I think it’s safe to say that Nikki Bella and Paige exceeded expectations last night at Money in the Bank. Granted, expectations were very low, but it’s always nice to get more than you’re expecting. The match these two delivered almost made me forget the lousy booking that proceeded it. Almost.

It was a welcome sign that not all hope is lost, but it’s hardly a remedy to all the division’s ailments. Though, I’m not sure the remedy we need is any single thing – a match, a storyline, a Diva – but rather a concerted effort to give the division a sense of importance. This match may very well be the start of that, but we’ve been burned before. For now, let’s watch it and enjoy:

Before the match, Paige is interviewed backstage by Renee Young. She says that, in the weeks following her rallying cry promo, not a single Diva has offered to help her take down the Bellas’ empire. She gets it, though – she’s not the best ally. But the Bellas are crafty. She says they claim innocence in front of the cameras, but hold even more power behind the scenes. There’s only one woman who can bring about change, and that’s her.

She says if she can take Nikki’s title away tonight, she can take away the Bellas’ influence. Nikki has held the title for over 200 days, and the Bellas have held the division for over seven years. That ends tonight, she says, vowing to “create change” in honor of the late Dusty Rhodes.

Match time!

Post-entrances (Nikki coming out sans Brie) and bell-ringing they tie up, Nikki taking control, backing Paige into the ropes and shoving her by the face. Nikki mocks Paige with some jumping jacks, drawing Paige back towards her. They tie up again, Paige taking control this time. She returns the favor with a shove to Nikki.

Nikki comes charging at Paige, carrying her to the corner. She repeatedly drives her shoulder into Paige’s midsection before the referee forces her to back off. When Nikki returns to Paige, the tables are again turned, and Paige sends her into the corner, climbing to the second rope and kicking her continuously in the side of the head.

Nikki slips out of the ring and grabs a quick breather before reentering the fray. She’s immediately tossed back out of the ring by Paige, who follows, climbing out onto the ring apron. She takes out Nikki with a tumbling splash, crashing to the outside. Paige grabs Nikki and carries her to the barricade, climbing atop it. Nikki takes back control, though, hoisting Paige onto her shoulders and dropping her face-first onto the wall.

Nikki sends Paige back into the ring and covers her for the pin, but Paige kicks out. Paige takes a play out of Nikki’s book and heads to the outside to regain her bearings. Nikki follows her and pulls up the ring skirt to show that Brie isn’t under there and drives Paige back-first into the apron. As Paige tries to regroup, Nikki does push-ups in the middle of the ring. Meanwhile, we see the rest of the Divas sans Brie backstage, watching the match on the monitor. I spy Alicia Fox, Emma, Layla, Naomi, Natalya, Rosa Mendes, Summer Rae and Tamina Snuka. They don’t seem to be showing allegiance to either Nikki or Paige. Interesting…

Back in the ring, Paige is dragged to the middle of it by Nikki, who hits her with a suplex and goes for another pin. Paige kicks out. Nikki then props her up, planting a knee in her back and locking in a chinlock. Paige soon gets to her feet and starts to battle back, but Nikki halts her with a knee to the stomach, hoisting her up for the Alabama Slam. Paige slips free, through, and rolls through, getting to her feet and coming at Paige with a head full of steam and a sharp knee to the face. Paige covers Nikki, but only earns a two-count.

Nikki gets to her feet and immediately takes back control with a clothesline. She goes for the pin, but Paige kicks out. Nikki pulls Paige up and takes her out with a slingshot suplex, using the ropes for maximum impact. She covers Paige again, but no dice, so she settles for locking Paige in a bodyscissors submission. After a few agonizing moments, Paige frees herself with elbows to Nikki’s head. She quickly takes control, planting a few headbutts on Nikki before draping her over the second rope and barraging her with a series of knees to the chest. Nikki recovers quickly, though, dropping Paige throat-first onto the rope when she tries to get back into the ring.

Nikki makes another pin attempt, Paige again kicking out. The champ locks in another chinlock. After some time, Paige finds the strength to battle out. Nikki shoves her away, but it only gives Paige some valuable momentum, which she uses to plant a vicious kick right in Nikki’s face. She covers Nikki for the pin, but Nikki finds it in her to kick out. Paige then tries for the PTO, but Nikki fights her off.

Paige comes back for more, but is caught by Nikki, who drives her to the mat with a spinebuster. She pins Paige, but only earns a near fall. Nikki taunts the crowd a bit as Paige retreats into the corner. Nikki sees an opening and charges at Paige, but meets nothing but turnbuckle. Paige then traps her in the corner, hitting her with a barrage of elbows to the head. The referee forces Paige to back off, but she is immediately back on Nikki, leaping at her and driving a knee into her face. After more referee scolding, Paige heads back to Nikki and catches her kick, whipping her forward by the leg.

Paige wraps up Nikki’s legs and contorts her into a chinlock submission. It’s not long, though, before Nikki makes her way to the bottom rope and breaks the hold. She stops another attack from Paige and plants her to the mat with an Alabama Slam just as we take another look at the group surrounding the monitor. Doesn’t anyone there have the WWE Network? Just pull up the match on your phone!!

Nikki goes for another pin, Paige kicking out after two. She pulls Paige to her feet and preps for the Rack Attack, but Paige knows where this is going, and fights off with some elbows. She sweeps Nikki’s legs out from under her and tries to lock in the PTO, but is unable to lock Nikki’s arms before she works her way free and kicks Paige away. Nikki fights off Paige’s ensuing attacks, hitting her springboard enziguri to lay her out. Another pin attempt, another kickout by Paige.

Nikki then hoists Paige up onto her shoulders for the Rack Attack, almost having her in perfect position. Paige starts rocking the boat, though, and Nikki stumbles, dropping her. Paige immediately turns the situation to her advantage, planting Nikki with the RamPaige and covering her for the pin. Nikki narrowly kicks out, and Paige can’t believe it.

Nikki regroups while Paige gets over her disappointment. Paige soon makes her way over to Nikki lifting her up onto the top turnbuckle. Paige joins her from outside the ropes and the two do battle, eventually knocking each other all the way to the floor. It’s then that Brie makes an appearance, slipping out from under the ring to switch places with Nikki. The champ disappears while Brie feigns pain just outside the ropes, drawing Paige over to her. Paige drags Brie into the ring, and it’s deja-vu all over again, Brie pulling Paige into a small package pin. However, Paige manages to shift the pin and steal it for her own, earning the three count!

As Lilian Garcia announces Paige as the victor, a desperate Brie reveals herself to the referee, pointing out that she’s not the legal competitor. She even gives receipts in the form of tissue pulled out of her stuffed bra and her hip tattoos. The referee, instead of DQing Nikki for Brie’s interference, calls off Paige’s win and restarts the match. Paige, frustrated, takes out Brie. She’s distracted as Nikki reenters the ring, so she doesn’t see it coming when Nikki lays her out with a forearm. Paige is done for at that point, lifted up and slammed down with Rack Attack. Nikki covers Paige for the three-count, retaining the Divas Title.

Paige is flabbergasted by the turn of events, but the Bellas’ smug reactions could indicate that this was their plan all along…

Lana was not absent from the festivities, accompanying Dolph Ziggler to the ring for his Money in the Bank match:

We also got a glimpse at Stephanie McMahon when she and Triple H heaped more pressure on the shoulders of the nervous WWE Champion Seth Rollins:

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share the touching moment that opened Money in the Bank, when the entire locker room stood at the top of the ramp to honor the late Dusty Rhodes with a 10 bell salute:

Rest in peace, American Dream.

Thoughts: Nikki and Paige put on a truly great match, playing on the strengths of both Divas while feeling fresh, despite how many times they’ve already gone head-to-head. It had that classic “exhausted” feel you get from the longer, hard fought Divas matches, most recently seen in practically any NXT live special. I’m not sure this match is on par with one of those, but it’s definitely one of the best main roster matches I’ve seen in some time. It proves that the main roster Divas can create exciting moments in the ring like their NXT counterparts if given the same opportunities.

I’m not too crazy about the ending, if only because the referee’s decision-making is dubious. The fact that the commentary team was calling him out for not DQing Nikki makes it feel all the messier. It would’ve made a lot more sense if the Bellas had fostered a relationship with The Authority, who restarted the match after Brie got pinned. It would give the moment a greater sense of injustice and make it feel as Kafkaesque for Paige as the writers clearly want it to be.

Still, weird ending or not, it proved that Paige and Nikki can rise to the occasion and deliver if given the chance. Speaking of that word, chance, this match demonstrated how off the mark this story has been. The emphasis on the need for change just never hit home when spoken of in kayfabe terms. Nikki and Brie don’t have a stranglehold on the division – they’re not in power. They’ve just proven themselves to be craftier than the rest of the Divas. Paige & Co. can point out how they’re manipulating referees and cheating constantly, but putting a stop to that doesn’t boil down to “making change”, at least in my book. “Change” infers that there’s some systematic problem that needs to be solved. Which there is, but only in real life terms.

All of this should be more about Paige poking holes in the Bellas’ strategy, finding ways to overcome the injustice using the tools she has: her wrestling skills and alliances forged with Divas who can stand at ringside and stop the switcheroos. Paige kinda-sorta got partway there in this match, pinning Brie, but she needs to make some friends if she has any hope of stopping the Bellas. The writing has made it quite clear that AJ Lee Paige isn’t good at making friends, but if she doesn’t start playing nice with her fellow Divas soon, she’s going to look very foolish repeatedly going back to the well and finding herself outnumbered again and again. Maybe she can find an old NXT buddy to even the odds, since the main roster Divas aren’t her biggest fans.

Paige’s pre-match promo was a lot better than her SmackDown one, but I’m not sure what she was supposed to be alluding to by saying that the Bellas have a lot of power behind the scenes. We haven’t seen them aligning themselves with The Authority, though I would like that. It would help explain why they’re allowed to pull the “twin magic” shenanigans again and again. I’m still rolling my eyes Paige harping on about “change”, though, because there’s nothing more ironic than a Diva talking about bringing forth change when she’s been at the top of the division for most of the last year. I did like that she brought it around to the fact that the title is what matters – the only kayfabe way they can stop the Bellas from “holding back” the division is to take Nikki’s title. But, again, she has to have a strategy to make that happen, and merely making bold pronouncements isn’t going to cut it.

As cheesy as those “standing backstage watching the match” shots tend to be, I liked that they showed the rest of the division paying attention to this match. Like I said in the SmackDown Redux, it adds stakes to the feud if it looks like the rest of the division is invested in its outcome. They want to see who will be in control after the match and if they will be able to jockey for position when the dust settles. It also reinforces the fact that Paige isn’t exactly rallying the troops with her poorly written speeches, which I appreciate, since the message is so muddy and contradictory and shallow. I would like to see some follow-up to this, but I’m not getting my hopes up. One great match inside of a crappy storyline doesn’t mean the storyline’s going to suddenly become terrific. It can signal new effort being put into the story, sure, and I hope that’s the case. I’ll wait to see what happens on Raw before judge matters on that front, though.

All in all, this match caught a lot of Diva fans off-guard mostly because this storyline has inferred that the bookers couldn’t give less of a shit about creating memorable, earned Diva moments. With cookie cutter booking and dubious motivations, we haven’t gotten the sense that the Divas are a big priority at this point on the main roster. So, to be treated to a 10+ minute match with exciting spots and a good story was certainly surprising. I’m very glad that we got this match, because it proves that the powers the be aren’t completely out of the loop and careless – they must know how poorly Diva fans have received the recent booking, and this could have been a response to that. A show of good faith. Whether that translates to an actual investment into making the Divas matter in the grand scheme of things remains to be seen, though. A good match could be just that: a good match. Without half decent booking to follow up on it, a good match is not going to mean much. I’m hoping that this one will.

  • Johnny

    No they weren’t.