Xia Li, the first Chinese woman to date to compete in a World Wrestling Entertainment ring, was drafted from NXT to Friday Night SmackDown in October 2021, and debuted onscreen for the “blue brand” in December 2021. However, her first singles match did not arrive until February 25’s broadcast, from the Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The match was well worth the wait, as Li and her opponent, Natalya, stunned in a match brimming with dynamic energy.
Following SmackDown Debut of Xia Li
Taking a Deeper Dive Into the Match
A heel with a supernatural backstory on NXT, Li was rebranded upon her late 2021 transition to SmackDown. Now known as “The Protector,” Li has become a babyface who despises bullies and has set her sights on punishing Natalya for her aggression towards Aliyah, who dared to disrespect Natalya’s status as a 3x Guinness world record holder. The fun, frothy feud has been a tongue-in-cheek heel turn for Natalya, who seems to relish her role in putting over new female talent on the SmackDown roster. Li interjected herself into the feud, determined to set Natalya straight with some in-ring righteous indignation.
Seconds after the two locked up, Natalya went on the offensive with classically heelish aggression towards Li, kicking her and working her on the ropes. Li evaded with a leapfrog and roll through, propelling herself into a dropkick on Natalya. Natalya answered with a big discus clothesline, bringing Li down and getting a cover. Li kicked out, and once again found herself at Natalya’s mercy from rope to rope. Natalya hit a snap suplex on Li and manipulated her into a punishing stretch that, as it was surely meant to, called to mind her grandfather Stu Hart’s notorious Dungeon protocol.
The crowd rallied for Li as she fought her way out of Natalya’s grasp, unleashing a series of strikes and kicks. Despite Li landing a suplex on Natalya and getting a cover, Natalya’s prevailed and kicked out. She attempted to end the match with the Sharpshooter finisher made iconic by her uncle, Bret Hart, but Li made her last stand. She fought out of Natalya’s attempt at the submission maneuver and rapidly delivered a spinning heel kick to Natalya. Li felled Natalya and covered her for a pinfall win, her first main roster victory.
In her SmackDown debut, Li was impressively grounded in her fiery babyface character. Her physicality was direct and swift, with great crowd connection and proud nods to her Chinese heritage in her kung fu-inspired flourishes. While NXT favorites like Shotzi and Toni Storm haven’t gone the distance on SmackDown recently, Li’s debut was a dynamic one.
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