Thursday 6 November 2014

The All New Divas Division

Think Stephanie McMahon is WWE’s top female heel? You’re right. She routinely gets more boos than any other woman in the company. That it’s through a combination of her character having over a decade’s worth of history behind it and her being positioned better than most other performers is irrelevant: Steph gets ‘em booing.

But as good as she is she’s not the top female heel wrestler. Because, y’know, she’s had one proper match in the last decade. It was a good match but still, it doesn’t really qualify as a regular performer.

Nikki Bella: winner.
As far as female antagonists go the top heel wrestler in WWE is Nikki Bella. After turning on sister Brie at SummerSlam Nikki was briefly linked to The Authority before being separated to continue her feud, which let’s not forget started in the womb, alone. Which she’s done well. Not all of her promo segments have been great but enough have hit the mark to establish her new, conceited character. The quality of her matches has been better than expected too. In short Nikki has put in real work, particularly in the ring, to justify her push.

Which makes the decision to pit her against AJ Lee more than welcome. AJ’s feud with Paige started out looking promising but the two never really clicked as regular foes. Part of the problem was that the writing wasn’t particularly strong. Instead of being presented as rivals of equal ability who’s rivalry was more about respect than dislike (a standard wrestling plot, but one proven to work more often than not) they were booked to become friends before Paige went mad and started mimicking AJ’s mannerisms and acting as though she were in love with her.

That sort of story can work. It was a massive success for Mickie James and Trish Stratus in 2006, for example. But then it worked because it was given longer to develop and was presented as something other than a token women’s feud. It wasn’t the right approach for AJ and Paige. They would have been better served in a scenario that allowed fans to pick a side and cheer for their preferred wrestler, rather than trying to force people to boo one over the other. Longer, better planned matches would likely have helped too.

A woman in need of new opponents.
AJ facing Nikki gives us a new match and a new story. It also gives us a situation where one woman is someone fans will want to boo and the other is someone they’ll want to cheer. Judging by how Nikki’s been treated over the last few months it seems safe to assume WWE will give their match or matches longer than the AJ v Paige encounters. That’s something AJ has warranted for a long time and it’s something she’ll hopefully make the most of.

Looking at the current state of the Divas division it doesn’t seem inconceivable that WWE is setting Brie (Mode) Bella up for a Divas title reign. The Bellas’ feud has been presented as higher profile than the Divas title over the last couple of months, subtly positioning the twins as the real stars of the scene despite AJ’s grasp on the gold. Brie is currently spending a month as her sister’s assistant (due to a stipulation that could well be the lovechild of Vince Russo and various episodes of Seinfeld) and will clearly become more downtrodden as the weeks pass. Either Brie could be forced to help Nikki become the Divas champion and then be the next one to challenge her for it, or she could cost her the title, continue the sister versus sister programme, and pick up the title from AJ in a three-way.

Neither would be the worst sequence in the world, but by the end of the Nikki and Brie programme whoever had the championship would need some fresh opponents. Right now the women’s division only really has four characters in it: Nikki, Brie, Paige and AJ. While the sisters are locked up with AJ WWE should use ‘The Anti-Diva’ to help turn some of the current no-namers on the roster into characters people care about. They’ve made a stab at this with Alicia Fox, and could follow up with the likes of Emma, Summer Rae and Naomi, three women who already have the foundations of individual characters but just need some screen time with people we’re more familiar with.

Bubbles but not much character.
The specifics of the characters isn’t important. What matters is that they have these women interact with Paige and each other to establish characters that viewers can understand and become invested in. By the time the Brie and Nikki story finishes (which I’m assuming will be in January at the absolute latest) WWE could have a rounded group of female personalities at their disposal.

I’ve said many times before that WWE has the makings of a great women’s division. AJ, Paige, Natalya and Emma are all great wrestlers, with the Bellas being underrated after making significant improvements. If they invested time in the division they could make it mean a lot, in turn making the debuts of the likes of Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha Banks mean more when they come. Now is the time to start that, and as bizarre as it is to say the Bellas are the ones to get the ball rolling.

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