A continuing look at the modern figures and events that helped to shape the WWE Women’s Revolution.
In Part 1 recognition was given to some of the key women who broke the mold of what it was to be a woman wrestling in WWE, shattering the stereotype of a Diva and in some cases marketing themselves as being in opposition to the very concept.
Here Part 2 looks at those who would go on to set new standards and smash through glass ceilings, the importance of a passionate fandom and the power in using your voice. This is very much The Good, The Bad and The Ugly side of the WWE Women’s Revolution (note: WWE Network links are included for those with a valid subscription).
As the then NXT Women’s Champion Paige was in the home stretch of her developmental career, a new host of women in the Orlando based brand were vying for the opportunity to succeed her.
Bayley, Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks had taken part in the same mid-2013 tournament that crowned Paige as the division’s inaugural belt-wearer, but the three future Superstars were not yet ready to be given the ball to run with.
For reference, Sasha Banks would not become the fledgling version of ‘The Boss’ until a few months later, Charlotte Flair was simply known as ‘Charlotte’ (the Flair name comes with a certain amount of weight and expectation), and Bayley was… well, pretty much Bayley.
As for Becky Lynch, the future SmackDown Women’s Champion was yet to début her namesake until a live event that November; she would not appear on NXT television until June 2014 when she took on Summer Rae in a winning, River Dancing effort.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. After NXT Arrival in February of 2014, and Paige’s successful defense of her title against Emma, the producers and creative team for the brand already had some idea of what should happen next.
Perhaps not knowing in advance Paige would soon get the call up to WWE’s main roster, plans were immediately set in motion for Charlotte to enter the title picture. With her father the great Ric Flair in tow, Charlotte interrupts Paige’s post-match interview to declare herself as the next champion in waiting.
At this point in-story, Charlotte had aligned herself with Sasha Banks (who was in full-on Boss mode by now) and Summer Rae to form antagonist faction The Beautiful Fierce Females (The BFF’s for short). The group was already running roughshod over the NXT Women’s Division, and the stage was set to make Paige a sympathetic character by being outnumbered by her enemies.
Unfortunately a marquee championship match between Paige and Charlotte never actually materialized, not counting the match they had at WrestleMania Axxess in New Orleans; a non-televised fan event and house show for WrestleMania weekend.
Paige would have one more recorded NXT match before her call-up, teaming with Emma to take on Charlotte and Sasha Banks, and although it was taped prior to Paige’s departure and her shock win of the WWE Diva’s championship against AJ Lee, the match was edited and broadcast a few weeks later. The episode actually edits out Paige’s entrance to hide the fact she was still NXT Women’s champion at the time, when in TV continuity the title had been vacated.
Indeed the vacant title in question was up for grabs in the finals of another NXT Women’s tournament that Charlotte had reached; her opponent would be Natalya who had defeated Sasha Banks in the semi-finals.
The match to figuratively crown the new Queen of NXT would take place at the first NXT TakeOver, May 29th 2014, and the conflict between Natalya and Charlotte had the story of family legacy behind it. Charlotte being the daughter of Ric Flair, and Natalya being the niece of Bret Hart, added to the historical significance of the bout.
Even the rivalry itself was billed by WWE as a ‘Battle of Second Generation Divas’, alluding to some of the past conflict between the Harts and the Flairs.
The contest ended up being even better than the promotional build for it. Charlotte and Natalya not only fulfilled the promise of good WWE women’s wrestling made by Paige and Sofia Cortez way-back-when, they over-delivered.
Paige vs Emma at NXT Arrival was a really good match; Natalya vs Charlotte at NXT TakeOver was truly great – arguably the best match thus far of this new era of WWE Women’s Wrestling. NXT afforded both ladies a solid 20 minutes to build their match and ramp up the intensity with enough peaks and valleys in the physical story telling to keep the audience completely invested.
Importantly as the match got more ferocious, it did not become messy; it never devolved from Pro Wrestling into ‘cat fight’ brawls as main roster matches had a tendency to do.
The match was also respected enough by the producers to be given co-main event billing, second only to the men’s championship match that followed.
Here the narrative was two women fighting over a title that would symbolize the winner’s conquest of the division; meanwhile on RAW the narrative of the developing feud between Summer Rae and Layla was two women fighting over the attention and affection of a man.
In the same month Charlotte and Natalya gave the NXT audience an instant classic, Paige as WWE Diva’s champion was being restricted with 4 minute matches on RAW, and a 6 minute match at the Extreme Rules marquee event at the beginning of the month.
On that show Paige defended her title against Tamina (Tamina Snuka) who had won a Battle Royal for the privilege – a regressive booking concept from the dark ages of the Diva’s division that WWE has sadly included for the WWE Evolution event.
While the NXT crowd was buzzing for the rapidly evolving women’s division, the main WWE crowd were often disinterested and bored by the meaningless matches put on by the Divas – not helped by the wretched creative direction that was compounded by some woefully inadequate performers.
Anyone who had experienced the excellence of Charlotte vs Natalya could not go back to watching the frankly awful Eva Maries of the world, or the stomach churning, cliché narratives. NXT was now THE place to go for WWE Women’s Wrestling. The NXT Generation was here.