The Royal Rumble is known as the beginning of the road to WrestleMania, but for Divas, that usually isn’t the case. Typically, the road to Mania begins…well, a few weeks before Mania. As a result, we’re often treated to uninspired matches at what should be the biggest night of the year. This year, however, looks to be different: we’re on the road with a clear path to WrestleMania, and the Divas are actually on board!
To find out how they got on that metaphorical bus, we have to see what happened when Divas Champion Charlotte defended her title against her former friend and fellow Four Horsewoman Becky Lynch. By the end of the night, what could have been a run-of-the-mill title defense brought forth a story that feels – dare I say it? – WrestleMania-worthy.
Before we can get to that, we’re first treated to a great video package highlighting the feud between champion and challenger:
It wasn’t super flashy, but it explained very clearly the conflict between Becky and Charlotte, which is more than most Diva video packages accomplish. Well, the ones outside of NXT, that is. Well done!
Later in the night, it was finally match time:
After their entrances and introductions, the Divas tie up, Charlotte backing Becky into the corner. Becky battles back, taking Charlotte down and going for the Dis-Arm-Her. Charlotte quickly finds refuge in the ropes. The Diva tussle for control, ending with Charlotte knocking Becky off her feet. Charlotte goes for an early pin, but Becky bridges out. Another battle for control ends with Becky taking control and Charlotte again scurrying to the ropes.
Becky takes Charlotte down with a series of armdrags and locks in an armbar. Charlotte gets to her feet and tries to lift Becky, but she’s taken down to the mat. Becky goes for the pin, but Charlotte kicks out. Charlotte battles back, going for a Figure Four that Becky escapes from. She takes Becky to the mat and locks in an armbar of her own. Becky gets to her feet and heads to the ropes, where she sends Charlotte out of the ring.
Charlotte climbs onto the ring apron and tries to send Becky face-first into the turnbuckle, but Becky fights back, kicking Charlotte all the way to the outside. When Becky follows, Ric jaws with her. Charlotte shoves him out of the way, kicking Becky and laying her out. When Becky gets to her feet, Ric goes for the ultimate distraction by planting a kiss on her!
Charlotte then attacks Becky from behind and sends her back into the ring. She beats down Becky and goes for the pin, but it’s not enough. Charlotte continues to wear Becky down and goes for a bodyslam that Becky slips out of. Becky goes for the pin, but Charlotte kicks out and immediately takes back control, sending Becky to the mat for another pin attempt. Becky kicks out.
Charlotte pulls Becky to her feet and knees her in the midsection, locking in a side headlock. She slams Becky to the mat by her hair and locks in a headscissors hold, slamming her head into the mat repeatedly before settling into a submission hold. Becky bridges to put Charlotte’s shoulders on the mat for a pin, but the champ kicks out. Charlotte flips Becky around the ring to wear her down and then resumes the submission.
Becky starts to fight out, getting to her feet and lifting Charlotte in an Electric Chair position. She drops Charlotte all the way to the mat. Both Divas are down and slowly get to their feet. Charlotte comes charging first, but Becky fights her off, nailing Charlotte with right hands and sending her into the corner before running the ropes for a clothesline. She hits another clothesline and kick before splashing her in the corner. Charlotte blocks her follow-up suplex and hits a corner neckbreaker, dragging Becky to the middle of the ring. She goes for the Figure Four but Becky fights out!
The Divas trade pin attempts, but none are enough. They tussle some more before Becky hits a suplex. She earns a near fall and hits Charlotte with two legdrops and another exploder suplex. She goes for the pin once more, but Charlotte again kicks out. Becky gets fired up and grabs Charlotte’s arm, but Charlotte rolls her up into a pin. Becky kicks out, but is quickly nailed with a spear out of nowhere! Charlotte goes for two consecutive pins, both of which Becky kicks out of.
Charlotte lifts Becky onto the top turnbuckle, but Becky fights back, grabbing Charlotte by the arm and taking her all the way to the mat for an armbar! Charlotte fights for control and lifts Becky bodily, planting her shoulders to the mat for a near fall and then lifting her again, slamming her to the mat. She earns a near fall. Charlotte is frustrated and goes for a baseball slide that inadvertently takes out Ric! Becky rolls up a distracted Charlotte for the pin, but she kicks out!
Becky then locks in the Dis-Arm-Her, but Ric reappears and tosses his jacket onto Becky, distracting her and the referee. This distraction allows Charlotte to hit Becky with a spear and pin for the win. Charlotte is still your Divas Champion!
Post-match, Charlotte looks to make a even bigger statement, beating down Becky. When she finishes that and attempts to have a celebratory moment in the middle of the ring, she’s interrupted by the music of Sasha Banks!
Sasha heads to the ring and disposes of Becky, scolding her for stealing her spotlight. She smiles at Charlotte and the two perform a secret handshake, seemingly starting what could be a friendly rivalry. After Ric leaves the ring and Charlotte moves to do the same, Sasha strikes, hitting the backstabber and locking in the Bank Statement! After a few moments of humiliation, Sasha frees her and poses with the Divas Title before leaving the scene, Charlotte left shocked and humiliated.
Later, during the Rumble, Lana returned to Rusev’s side for his brief appearance in the match:
If you’re clamoring for some Stephanie McMahon, the other Boss made a quick appearance at the beginning of the night alongside her father Vince McMahon:
Later, she spoke to Paul Heyman about Brock Lesnar targeting Roman Reigns in the Rumble:
She was also on hand to celebrate her husband Triple H‘s big Rumble win:
Thoughts: Charlotte vs. Becky was a very enjoyable match, even if it was ultimately overshadowed by the moments following it. It was fast-paced and hard-hitting, and told a story that was both unique and easy for fans to follow. In that way, it was reminiscent of NXT’s best Divas matches.
Still, it lacked those matches’ trademark excitement, probably due to the fact that Ric was at ringside. Let me first explain, though, that I’m absolutely in favor of having Ric help build up Charlotte’s heel persona. Charlotte is likely always going to be known as “Ric Flair’s daughter,” so she might as well use it to enhance her character. Having her father there to coach her into becoming the “next Ric Flair” also helps by getting the general audience (AKA the people who still think most Diva matches are piss breaks) to pay attention and become acquainted with her. Is it the ideal? No, but it’s certainly better than the months she spent trying to get over as a generic babyface. The idea, hopefully, is to eventually phase Ric out, like heel training wheels. At that point, Ric will be there only in spirit, because Charlotte will (ideally) be his embodiment.
That being said, I wasn’t crazy about his presence here. You’d think Becky would have fought hard to get him banned from ringside, given his success rate at screwing over Charlotte’s opponents. Yeah, I know, she invited “the whole Flair clan” to ringside, but there’s a point where bravery and confidence gives way to stupidity, and I’d like to think Becky’s craftier than that. Yes, it makes total sense to get Charlotte over by having him help her cheat to win (Those boos!), but it really takes the wind out of a match’s sails when you know Becky doesn’t really have a shot at winning unless Ric gets tossed from ringside. Oh, and that “stolen kiss” was a bit much, too. It was a perfect example of the booking putting the spotlight on the wrong people: that wasn’t a Becky or Charlotte moment, it was a Ric moment. We didn’t need a Ric moment. Ric has a whole Hall of Fame career of moments. Without Sasha’s appearance, that WTF moment could’ve overshadowed the match itself, which would have been counterproductive, to say the least.
Luckily, though, Sasha offers a big twist to the story. Adding her to the mix is something I hoped would happen, but I definitely didn’t expect to see it immediately following the match. I expected it to happen on Raw, perhaps after a Rumble rematch, but I’m so glad it happened the way it did. It was one of the first times I got the “magical” NXT vibe since Becky, Charlotte and Sasha made their main roster debuts way back in the summer.
In a way, the moment felt like something fans would have dreamed up. Sasha came off as extraordinarily important: her sudden appearance was genuinely shocking and you got the sense that the audience was energized by her mere presence. It’s not something booking could accomplish on its own (her NXT legacy plays a huge part in that, of course), but you can’t discount the importance of making the Diva moments feel important. For a long time, I’ve repeated the same mantra: the audience will not care about the Divas unless they’re given a reason to.
This was a perfect example of that: they took a Diva the fans have repeatedly responded to and clamored for and gave her an epic moment. The booking was simple, too, allowing the crowd to carry the moment by reacting to every twist. It’s rare for the WWE to sell a Diva’s importance without frills, but they managed to do that here. This couldn’t be done with every Diva, sure, but not every Diva has the NXT resume Sasha has. She’s a unique specimen, to be sure, her in-ring skills and charisma making her one of a kind. However, the necessary work has been done on NXT creative’s part, too. She didn’t just become someone the fans go apeshit over. She wrestled in FOUR huge TakeOver matches last year, one of which was in the actual main event. Now, imagine if every Diva – even those without comparable talent – got that kind of a push. Surely, the fans would latch on to them as well. They know what Sasha can do, so they care about her. They want to see her do amazing things, so naturally they’re psyched to see her finally enter the Divas Title feud. That’s what Sasha’s 2015 was all about: giving the fans a reason to care. Here, in the very first month of 2016, that investment is paying off. Build a Diva up into someone the audience wants to see, and she’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Sasha’s beating down Becky and then outsmarting Charlotte really raises the stakes: not only is she a wild card in terms of loyalty, but she’s outsmarted both Charlotte and Ric too. I expect this to lead into a one-on-one match at Fastlane, with Charlotte retaining somehow and rolling the feud into a multi-Diva match at WrestleMania 32. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Becky get involved somehow, given how well she performed in this match and how close she came to winning. Paige‘s popularity would surely secure her a spot in that match too, and luckily, she doesn’t need to be built up, so inserting her into the feud shouldn’t be difficult at all. As long as each Diva gets the time to carve out her place in the story, I wouldn’t mind seeing all four of them share the spotlight. WrestleMania’s all about big moments, so raising the stakes seems only natural to me. I only hope that the electricity Sasha generated here can be carried all the way to April.