-of-the-card spotlight. Meanwhile, Becky’s virtually non-existent feud with Emma took an interesting turn with the introduction of Dana Brooke as Emma’s muscle.
Side-note: Dana Brooke getting to the main-roster before Bayley and Alexa Bliss about sums up WWE’s booking of the women’s division this year.
While Dana can’t cut promos, is a C-grade wrestler if we’re being generous and has the acting skills of a 12-year-old using a comb as a WWE microphone, if utilized properly in the background, she could potentially be decent as Emma’s heater. That idea was tossed out the window within a week with Emma suffering a serious back injury, putting her out for months. This left the WWE in a predicament with Dana in the foreground by herself, feuding with Becky and not up to the task in any way, shape or form. But despite Sasha and Becky both being completely wasted, Brooke being on the main roster and Natalya floundering in the main-event scene, things were about to turn around, surely. Extreme Rules was around the corner and a submission match between Natalya and Charlotte would surely deliver. They’d already had one match ruined by interference, so surely with Flair banned from ringside, this would be the clean finish to the feud that it desperately needed. It would be a nice, clean win to give Charlotte some credibility as a heel champion on her own, yes?
Instead, the potholed roads WWE had forged coming out of WrestleMania merged into one with Dana joining Charlotte and helping her get a win over Natalya. This time, they would get even LESS time than Payback to put on a quality match before Dana emerged, dressed as Flair, leading to a distraction win for Charlotte. It also made Natalya look like the dumbest person alive, falling for a distraction for the fourth time. So let’s recap for a moment.
WrestleMania – the best women’s match possibly in WWE history takes place and all three women come out of it looking like mega-stars. Two pay-per-views later, the momentum of the division is squandered, it’s unclear if Natalya will get a third shot at the title and Sasha Banks is drowning in complete obscurity. Becky Lynch has been made to look second-rate, Emma is injured, Dana Brooke is being pushed, Team BAD are both injured, Cameron has been released and Brie Bella has retired. Okay… those last two are probably for the betterment of the women’s division, but you get the idea.
The WWE will inevitably push Sasha to the title and it will probably happen at SummerSlam, but in waiting for the big stage to put the title on her, they’ve halved the reaction she’ll get upon her coronation. Think about it, if they wanted to put the title on Sasha at a big stage, maybe putting the championship on her at WrestleMania in front of 101,000 people in a storyline that logically dictated she win was the right idea? No? And despite all of this, the NXT women’s division continues to set the bar for women’s wrestling, showing that even when the talent pool at the top is thin, which it currently is in NXT, good booking can turn water into wine. You just have to look at the triple threat match between Alexa Bliss, Carmella and Nia Jax or Jax’s match with Bayley the week before (both of which main-evented NXT by the way) to see that even three women who aren’t the strongest wrestlers can deliver a fantastic story when given the chance.
It’s the booking, not the talent available that’s the issue here.
July 13th was the date Sasha, Becky and Charlotte debuted on the main roster and what has changed since they debuted? The women are now getting spotlight and have a shiny new title, but the booking continues to drag the division into the mud. NXT is STILL the benchmark for women’s wrestling, despite losing four of their top five competitors, so much so that you could legitimately make a case for Asuka and Nia Jax main-eventing the next Takeover special.
To answer the question, the only thing that has changed is how the WWE view women’s wrestling, the product itself, outside of WrestleMania, is no better. Since Battleground last year when the NXT girls came to the main-roster, there have been 14 women’s matches on pay-per-view with less than five actually being any good – because of booking, not the talent involved. Outside of WrestleMania, the only standout match has really been Becky Lynch versus Charlotte at the Royal Rumble, and that match still had too much interference involved in the finish. In all of this, you’ll notice a bad word hasn’t been said about Charlotte. She has thrived in this heel role and looks more comfortable every week. She has been the recipient of some terrible booking and yet she’s still come out of it looking like a great heel champion. Of course, it all could all have been much, much better.