After some botched interference on Raw last week, Dana Brooke is grovelling at the feet of the former Women’s Champion Charlotte in order to get back in her good books. She’s going to do so by entering into a match against Sasha Banks. The imposing Nia Jax is also demanding to be included at WrestleMania – so she’s got a match with the current Raw Women’s Champion Bayley. On Smackdown, Mickie James made sure she was no friend to the Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss last week and now she’s going head-to-head with her in a match. Likewise after getting attacked by Natalya in their tag team match last week, Becky Lynch wants to settle the score in the ring. There’s also a MizTV segment where Maryse reveals the truth behind her vendetta against Nikki Bella. NXT sees resident ax-crazy Nikki Cross stepping into the ring with the debuting former marine Macey Estrella.
Sasha Banks vs Dana Brooke
Winner: Sasha Banks
Bayley vs Nia Jax
Winner (via DQ): Bayley
So Dana returns to a regular role after only appearing as an extra for the last few months. The match against Sasha was really too short to judge how she’s coming along in her wrestling ability, but this wasn’t about the match. The real story unfolded as soon as it ended. After teasing Charlotte and Dana’s alliance imploding a couple of times over the last year, they finally did it. I’m not alone in thinking that the two going together wasn’t the best move from a storyline point of view – even if it was damage control after Emma’s injury. But despite some awkward in-ring performances, I have come to like Dana and I want her to succeed. So the split here is the best thing that could have happened to her. Call me predictable, but I always love it when a heel faction implodes because one member is being mistreated. There’s the chance of setting a new face up with a good storyline and a lot of momentum. And the fans really got behind Dana as she turned on Charlotte. They really popped a few months ago when she slapped her, so it looks like they haven’t forgotten it. Of course this is just one crowd and next week’s set of fans might be indifferent to her. But this is shedding light on a performer who has been in the background for ages. Character is Dana’s strong suit and putting her in a big storyline with Charlotte could give us something fresh on Raw – and lord knows it’s something we need. So this looks like Dana has turned face – which will be interesting to see. Her character is tailored to being a smug, obnoxious heel. But Dana does have a gymnastics background and there is something endearing about her. Who would have guessed that this year’s Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix could play such a good face too? And from a business POV, Dana is still pretty green, so being a face will allow her to be protected in the ring a little more. My only issue is that they may have pulled the trigger on this break-up a bit too soon. Surely waiting until after WrestleMania would be best. But I do have a sneaking suspicion that Emma will make her return to feud with her old partner. So that’s two potential feuds to tide us over until the draft – and I see Dana getting moved to Smackdown.
We had another story unfold later in the night between the Women’s Champion and Nia Jax. This match was a bit longer and more competitive than Dana vs Sasha – and I enjoyed it. Nia tends to be divisive among the fanbase, but I usually enjoy her efforts in the ring. Bayley and she work incredibly well together, and this week was no exception. Bayley makes a perfect underdog and gives Nia a great opportunity to showcase how badass she can be in the ring. But the end of the match does raise questions. The commentators said that Nia wants to be at WrestleMania. So does that mean our triple threat for the Women’s Championship might become a Fatal 4 Way? I think that might be a little too much. Smackdown is having a Fatal 4 Way too, and Nia would easily be the odd one out amongst Bayley, Charlotte and Sasha. However I do think that if they wanted Nia to be in the match, they would have her actually pin Bayley, as opposed to getting a disqualification. And in a WWE.com segment, Charlotte pointedly compared Dana to Nia. So perhaps Charlotte is swapping Dana out for Nia? I hope that this is instead heading towards Charlotte recruiting Nia to be her new muscle – so that she’s only at ringside for the match. Where Nia goes from there, I have no idea. Did anyone notice how Sasha did not come to Bayley’s rescue at the end? Could that be foreshadowing?
Becky Lynch vs Natalya
Winner: Becky Lynch
Mickie James vs Alexa Bliss
Winner: Mickie James
MizTV with The Miz, Maryse & John Cena
So Smackdown was pretty great this week. Two nice lengthy matches, an interesting story twist in our Women’s Championship programme and some solid gold build-up to our WrestleMania mixed tag match. Natalya vs Becky was a logical follow-on to what we got last week. It actually feels like ages since we’ve seen these two face off. Becky has been either working with Mickie or Alexa for the last few months, while Nattie has mostly worked against Nikki. I enjoyed their little match for what it was; comparing it to their lacklustre PPV bout, Natalya has grown into the heel role much better and she brought some of that same intensity we saw in the Anywhere Falls match. I enjoyed seeing the return of Becky’s victory roll into the arm bar – which has always been one of my favourite spots she’s used. She got the win to give herself some momentum after being double-crossed last week – making her and Nattie just about even. And then Carmella has to go and interfere after everything is finished. Well I’m sure y’all picked up on Daniel Bryan saying last week that “every available woman” would challenge Alexa for the title, and I did wonder if Carmella would be included. I haven’t been too happy with her missing out on some match time since hooking up with James Ellsworth, and I’m overjoyed that she’s getting to WrestleMania. She worked incredibly hard to improve in the ring last year, and I did vote her the Most Improved of 2016 – so she deserves it.
Mickie vs Alexa was the more solid of the two matches on the show – and it might be my favourite Alexa match yet. Although the crowd didn’t seem too invested in the action – as is to be expected with heel vs heel bouts – it was very well-wrestled on the part of both women. Alexa’s forearms and strikes all looked especially brutal. Not a lot of ‘Diva-types’ can grasp that. They opt for the fancy moves and eye-catching stuff, while often neglecting the basics. It’s good to see the Women’s Champion putting effort into improving herself in the ring from every point of view. The match didn’t feel stiff, but the intensity of the strikes definitely added to my enjoyment of it. I did worry last week that Mickie turning on Alexa would result in a face turn for her. As of this week, it’s still undecided. Mickie didn’t play the face in the match or act too friendly to the fans, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed. While she does play a great face, she should get a chance to let this heel run last longer. She’s now gone over the Women’s Champion twice, giving her a bit of momentum too. The odds look stacked against Alexa right now, and some talk on the internet has got us wondering about the nature of her WrestleMania match. Daniel Bryan notably did not say what type of match it would be. He just said that Alexa would defend against every available woman on the Smackdown roster. There has been some talk that the match could have a special stipulation – and I believe a Ladder Match was what got suggested. I for one would love to see the Smackdown women get one of those. It would have the effect of differentiating it from Raw’s match. They’re more about the conclusion of this long storyline, whereas Smackdown is more about showcasing all the talent. Fingers crossed!
And finally, after some complaints about how this mixed tag storyline was developing, Smackdown pulled a great save and delivered a fantastic segment. Maryse has never really been known for her promos. While her facials and charisma were always in high regard, her accent and the fact that English isn’t her first language has often held her back. But I actually enjoyed her promo here. There was some damn good acting on her part. Her line about Nikki taking three years that she could have spent with her husband was especially impressive. I wasn’t wild about Maryse taking a spot from one of the other Smackdown women to work with Nikki at WrestleMania – but she’s slowly winning me over with her promos. I hope she delivers in the ring too. Nikki meanwhile…all I can say is wow. That was probably the best promo she’s ever delivered. I’m impressed with how well she’s doing. Her entire career has mostly seen her playing a nasty Alpha Bitch of a heel, so she’s doing incredibly well at playing this valiant babyface. She’s outdoing her sister in every possible way. This mixed tag match could have felt throwaway but there’s lots of hype for it now – and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.
Nikki Cross vs Macey Estrella
Winner: Nikki Cross
After a pretty active episode of NXT last week, there wasn’t much to get excited about here. That’s not to say I didn’t hate the segment though. I’m not familiar with Macey Estrella’s work but I like her look, she showed some nice personality in her entrance and she sold very well for Nikki’s moves. After the third neckbreaker, I took note of how she was selling her neck as if she was really in pain. I assumed she was a girl from the indies but she has been signed since last year. She’s a former US marine and was a member of the Marine Corps SWAT team. You can also see her in action at a tryout in this video. I’m not entirely sure what her gimmick is but she shows lots of promise just from how she presents herself. Nikki Cross of course continues to do well in the SANITY gimmick, even if she’s not getting much in the way of spotlight. It’s a shame her feud with Asuka didn’t get followed up on. Speaking of Asuka, I was hoping to see a little more in the way of build-up for the Women’s Championship match. We could be getting more of that on later episodes but surely an interview or backstage segment with her or Ember Moon to develop things a little more would be possible. But if wishes were fishes…
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