WWE Divas – NXT Takeover & Royal Rumble 2017 Results:
It was a weekend of live shows in the WWE which this reporter couldn’t fully enjoy due to travelling on buses that blocked media sites. But the Road to WrestleMania officially began. Starting off with NXT, the champion Asuka was booked to make her first title defence of 2017 against three other women. The Aussie powerhouse duo of Billie Kay and Peyton Royce and the crazed brawler from Scotland Nikki Cross. The Royal Rumble was headlined by Charlotte putting her Raw Women’s Championship on the line against fan favourite Bayley. The pre-show also featured Sasha Banks looking to settle the score against Nia Jax. There was also a big Smackdown 6-woman tag match - Nikki Bella, Naomi and Becky Lynch took on Mickie James, Natalya and the Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss.
Asuka* vs Billie Kay vs Peyton Royce vs Nikki Cross [NXT Women's Championship]
Winner and STILL NXT Women’s Champion: Asuka
Nothing like a match such as this to breathe a little life into the floundering NXT division. In contrast to Asuka’s lacklustre match with Mickie James, this was thankfully more up to the NXT standard. There wasn’t much of a story behind it, the match itself acting as a focal point for a lot of developing stories (Asuka vs Nikki, Peyton and Billie’s stable) but thankfully having four very intense and hard-hitting workers in there meant that we were going to get some good wrestling. The match didn’t get off to a good start and I thought the opening moments dragged a little. That’s to be expected, since most of these women haven’t worked with each other before – Nikki having only just debuted and the Aussies being kept at a distance from Asuka. But order was soon restored and I came to enjoy what they gave us. The Aussie alliance told a story in there, and I was mentally clapping that they didn’t do the obvious Fatal 4 Way story – heels team up and then turn on each other. Like the impression they gave us on NXT last week, they sold the story that they would stick together completely throughout the match. The implication is that they’d rather the NXT Women’s Championship just become part of their stable – and it doesn’t matter whose waist it ends up around. And the MVP of the match for me was definitely Peyton. I’ve wanted her to get a big showcase for ages, and this was it. She can often be forgotten in comparison to the other red-hot workers like Asuka, Ember Moon and Nikki Cross – even Billie Kay had a beloved fanbase from her indie days. But Peyton is steadily showing that she is one of the brighter talents WWE have signed. And she and Billie are blossoming as a team. That suplex to Nikki on the outside was a real “wow” moment the NXT division had been lacking since the departure of the Four Horsewomen. Nikki could easily have been the spare part in this match, as the woman with the least amount of screen time up until now. But she got to do some stuff as well, and she helped really introduce herself to the crowd as a wrestler rather than just a member of SANITY. Asuka I say this about every time, but as long as she’s wrestling, she’s flying. A lot of people were calling for her to drop the title here, but WWE made the right choice. After her match, Asuka called out Ember Moon, which surely gives us a hint as to who her next Takeover match will be against. I personally can’t wait!
Royal Rumble 2017
Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax
Winner: Nia Jax
Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella & Naomi vs Alexa Bliss, Natalya & Mickie James
Winners: Becky Lynch, Nikki Bella & Naomi
Charlotte* vs Bayley [Raw Women's Championship]
Winner and STILL Raw Women’s Champion: Charlotte
A stacked card for the Rumble led to us having three women’s matches advertised for the card. Unfortunately due to the time constraints of the Royal Rumble itself, two of those matches got demoted to the pre-show. I think that definitely hurt Sasha vs Nia in a big way. The feud had been given a lot of press and hype – so to be given just six minutes on a kickoff show was a real blow. The match was just getting going when it suddenly ended. In contrast to a lot of people, I actually like Nia. Maybe I’m not a fan but I think she brings a lot to the table. She produced some very good matches against Bayley and Asuka on NXT – not to mention her great triple threat against Alexa and Carmella. So I was looking forward to seeing her in the ring with the best female wrestler in WWE at the moment. And credit to Sasha for at least making the effort. She made this six minute match feel less throwaway and tried her hardest to sell it to us. They even utilised some good psychology going after Sasha’s knee. Nia looks like she’s really trying but WWE just end up giving her peanuts. The silver lining is that Nia got the win, so we can think of this more as a stepping stone. Something to set the stage for a longer and harder fought bout at the next PPV.
But moving onto things that did NOT warrant being dragged out to another PPV…uh…the Women’s Championship. I feel really bad for both Charlotte and Bayley. I wanted to enjoy their match and get into it. I could see they both wanted to put on a great show. And at some points they came close to doing so. But I’m officially at Charlotte fatigue now. I can no longer get into her matches or find anything positive in her reign so far. Remember how we all loved Lord of the Rings because it was an epic sprawling story with a great conclusion? And remember how studios tried to recapture that magic by padding The Hobbit out to three movies that no one really wanted to make? Charlotte’s time at the top should have ended while her momentum was still red-hot. She has been overpushed and overexposed past most fans’ tether at this moment. The match was perfectly fine, but it was rendered meaningless by the fact that she did not drop the title. They killed Sasha’s momentum just for the sake of extending Charlotte’s reign out, and they risk doing the same to Bayley too. I’m not usually one for complaining just because one person didn’t win, but in this case Charlotte’s reign needs to end. The division is on life support while she is champion, and it won’t be fully resuscitated until she drops the title. This storyline needs to die and stay dead for a long time. Because it is a big problem when the good work of the two women in the ring is eclipsed by the horrible booking.
Ah Smackdown…it either says very much for the blue brand or very low for the red – that the 6-woman tag was both what I was looking forward to and enjoyed more than the Women’s Championship match. Smackdown has a such a great and well-developed set of characters that a simple 6-woman tag is still lots of fun. We have three women’s feuds clashing in the one match, and not one of them was ignored. For a match that could have been throwaway, it was a lot of fun. The women knew exactly how to make the crowd pop and give them something entertaining – I loved the six way suplex spot. They also did their best to get their individual stories across – Mickie sneak attacking Becky, Naomi pinning Alexa etc. They wisely kept Mickie and Becky apart for most of the match – whetting the fans’ appetite for their eventual encounter in the ring. I even loved the facials from Nikki as Natalya had Becky in a chinlock; good storytelling. And listen to the pop Naomi got as she tagged in. While I won’t get my hopes up, I certainly do hope that management takes notice of it. This has been a great way for her to return.
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