It has been a unique year in WWE history. The current WWE Champion on the Smackdown brand is a guy who could barely win a match for several years in WWE, Jinder Mahal. Some people think he’s done a good job as champion, while others (like me) think he’s just an average performer who has yet to really do anything to impress. On the Raw side, part-timer Brock Lesnar is the Universal Champion while Roman Reigns continues to be booked like a monster face, even though he gets booed more than anybody. At least Braun Strowman’s rise to the top has been fun to watch.
Overall, there’s been a lot of hot and cold programming this year. It’s tough to say 2017 WWE has been great, but it’s not that bad either.
One of the best things about the WWE product in 2017 has been the “Women’s Revolution” that they have talked about relentlessly for the last two years when they called up Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks in the summer of 2015. Since then, women in WWE have had more television main events than ever before, there was even a pay-per-view main event for Charlotte and Sasha (Hell in a Cell 2016) and WWE also produced their first ever women’s wrestling tournament called the Mae Young Classic, which has its finals this coming Tuesday (more on that later).
The last time I wrote a column focusing entirely on the WWE women’s division was May 2016 when I did a power ranking of the female talent. In other words, it’s been too long, so I figured it was a good time to check out the women’s division again. I’m not going to do a Power Ranking this time, though. Instead, I’ll just break it down by the shows they are on and mention each woman on those shows. At the end, I’ll have some thoughts on the Mae Young Classic as well.
Raw Women’s Division
The booking of the Raw Women’s Division has been erratic of late with too many title changes. Earlier in the year, they didn’t do it as much although my big complaint was that Bayley winning the title on a Raw in February was a lot less impactful than if she had won it at WrestleMania. I still don’t understand the decision to not save the title change until WWE’s biggest show of the year.
There have been four title changes this year with Bayley winning on Feb. 13 on Raw, Alexa Bliss winning at Payback on April 30, Sasha Banks winning a few weeks ago at SummerSlam on August 20 and Alexa Bliss won it back on Raw on Aug. 28.
Alexa Bliss (Current Raw Women’s Champion) – I think it’s fair to say that since the brand extension in the summer of 2016, Bliss is one of the most improved performers on the WWE roster. You can tell WWE’s creative team loves her since she’s already had four Women’s Title reigns on the main roster. I like her promos a lot, which is what makes her stand out. She’s got an ability to be very sarcastic on the microphone, her facial expressions are great and she has improved in the ring. I don’t think she’s at the level of a Sasha or Charlotte in terms of in ring work, but she keeps getting better.
Plus, she survived that terrible “Bayley, This is Your Life” segment that bombed terribly, so it’s hard not to like her right now.
Sasha Banks – The role of Banks has been one of the top face women on the main roster for most of the last two years. While I enjoy her in the role, she was better as a heel in NXT and I feel like if they let her loose on Raw she could be one of the best heels on the entire show, male or female. I think WWE missed a big opportunity to have Banks turn heel after Bayley retained the Women’s Title at WrestleMania. That’s when they should have done it. Both women were a bit stale because of it. Since she’s in her mid-20s and already very good in the ring, she has as bright a future as anybody. I just hope that heel turn is coming soon.
Nia Jax – She’s “not like most girls” as her theme song says because she’s a heel monster who is bigger than everybody else. Jax hasn’t lost that many times in the last 14 months, but she has tapped out to Banks before. Two weeks ago, she attacked her “best friend” Bliss, so it seems like that feud is going to happen. Although, they will be in a four-way at the next PPV, No Mercy, which is delaying a singles match. I think Jax will win the Women’s Title before the end of the year and be booked as a dominant champion in a division that has had way too many title changes.
Bayley – A shoulder injury has her on the sidelines right now, but Bayley is a key figure in the Raw Women’s Division. I mentioned the February title change earlier because booking that change before WrestleMania took away a huge moment for her. A month ago, I was at Raw in Toronto and fans booed her as she tried to talk about her shoulder injury. I felt bad for her because it’s not her fault WWE has booked her terribly. The injury shouldn’t keep her out for much longer (it was believed to be about a two-month thing), so hopefully when she returns, she’ll get a good push.
It will be interesting to see if WWE ever books Bayley as a heel. The character is so boring as a face that it would freshen her up, but I don’t know if she could pull it off.
Emma – After the “Emmalina” story never got going with her, she has re-established herself as the heel Emma character. In the last couple of months, Emma has received more airtime and this past week on Raw, she stole a pin on Banks during a tag match with Jax. Emma is finally in the Raw Women’s Title picture with the four-way match at No Mercy, although the expectation for her role is just to take the pin to keep the other women strong. I’m not sure if WWE will ever push her to win the title. Maybe once just to say she did it, but I think she’s locked in as a heel role player. It could always change, though.
Mickie James – Mickie is my favorite woman on Raw and I groaned when they moved her from Smackdown because I knew she would get lost in the shuffle. She returned to WWE as a heel, then turned face with WWE booking it in a poor way and now she’s only on TV once in a while rather than all the time. As a six-time Women’s Champion they should book her with more respect and like more of a legend who can still go instead of barely using her. I think it’s been a missed opportunity. They need to utilize her better, that’s for sure.
Dana Brooke – Turning her face against Charlotte had no payoff. I said at the time that it was the wrong move because she’s a more natural heel. Brooke has no role as a face. It would be nice if she went back to being an ally of Emma, like they were in NXT, because they worked well together. You can tell WWE lacks long-term vision for some characters because they’ll turn them and then nothing happens.
Alicia Fox – She’s a serviceable veteran who can work as a heel or face at any time. It’s unlikely that she’ll get another push to be a champion again, but I admire her longevity in being in WWE for nine years.
Paige – A lot of people are anticipating her return because she’s been out of action for over a year after major neck surgery. At 25 years old, she has many great years ahead of her. It’s not known when exactly she might return, but it should be in the next two or three months. I think she’s better as a heel than a face, although either role is fine for her. Most importantly, getting back in the ring will be good for her mentally as well after a year of “incidents” with fiancé Alberto Del Rio (Alberto El Patron) that haven’t painted either of them in a good light. Once she gets back in the ring, she’ll feel at home again.
Summer Rae – Remember her? I don’t know if WWE does. Technically, she is on the Raw brand even though she hasn’t appeared on television in over a year. There were reports of some injury late last year without much in the way of updates this year. If you check out her Instagram full of modeling shots, she looks healthy to me. There must be a story here, but I don’t know it, so I’m not going to speculate.
Maryse – She wrestled one match in the last year and half. It was at WrestleMania in a tag match. It feels like she is content with just being a manager for her husband The Miz, which is a good thing because she’s awesome at it.
That’s it for the current Raw women’s division. It’s not that deep, as we all know. If you watch the shows, though, there’s not that much time for them to utilize more women. The problem is that the title picture revolves around the same women all the time without much changing. At least Emma is involved heading into No Mercy, but I don’t think anybody believes she’s going to win the title.
Looking ahead, I think Paige’s return will provide a spark because she’ll be fresh off her injury. There are also strong rumors that Asuka is headed to the Raw brand within the next two months, so that should help a lot as well because she’s an outstanding worker.
Smackdown Live Women’s Division
The women’s division on Smackdown is usually booked better than Raw. You may recall that back at Elimination Chamber in February, there were three women’s singles matches at that show. That kind of thing doesn’t ever happen, so it’s been a historic year for them for that reason, as well as the two Money in the Bank matches (both won by Carmella) that put a lot of attention on the women of Smackdown.
There have been four title changes this year. Naomi won the Smackdown Women’s Title at Elimination Chamber on Feb. 12 and then forfeited it nine days later due to a knee injury. Alexa Bliss won the vacated title on Smackdown on Feb. 21 and Naomi won it back at WrestleMania 33 in a six-pack challenge. Natalya won the Smackdown Women’s Title at SummerSlam on Aug. 20, which is her first title reign since she won the Divas Title in November 2010.
Natalya (Current Smackdown Women’s Champion) – I think Natalya is one of the best examples of a turn helping somebody turn their career around. She was doing fine as a face for a few years, but when she turned heel late last year in that feud with Nikki Bella, it elevated her to another level. Her promos got better, she’s been always good in the ring and it was noticeable that she was getting more of a reaction. Fans started to really boo her, which she fed off well. While I didn’t expect her to beat Naomi for the title at SummerSlam, I’m glad she did.
It’s possible that this title reign will end soon since she’s defending the gold against Naomi on Smackdown next week and Carmella is looming with the Money in the Bank briefcase. I’ll enjoy it for as long as it lasts because Natalya has worked hard and deserves that title as much as anybody.
Charlotte Flair – It’s been surprising to see Charlotte in a lesser role on Smackdown since she was moved there in April with the Superstar Shake-up. They turned her face, she sniffed around the title, but then she became a role player. Obviously in the last month, things have changed since her dad Ric Flair nearly died, but he’s doing better and she’s back on the road now. I think she’ll make a big impact soon because they need to utilize her more. She is more natural as a heel and I think she’s more comfortable in that role, so the face turn may not be a long-term thing.
I think Charlotte is the best overall talent in the WWE women’s division. She can make everybody around her better. A few years ago, we couldn’t say that so it’s a testament to her work ethic and desire to get better because you can see how much she has improved.
Naomi – The “glow” entrance was a good idea because it made her stand out. For a few years there, she was always seen as the athletic woman who couldn’t get to the top. The glow entrance made her look like more of a star because it’s different than anybody else. She has also grown more confident as a talker, so that has helped too. I like her matches for the most part because she makes the high spots look easy.
Carmella – As Ms. Money in the Bank, Carmella’s been a more featured performer in the last three months. She’s similar to Alexa Bliss as a woman who spent a few years in NXT, got called up to the main roster last year and has thrived as a heel. Like Bliss, her strengths right now are with her promos. She has delivered several great segments which are full of energy. You can tell she knows her character well too. I hope she can improve in the ring because at this point, you can tell WWE isn’t confident in booking her in long matches. She did well in both Money in the Bank matches, which really raised her profile.
Becky Lynch – The energy that Becky Lynch exudes in the ring is infectious. The people love her because we can tell how much she loves being in the ring. Last year at this time, she was a big focus in the division. Right now, she’s cooled off like her best friend Charlotte, so I expect both of them to be utilized more towards the end of the year. She is too popular to not do more than she currently is.
I think she’s in a similar spot with Bayley where a heel turn might help her a lot, although she’s still popular and the fans may reject it. For now, keep her as a face. They just need to feature her more.
Tamina – There is an attempt being made in WWE right now where Lana is being used to help Tamina get over more as a character. The problem is that the fans don’t view Tamina as a star at all because she gets zero heat. Using Tamina as a bodyguard type is the right role for her. Giving her more of a spotlight is a bad decision because the fans just don’t care enough. Maybe they will over time, but I doubt it.
Lana – I thought it was an odd choice to book her to have three Women’s Title matches against Naomi. She was competitive in one and was booked like a joke in others. What was the point? I’m not sure if she is a wrestler long-term because the best way to utilize her would be with her husband Rusev. It would help both of them, yet they are being kept apart on television because, like I said earlier, WWE lacks long-term vision sometimes.
Maria Kanellis – She returned to Smackdown with husband Mike Kanellis (Bennett) a few months back. It looks like she will be a manager only for him, like Maryse is with The Miz. That’s a smart move because Maria was not that good in the ring. There’s nothing wrong with being a manager.
That’s the entire Smackdown division right now. As I mentioned earlier, it’s generally booked better than Raw in terms of utilizing everybody from top to bottom. It’s been weird seeing Charlotte and Becky in lesser roles, but that won’t last much longer. They are too good to not be featured more.
NXT Women’s Division
I’m not going to go over every woman in NXT. I wanted to mention it because on this week’s NXT show (aired Wednesday night on WWE Network), they had Asuka forfeit the NXT Women’s Title due to a shoulder injury. Asuka didn’t lose a single match in NXT and is a huge star who will make a big splash on the main roster. I think she’s headed to Raw, but that’s unconfirmed at this time.
Looking ahead, women like Ember Moon, Billie Kaye, Peyton Royce and Nikki Cross continue to impress me. I think Moon’s match with Asuka at NXT Takeover Brooklyn 3 a few weeks ago was one of the best women’s matches in WWE history. I thought Moon might win the title, but she came up short. Kaye and Royce are a couple of talented Australians that work well together. Cross stands out because she’s got a more hardcore style and is willing to do anything to win.
The NXT Women’s Title is currently vacant. The rumor is that the winner of next week’s Mae Young Classic tournament may be the new NXT Women’s Champions. That’s not official yet. Speaking of the Mae Young Classic, let’s wrap it up talking about that.
Mae Young Classic
The Mae Young Classic is the name of WWE’s first-ever women’s-only wrestling tournament. The matches were taped earlier this summer and they released the first four episodes two Mondays ago. This past Monday, they released the next four episodes that showed the results up to the semifinals.
Next week on WWE Network, after Smackdown Live, will be the finals of the Mae Young Classic as Japanese sensation Kairi Sane will battle former MMA competitor Shayna Baszler to determine who will win the tournament. Both women have been very impressive with Sane showing an incredible all-around game as well as the coolest-looking top rope elbow drop finisher I’ve ever seen. Baszler is more of a grappler who knows all kinds of submissions and has transitioned well into pro wrestling in the last few years.
During the tournament, there has also been a storyline with Baszler’s friends including UFC superstar Ronda Rousey, Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke, who have called themselves the Four Horsewomen. They have had some staring contests with WWE’s Four Horsewomen of Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, although Banks missed the MYC tapings because she was on a promotional tour of Asia. I would expect the finals of the MYC will have WWE’s Four Horsewomen at ringside and for some big angle to take place to set up a potential 4 on 4 tag match possibly at Survivor Series in November or something next year.
I think Sane is going to win and I think she should win. Sane is an accomplished women’s wrestler that had a lot of success in Japan that took a similar path to WWE as Asuka a few years ago. Sane is already signed to a deal by WWE while Baszler isn’t officially signed as far as we know, but it’s likely one of those things that is official without telling the public yet.
I think Sane vs. Baszler will be an outstanding match that should get 15-20 minutes as well. They will have every opportunity to put on a classic and they probably will. I’m excited for it as well as the future of both women in WWE going forward.
The “women’s revolution” phrase is annoying, but the effort that WWE has applied in terms of re-inventing their women’s division should be applauded. There was a stigma on women’s wrestling for a long time that they were only eye candy that was out there to look good for the predominantly male audience. These days, the women still look good, but they are also very athletic and are pushed as serious competitors just like the men are. Getting rid of the word “diva” was a good step last year. Adding the Mae Young Class was another step forward.
What’s next for WWE’s women? Continued growth and even more success. As cool as the women’s revolution has been, it’s still in the early stages. There’s no limit to how far they can go.