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SmackDown Redux (February 26th, 2015): Naomi and Natalya Throw Diva Fans a Bone

Welcome to the first SmackDown Redux of the #GiveDivasAChance era! With Diva fans on high alert for bullshit, Naomi and Natalya are facing off one-on-one. Will a match between the newly heel-adjacent Natalya and ever-exciting Naomi help soothe Diva fans’ souls? Let’s see:

We join Naomi, Jimmy and Jey Uso already in the ring. Natalya makes her entrance, Tyson Kidd and Cesaro in tow. Both teams posture a bit before letting the Divas do their thing.

Natalya skirts the opening tie-up, capturing Naomi in a side headlock and slamming her to the mat. She maintains the headlock, even as Naomi makes it to her feet. Naomi manages to shove Natalya off into the ropes, but on the return, she gets laid out with a shoulder block.

Naomi exchanges a look with Natalya, sensing that her friend may have really gone to the dark side. She flattens out when Natalya runs the ropes, but Natalya does some acrobatics and tries again. This time, Naomi leaps over her. Natalya flattens out when Naomi hits the ropes, but Naomi sees this and cartwheels over her body, pulling her into a cradle pin. Natalya kicks out.

Both Divas get to their feet and circle each other. Natalya isn’t interested in tying up, though, merely shoving Naomi to the mat when she gets close enough. Naomi gets back up and wrenches Natalya’s arm, tossing her with an arm drag. Back to her feet, Natalya sweeps Naomi’s out from her under, seemingly going for the Sharpshooter.

Naomi uses her legs to fight out of it, wrapping her ankles around Natalya’s head and spinning, flipping her to the mat. She keeps her legs in position for a submission hold, locking her knees around Natalya’s neck. Natalya sits up, but Naomi’s holding on, propping herself up to maintain the hold.

Showing her considerable strength, Natalya gets to her feet, Naomi and all. She grabs Naomi’s legs and begins to spin, likely doing Cesaro proud in an effort to dizzy the hell out of her opponent. It doesn’t get the job done, though, as Naomi simply slips free, rolling Natalya away from her. Both Divas run the ropes, but when they meet, it’s Naomi who wins the exchange, hitting Natalya with a crossbody.

It knocks the wind out of both Divas, and they spend some time regaining their bearings on the mat. The Usos get the crowd behind Naomi, but it’s Natalya who gets up first, grabbing hold of Naomi’s head. Naomi fights back, though, kicking the back of Natalya’s leg with authority. It’s enough to free her and send Natalya over to the side of the ring. Tyson jumps up on the ring apron to check on his wife, the referee keeping Naomi from breaking up the Hart-to-Hart (*bah-dum-tish*).

Jimmy Uso has no such trouble, though, coming out of nowhere to kick Tyson in the side of the head. This brings in Cesaro, who tries to whip him into the steel corner of the ring. It’s reversed, though, and Cesaro finds himself eating Jey’s boot.

Back in the ring, Naomi tries to recommence the match, but the referee is holding her back, preventing her from attacking Natalya while she’s propped against the ropes. With Naomi’s guard down, Natalya takes the opportunity to her a discus clothesline, leveling her. She pins Naomi for the three count!

After the show on SmackDown Fallout, Natalya, Tyson and Cesaro join Tom Phillips:

Natalya says that the victory was well-earned, sounding incredibly humble. Tyson jumps in, accusing The Usos of trying to goad them into giving them another shot at the Tag Team Titles, as they’ve already burned through their rematch clause. He says that it didn’t work – he, Natalya and Cesaro have established their dominance as a trio, and are moving on to bigger, better things.

Natalya sarcastically thanks Tyson for interrupting her and proceeds to accuse Naomi of sticking her nose here it doesn’t belong. This match, she says, allowed her to get revenge. The trio then squabbles a bit before departing.

Elsewhere on the show, Lana‘s words prompted a brawl between Rusev and Jack Swagger, while Rosa Mendes managed Fandango to a win over Curtis Axel:

Thoughts: This was a really fun match – Natalya and Naomi clearly have a lot of tricks up their sleeve. Like their last match, this featured a lot of counters and reversals, allowing for a quick pace and a lot of unpredictability. I’m dying to see what these two can do on a bigger stage. I’m sure this feud is far from over, despite what Tyson said on SmackDown Fallout. Naomi and The Usos will find some way to goad them into extending the feud on the road to WrestleMania. If the WWE doesn’t opt to book a six-man tag at Mania, I could see Naomi and Natalya going one-on-one on the Kickoff show and stealing the show before it even starts.

This was a welcome sight after Monday’s atrocious 30-second match, proof that not everything sucks in Diva land. The presence of men in this feud shouldn’t be overlooked, though: they’re the reason Naomi and Natalya are feuding. Thus, this isn’t some full-throated exclamation of the WWE’s faith in the Divas, but it’s entertaining and unique, so I’ll take it. It’s a fun feud outside of the Divas Title picture and is not steering the division – just supplementing it.

I’m loving heel Natalya. She’s not drastically different from face Natalya just yet, and it’s a credit to her ability to subtly make changes to her demeanor and in-ring style. Her actions on Raw made it clear that she’s not a “good guy” anymore, but that doesn’t mean she needs to become a cackling heel right away.

It works in this story for her to made the change somewhat slowly: her loyalty to Tyson is what turned her heel. She is seeing Naomi and The Uso’s actions through his warped lens, so in her mind she’s doing the right thing – she’s the good one. Sure, her possibly playing opossum here is heelish, but look at her reaction to winning in the SmackDown Fallout video – she’s not sneering. She doesn’t look self-satisfied, like a typical heel would after fooling her opponent. She looks like regular Natalya, her initial comments businesslike and humble. It’s Tyson who adds the needed heel flare, which prompts her to bite back at him and get defensive, saying Naomi got what she deserved. He’s polluting her, bit by bit.

I’m sure she’ll eventually stop fighting with Cesaro and Tyson become fully bad, under no delusions about the virtue of her actions, but the transition period we’re in now is really interesting. It’s a rarity for a Diva to make an alignment change slowly, and Natalya is excelling at it. Yet another reason to #GiveDivasAChance!

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