It’s the final pitstop on the Road to WrestleMania. Raw’s final PPV before the biggest stage of them all – Fast Lane. And we have a double dose of action in the women’s division. Our brand new Raw Women’s Champion Bayley will make her first title defence. Charlotte Flair is undefeated on PPV since Battleground 2015 so can Bayley be the one to break the streak? Elsewhere Sasha Banks has been attacked and brutalised by Nia Jax since December. This marks the third encounter between them. Can The Boss overcome this challenge?
Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax
Winner: Sasha Banks
Bayley* vs Charlotte Flair [Raw Women's Championship]
Winner and STILL Raw Women’s Champion: Bayley
Sasha vs Nia was fun for me to watch in parts. I did lose a lot of my interest in their feud after their first match was reduced to the kickoff show at the Royal Rumble, and the second happened on Raw. I feel as if what could have been a much better series of matches was hurt by the fact that it started right before WrestleMania season – thus getting lost in the shuffle amongst all the higher profile storylines. I did however always feel that Sasha and Nia would have a great match with more time allotted. They got more time here – with a respectable ten-minute bout. Was it great? In parts, yes. Nia is someone who got called up to Raw last summer in the draft, and she was a pick that left me wondering if it was simply to make up numbers. The way she’s been used since then hasn’t changed my opinion. WWE either put her in squash matches or have her big PPV appearances relegated to the kickoff shows. This feud with Sasha has at least changed her stock – and she could at least be believable as a title contender now. And she’s new enough to the main roster that she could easily change tack. But I would have felt much better if this had been the first match in their series. As for the ring work, my opinion changed radically on the second watch. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention the first time around but I felt a little underwhelmed at the beginning. But as I re-watched it, I loved what was happening. The way Sasha utilised a lot of different techniques to try and outsmart Nia was great. What I loved was how it tied into her character; Sasha usually dominates her matches. She is The Boss after all. So all the strategies she tried here were based around that. She tried punches, she tried pins, she tried submissions. Sasha is not an underdog like Bayley; she’s far more tenacious and rougher in the ring. So I definitely enjoyed this different way of booking a cat-and-mouse story. Did anyone else catch the end, where as Sasha got the three count she grabbed the bottom rope? It could be a mistake, but I very much doubt it. I did predict that Sasha would defeat Nia via some dirty tactics – and that looks like what just happened. That is something to watch out for on Raw for sure anyway.
So as for our Women’s Championship match…
Let me just say that WrestleMania has a tough act to follow.
Bayley vs Charlotte was a match I wasn’t personally looking forward to. They’d interacted in the ring on Raw enough times for their Royal Rumble match to feel underwhelming. Aside from that, theirs is a chemistry that doesn’t exactly scream exciting like Sasha and Becky. So it’s all the more incredible just how impressive this match was. The pacing was very good for starters; this match was very well-structured within its 17-minute time frame. It bubbled and built to its high points very well – almost like a piece of music going from high note to higher note. I felt that Charlotte gave it all she had to dominate and escalate things as the match went on. I often give Charlotte a raw deal in my write-ups. She’s not a terrible wrestler. In fact she’s very good for someone who had to become a rookie at the age of 27. She has however suffered from bad booking and overexposure in the spotlight. We’ve never had a woman atop the division for this long before. Trish Stratus for instance was at the top for just about a year, none of her title reigns lasted too long, and she traded the belt among Jazz, Molly Holly and Victoria too. Lita likewise had injuries separating her time on top. Later in the division the likes of Beth Phoenix, Mickie James, Melina and Michelle McCool all had periods of times in which they weren’t champion or dominating things. Charlotte by contrast has been the top girl – both babyface and heel – since August 2015. Every big match and storyline on Raw has featured her in some shape or form. So this has caused a lot of fans to suffer fatigue with her ring work. It’s never actually bad; we’re just tired of seeing it by now. I feel as if this match was Charlotte’s official swan song. It was built up as the one to end her streak. Such streaks don’t get the same treatment in WWE these days; Sasha and Charlotte herself had undefeated streaks that were unceremoniously ended in random Raw matches. So it does make a difference that WWE saw fit to end the PPV streak on a good note.
But Fast Lane is but a pit stop, and does not mark the end of anything – but the continuation of another thing. We saw the real story unfold as Sasha Banks ran down to the ring to interfere. Strangely the referee didn’t call for a DQ, but that’s okay since Charlotte attacked Sasha first. I like that Sasha didn’t do anything illegal; she just ran down to the ring to help her friend out. And she stopped Charlotte from grabbing the tights to cheat. But Bayley still sort of won thanks to interference, and Charlotte didn’t lose 100% cleanly. But that is fantastic ground for them to explore leading up to WrestleMania. I feel as if this was a good building block for other storylines, and we’re leading ever closer to Bayley being properly put over as the new face of the division.
Time to grade!
Sasha Banks vs Nia Jax
*Technical Ability:The technique from Sasha was nothing we haven’t seen already, but the execution of certain moves definitely impressed me. It’s a relief to see that Nia hasn’t been slacking off in her squash matches, and she can be called upon to go when the occasion calls for it. 17/20
*Chemistry:Definitely present with a longer amount of time to work. You can add Nia to the list of women that Sasha works well with. The match felt like both a fight and a dance – and I mean that in a good way. 17/20
*Creativity:Sasha used some great strategies to try and overcome a larger opponent. Nia however stuck to her usual stuff, which worked, but did feel a bit bland to be honest. 16/20
*Personality:As the rubber match in a feud that’s been going on since December, this didn’t really have the right heat. I do chalk that up to lacklustre booking – but at the same time it’s not as if they couldn’t have tried harder in this department. 12/20
*Overall Entertainment:I really liked what they offered. It was a good cat-and-mouse story that ran its course and put an end to a feud that didn’t really get out of first gear in the ring – until tonight that is. 15/20
Bayley* vs Charlotte [Raw Women's Championship]
*Technical Ability:Of course the main thing that’s going to stick out is that terrible botch of the rope elbow drops. Marks are being taken off for that, but everything else was done very well in the match. Much tighter than when they usually work together that is. 14/20
*Chemistry:The best Bayley and Charlotte have ever worked. They moved fluidly in the ring together and impressed at every interval. 18/20
*Creativity:Charlotte went after Bayley’s neck, and her psychology reflected this. She used a lot of her regular moves – knee drops, the Figure 4 Headlock – and tweaked a lot of her other ones to fit this strategy. Bayley had a few fun tricks up her sleeve too. 18/20
*Personality:This was the best part. Charlotte’s intensity built and built, echoing the story of the match perfectly. Fantastic story telling and acting from both of them. Even Sasha in her brief bit of interference brought her A-game. 20/20
*Overall Entertainment:Probably my favourite Bayley/Charlotte encounter. It’s very telling that despite a bad botch in the middle, it was still a f’in awesome showing. 19/20
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