As reported earlier at Last Word on Pro Wrestling, NXT’s Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox debuted on July 9’s broadcast of Friday Night SmackDown as a tag team. In their debut match, the two scored an exuberant victory over the current WWE women’s tag team champions, Natalya and Tamina.
Shotzi Blackheart has been reported to have worked dark matches against Scarlett for WWE officials before SmackDown tapings in July and June. Her call up to the main roster seemed imminent. However, Nox’s debut, and her being paired in a tag team with Shotzi, were a surprise given that she only recently returned to NXT at the recent Great American Bash. Their match with Natalya and Tamina was an exuberant showcase of both their strengths: Shotzi is an ebulliently aggressive performer whose athletic style and look is a vivid feast for the audience’s eyes, while Nox is a solid tag team player any athlete would want in their corner.
However, as enjoyable as their debut was, how do these recent arrivals really fit in the grand scheme of SmackDown’s women’s roster?
They Shouldn’t Become Another Watered Down Act
When word hit of Shotzi’s and Scarlett’s dark matches, it was assumed that both, or one of the other of them, would be coming down the pipe as singles performers. Shotzi, who along with Ember Moon, was NXT women’s tag team champion for 55 days, is entering SmackDown as a tag team player, once again, with Nox. That leaves their only reasonable adversaries to be Natalya and Tamina, who are not only the champions but the only other women’s tag team on the roster.
Babyface contests still occasionally happen on NXT, with two opponents pitted against each other without a storyline pretext of animosity, such as Sarray’s debut match against Zoey Stark in April 2021. However, SmackDown and Raw are more storyline dictated environments. Although both have been heels in the past, Natalya and Tamina have recently been glowingly framed as babyfaces, especially celebrating Tamina’s Cinderella rise to prominence after years of languishing on the roster.
Unless they are going to be turned heel, this leaves any team in opposition to them in the heel role. Entering the main roster as a heel devoid of context has been part of what has hampered Rhea Ripley’s acclimation to the Monday Night Raw roster, and could hurt Nox and Blackheart, too, especially the endearingly berserk Blackheart. The intimate, hardcore, and experimental ambience of NXT and its more freewheelingly ruthless characters have become a distinct flavor of their own, but Ripley and Damien Priest’s Raw call ups have proven that it is becoming more difficult to translate to the main roster. Damien Priest’s rock star charisma has been watered down and he’s mostly been a comedy player. Ripley’s signature brutality has been mistranslated as villainous aggression, and even that lackluster in her endless series of swipes at Charlotte Flair.
With Tamina and Natalya being hyped up in recent months as deserving champions who’ve chipped away at their craft for over a decade, that could pigeon hole Nox and Blackheart with only one role to play: “the NXT brat princesses who want to take it all away from them”.
The upcoming Raw and SmackDown drafts may prevent their storyline from moving in such an uninspired direction, and replenish the women’s division with some new dynamics from those players who still remain. However, to be successful on either flagship brand, red or blue, Nox and Blackheart need more room than Ripley has been given to show off what makes them distinct and captivating, and what, on NXT made them successful.
NXT’s personalities and storylines exist in a grayer moral space, with more emphasis on ambition from all parties than heroism offset by antagonism. This is perhaps no wonder, given it is the pet project of the Lewis and Clark of the Attitude Era, Triple H and Shawn Michaels. With the groundbreaking faction D-Generation X, they mined the gray areas of characterization in pro wrestling archetypes, setting the stage for a darker, edgier era in content throughout the 90s and beyond. Confrontation, blithe provocation, and blind ambition to seize control of the game became the order of the day, and the last, ambition, remains so at NXT.
However, once NXT’s stars move on to the main roster, their defining ambition is minimized or villainized. The fire in their hearts doesn’t neatly suit the ‘heel’ or ‘face’ role, but Ripley was straitjacketed into a bland heel role, anyway.
Nox’s and Blackheart’s debut was a good foundation, showing their high energy in-ring work. Hopefully that foundation won’t be devalued by villainizing the newcomers to glow up the veterans, like the hand Ripley has been dealt on Raw.
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