As WrestleMania draws ever closer, things are heating up in the women’s division. Charlotte lost her Raw Women’s Championship last week to Bayley - partly thanks to interference from Sasha Banks. This week we get to hear from the new and former champion, as well as none other than the head honcho herself; Stephanie McMahon. There’s also another stop on the Nia Jax squash tour on Raw this week. Smackdown has some rather sad news regarding Naomi and her claim to the Women’s Championship – but happy news for Alexa Bliss and Becky Lynch. And as announced last week Natalya‘s lengthy feud with Nikki Bella comes to a standstill this week as they face off in a Falls Count Anywhere match! NXT is also out to crown a #1 contender – as Ember Moon faces both the iconic Australian Peyton Royce and the plucky Jersey girl Liv Morgan.
Charlotte vs Sasha Banks
Winner: Sasha Banks
Nia Jax vs Sarah Pierce
Winner: Nia Jax
I would be about to complain about the criminal misuse of Emma – unless her makeover was into the Invisible Woman – if I didn’t thoroughly enjoy what Raw gave us. Seriously, there was something special about this segment here. It’s not as if the women don’t get to cut promos anymore like back in Mickie’s era. But a lot of the time the intended big time promos can ring a little flat (see every Sasha promo where she referenced Eddie Guerrero last summer). But the emotions in this promo felt like something special. Bayley’s mic skills are very divisive among fans, but I think this was one of her best promos yet. You could feel the sincerity coming from her; the euphoria at finally becoming Women’s Champion as well as the bittersweet feeling surrounding how she won it. Having Stephanie get involved was a great idea too. There is something about that woman; whenever she gets into a segment with someone, her charisma and mic work is so good she elevates everyone around her. She gave Bayley the perfect heel figure to play off, and that in turn made for a great war of words. There was some prima acting from Sasha too. After several months of repetitive promos against Charlotte, The Boss finally got to sink her teeth into some good material. I thought WWE would have her turn on Bayley right away or show signs of tension with her. Instead they didn’t. And I’m glad – because it means we don’t know what direction the storyline is headed yet. I would actually love for Sasha to cause a DQ in the title match at Fast Lane – not out of maliciousness, but out of concern for her friend. And that would lead to dissension between her and Bayley because of it. Overall the segment had a lot of great emotions in there – something that had been missing from the WrestleMania build-up last year.
The match between Charlotte and Sasha was quite fun too. Perhaps because they’re not wrestling each other on every PPV anymore, their work actually feels somewhat fresh. While there was definite fatigue in the amount of times they wrestled each other, the work going on was usually quite solid. I loved the headscissors into the school girl from Sasha, and the knee to the back of the head from Charlotte. Both looked like nice, snappy moves that added a lot to the match. Charlotte’s dragon sleeper looked especially vicious and effective, as did Sasha’s wheelbarrow bulldog. I can’t say much more except that I really loved the match, because it felt almost like a Smackdown one. No silly gimmicks, no annoying booking; just good old wrestling. I expect that Nia Jax’s little promo is a sign that she and Sasha will have a rubber match at Fast Lane. Hopefully this one will get more time.
Naomi is forced to relinquish the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
Alexa Bliss vs Becky Lynch [Smackdown Women's Championship]
Winner and NEW Smackdown Women’s Champion: Alexa Bliss
Nikki Bella vs Natalya [Falls Count Anywhere]
What an unbelievably perfect Smackdown. It’s ironic that I say this, considering the sad news that surrounds our (now former) Women’s Champion. Poor Naomi; this marks yet another push that’s been derailed by a bad injury. It happened back in 2014 when she fractured her eye socket, and now it happens when she got the title. I do love how classy WWE were with the treatment of this. They didn’t come up with a sneak attack or some cheap way to write her off TV. They didn’t relegate this to a WWE.com announcement like when Melina had to vacate the Divas’ Championship. They gave her the star treatment, let her have her moment and say goodbye to the fans. And there is a silver lining to this. As much as I loved Naomi getting the feel-good win, I am glad that Alexa hasn’t been forgotten. She was blossoming into a great top heel, and I think her push was interrupted a bit too soon. Getting the title back means that she can continue to grow and take advantage of the spotlight. Alexa is transforming into the newest star of the division – and her work is starting to rival that of the Four Horsewomen. At least in terms of charisma and star power. I think Alexa deserves to head into WrestleMania as the Women’s Champion and get her moment on the big stage. However I do think a trick was missed here. I think they almost crowned the new champion too soon. With WrestleMania not being too far away, they almost could have held out on putting the belt on someone until then. That’s a match that has the oomph needed for the big stage. A tournament amongst the Smackdown women could have been fun. But going off how well Smackdown books its women anyway, I’m sure the eventual Mania match will be just as good.
Speaking of good matches, all I can say about the Falls Count Anywhere match is wow. Actually I can say more than wow. So good and so brilliant. Nattie and Nikki didn’t exactly bring it all at Elimination Chamber – but they sure did here. This was a fantastic display. The two laid everything on the table, and the match was lots of fun. Falls Count Anywhere has always been one of my favourite gimmicks, and the women have rarely had the chance to get involved in it until recently. This had the right blend of hard-hitting action, intensity and general fun factor. I remember in the Attitude Era when the Hardcore Championship had the 24/7 rule, and there would be numerous fun backstage matches all the time. The women weren’t left out of that as well, and it’s always fun for me to see that happen these days. From a wrestling standpoint, this was darn near flawless, and I think we have our first possible MOTY candidate for the ladies. And a third woman was thrown into the mix; it seems the reports of Maryse and Nikki having a program for WrestleMania weren’t false either. I was never a fan of Maryse – just read my thoughts on her pushes here and here. So know that I am 100% serious when I say that she looked like a real badass in her sneak-attack. Brilliant work from her. I’d still rather she sat on the sidelines while Natalya was The Miz’s partner, but if Nattie gets left off WrestleMania then at least she got the win here.
Ember Moon vs Liv Morgan vs Peyton Royce [#1 Contender's Match]
Winner and #1 Contender: Peyton Royce
If I could pick just one word to describe this match, it would be underwhelming. It wasn’t bad; I think the girls worked hard enough to try and make things entertaining. But there was definitely something lacking. Maybe it was because they had to work two matches in a row, following the tag that was on last week’s episode. Maybe it’s because Raw and Smackdown featured very enjoyable women’s matches this week. For whatever reason, this one fell flat. In heavy contrast to the last triple threat on NXT – with Billie Kay in Peyton’s place – this one was a lot less fun. A big part of that was the lack of Ember in the ring. She spent 90% of the match lying on the floor or getting booted off the apron. So this turned into a lengthy haphazard singles match between Peyton and Liv. And something just wasn’t doing it for me. Liv seemed a little gassed and out of her depth towards the end; she’s not used to working for this long and she had to do most of the work herself, so that was very obvious with some weak Irish whips and slow transitions into moves. Peyton too didn’t have a good night. I was really looking forward to seeing her in action like this, and I was completely underwhelmed. It’s not like this was a botchy mess. It just lacked a lot of excitement or fun. There were glimmers of hope in there – notably Liv did a very nice headscissors on Ember that the crowd really popped for, and Peyton used a sick-looking submission around the ropes – but excitement was not the order of the day. The result was a bland, boring encounter that never seemed to even get out of first gear. Peyton picks up the win and she’ll hopefully deliver a lot more in her eventual match with Asuka.
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