When her NXT UK nemesis Rhea Ripley departed the Capitol Wrestling Center for Monday Night Raw, Toni Storm declared that it was “Toni’s time to storm” NXT’s women’s roster. With current NXT women’s champion Raquel Gonzalez having slid into Ripley’s niche as the dominant force on the women’s roster, Storm’s efforts were diverted to a midcard feud with babyface newcomer, Zoe Stark. However, the former NXT UK women’s champion didn’t languish for long. Storm was booked to work dark matches opposite Scarlett for WWE officials before Friday Night SmackDown tapings at the ThunderDome, shortly before WWE resumed touring. Storm must have put on an impressive showing, because she was soon transferred to the blue brand, and made her SmackDown debut on July 23’s episode.
Storm is following quickly on the heels of Shotzi and Tegan Nox, who recently made their own SmackDown debuts and are feeling their way around by feuding with WWE women’s tag team champions, Natalya and Tamina. The main roster’s women’s division was heavily depleted by WWE’s recent rounds of releases; some fresh blood was sorely needed, and NXT talent are being rapidly called up to fill the lack.
Toni’s SmackDown debut match pitted her against Zelina Vega. Vega recently competed in the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, where her ascent to the top of the ladder was halted by Alexa Bliss. Despite not gaining the coveted green briefcase, on July 23 Vega was aggressive and came out on the offensive against Storm, dominating from the off with heelish moves, such as kicking Storm unrelentingly, and pushing her into the announce desk. Although she was a sneering heel, dismissive of her opponents and aggressive in the ring on NXT, Storm is clearly getting a babyface makeover on SmackDown. She ended Vega’s terror with a headbutt, however, showing she was no minor threat as the match came down to last hours. Storm hit a German suplex on Vega, and parlayed it into a bridge cover, but Vega kicked out. Storm attempted a double underhook but Vega reversed into a sunset flip and attempted to cover Storm for the win, but she evaded her. Storm finally put Vega away with a powerbomb variation, now referred to as Storm One, and covered her for a pinfall victory.
It was a satisfying victory for Storm, given the controversial encounters Karrion Kross and Keith Lee had on July 19’s Raw. Both were popular NXT performers who were consistently presented as dominant forces on the black and gold brand, only to be seemingly diminished on Raw: Lee, returning after a months long absence only to be defeated by Bobby Lashley as a warm up act for Goldberg, and current NXT champion Kross being quickly put away by Jeff Hardy, who has spent months in the midcard hinterlands of Main Event. Both instances raised questions about how valued NXT and its performers are in the WWE landscape.
Storm’s reception from the crowd, and their reaction to her victory, was warm, if not wild. There is certainly room for her, and more NXT talent, on the main roster, to fill out a women’s division that suffered heavily from this spring and summer’s budget cuts.
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