Following a year of advancement from the #DivaRevolution angle that brought Charlotte, Becky Lynch and new WWE Women’s Champion Sasha Banks to the collective main roster of WWE programming, there were many people scratching their heads when both newly exclusive brands – Raw run by Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley and Smackdown headed by Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan – each drafted women’s Superstars. Many were of the assumption that because Raw took exclusive control of the burgeoning revamp of the WWE Cruiserweight division, that perhaps Smackdown would become the exclusive home of the Women’s Division. Clearly, that would not be the case.
Ladies Nights: The Women’s Division In The New Era
Which is actually an important call. While it seems easy to poke that the smaller rosters of Women on each brand – seven on Raw and six on Smackdown – and critique the legitimacy of either division, considering that most will be in play for their respective brand titles (more on that in a bit), it’s about as many competitors that actively compete in angles circling the male World title or any of it’s secondary titles. And while many argue that the Women’s title should be defended on both shows with a roaming Champion, that in itself could prove awkward or distracting to the storylines each brand will attempt to tell exclusively.
Two titles is the best route to go in maintaining the distance of each brand – more akin to being rival promotions within the same parent company. If the WWE is Disney, then Raw is Star Wars and Smackdown is Marvel. They’re all competing for the merchandise and film goers money, but ultimately Disney takes home the money at the end of the day.
The First Glimpses of the New Era
But the important step isn’t so much the two titles as it is with each brand having their own number of women’s Superstars. If they were all on just one show, it would make the Women’s Division appear to be a niche sub-group rather than an integrated part of each roster. The Cruiserweights – whether you love them or hate them – are a niche market. Same like a Hardcore division would be. But a Women’s division needs to be shown as being as important as their counterparts, and having members on both shows goes a long way in doing that.
With the New Era’s first live episodes under their respective chains of command in the bag, let’s have a look at what each brand’s Women’s landscape is out of the draft, what their first shows set up, and potential theories on how they could progress to the next chapter.
RAW’S WOMEN’S DIVISION
There’s really no debate that Raw came out of the draft with the stronger star power of the two. Not only did Raw draft WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte with their #2 pick, they chose the #1 contender (and ultimate victor, as witnessed this past Monday in a showstopper of a title match) Sasha Banks. Add in former WWE and NXT Women’s Champion Paige, and you’ve got arguably the three most popular women’s Superstars on the roster right now. Charlotte’s protege Dana Brooke is impressing more each week and NXT monster Nia Jax finally debuted to squash indie wrestler Britt Baker and make her power felt. Summer Rae and Alicia Fox are probably going to be the fodder for the other five initially, but both can hold their own against the more popular ladies in the ring.
With Raw holding the actual WWE Women’s Championship on their roster, it immediately makes their Women’s Division more credible and engaging out the gate – they’re the only one so far with an achievement to strive for. There’s still lots of money to be made in the battle of the former BFF’s, not to mention Paige getting into the fray at some point. And Nia Jax will probably go on squash run for a few weeks to create her own path of destruction and become the physical force that the women’s division often ignores (aside from those such as Awesome Kong / Kharma or Bull Nakano). With Jax’s debut squash and an emotional Match of the Year candidate from Charlotte and Sasha, Raw kicked off it’s New Era with one helluva bang.
SMACKDOWN’S WOMEN’S DIVISION
While lacking the Big Three star power that Raw boasts, Smackdown actually has the deepest of the two divisions. Becky Lynch is one of the most popular and sympathetic women’s Superstars of the past few months. While not as high on the rankings as Banks or Charlotte, she’s probably actually ahead of Paige in terms of popularity right now. Her feud with Natalya has been underwhelming to some, but it’s been fantastic wrestling from two very serious competitors in the ring. Natalya’s heel antics is translating to great pop for Becky in maintaining her as Smackdown’s inevitable top draw. Naomi has shown some fantastic heel work the past year or so since left the horrendous Funkadactyls gimmick, and could have a very solid feud with Lynch once her run versus Nattie is completed.
Love her or hate her, Eva Marie is poised to be perhaps the Blue side’s top women’s heel by years end. Her ring work has gotten infinitely better the past year, thanks in part to the training she’s done with current CWC competitor and former WWE Superstar THE Brian Kendrick. She’s no Mildred Burke, that’s for sure, but she’s at least showing signs of progress. But it’s her undeniable heat that makes her such a commodity for the WWE. The Full Sail Crowd LOATHED her and her appearance at Wrestlemania 32 for the Total Divas team showed that the WWE Universe wasn’t far behind in their disdain. Don’t be surprised if Eva Marie doesn’t take the Smackdown Women’s title at some point, simply to maximize the pop whomever should pin her. Every heroine needs a nemesis, and Eva Marie could be that to simply ANYONE.
Alexa Bliss really found her groove at the tail end of her NXT run, as well as showing an increased confidence on the mic serving as the manager for former NXT Tag Team Champions Blake & Murphy. Carmella is Smackdown‘s only other face behind Lynch, which will give her early opportunity to gain the love of the WWE Universe. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the draft was her not being reunited with her former NXT running mates Enzo & Big Cass, but that could be a blessing in disguise. If Carmella is going to become something of her own out of Enzo & Cass’ shadow, keeping her as far away as possible could be a great motivator for her to push herself
Which leads to the obvious next question? What about a Smackdown title for the Women?
Since Raw decided to not only create their own World title, with Stephanie mocking the WWE Championship by declaring her show’s title as the Universal Champion rather than simply the WWE Champion, Smackdown could do something similar in retaliation. Have a short competition and crown the first Women’s World Champion, something bigger than simply the WWE Women’s Champion. It would play into the classic psychology of sibling rivalry, with each McMahon trying to out do the other in regards to creating prestige.
SO WHO’S LEFT?
Much like their male Superstar counterparts, the Women still have a few names that have yet to find a brand to call their own. Either due to storyline commitments in NXT, or recovering from injury, these Superstars will all be wearing either Red or Blue by the end of the year.
There is simply no denying that former NXT Women’s Champion Bayley is going to be a Megastar. Her merchandise is consistently one of the company’s highest and if the reaction to her surprise one-off at WWE Battleground to partner with Sasha Banks is any indication, the WWE Universe is definitely primed and ready to welcome her to the main roster. While some were questioning the logic of her not being drafted on July 19th, a Superstar like Bayley needs a grand entrance. She wasn’t going to go high in the draft, so why waste her getting drafted after The Miz? At least Finn Balor went Top 10. That can help his mystique and prestige.
Bayley needs to explode. And this past Sunday she did. Bayley will most likely finish out the Asuka story in NXT before we see her assigned for good, but don’t be surprised if she arrives on Smackdown, despite her friend Sasha and fellow Horsewoman Charlotte being on Raw. When she gets to Smackdown, she can easily slide into a “welcome” angle alongside her best friend Carmella, before jumping into the title picture (can you imagine the crowd reaction if she was to pin Eva Marie for the title?). On Raw, she’d be booked at least as the #3 Women’s Superstar, but on Smackdown, she has a real chance to become the top Women’s Superstar of the brand out of the get go.
It was recently reported that Nikki Bella – out since last October with a serious neck injury – had been cleared for training, which she’s documented on her Twitter from the Performance Center. Which means that the longest reigning Divas Champion is weeks away from returning to the ring and, most likely, television. And for perhaps the first time in her WWE career, Nikki has the potential for real character growth. Since she’s been gone, women’s wrestling has skyrocketed. During the majority of her run, she was just the Queen Diva in a world of, well, Divas.
She now returns a shattered monarch and the last real bastion of the former Divas division, the token figurehead of all that was wrong with the way WWE booked their female combatants. She has a real opportunity to become a ruthless heel desperate to protect her reputation or become a sympathetic underdog, trying to prove her worth now as a wrestler rather than a Sports Entertainment model. Nikki has connections to both brands right now – her former Team Bella partner Alicia Fox is on Raw, while her real life boyfriend John Cena and brother-in-law Daniel Bryan are both on Smackdown. Giving the edge to Smackdown for evening out their top three as far as star power (Bayley, Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella).
Emma’s had a bit of bad luck so far. Following a solid and popular run as a cute dancing wrestler in NXT, her same gimmick fell flat when it hit the main roster the first time, back in 2014. She returned to NXT, turned on her former ally Bayley, and suddenly ran riot as one of the company’s top heels, while showcasing her own technical ability in the ring and enhancing Dana Brooke as a side character. Her second round of dues seemingly paid off in March of this year, when she returned to the main roster. But two months later, Emma was sidelined with a serious back injury that required surgery and her newly reunited tandem with her NXT protege Dana Brooke was shelved as soon as it started. With Dana Brooke maintaining her screen time at the side of former WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte, there’s a strong chance that upon Emma’s return, she returns to Raw and her and Dana turn on Charlotte to begin Charlotte’s return to face territory.
While Sasha Banks was clearly the focus of Team BAD, it not only gave Naomi an avenue to explore her darker side, it made Tamina a TV regular again. She hadn’t seen that kind of exposure since she debuted as the high flying valet of The Usos in their war against The Hart Dynasty back in 2010. She fit in well as the powerhouse Diesel-like bodyguard to the HBK of Naomi in the group and a potential repairing is a possibility on Smackdown when Tamina returns from injury in the coming weeks. Although, they could always bring her to Raw to join up with long time family friend Nia Jax.
Rosa Mendes has never truly found her footing in the WWE Universe since participating in the 2006 Diva Search, although she’s been with the company for nearly a decade. Debuting in 2008 as Beth Phoenix’ assistant (in the strange and awkward love triangle with Santino Marella), before going on to mostly forgettable stints as valet for Carlito, Zack Ryder, Tamina & Alicia Fox, Fandango and Adam Rose (although she did manage current Shining Stars Primo & Epico to WWE World Tag Team gold). She found some success as a recent cast member on Total Divas, before going on maternity leave in October of last year. The landscape of Women’s wrestling has changed drastically since Mendes left – is there still room for her?
POSSIBLE RETURNING VETERANS
The men’s roster has always had the luxury of bringing back former Superstars to enhance it when things got done, or even just for fun. From occasional appearances from Legends like The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Bret “Hitman” Hart, or Ric Flair, to the returns of Rhyno, Shelton Benjamin and Daniel Bryan to television, familiar faces are used often to maintain historical connection, and create fan excitement. But apart from a brief cameos from Lita in vignettes and a Wrestlemania XVII one-off from Trish Stratus years after retirement, older women’s wrestling stars are relegated to reminiscing about the old days on shows like Table for 3. Former women’s stars like Molly Holly, Ivory, Jacqueline or Victoria could easily do part time duty like Chris Jericho to help younger stars develop. And there’s no reason why Trish Stratus or Lita couldn’t be the women’s versions of the Rock or Brock Lesnar, coming back for high profile matches or feuds to help rub the burgeoning Superstars once a year or so. And surely I wasn’t the only person hoping that last year’s Twitter feud between Paige and Madusa (aka Alundra Blayze) would culminate in at least ONE match.
And what of WWE’s third brand, the ultrahip cult sensation of NXT? What once was the most fertile women’s division in the company now appears to be barren, having lost nearly their entire women’s roster in the past few years, save for current Women’s Champion Asuka. This is indeed Asuka’s time to shine in NXT. The old guard had to elevate to the main roster and show their wares and Asuka couldn’t dominate without destroying their credibility by sending them all to the WWE as losers. She can now savour her time at the top of the Women’s division and help to create new stars from the new faces now rising up.
Former enhancement talent like Billie Kay, Peyton Royce and Liv Morgan are seeing more TV time, indie prospects like Ember Moon (aka Athena) and Nikki Storm will be jumping into the mix, plus generational wrestlers like Tess Blanchard and Rachael Ellering, plus indie favourites like Santana Garrett and Deonna Purazzo, are getting serious looks at the moment. There are still so many great indie women’s wrestlers available that the idea of a Women’s variation of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic isn’t just a possibility, it could be an exciting reality that could lead to the annual restock of NXT’s women’s division it will greatly need to flourish and develop.
Is the Women’s situation in the WWE perfect? Absolutely not. But it’s a far cry from where it was a year ago. There’s no more Divas, not big purple Butterfly, and we’re seeing not only some of the best women’s wrestling we’ve ever seen but some of the best wrestling period. It’s going to take each brand’s current women’s rosters some time to find their grooves, but make no mistake. The Divas Revolution will not be televised.
But the Women’s one will be.
(Main Photo: WWE.com)