2011 began with Natalya as the Divas’ Champion, having been put over as the one to end LayCool‘s reign of terror. She started the year in a feud with Melina – who won a #1 contender’s match and turned heel. The feud was abruptly buried with a brief title match on Raw, and it wouldn’t be the first surprise the year brought us. This year would see the ‘models vs wrestlers’ mentality come to the forefront in ways we couldn’t imagine. We’d see a couple of returns, some departures and an astonishing debut.
Royal Rumble – Natalya* vs LayCool:
LayCool suddenly invoked their Divas’ Championship rematch clause. Natalya prepared for a handicap match but the Anonymous Raw General Manager intervened and changed it to a Fatal 4 Way! It would now be Natalya vs Michelle McCool vs Layla vs…Eve Torres? Eve had pinned the #1 contender Melina in a match several weeks previously, but her appearance here was met with scratched heads. The match started off predictably with LayCool ganging up on the faces before they suddenly realise that only one woman could leave as the Divas’ Champion. The two don’t come to blows, but it’s a brilliant bit of acting from both. There are a few fun spots like Natalya slingshotting Layla into Michelle, a double sharpshooter to Layla and Eve and a double front leg sweep from LayCool. Things end controversially where Michelle has Natalya rolled up for a clear three count…but the referee is counting for Eve who has just pinned Layla with a moonsault. Eve is declared the winner and becomes a 2-time Divas’ Champion. An odd booking choice at the time – cutting Nattie’s momentum off completely when she had been put over as the new top face. Likewise they didn’t seem to have a plan for Eve’s title reign, and she too would drop it unspectacularly a couple of months later. Decent match, and hilarious reaction from Michelle after the end.
Winner and NEW WWE Divas’ Champion: Eve Torres. Match Rating: 6/10
There were other highlights from the night too. The Bella Twins had begun a storyline where they made a bet to see which of them could become Daniel Bryan’s ‘first’. The network felt it was heading in a non-PG direction, so in came Gail Kim. They revealed that she was actually Bryan’s girlfriend (implying the sisters had confused ‘virgin’ with ‘vegan’). The Bellas weren’t happy, turning heel and attacking Gail brutally. Gail revealed later that the office loved this segment so much, another catfight was ordered. This one happens just as Bryan is being interviewed about being in the Rumble.
A three-fer for Diva segments comes during Dolph Ziggler’s match for the World Heavyweight Championship. Vickie Guerrero had been abusing her power in Teddy Long’s absence, and had banned Edge from using the spear in this defence. She also interferes quite a bit, prompting Kelly Kelly to come out and set her straight. Kaitlyn revealed later on that she was meant to have this moment, carrying off their storyline from NXT Season 3. But the office preferred Kelly for it instead. This would lead to huge things for K2 in the weeks to come.
Skip to 18:54
No match but plenty of action. Since the Rumble, Kelly Kelly was punished for her little rebellion by being put into a handicap match with Edge against LayCool and Dolph Ziggler – with the WHC on the line! Kelly managed to retain the title for Edge in the main event of Smackdown, but Vickie responded by firing her! Later on, Teddy Long returned and fired Dolph, so Vickie is at the PPV to beg for him to be rehired. Teddy’s in a hiring mood – but he’s brought back Kelly! He gives her free reign to punish Vickie as much as possible. She doesn’t get much of a chance before LayCool interfere. She’s saved by none other than Trish Stratus! The 7-time Women’s Champion had returned to plug the revival of Tough Enough (where she would be acting as one of the trainers). Despite a botched Stratusphere, it was still a great moment.
WrestleMania 27 – LayCool & Dolph Ziggler vs Trish Stratus, John Morrison & Snooki:
Remember when Jersey Shore was a thing? WWE and TNA both cashed in on the craze by having a cast member wrestle. TNA had Angelina, while WWE had Snooki. Vickie Guerrero decided to set up a WrestleMania match between LayCool & Dolph vs Snooki and her team of Trish and John Morrison. Honestly I would have preferred someone like Kelly Kelly in the wrestling role, continuing her momentum from Elimination Chamber. But the promise of Trish and Michelle mixing it up was intriguing. According to Michelle, their time was cut right before they went out and they were told to go home straight away. So the match was essentially a progression of spots between her and Trish. Not long spots mind you, but fun ones nonetheless – showing shades of what may have been a longer and more hard-fought bout. Layla’s sole contribution is being the second recipient in a double clothesline from Trish, and accidentally getting kicked in the face by Michelle. JoMo’s is even less – a Starship Pain to Dolph on the outside. Snooki is tagged in to raucous boos – that turn to pops when she pulls off a handspring elbow and cartwheel splash to pin Michelle. Not a bad match at all, clearly hurt by its time being cut but still massively entertaining. Catch JoMo snubbing Trish at the very end of the match though.
Winners: Trish Stratus, John Morrison & Snooki. Match Rating: 6/10
Divas’ Champion Eve got the next best thing to a title match; she got a segment with The Rock and Mae Young!
Extreme Rules – Layla vs Michelle McCool [Loser Leaves WWE]
LayCool just couldn’t endure after such a big loss. They split and started fighting with each other. The crowd actually loved it. However they seemed to be rushing the build-up, as Layla challenged Michelle to a match for the next PPV. No countouts, no disqualifications. Michelle added in a new stipulation – loser leaves WWE! This match is unfortunately very short – at just six minutes if you can believe that. But Michelle and Layla leave it all out there, brawling viciously around the ring. They throw each other into the announce table, ring apron and security wall. Layla even does a facebuster off the wall! The match functions as a face turn for her, and she plays it quite well – even pulling off a great flipping stunner from the top rope. Michelle kicks out of the Layout and looks to have the match won with a Faith Breaker…but Layla crucifixes into a pin for three, ending Michelle’s career. Not a technical bout but a fun Divas match nonetheless.
Winner: Layla. Match Rating: 7/10
After the match, Michelle is getting “na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, goodbye!” chanted at her. Then some music hits. The former Awesome Kong, renamed Kharma, debuts and lays Michelle out with the Implant Buster. The crowd loves it and a group of face Divas that Layla had apologised to earlier are seen watching anxiously from backstage. Sadly within a month Kharma too would be gone from WWE.
Over The Limit – Brie Bella* vs Kelly Kelly:
The Divas’ Championship continued its cycle on the roulette wheel, and Brie Bella of all people claimed the butterfly. Kelly Kelly had just been moved to Raw in what would be the final draft until 2016. A storyline had been brewing where Kharma would interfere in the Diva matches, and attack them. Kelly however was always left unharmed. Kharma does not show up in this match, because at this point she had already discovered her pregnancy and would be written off TV in two weeks. Despite having two lesser experienced women in there, this match is perfectly fine. Kelly does some nice moves, and Brie works the arm for some decent psychology. It’s all perfectly respectable. Sadly the match is just four minutes, so when it looks like Kelly is about to make a nice fiery comeback, Nikki switches with Brie and hits her with the Bella Buster to end things way too abruptly. Perfectly fine and could have been better if more time had been added.
Winner and STILL WWE Divas’ Champion: Brie Bella. Match Rating: 6/10
Eve Torres also got a moment. Michael Cole had been making a habit out of interrupting her matches over the past few months, and burying her. At the end of his loss to Jerry Lawler, Eve was brought out and hit a moonsault to get her revenge.
Money In The Bank – Kelly Kelly* vs Brie Bella:
Kelly Kelly finally got her moment on a special ‘Power to the People’ edition of Raw – where the fans voted her as Brie’s opponent. This was the designated rematch. Now I am a big Bella supporter these days and, while nowhere near as good as her sister, Brie did improve to some extent in the ring. Here however? All her flaws are transparent as water – even more so with the match being longer than their previous bout. Brie relies on various rest holds and bland offence with no rhyme or reason – not to mention a couple of botches. Kelly however carries herself like a champ, taking a sick bump off the apron early on and hitting a very nice double clothesline to both Bellas off the apron. She at least came out of this one looking like a top Diva. She ends things rather suddenly with the K2.
Winner and STILL WWE Divas’ Champion: Kelly Kelly. Match Rating: 4/10
SummerSlam – Kelly Kelly* vs Beth Phoenix:
Things picked up in the summer, as Beth Phoenix turned heel and hooked up with Natalya to form the Divas of Doom. They vowed to rid WWE of the model-turned-wrestlers and bring respect back to the division. Their main targets were of course Kelly Kelly and Eve. This may have been the storyline that Kharma would have had, and the ‘beast vs beauty’ dynamic doesn’t really work with Beth, but the story-telling is still top notch. It’s an easy story to tell – monster heel vs plucky babyface – and the girls tell it well. Kelly gives Beth all sort of tricks and sneaks to wipe the smirk off the Glamazon’s face and show that she’s not just a dainty Barbie doll. Beth in turn tries to give Kelly the beating of her life, almost as if telling her what women’s wrestling should be. Beth looks to have the match in the bag when she counters a handspring elbow into the Glam Slam – but Kelly counters that into a victory roll!
Winner and STILL WWE Divas’ Champion: Kelly Kelly. Match Rating: 7/10
Night of Champions – Kelly Kelly* vs Beth Phoenix:
With encounter number two in the Divas of Doom saga rolling into Buffalo, Beth Phoenix received a second shot in her hometown. The crowd is incredibly pro-Beth – and in the days before AJ Lee, the Four Horsewomen and Total Divas that wasn’t something to ignore. They turn on Kelly from the beginning and want Beth to win so bad. Kelly doesn’t break a stride and performs even better than she did at SummerSlam – with a pretty great springboard hurricanrana in the opening minutes. Beth naturally takes control and gives K2 another vicious beating. Things escalate to the point where Beth lays the champ out with a sick superplex. Just as it looks like she has it, Kelly counters a powerbomb into a sunset flip to get another underdog title defence!
Winner and STILL WWE Divas’ Champion: Kelly Kelly. Match Rating: 8/10
Hell In A Cell – Kelly Kelly* vs Beth Phoenix:
This marked match number three in the Divas of Doom vs Barbie Dolls series. This one gets much more time than the first two, and features a lot of great hard-hitting action. While it doesn’t have the electric feeling that the Night of Champions encounter did, this one is still fun to watch. The moves are more elaborate here – Beth pulling out a dragon sleeper, slingshot suplex and the Pin-Up Strong submission hold – while Kelly goes to the top rope several times. As she manages to escape the Pin-Up Strong, Natalya gets on the house microphone to taunt insults at her – and whacks her in the side of the head with it while the referee is distracted. Beth takes advantage with the Glam Slam to finally win the Divas’ Championship.
Winner and NEW WWE Divas’ Champion: Beth Phoenix. Match Rating: 7/10
Vengeance – Beth Phoenix* vs Eve Torres:
After Kelly failed to regain her title, she instead guided her friend Eve towards the gold instead. She had been the victim of a double team earlier in the day – and the result was that both she and Natalya were barred from ringside. The other result is probably one of the best matches of this era. Eve is a woman who had such natural babyface charisma and was ever improving in the ring. After showing flashes of brilliance in various matches here and there, when put in the ring with a top woman like Beth, she finally came alive. Eve is everywhere in this fiery and explosive match. She and Beth wrestle, they grapple, they do high spots, they do submissions, and they do plenty of snarling at each other. This feels like the clashing of bitter rivals rather than a feud that had been going on for two weeks. Aside from one weird moment where Eve hogties Beth to the ropes, it’s a damn-near perfect match. Eve misses a moonsault and gets Glam Slammed – giving Beth a strong title defence.
Winner and STILL WWE Divas’ Champion: Beth Phoenix. Match Rating: 8/10
Survivor Series – Beth Phoenix* vs Eve Torres [Lumberjill Match]:
Eve won a battle royal to earn a second chance against Beth. In the midst of this, she and Kelly had acquired a third ally in the form of newly babyfaced Alicia Fox. The planned storyline at this stage was for Kaitlyn to turn heel and become the third Diva of Doom, setting up a six way feud. The segment where she turned ended up cut from the broadcast and the whole storyline was abandoned. But back on topic here. Our Lumberjills are made up of Kelly, Alicia, Natalya, Kaitlyn, AJ Lee, Maxine, Aksana, Tamina and the Bella Twins. Eve and Beth only have half the time of their Vengeance bout – so they can’t hope to recreate it. But there are some good moves, and a really intense moment where Eve traps Beth in a triangle choke. The match is really about the ending. Eve scales the top rope, but Beth cuts her off and destroys her with a Glam Slam from the top! Disappointing match but the finish made up for it.
Winner and STILL WWE Divas’ Champion: Beth Phoenix. Match Rating: 6/10
TLC – Beth Phoenix* vs Kelly Kelly:
This title match was just added to the show at the last minute, though Kelly did have a pre-existing win over Beth and had gotten into an altercation at the Slammy awards with her. So despite the last-minute nature of it, Beth and Kelly’s chemistry is just as good as ever before – and they pull out some fun new stuff as well. Kelly hits a nice hair-pull facebuster off the apron, and Beth military presses her onto the ropes, also countering a Thesz Press into a spinebuster. There’s a rather bad moment in the middle where Beth can be heard asking the referee how much time they’re on, but not enough to ruin the good work between her and Kelly. She scales the top rope but Kelly dodges a leg drop and counters a Glam Slam into a victory roll like SummerSlam – but Beth was able to keep her title with an Alley-Oop.
Winner and STILL WWE Divas’ Champion: Beth Phoenix. Match Rating: 7/10
2011 ended up being a really dark period for the women. First of all were the departures. Michelle McCool announced her retirement in April, robbing the division of one of its prime figureheads. Melina was released anticlimactically in the middle of the year, and Gail Kim finally had enough of the poor treatment and walked out to return to TNA. Kharma debuted with a bang but would be gone within a month due to her pregnancy and would not end up returning. Layla would suffer a torn ACL and miss the year too, ruining all the momentum the break-up of LayCool had given her. The division was massively depleted – with Kelly Kelly as the sole figure for them to rally around. She had a good year – main eventing Smackdown, winning the title and headlining a big feud in the summer. By the end of the year, WWE had stopped caring about the Divas of Doom storyline and the division was coasting. 2012 however would finally see the change we had all anticipated.
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