|Want to be a heel? Put on sunglasses. Instant heat.|
It's generally accepted that had AJ stuck around she would have turned on Paige and been the heel challenger to a babyface Nikki Bella at Extreme Rules. I'm not sure this would have worked out well. While AJ had previously flourished as a heel I think fans would have been loath to boo her over Nikki. With Extreme Rules taking place in Chicago (the home of AJ's wrestler-turned-UFC prospect husband CM Punk, for those not in the know) I think Vince and co. would have stuck with the safer option of keeping AJ a face and Nikki a heel for that match. Things could easily have been reworked so that Nikki and Brie were the ones sending Paige packing for a month. AJ could have gone bad on Paige's return, allowing the Bellas to transition gradually into a face role.
Things have worked out better than they likely would have with AJ around. We had seen every permutation of matches possible involving Nikki, AJ and Paige (and everything involving Brie Bella except a four-way match). A change up in the heel-face alignments could have refreshed things but not drastically. Someone new being moved up the women's ranks is preferable, and that's what AJ's retirement facilitated.
Naomi was the obvious choice from the current batch of main roster talent. Aside from Natalya she's the best wrestler of the bunch. Layla, Summer Rae, Cameron and Alicia Fox aren't in her league while Emma has been stalled by her ham-fisted call-up and around a year of drifting. Rosa and Eva Marie don't even qualify as wrestlers at this point. It's questionable whether they ever did. An argument could be made that the opening up of a high profile spot was the perfect opportunity to move Charlotte from NXT. The timing was good, no question, but I think WWE were right to wait and introduce her in exactly the fashion they desire, whatever that turns out to be. Had they tried to rush her up in the wake of AJ's departure it likely wouldn't have ended well.
Naomi's been impressive in her new role. She's displayed a viciousness and a cockiness that weren't even hinted at with her babyface persona (and despite WWE's black and white approach to booking these are attributes that babyfaces can display, as long as it's done right). The promo material she's been given hasn't been great but she's done what she could with it. She's switched up her look, getting a new hairstyle and new ring gear. That includes some frankly amazing trainers that change colour during her matches. Basically, she's done everything in her power to make herself stand out and separate her current work from that of her non-entity babyface persona.
|Looking forward to that Naomi and Tamina v Bella tag match, playa! Holla!|
The recent addition of Tamina as her bodyguard is promising. It gives Naomi access to the classic smaller-wrestler-with-bigger-hired-muscle trope that is hard to get wrong. It also indicates that WWE see her working out in this new role long term. Which is good. Because Naomi is talented but mostly blank slate in terms of character. Which means she can fill any role and continue to improve over time.
Now if we could just get a couple of call-ups from NXT the main roster women could be in a great position.
1 That movies are prioritised over wrestling, the only thing WWE and, more importantly, Vince McMahon have ever made money doing, is a wonderful example of what's wrong with this company.