Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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Special Investigations Unit: The Rise and Fall of Natalya

If CNN can have one, why can’t we? Welcome to a brand new (hopefully) weekly column, the Special Investigations Unit in which we hope to probe a certain story or situation in further detail. Whether it be a top news story or an observation that we’ve noticed, Diva Dirt is unafraid to ask the tough questions in trying to solve our investigation!

In this week’s column, we’re looking at a Diva in a career of just a few months has impressed many and won over the fans. She is the first ever third generation Diva in WWE, Natalya joined the main WWE roster in April as part of SmackDown in what was one of the first moves to develop the blue brand’s burgeoning women’s division. Now 6 months later, that developing division is fully fledged with it’s own title and an array of competitors. However, when that division was in it’s early stages, it seemed that Natalya’s arrival to SmackDown was to play the top heel for the division – a role that secured her a spot in the first ever Divas Championship match. However in recent months, WWE seems to have dropped it’s stock in Bret Hart’s niece in favour of pushing Maryse as the new top heel, meanwhile Natalya seems to be relegated to jobber status. For someone who had such high prospects just a few months ago, what went wrong? Diva Dirt investigates…

Joining SmackDown in April 2008, Natalya was immediately thrust into a high profile feud with SmackDown’s top Diva, Michelle McCool. Making use of her family name, WWE seemed to push Natalya into a top spot on Friday nights. The feud would last through to July, when the two Divas battled to become the first ever Divas Champion at the Great American Bash. In her first few outings on SmackDown against Kelly Kelly and Cherry, Natalya showed a fire and ability that we’ve never seen before from a Diva in the WWE. So impressed was I, that I have stated and continue to agree that Natalya is the best women’s wrestler in WWE right now. Her skills rival those of not just the top Divas – Victoria, Mickie James and Beth Phoenix to name but a few – but her male counterparts also. Obviously being part of the Hart family, Natalya had an upperhand over the countless wrestlers out there in North America, both male and female. Natalya’s physical and aggressive style matched with her use of story-telling and in-ring psychology made for great matches. It was in a match with Natalya, that fans really opened their eyes toward Kelly Kelly, with the third generation Diva bringing out the best in the young rookie.

After a few false starts, Natalya and Michelle finally geared towards the first ever Divas Championship match in the month of July. However, since her title match at the Great American Bash, Natalya seems to have been unceremoniously dropped in favour of Maryse. As Natalya had her high profile feud with Michelle and was pushed as the top heel Diva of SmackDown, Maryse too impressed fans in a secondary Divas feud with Cherry. Maryse’s efforts caught up with fans and critics on the ‘net, surprised that Maryse could even wrestle! The French-Canadian’s stock continued to rise, eventually replacing Natalya in a title feud with Michelle. Natalya from there seemed to become background talent as opposed to the top heel. While I have no issue with Divas interchanging to be part of the top programme, it definitely came as a shock. There seemed to be so much more mileage in the feud between Natalya and Michelle.

For a Diva that was pushed upon her arrival, within a few months, Natalya became background talent used for evening the odds in tag matches and more recently, jobbing to the likes of Maria and Brie Bella. For a woman of many talents, it seems to me that like other talented Divas before her, Natalya is being given the short end of the stick. However, at least Victoria and Molly Holly got to peak with at least one or two title reigns. Though Natalya’s WWE career is not even a year old and yes, the chances of her being pushed in future are likely – there’s nothing like striking while the iron is hot. Natalya was a breath of fresh air not only on SmackDown, but among the entire Divas roster. Her matches are always great viewing and her name value alone should surely bank her a top spot on WWE programming, right? Apparently not. Natalya seems to be taking Victoria’s role as ‘head jobber’ on SmackDown, a spot that she is far too talented for. One could say the same for Victoria, but at least Victoria got a few good years. Natalya seems to have been pushed aside for a Diva who fits the ‘cookie cutter image’, a travesty and insult to the third generation Diva’s talents. While she may not fit the Diva image, neither does her Raw counterpart, Beth Phoenix who is a two time Women’s Champion and has consistently been booked strongly.

Whether or not will eventually overtake Maryse once again is up in the air, but one should hope that WWE makes use of this extremely talented Diva because it appears to me that WWE’s creative team and/or management doesn’t know just quite what they have in Natalya. This is a Diva that could be one of the biggest stars the women’s division has seen since Trish Stratus. We already know she can play an effective heel but if WWE booked her right, using her name value, she could be an extremely popular face too. And as much as I love Trish, I would say that Natalya is a better wrestler and could potentially be a more well-rounded package than the legendary 7-time Women’s Champion. And that is a bold statement but I believe in Natalya and while she may have risen and fallen in such a short space of time, I think she can more than live up to it.

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